It's March Madness, and the question on everybody's mind is who will end up in Houston for the Final Four.
In case you missed part one of our Final Four break-down, check it out here. And if you want to pick against yours truly, and have the chance to win...*checks budget*...bragging rights, click on over.
Without further ado, let's take a look at the Southwest and Southeast regions, as well as my Final Four picks. Once again, as the top five seeds have made up 39 of the last 40 Final Four contestants, we'll take a look at the top five seeds in each region, and throw out a sleeper or two who might throw a wrench in the works.
The Southwest Region
1 - Kansas Jayhawks. What's not to like about the Jayhawks? The Morris twins are nearly unstoppable with their size and athleticism inside, there's a very good point guard in Tyshawn Taylor, Kansas always guards well, and they have a plethora of outside shooters.
Chance of reaching Houston: 50%. I know I'm not exactly going out on a limb here, but Ohio State and Kansas are the two most complete teams in the country. KU isn't unbeatable, but they're certainly the odds-on favorites in the region. I can't think of a rational reason to pick against them better than "anything can happen".
2 - Notre Dame Fighting Irish. The Fighting Irish piled up a sparkling 14-4 record in the brutal Big East. Their starting five can compete with anybody, but they run a frighteningly short bench. If they stay healthy, rested and out of foul trouble, it's hard to find a weakness in this team. But that's a big if.
Chance of reaching Houston: 20%. I feel safe saying that Notre Dame will neither lose to Akron in the opening round, nor win the national championship. But that's about it.
3. Purdue Boilermakers. Perhaps no team with high aspirations will be relying on a single player more than Purdue and JaJuan Johnson. At 6'10", Johnson is a physical specimen, and a future pro. But after him, there isn't a lot of size on the team. He'll be potentially going up against Notre Dame's front court duo of Tim Abromaitis and Carleton Scott, and Kansas' Morris twins. Johnson is good, but is he good enough to slow down two players at a time?
Chance of reaching Houston: 10%. I'd like them a lot better in a region without so much size in the other top teams, but they're still too talented to ignore.
4. Louisville Cardinals. The 6-7 record away from home is problematic, as is the fact that they were out-rebounded by over two boards per game in conference play. But good Lord, can the Cardinals ever defend. The opposition shot under 40% from the floor, and under 31% from beyond the arc against Rick Pitino's squad.
Chance of reaching Houston: 15%. The rebounding makes me really hesitant. I could see Kansas just murdering them on the boards in the Sweet16. But I like the defense, and I like Preston Knowles and/or Peyton Siva touching the ball in crunch time.
5. Vanderbilt Commodores. Vandy possesses the deepest frontcourt after the top two seeds, in Jeffery Taylor, Festus Ezeli and Lance Goulbourne, and John Jenkins can fill up the score sheet. Vanderbilt is a very good, very steady team. And while I absolutely mean that as a compliment...
Chance of reaching Houston: 4%. ...they are so steady, and so decidedly short of "great" that I just can't see them knocking off any of the top teams in this bracket. Barring some serious upsets, they'll have to go through Louisville, Kansas and Notre Dame/Purdue. There's nothing on the resume that indicates to me that the Commodores are giant killers. They have a good home win over Kentucky, and a neutral site victory over UNC from back before the Tar Heels really figured out who they were. After that, Vandy just kind of beat who they were supposed to and lost to who they were supposed to. (Florida three times, Tennessee twice, at Missouri, at Kentucky.)
The Sleeper(s) - No. 12 seed Richmond Spiders. They beat Purdue early in the year, they've won 11 of 12, and they have a bona fide "can't be guarded anywhere on the court" stud in Justin Harper. Vandy-Louisville is a tough first two games, but Richmond is absolutely capable of reaching the Sweet Sixteen.
The Southeast Region
1. Pittsburgh Panthers. Time to play the no respect card? Pitt is the least sexy No. 1 seed, and is probably at least three or four teams down the list in terms of most marketable teams within their own conference, despite winning the dang thing. (Regular season, that is.) Seriously, if I spot you Ashton Gibbs and Brad Wanamaker, can you name another player for Pitt?
