After an interminable four days of waiting, March Madness officially begins today.
Twelve hours of basketball every day, starting at noon and going until after I'm asleep.
So, if you're stuck at work and can't watch the opening games of the tournament, here's a little something to take your mind off of how cruel life can be. You're welcome.
Five quick thoughts before I get to my bracket:
1. Arinze Onuaku's injury really worries me. If Brandon Triche or Scoop Jardine had been injured, I'd feel fine. But, with Salomon Alabi of Florida State and Robert Sacre of Gonzaga looming in the second round, Syracuse really needs Onuaku to be healthy to bang with those guys. To say Rick Jackson has struggled in the last three games would be a huge understatement, and DaShonte Riley is a freshman who has played as much college basketball in the last month as I have. I'm hoping Jim Boeheim is sandbagging by telling everyone Onuaku is out for the whole weekend, because I really wonder about Jackson's ability to score in the post consistently and stay out of foul trouble. I'm still picking the Orange for the Final Four.
2. I think the tournament committee did Duke a huge favor with their bracket. There are only two good big men in the bracket: an injured Luke Harangody from Notre Dame and Baylor, who features Ekpe Udoh, a 6-10 post player averaging 14 points a game; and Josh Lomers, a 7-footer who averages about 6.5 points a game. The team that beats Duke will have to beat it with guard play, and that's a tough order most of the time.
3. I've heard enough from the teams complaining that they didn't make the tournament. Three years ago, a 23-win Syracuse was left out of the tournament in favor of an 18-10 PAC 10 team that promptly got beaten by 20 points in its first-round game of the NCAA Tournament. That year, everybody said Syracuse needed to schedule tougher non-conference games. So, Virginia Tech and Illinois, schedule tougher games and win a few conference games against good teams and you'll make the tournament. Until then, shut up.
4. I really like Georgetown as a sleeper in the tournament. They have a great center and enough guard play to make some serious noise. They're tough to play zone against, and their offense does a good job of putting their four best scorers in comfortable positions for them to shoot the ball. If anyone beats Kansas, I see Georgetown being the team to do so.
5. I'm hopping on the Cornell bandwagon, too. I've heard analysts saying all they've done is lose close games to good teams this year, but look at those games again. They took Kansas to the final minute, they were beating Syracuse at the half and then beat Alabama and St. John's. The Big Red have a legitimate shooter and creator in Ryan Wittman, a 7-footer in Jeff Foote and three other players who shoot better than 45 percent from 3-point range. I don't think they're going to the Final Four or anything, but I wouldn't be surprised to see them in the Sweet 16.
Just remember, you heard it here first.
Now, on to the Whitless Wonder's bracket.
First Round Winners: Kansas, UNLV, New Mexico State, Maryland, Tennessee, Georgetown, Oklahoma State and Ohio State.
Second-Round Matchups: Kansas-UNLV; New Mexico State-Maryland; Tennessee-Georgetown; Oklahoma State-Ohio State. I like Kansas to beat the Running Rebels easily. I'm uneasy about Maryland, but think they should beat New Mexico State. Tennessee is too up and down for my liking, so I'm going with Georgetown and then Ohio State in a surprisingly tough second round game for a second seeded team.
First Round Winners: Syracuse, Gonzaga, Butler, Vanderbilt, Xavier, Pittsburgh, BYU, Kansas State.
Second Round Matchups: Syracuse-Gonzaga; Butler-Vanderbilt; Xavier-Pitt; BYU-Kansas State. I think I like Syracuse to beat Gonzaga, but that matchup scares me a lot without knowing how Onuaku's health is. I'll take Vanderbilt over Butler in a matchup of two teams I haven't seen play. I like Xavier, but I'll almost always take the Big East team over an Atlantic 10 team, and I like Kansas State to handle BYU in a close game.
First Round Winners: Kentucky, Wake Forest, Cornell, Wisconsin, Marquette, New Mexico, Clemson and West Virginia.
