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Archive for Monday, March 14, 2011

2011 NCAA Tournament champ? Pick Jayhawks

March 14, 2011

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There are many reasons not to pick Kansas, and once again I will ignore them all.

Does Kansas have strong enough point-guard play to win the 2011 national title? Maybe not.

Will the weight of the Jayhawks’ past tournament failures grind their gears in the early rounds once again? Watch out!

After I was burned picking Kansas last year, will I doom KU and myself by doing it this year, too? Obviously, it’s possible.

But Kansas, the No. 1 seed in the Southwest Region, is still the pick — via a clean, clinical process of elimination.

Basically, it’s easy to find fault with Kansas, especially after last season’s second-round flameout as the No. 1 overall seed. But it’s even easier to eliminate the remaining 67 teams.

Here’s why I didn’t eliminate Kansas: Behind twin power forwards Marcus and Markieff Morris, the Jayhawks lead the nation in field-goal percentage (by far) and have enough perimeter talent to take advantage of collapsing defenses.

Kansas also is 19th in rebounding, and that is a great combination.

In fact, five of the past nine national champions, including the Jayhawks in 2008, were top-22 teams in both field goal percentage and rebounding that season.

That means you’re efficient enough to maximize your offensive possessions and you’re strong enough to get more possessions for yourself via the glasswork.

Which is great for tournament play. So I’m picking Kansas.

And here’s how I eliminated the other top contenders:

• Ohio State, this year’s No. 1 overall seed, is out because it has point-guard issues, too, and because the Buckeyes’ region drew the toughest No. 2 (North Carolina) and toughest No. 4 (Kentucky) in the brackets.

Despite my general discounting of John Calipari in the tournament, I’ve got his red-hot Kentucky team beating Ohio State in the East regional semifinals and then getting to the national championship game.

• Notre Dame is out because it’s the No. 2 seed in Kansas’ region, and if those two teams meet, the Jayhawks have too much firepower to lose in that potential regional final.

• Pittsburgh, the Southeast No. 1, is out because there always comes a time when the Panthers have to make a couple of late baskets in the tournament, and they never do.

One side note: Pitt joins Kansas as the only teams in the top 22 in both field-goal percentage and rebounding.

I’ve got Pitt making it to the Final Four but getting stopped by Kansas in the national semifinals.

• Duke, the West No. 1, is out because the Blue Devils finally got a very, very difficult draw.

Duke probably will face tough No. 4 Texas in the regional semifinal round, and if it survives that, I can’t see Duke knocking off No. 2 San Diego State in Anaheim in the regional finals.

• I’ve got San Diego State getting to the Final Four, but the Aztecs probably don’t have the octane to win six in a row. I’ve got them losing to Kentucky in the national semis.

• I’m not picking Kentucky to win it all, however, due to general Calipari reasons.

He hasn’t won a national title and probably never will. This year, I think Calipari will come close again — as he did with Memphis in 2008.

And what team beat Calipari in the national title game that year? None other than Kansas. It’s like magic how that happens.

Some other things that stick out to me in the 2011 brackets:

• If you’re looking for early upsets, I’m circling No. 13 Belmont over struggling No. 4 Wisconsin in the Southeast and No. 14 Bucknell over exhausted No. 3 Connecticut in the West.

• Michigan State and Washington are always good teams to move deep into the brackets, but this year they both could be in some trouble.

I like No. 10 Michigan State over No. 7 UCLA early in the Southeast, but the Spartans probably won’t get past No. 2 Florida in the next round.

East No. 7 Washington might have shot in the Round of 32 against rollercoaster No. 2 North Carolina — if the game were anywhere but in Charlotte.

There could be some quality Sweet 16 games, including:

• If USC gets through the first-round game and also knocks off Georgetown and weak No. 3 Purdue, there’d be a potential meeting with No. 2 Notre Dame in the Southwest region.

Even without Reggie Bush and Brady Quinn involved, I’d watch that one.

If form holds in the Southeast, it’d be No. 2 Florida vs. Jimmer Fredette and No. 3 Brigham Young.

And though I’ve got Ohio State losing to Kentucky in the East semis, if the Buckeyes survive there, they could clearly win the whole thing.

I think Ohio State is the second-best team in the nation. Right behind Kansas. If Kansas doesn’t screw it all up again.

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