2010 Final Four Predictions
by Trevor Whenham - 3/15/2010
The March Madness bracket is out, the games are around the corner, and speculation is running high. The Final Four is the most perfect format in sports, and trying to pick the winners correctly is the most haunting challenge there is. Every year at this time I set out to boldly make my Final Four predictions. Sometimes my predictions turn out to look pretty good. Other times, like last year, they are pretty much disastrous. I have a short memory, though, so I won't let those setbacks bother me. Here. then, are this year's version of my Final Four predictions:
It's hard not to like Kansas here. They have a smooth road to the Elite Eight. Maryland and Michigan State are the two best teams they will potentially face in their first three games, and neither is a match for the Jayhawks if Kansas is clicking - and we know that they are based on how they played in the Big 12 Tournament. In the other half of that bracket the key game is the 6-11 between Tennessee and San Diego State. I think that the winner of that one will meet Ohio State in the Sweet Sixteen, with the winner ultimately losing to the Jayhawks. That makes Kansas, the No. 1 overall seed, my first Final Four team. That's not a particularly bold pick. My guess is that pretty much everyone is going to have Kansas going at least to the Final Four.
This portion of the bracket is incredibly difficult, but it's also the most compelling one there is. There are legitimately nine of the 16 teams that could potentially make it as far as the Final Four. That's incredible. Syracuse is the top seed. Ten days ago they were the team I liked most. Since then, though, they have lost two straight, and both have been against teams that they really should have been able to beat. They are vulnerable, and in a region as deep and tough as this one that means I have to look beyond them. Kansas State, the two seed, has lost three of their last five, and they did that knowing that a top seed was theirs for the taking. They didn't handle that pressure well, so I don't trust them to handle the pressure of the tournament. Pitt, the No. 3 seed, only went 9-6 down the stretch, and are vulnerable in their position as well.
This is the bracket, then, where I'll look deeper. The most intriguing part of the bracket is Butler playing the winner of Vanderbilt and Murray State in the second round. The winner of that game is going to be very tough for Syracuse. On the bottom I love the path that BYU has, and I expect them to make the Elite Eight. I'll predict that their path will fall there as they lose to Butler, the second Final Four team. The Bulldogs will be very motivated to make the Final Four since it is played in their hometown of Indianapolis.
Kentucky will win their half of the bracket reasonably easy, with Temple giving them the biggest test. West Virginia and New Mexico in the Sweet Sixteen is one of the games I am looking forward to most. I respect both teams a lot - well coached, deep and talented, and very tough. I lean towards New Mexico, but not with a lot of conviction. It doesn't really matter, though, because I don't think that either team has enough to get past Kentucky. John Wall is an exceptionally special player, and I expect him t take his game to a higher level in the tournament - like Derrick Rose did in his one try.
Villanova is the biggest joke of a seeding in their entire tournament. They lost five of their final seven games, yet they somehow wound up as a No. 2 seed. That just shouldn't happen. That makes this whole region a little suspect. Duke wouldn't have much trouble beating Villanova with both teams in their current form, and that story is similar to others in the region - nice teams, but flawed. Louisville could provide a challenge to Duke in the second round, but Duke should still be able to cruise through to the Final Four. Baylor is their likely opponent in the Elite Eight.
Kansas is going to be too much for Butler - more skill, more depth, and more experience in intense situations like this one. That leaves Duke and Kentucky in the other semifinal. I'm a big Calipari fan, and I detest all things Duke, so this matchup makes me happy. Duke isn't used to playing a guy like John Wall. No one is. I'm not at all convinced that Duke has the potential to contain and control Wall, and that will be all the difference. Kentucky it is.
The final would then be a rematch of the 2008 final - at least for the coaches. I like and respect both teams. My heart's with Kentucky, though, so they get the nod. This will be a great, great final game.
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