If the past four days of basketball were any indicator, we're about to be treated to an NCAA tournament full of One Shining Moments. From Evan Turner's 37-footer to Da'Sean Butler's game-winners, DeMarcus Cousins' put-back and Jon Scheyer's dagger, this year's conference tournaments were a showcase for some of the nation's most clutch individual performers.
If the past four months of basketball were any indicator, we're also about to be treated to a Rock Chalk Final Four. There are good teams scattered all over this year's tourney, but only Kansas has been truly great over the course of this season.
The Jayhawks are my overwhelming favorites to cut down the nets in Indianapolis come April 5. Or at least they were, right up until CBS unveiled the bracket.
For reasons known only to the 10 people in that room, the selection committee tapped Kansas its No. 1 overall seed, placed it in the Midwest, then inexplicably stuck it with the most loaded field of any region, hands down -- Ohio State, Georgetown, Maryland and Michigan State. And like some sort of cruel joke, the No. 6 (Tennessee) and No. 7 (Oklahoma State) seeds happen to be the two teams that beat the Jayhawks this season.
Congrats on that 32-2 record, Bill Self. Enjoy those sleepless nights.
Self would assuredly love to trade places with Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, whose 29-5 team not only garnered a No. 1 seed but drew a No. 2 seed (Villanova) that's lost five of its last seven; a No. 4 seed (Purdue) that's a shell of its former self without injured star Robbie Hummel and a No. 6 seed (Notre Dame) that wouldn't even have been in the field two weeks ago.
But take a closer look at Kansas' field and you'll find a common denominator. It's not necessarily the teams themselves that should scare Self -- it's their star players.
St. Louis is going to be brimming with star power no matter which teams advance there. Likely National Player of the Year Turner, Georgetown center Greg Monroe, Maryland guard Grevis Vasquez, Oklahoma State swingman James Anderson and Georgia Tech big man Derrick Favors -- all potential first-round picks, all playing in the same regional.
But so, too, will a Kansas team whose collective future earnings surely fall somewhere in the nine-digit range, with point guard Sherron Collins, center Cole Aldrich, shooting guard Xavier Henry and twin big men Marcus and Markieff Morris all on the radars of NBA GMs. None are prone to going off for 31 points and 10 rebounds like Turner did Saturday against Illinois or take 33 shots like Vasquez did in a late-season win over Virginia Tech, but they don't need to. They know their roles.
Which brings us to the central issue when it comes to filling out your entry pool for the 2010 tournament. If March is the time when stars tend to rise, which do you trust more: A flashy outfit like Kentucky (a.k.a. Lottery Pick U.), or a more businesslike approach like that of zone-you-to-death Syracuse? Do you see guys like Ohio State's Turner or West Virginia's Butler near-singlehandedly carrying their teams like they did during their conference tourneys? Or do you see them falling at the feet of a more balanced squad like Self's Jayhawks or Krzyzewski's Blue Devils?
It's a tough call.
It's easy to knock Kentucky because it's young -- but youth hasn't kept Cousins and John Wall from going 32-2. Though they have come awfully close to losing about eight times to inferior opponents.
It's easy to knock Ohio State because it's so darn thin -- but the Buckeyes' six-man rotation hasn't shown a whole lot of fatigue in winning 13 of their last 14. Though they did blow a 14-point lead at West Virginia.
I could go on and on, but there are flaws with every team in this field, Kansas included. The Jayhawks have a maddening tendency to take their foot off the gas for extended periods. Though once they come to, they tend to immediately go on a 17-2 run.
I think I still like Kansas. But let's review the entire bracket to make sure.
Committee thumbs-up: There isn't one this year. While there were no gross bubble injustices (spare me the Wake Forest-Virginia Tech "debate" -- play someone before January next time, Hokies), this may be the worst job of seeding and balancing the bracket I've ever seen from a committee. So we might as well skip ahead to ...
Committee thumbs-down: We can agree to disagree whether Duke is a better team than Syracuse, or how Ohio State could have slipped to eighth on the S-curve. My biggest complaint is the lack of consistency. If how you end your season matters -- as chairman Dan Guerrero indicated in regards to the Blue Devils' ascension above the Orange -- then how is Villanova still a No. 2 seed? How did West Virginia, which beat the Wildcats a week ago and then won the Big East tournament, draw a higher No. 1 seed (Kentucky)? Why did No. 6 seeds Notre Dame and Marquette get rewarded for one great stretch of late-season basketball while No. 5 seed Temple (10 straight wins) did not? FYI, the Owls (29-5) beat the Wildcats and have a higher RPI, yet check in three seeds lower. Just saying.
Best draw: Duke. For reasons explained above. Though I suppose the Blue Devils should be worried about No. 9 seed Louisville, which seem to have a thing for teams (Syracuse) with a No. 1 next to their name.
Worst draw: Ohio State. Whichever team wins the game opposite theirs, Oklahoma State or Georgia Tech, won't be an easy out, but that will be heaven compared to their next two possible opponents: Georgetown and Kansas.
Best first-round matchup: Vanderbilt-Murray State. Prior to Sunday night, I would have listed Vanderbilt as my Final Four sleeper and Murray State as my top Cinderella candidate. But now they're playing each other. At least it should be entertaining.
Best potential second-round matchup: Kansas State-BYU. Forget the seeds (No. 2 vs. No. 7). These are two evenly matched teams -- the Cougars are actually ranked slightly higher (seventh) than the Wildcats (ninth) in Ken Pomeroy's ratings -- with a pair of high-scoring point guards, Denis Clemente and Jimmer Fredette.
Best potential Sweet 16 matchup: Ohio State-Georgetown. You've got two skilled transition teams, a pair of lottery picks (Turner and Monroe) and a host of capable scorers (Georgetown's Chris Wright and Austin Freeman, Ohio State's Jon Diebler and David Lighty). Please let this happen.
Runner-up: West Virginia-New Mexico.
Best potential Elite 8 matchup: Kentucky-West Virginia. In one corner, Wall. In the other, Butler. Who gets the last shot?
Runner-up: Kansas-Ohio State/Georgetown.
East: Kentucky. A lot of people don't trust the Wildcats. I do -- at least to a certain point. They're far more talented than any of the other teams in their region, and Wall and Cousins seem born for the big stage.
South: Duke. I know Baylor is a trendy pick here, but these aren't the Blue Devils of recent past. They have an inside game and they play defense. And while Villanova knocked them out last year, I don't see 'Nova getting that far.
Midwest: Kansas. The Jayhawks are going to get sorely tested in the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight, but they've already been through a similar grind in the Big 12 and they're more consistent than their biggest threats.
West: BYU. The committee gifted the Cougars an opportunity to play in their Salt Lake City backyard if they can get through the first two rounds. Banged-up Syracuse is vulnerable to begin with, and Fredette can break down its zone.
Final Four: Kentucky-Duke? How about that. This one will be no classic, however; the Blue Devis' guards can't handle Wall. Kansas, having withstood tougher foes the previous two rounds, will end BYU's Cinderella run. And in another Self-Calipari title matchup, the Jayhawks' experience trumps Kentucky's youth.