Author’s Note: This column appears in the March 22 issue of The Villanovan
If you’re like me, your bracket is wrecked. We’re talking missing-the-Erin-Express-because-you-were-driving-the-struggle-bus wrecked. Count me among those drinking the Missouri Kool-Aid, because I had them headed to the National Championship game before falling to North Carolina. I had Duke in the Elite Eight, and Vanderbilt and Belmont were my two sleeper teams. Clearly you don’t have to be good at predicting NCAA Tournament games to be a column writer.
But now that your bracket is ranked lower nationwide than Markus Kennedy’s free throw percentage—that’s 6.3 percent for those keeping track at home—it’s time to throw your support behind some new teams. Thankfully, I have a team from each region for you to root for this weekend.
Midwest Region: No. 13 Ohio
This choice is an obvious one, almost as obvious as picking a No. 2 seed over a No. 15 seed. As the lowest seed remaining in the tournament and the first No. 13-seed to make the Sweet 16 since 2006, the Bobcats of Ohio U should be your new favorite team. Ohio is a member of the Mid-American Conference, which features powerhouse teams like Bowling Green, Northern Illinois and Ball State.
After knocking off Villanova’s sworn enemy of the 2012 Big East season, South Florida, Ohio finds itself facing a UNC team that is without its most important player, sophomore point guard Kendall Marshall. If Ohio can get past the No. 1 seeded Tar Heels, they could find themselves facing another double digit seed for a trip to the Final Four.
West Region: No. 7 Florida
I can’t bring myself to pick any Big East teams, and considering Michigan State is the seeded favorite out West, the Gators are the default pick here. No team has crushed their opponents quite like the Gators this March—they smoked No. 10-seeded Virginia 71-45 Friday before eliminating Cinderella story Norfolk State by 34 on Sunday. Junior point guard Kenny Boynton has stepped up his scoring this season, and has seen his field goal percentage rise in each of the last two seasons. After dropping 20 points against Norfolk State, Boynton and the Gators take on Marquette today with a potential matchup against the Spartans on Sunday. Cheer against the chalk in the West, and take the Gators.
East Region: No. 4 Wisconsin
Every self-respecting college basketball fan needs to have that one team that they despise more than any other. For many, it’s the Duke Blue Devils or North Carolina. But for me, it’s Syracuse. The Orange, who are soon leaving the league they founded for the ACC, make my skin crawl. Some of my happiest moments at Villanova basketball games have been screaming “Toaster!” at Paul Harris or other not-AP-approved-things at Eric Devendorf and Wes Johnson. So this pick is for any self-respecting Villanova fan that can’t stand those god-awful orange jerseys and Head Coach Jim Boeheim’s constant complaining.
And the Badgers aren’t half bad either. A consistent underachiever in the NCAAs, Head Coach Bo Ryan’s team is the model of Big Ten basketball: slow, low-scoring and to be frank, boring. Facing ’Cuse’s 2-3 zone, the Badgers will need to have a strong shooting night to keep up with the Orange. It probably won’t happen and Syracuse will probably move on to face Ohio State in the Regional Final, but let’s think positively. Or is it negatively?
South Region: No. 3 Baylor
Baylor ought to move on against No. 10 Xavier, leading to a likely matchup against No. 1 overall seed Kentucky in the regional final. Baylor was the third best team in what I considered to be the deepest league in the country: the Big 12. But with Mizzou sent packing early, it’s up to Baylor to take the lead along with the JayHawks of Kansas.. Baylor’s balanced offensive attack is led by sophomore stud Perry Jones III, who gave up the opportunity to get drafted to lead his team on another tournament run—cough, cough, Maalik Wayns.
Another player to keep an eye on is senior forward Quincy Acy. Acy averages two blocks and what seems like at least four thunderous dunks per game. Watching Acy matchup against Kentucky freshman phenom Anthony Davis might be the best one-on-one matchup of the entire NCAA Tournament.