One of the best sporting events tips off on Thursday as the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, aka March Madness begins in Detroit, Lexington, Salt Lake City and San Jose. 64 teams battling to see who will make the trek to the Georgia Dome for the Final Four. Brackets have been filled out. Bets have been made. Here are my selections on who will be in Atlanta in two weeks time.
The Cardinals come in as the overall number one seed in the tournament, following their victory in the Big East tournament. Coach Rick Pitino is tournament savvy and knows how to handle the pressure that comes with the tournament. Pitino stresses defense first and the Cardinals have responded, conceding only 58 points per game. Meanwhile the Cardinals possess a solid offense, scoring 73.6 points per game. Louisville will also have the benefit of playing close to home, as their first two games will be in Lexington, before making the 90 minute drive to Indianapolis for the Regionals. Louisville won the best conference in college basketball, and are more than ready to handle March Madness. Two players to watch are junior point guard Russ Smith, whose 18.1 points per game led the Cardinals, and junior centre Gorgui Deng who is a strong interior presence for Louisville.
West: New Mexico
The Lobos come in slightly under the radar, which suits head coach Steve Alford just fine. The former Indiana star who won a National Championship with the Hoosiers in 1987, has been pushing all the right buttons on this New Mexico team. The Lobos were impressive in the Mountain West tournament, defeating UNLV in the championship game on the Rebels home floor. Alford will use the fact that New Mexico isn’t being respected by the national media to his advantage. Expect a hungry Lobos team to sneak its way out of the West region. Keep an eye on junior shooting guard Kendall Williams who is a streaky shooter, but can light it up from 3 point range.
This isn’t the Patrick Ewing Hoyas that dominated the mid 1980s, but Georgetown’s return to prominence in college basketball is to be respected. A superb defensive side, Georgetown only gave up 55.7 points per game. Coach John Thompson has his team primed for the Madness and has tournament experience, as he coached the Hoyas to the Final Four in 2007. This is a big, physical team that can wear opposing teams down in the post. Look for Georgetown to make the trip to Atlanta. Keep an eye on sophomore power forward Otto Porter whose interior presence fuels the Hoyas both on offense and on defense.
The Hurricanes won the ACC regular season and ACC tournament, and still weren’t granted a number one seed in the NCAA tournament. That has the Hurricanes fuming, and could be a huge motivating factor for Jim Larranga’s side. The Hurricanes were very impressive throughout the season, as they raced through the usually tough ACC. Resounding victories over traditional powerhouses Duke and North Carolina have given the Hurricanes confidence and assurance that they can play with the big boys. Keep an eye on sophomore point guard Shane Larkin. The son of former Cincinnati Reds shortstop Barry Larkin has impressive athletic bloodlines and a world of talent. His 14.6 points and 4.4 assists per game led the Canes, and he is the motor that makes the Hurricane engine go. If Larkin is on his game, the Hurricanes have a chance to cut down the nets in the Georgia Dome.
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