Who Will Win the NCAA Basketball Tournament?
by Robert Ferringo - 03/18/2008
Right now opinions about who will win the NCAA Tournament are like hookers popping up on daytime talk shows and nighttime news outlets: not hard to come by. (And yes, that pun was intended.) Everyone has an opinion and as it stands right now everyone is an expert. Which makes sense, because right now there are 65 teams from the lower 48 states that are all poised to be national champions. But the Big Dance is actually a sadistic, twisted, unrelenting three-week buzz saw of reality that viscously shreds hopes, dreams, and potential.
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Yesterday I posted an article breaking down the teams that won't win the NCAA Basketball Tournament, brazenly declaring goliaths like North Carolina and Kansas as fool's gold to the amateur bettor. Well, I suppose that these outlandish (though true) claims could simply be dismissed as the ramblings of a carnival barker or schizophrenic New York City street screamer unless I wrote an equal piece explaining who will win the NCAA Basketball Tournament.
Here are five teams, counting down in order of probability, which I think will win the NCAA Tournament and cut down the nets in San Antonio this April:
"WAIT A SECOND, YESTERDAY YOU SAID THEY WON'T WIN IT!!!" I know that. I don't think they'll win it. But if I had to bet my soul on someone to win it, and I only got five choices, they would be one of the five. Why, you ask? There are two reasons. First, they have already proven they can beat elite competition in marquee venues (winning at Memphis, at Gonzaga, and at Xavier). Second, they meet the criterion that I've used to pick the last few champions: find the team with the most NBA talent and pick them. UT may not have the most, but they are close.
Yeah, I know, it's questionable to put a Big Ten team in this spot. Especially when we're backing a program that never quite seems to live up to its seeding or expectations when it comes Tournament Time. However, I think this Badgers team has tremendous value associated with it. They won a Big Ten that, while it was its usual feeble self, was exceedingly strong at the top. They also won the Big Ten Tournament convincingly, taking down a very game Michigan State team on a night when they were playing poorly. Here's the key: the Badgers were a very weak No. 2 seed at the end of last year, mainly because they lost Brian Butch to injury and they had their confidence rattled. They were a two-seed last year and they are better this year. They are the No. 1 defensive team in the nation, they have solid guards and three strong big men, and they have a go-to guy that can score inside and out (Butch). They are well coached, run a tight system, and I think they have a very favorable draw. Finally, they did get manhandled in Duke early in the year. But they also took down Texas on the road in the middle of the season.
Guard play. The NCAA Tournament is all about guard play, and the Longhorns have the best pair in the country in A.J. Abrams and D.J. Augustin. This team has played with and beaten elite competition (wins over Kansas, Tennessee, and UCLA) and they have the benefit of playing their regional games in Houston, where they have a rabid fan base, and the Final Four is in San Antonio. Mix in an underrated frontcourt, solid glue guys, a system that this team executes masterfully, and a coach that has guided teams to the Final Four in the recent past and this team is an excellent choice to cut down the nets.
If Florida had never existed, we may be talking about the Bruins going for a three-peat. Instead, it's looking very strong that they will instead be marveled at for making three straight Final Fours. If they get past Connecticut in the Sweet 16 they should be one of the last four clubs standing at the Alamo. They have solid guard play, exceptional depth in the post, and a bevy of role players that function well within a well-established scheme. They defend (No. 10 in the nation), they shoot a high percentage (No. 26), and they have loads of experience. If there is a knock on the Bruins it is that I don't know if I trust Josh Shipp as a go-to guy. But other than that there's not much not to like about UCLA.
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I know it's not shocking. I know it's not sexy. But the Tigers were my pick to win the national championship last April (check the archives!) so I'm sticking with them. Sure, there are some red flags, like their free throw shooting and shaky three-point shooting. However, they have at least three NBA starters on their roster, they are one of the only teams in history to win 30 games in three straight years, and they have perhaps the best go-to guy in the country (Chris Douglas-Roberts). They run a weave on offense that is incredibly difficult to prepare for if you've never seen it, and they have a big-game coach that has performed in the Final Four before. Memphis will have its hands full with Texas in Houston in the Elite Eight. But remember that this same Tigers team beat an excellent Texas A&M team in San Antonio in the Sweet 16 last season.