And Then There Were 64
Tomorrow the NCAA men's basketball tournament will properly begin. I don't mind the four warm-up games that were played Tuesday and Wednesday, an expansion of just three teams. This was supposed to make go away the "bubble" problem--the one the BCS has such a problem with in college football--though it just pushed it from the 34th at-large team to the 37th, or something like that. The problem being, what about the best team not included? and the answer clearly not being "the NIT".
I would've liked to have seen Harvard and St. Mary's as the two, creative inclusions for the extra spots in the play-in at-large games for 11th and 12th seeds somewhere, instead of the roundly criticized VCU and UAB. Really, though, this is not as important as it's been made out--the real problems were in the seedings and the scheduling of the solid teams that would be in any conceivable bracket.
There is a bias in the selection committee, which I would describe as "somewhat Eastern, somewhat Southern, somewhat Big 10, definitely not Kentucky, though". This was also evidenced by the teams getting early-round home-court advantages in Cleveland (Xavier and Ohio St.), Chicago (Notre Dame and Purdue), and Charlotte (most egregiously, Duke and U. of North Carolina), and the "awarding" to U. of Kentucky and U. of Louisville each 4th-seeds (a bit too low, given Kentucky's win of the SEC tournament after a very challenging season schedule, and U. of L.'s fine runner-up performance in the Big East tournament, with the same notation on its schedule difficulty); worse, those #4 seedings line them up to play the tournament's two favorite teams, Ohio St. (for U. of K.) and Kansas (for U. of L.) Those two games, for me, are the pivotal ones in the whole tournament: there aren't too many teams that have legitimate chances against Ohio St. and Kansas, and a win by either Kentucky or Louisville (or better, by both) would throw the tournament wide open.
So, I'm making two classes of picks: one in which one or both of my faves pull the big upset, and "the others" in which chalk rules (I'm going with Kansas in the final between the two tourney favorites, as my experiences watching Ohio St.--especially their game against Northwestern in the Big 10 tourney--have disappointed me somewhat).
Successful NCAA tournament teams are of two kinds, really: the team game with strong defense, good point guards, and clutch foul shooting, and the one which adds to that mix (more or less on the FT's) big men who can score and guards who can get the ball to them. The ordinary class of successful NCAA team is the first kind, and there are several of them in the tournament, and Kansas and Ohio St. seem to be the candidates for the latter (which prevails over the former).
Pittsburgh, Duke, North Carolina, and Florida also (along with Kentucky, Louisville) fit the second class, more or less, and they will be the ones to contest the championship if we can get the big guys--Ohio St.'s Jared Sullinger, Kansas' Morris twins--out of there. There is one other interesting team--perhaps a bit of a throwback to the UNLV Runnin' Rebels of the '80's--from San Diego State, which lost two games all year (both to the Cougars of Jimmer Fredette's BYU), and reminds me of a lower-level NBA team for their athletic, fast, similar-sized, mature players. They are definitely an interesting choice to make the Final Four, which would require beating Duke (which has the easiest schedule to the Elite Eight and seems a sure bet to go that far, and likely farther if their talented, injured player, Kyrie Irving, makes it all the way back).
I see this tournament as having: two top teams, about 8-10 highly competitive teams of similar skill, and relatively few good upset candidates among seeds 9-16. It won't be too interesting until next week when we're down to 16.
Japan Down, Not Out
My deepest sympathies for the Japanese people, victimized as they have been in the past by earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear radiation. I hope that the Japanese will rise from this tragedy in due course; we should be giving them our fullest aid. I would also challenge the peoples of China and Korea--both still harboring grudges, perhaps deservedly, from Japan's aggression in World War II--but both thriving nations in the area (I'm excluding the Pyongyang joke regime in North Korea) which could show unprecedented goodwill and help all the peoples of East Asia rise above the waves of anger, tragedy, and disaster.