Chance of reaching Houston: 30%. Even in the region that is weakest Nos. 2 through 5, I can't go higher than this for Pitt. They rebound well, and they take good shots. But they just don't have the talent where you feel like they're just going to overwhelm anybody. Well, besides the winner of UNC-Asheville/Arkansas-Little Rock.
2. Florida Gators. A veteran squad, with only one underclassman starter, and some interesting personalities in guys like Kenny Boynton and Chandler Parsons. They're a fun team to watch, and they'll be a popular Final Four pick for not having drawn a region with Ohio State, Kansas or Duke.
Chance of reaching Houston: 30%. Serious question - where's the signature win for this team? They got slapped around by Ohio State in Gainesville early on, they lost two of three against Kentucky... am I supposed to be super-impressed because they beat Kansas State and Vanderbilt? The signature win of a No. 2 seed is a pair of No. 5 seeds?
3. Brigham Young Cougars. I'm not trying to come across as anti-BYU. I will absolutely cheer for a team with a former Houston Cougar (Phi Slamma Jamma member Dave Rose) as a head coach. But do not pick this team. If all you know about college basketball is Jimmer Fredette, this is your fair warning. Do. Not. Pick. This. Team.
Chance of reaching Houston: 1%. Since the dismissal of Brandon Davies for violating the school honor code, BYU hasn't looked even remotely good. They lost at home to "we are only good at our insanely awesome home court" New Mexico. They beat up on an atrocious Wyoming team. They barely scraped past TCU (1-15 in Mountain West play) after trailing at the half. They got everything they could handle from New Mexico on a neutral court, and only won because Fredette was shooting lights-out even by his lofty standards. They got slapped around by a San Diego State team that they handled fairly easily, twice, with Davies. They aren't the same BYU team. Don't pick them.
4. Wisconsin Badgers. Can Wisconsin get their opponents to play their snail's pace basketball in the NCAA tournament? Despite reports of UW's fantastic defense, opponents actually shot a respectable 43% from the floor. But they slow the game down so much that there just aren't enough possessions to score a high total. The Badgers can hit from the outside, but they are susceptible to the outside shot, as well.
Chance of reaching Houston: 10%. And even that feels a bit high, but for the strength (or lack thereof) of the rest of the region. Do you want to pin a deep tourney run on a team whose last two games included a game where they gave up 93 points, and a game where they scored 33? Besides a fantastic home court advantage, I'm not sure what's exceptional about the Badgers.
5. Kansas State Wildcats. Sometimes a team really has your number. Colorado really has Kansas State's number, this much is clear. But the Buffaloes (for some indefensible reason) aren't in the NCAA tournament. And if you disregard games against the Buffs, this is a Kansas State team that has beaten Texas-Austin (on the road), Missouri, and Kansas since its last loss. Unfortunately they have drawn "we have no business being anything lower than a 6-seed" Utah State in the first round. Go figure.
Chance of reaching Houston: 20%. Seriously, I hate this region of the bracket. I can't decide if I want Kansas State in the Final Four, or out in the first round. If these 16 teams each played one another once apiece in a round-robin format, Utah State and Kansas State would probably finish something like third and fourth. And it's a 5/12 match-up. I hate you, selection committee. I hate you.
The Sleeper(s) - Anybody. Seriously, go wild. Old Dominion is better than you probably think, and is absolutely capable of knocking off Pitt in the second round. Utah State (led by former Houston Cougar Brockeith Pane) can play with absolutely anybody, and has "major Cinderella run" written all over them. St. John's has repeatedly proven that they can beat anyone on any given day. Gonzaga is always dangerous. You like UCLA? Go wild. There is basically nothing that could happen in this region that would surprise me.
So quit hedging your bets and make your Final Four picks already!
Alright, fine. Syracuse, Duke, Kansas and Pittsburgh, with Kansas beating Duke for the national title. Do I feel awful about not putting the team with the best resume in the Final Four? Am I a total puss for not choosing the team I really wanted (St. John's) because I could totally see them losing in the first round? Have I ever gone four-for-four on my picks in the past? Yes, hell yes, and no way. And if you don't like it, you are more than welcome to scroll back to the top, click the link, and pick against me.