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A New Sixteen

January 4, 2003 Columns No Comments


A New Year – A New 16

by Michael Ermitage

As the big calendar in my office flips from 2002 to 2003, I look down at my yellow notepad and notice a few must-do notes scribbled in black ink. The car needs an oil change, and a few undersized Christmas gifts need returning (Why does the wife/girlfriend/fiancé always get stuff too small?) And it is time for my annual New Year’s Sweet 16. Since I have no life, I do this three times a year (once at the beginning of the season, once before the conference season and again right before Selection Sunday). I do this because I think doing well in your office NCAA pool is a season-long process, not a three-day fest of reading previews, predictions and prognostications in the hours after the selection show. There are three kinds of tournament predictors:

1. The dude who scours the Internet for every statistic relating to the game he can find. He’ll tell you that Jason Gardner shot 21% against MWC teams on Thursdays so the Wildcats are doomed to be defeated in their opening round matchup against Colorado State. Generally this guy is your office nitpick, wearing neat but not trendy clothes and in the great debate of REM versus U2, he’ll vehemently defend Bono.

2. The chick who fills out the bracket with colleges she’s heard of, had friends gone to, or her boyfriend convinced her to take. Once in a decade she wins and pisses everyone else off. She showed up at your Super Bowl party in a skirt and talked through the entire fourth quarter. And forget REM or U2, she likes Matchbox20.

3. The knowledgeable fan. This is probably you if you’re reading Hoopville. You know who’s good and who isn’t, but you also know that weird stuff happens in the early rounds, but not so much in the late rounds. You put your faith in a couple of solid teams with senior guards, and usually finish in the top five. You like REM, a little tired of U2, so these days you have Wilco in the CD player.

I wasn’t always in category three, for a long time I was mired in category one. I’ve gradually learned that knowing which teams will do well in the tournament is more feel for the teams than knowledge of the matchups. So, I watch as much as I can, and I make these stupid Sweet 16 lists to remind me who I think is dangerous. And so, without further ado, here are my tournament favorites:

1. Arizona – I love seniors in March, particularly senior ball handlers. In Jason Gardner and Luke Walton, the Wildcats have two of the best seniors in the nation. Let’s not forget savvy senior Rick Anderson. Toss in tournament-tested Lute Olson and I can’t see this team anywhere else other than the Final Four.

2. Indiana – Normally, I’m very wary of picking teams to repeat long tournament runs. It seems that they lose the hunger to succeed. But this Hoosiers team is much different than last season’s team. It is more guard-focused and less one-player dependant than last year. I like Tom Coverdale’s guard play and leadership, A.J. Moye’s instant emotion, Jeffrey Newton’s consistency and Bracey Wright’s explosiveness.

3. Alabama – This team plays defense every possession and that’ll get you far in March. It has a nice mix of veteran and younger players, allowing Coach Mark Gottfried to substitute freely.

4. Mississippi State – This club features one of the most underrated players in the nation in Derrick Zimmerman. With him manning the point and man-child Mario Austin in the middle, this is a solid team.

5. Oklahoma – Another solid defensive team that I look for to repeat its long tournament run from a year ago. Hollis Price can be the difference in any close game.

6. Kentucky – I’ve learned to never count out the Wildcats if they have the talent. And I think that Marquis Estill, Keith Bogans and Gerald Fitch make a dangerous trifecta.

7. Notre Dame – The addition of Danny Miller has helped this team tremendously. And when it comes right down to it, I find it very hard to find a better player in the nation than Chris Thomas.

8. Kansas – Despite the Jayhawks’ bench woes, I still feel that Kirk Hinrich and Nick Collison are a fantastic duo. I think a deep bench is overrated in NCAA tournament games.

9. Butler – The Bulldogs are an intelligent, talented team. They take care of the ball, shoot well, and have a hunger to prove they belonged last year in the NCAA tournament field.

10. Oregon – I’m not convinced that the Ducks can run and gun on every team, as Cincinnati proved, but they’ll have enough to make the Sweet 16.

11. Duke – I’m hesitant to put the Blue Devils in here since they are so freshmen-dependant. But with Coach K, it is hard to ignore the Blue Devils.

12. Pittsburgh – On the strength of senior guard Brandon Knight, the Panthers crack the Sweet 16.

13. Wake Forest – Led by sensational senior Josh Howard, the Demon Deacons will bring an otherwise young team far into the tournament.

14. Xavier – If Lionel Chalmers can return from a broken ankle at 100 percent for the tournament, I like the Musketeers chances. Romain Sato and David West are NBA-caliber players.

15. Texas Tech – Andre Emmett has blossomed under Bob Knight. Combine that with a little inside toughness with the bald-headed Robert Tomaszek and the Red Raiders are formidable.

16. Michigan State – I think the Big Ten is too strong to have just one team represented here. While Illinois has been impressive, I’m afraid of their young guard play in tournament situations. Minnesota, Purdue and Wisconsin are all capable, but have yet to prove their worthiness. The Spartans have struggled, lacking good guard play and missing their usually good rebounding, but Izzo is a master at getting his teams to improve.

So, there it is, my second version of my sweet 16 list. I’ll post another one right before selection Sunday and then all my picks once the brackets are announced. It is never too early to get cracking on those brackets. Now, back to that list…

     

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