Bubble teams. Cinderellas. Dickie V. going nuts on national television for the 438,957,592nd time.
You know what this means. It’s time for March Madness.
Unfortunately, I have to write this column a little early. The major conference tournaments are only just underway, and those will shed some more light on who’s in, who’s out, who’s going to win it all and who’s headed home early. But let me put it this way: It’s jump into the tournament or wallow in an end to the Yale winter season that saw both hockey teams get swept by Harvard and the basketball team lose by 28 to Penn.
Right. The tournament it is.
One more comment. I can win fantasy leagues, and I can win bets on football games … theoretically speaking, since none of us are actually putting money on sports games, um, yeah. But I’ve yet to win an NCAA Tournament pool, nor have I come close. However, I have probably watched more basketball than you this year. So for what it’s worth, here are some friendly tips for managing your 2007 March Madness pool:
1. Beware of freshmen
Carmelo Anthony is the exception, not the rule. I don’t trust freshmen in the dance. The pressure is too high, the stakes are too great. This is more true when the young guys have to handle the ball and also likely when there’s not a strong veteran presence on a team.
The epitome of a guy who makes me nervous is Scottie Reynolds of Nova. He’s been going off for huge numbers recently, but when tourney time hits, I worry he’ll keep throwing the rock up even if his team’s being hurt by it. So watch out for matchups that pit veterans and good defensive schemes against Reynolds, Texas’ D.J. Augustin and Ohio State’s Mike Conley, just to name a few.
2. Except that one freshman…
…who happens to be named Kevin Durant. Every time I watch him play, I find some new reason to pee my pants. Check out the line on this kid: 25.1 points per game, 11.4 boards per game, 1.8 steals per game, 1.8 blocks per game, 49 percent from the field and 43 percent from behind the arc.
If there’s a frosh who can win it all, it’s him. He was beating Kansas at Kansas until he rolled his ankle last week. If Augustin plays under control, all the better for Durant.
3. You’d have to be crazy
A Cameron Crazy, that is. I will have absolutely nothing to do with Duke this year. If you saw the end of the UNC-Duke game, you might have thought there was a heated contest going on. But no, that was just Tyler Hansborough’s face finding Gerald Henderson’s elbow.
Josh McRoberts has developed a turnover problem. Greg Paulus is inconsistent … at best. This team is still ranked on the basis of the name and could weasel its way into a 4- or 5-seed depending on how the various tournaments go. They’re my best guess to go home early. UNC fans everywhere — and the rest of you, who also hate Duke — rejoice.
4. That other Big 12 team
A couple of really great teams have gone this whole season under the radar, despite high rankings, and chief among them is Texas A&M. This team is built for the tournament. In senior Acie Law IV, the team has a veteran go-to guy who does nothing more than make shots when they need to be made. While his team lost in double-OT at Texas last week, it wasn’t Law’s fault; the man hit two absurd threes with the clock winding down to save his team in regulation, and then again at the end of the first overtime.
If the Aggies finish behind Texas and Kansas in the Big 12 tournament, a distinct possibility, they could slip down to a No. 3 seed. But this team will come up big when the going gets tough.
5. Sidelines matter
When push comes to shove, the coach really plays a big role during the tournament. This is especially true in the early going, when coaches have a lot more time to prepare for the competition. So give extra consideration to guys like UNC’s Roy Williams and Florida’s Billy Donovan, or Jim Boeheim if Syracuse sneaks in, coaches who have proven themselves in crunch time. Be wary of coaches who haven’t been dancing yet, or haven’t proven themselves on the big stage, like Texas’ Rick Barnes.
6. And the winner is…
Pfft. Hell if I know. This is one of those years where the field is really, really open. Frankly, I don’t trust a lot of the top teams. No. 1 Ohio State, for example, barely beat 20-11 Michigan last Friday, and put up a pair of close wins over 11-18 Penn State just before that. Kansas doesn’t have a go-to guy. Florida will remember how to play, but everyone else will remember that they’re the defending champs, and they’ll smell the blood in the water.
I’m not making my pick until I see the draw. But for now, my pick is Wisconsin. They have a go-to guy in Alando Tucker, and solid role players around him who know how to come up big (see: Kammron Taylor’s game-winning trey over Michigan State last week). Other teams to look out for if the draw falls the right way are UCLA, UNC, Texas and Texas A&M.
Well, that’s my two cents. Enjoy break, and watch A LOT of college basketball. Dickie V., I’m coming, baby!
Dan Adler is a senior in Pierson College and a former Sports Editor at the News. His column appears on Thursdays.