Second Round Matchups: Kentucky-Wake Forest; Cornell-Wisconsin; Marquette-New Mexico; Clemson-West Virginia. Yeah, I can't believe I have Wake Forest winning either after they torpedoed my bracket last year. They at least win one game this year but get beaten down by Kentucky in the second round. I like Cornell to beat Wisconsin - they do a lot of the same things offensively and defensively, and I think Cornell can definitely handle a middle of the road Big 10 team. I'm also taking Marquette and West Virginia.
First Round Winners: Duke, California, Utah State, Siena, Notre Dame, Baylor, St. Mary's and Villanova.
Second-Round Matchups: Duke-California; Utah State-Siena; Notre Dame-Baylor; St. Mary's-Villanova. I like Duke to beat California, Utah State, Baylor and Villanova.
Kansas-Maryland: This is where the Greivis Vazquez train comes to a screeching halt. Gary Williams has done a nice job with this Maryland team after the disappointment of the last two seasons, but they're no match in my eyes for Kansas. Sherron Collins should be able to take Vazquez out of his game, Cole Aldrich should be able to handle things in the paint and, honestly, I don't see Maryland scoring more than 60 points.
Georgetown-Ohio State: Evan Turner's a great player, but do you trust Dallas Lauderdale to shut down Greg Monroe? Me neither, so Georgetown's the pick here for me.
Syracuse-Vanderbilt: I honestly see the Gonzaga-Florida State winner being one of the toughest matchups for Syracuse in this tournament. Vanderbilt's good, but not much better than Florida, who Syracuse already beat this season. Vandy's a lot like Syracuse in that they have good balance offensively, but if Syracuse can shut down John Jenkins (a 48 percent 3-point shooter) and hold Jermaine Beal in check, the Orange will advance.
Pittsburgh-Kansas State: I have Pitt's season ending to Kansas State. Baylor is really one of the more remarkable stories in the tournament considering they had a player kill another player a few years ago, had to hire a new coach and were among the 20 worst major-college programs in the country. Now, they have four players who can score, a coach who has to be a candidate for a bigger and better job if he wants to move on and a 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Yeah, I like them to beat an up-and-down Pittsburgh team. The only way Pitt wins is if Ashton Gibbs and Adam Wannamaker each score 20 points - and I don't see that happening.
Kentucky-Cornell: As much as I love Cornell in this tournament, their ride ends here. John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins and Eric Bledsoe are good players, but the reason I like Kentucky has a lot to do with Patrick Patterson. A returning big man with shooting touch and a good handle of what John Calipari wants to do defensively is a nice guy to have in a tournament, especially when your team relies on three freshman. This game might not be that close.
Marquette-West Virginia: I'd love to see Marquette win this game, but West Virginia has some nice mojo working after the Big East Tournament. I give a lot of credit to Buzz Williams for coaxing an NCAA Tournament bid out of his undersized squad this year, but West Virginia should win this game.
Duke-Utah State: Another nice Cinderella run comes to an end. Utah State struggles to shoot the ball consistently, and the team that beats Duke has to be able to score more than 70 points to win or be able to shut Duke down. Utah State isn't that team. You do have to love a team whose fourth-leading scorer's name is Pooh, though.
Baylor-Villanova: If there is one thing the Big East season has taught us, it's that size can beat Villanova. With that in mind, I see Ekpe Udoh having a big game if this matchup happens. Villanova's guards are good, but if you can match up with them on the perimeter, you have a good chance to beat them. Baylor is a tough matchup for Villanova.
Kansas-Georgetown: Here's my first big upset. I've seen both of these teams play a fair amount this season, and while the numbers and the records say Kansas should win, my eye tells me Georgetown is a good potential upset pick here. Cole Aldrich will be a top 10 pick in the NBA draft, but that doesn't mean Greg Monroe doesn't tear him up down low. And, in the games Kansas has lost, it's been because good guard pressure keeps Sherron Collins from getting good shots. The only way I see Kansas blowing Georgetown out is if Xavier Henry plays like he did down the stretch and not like the freshman who couldn't handle tough defenders. I like Georgetown to win this one.
Syracuse-Kansas State: Kansas State is a tough test for man-to-man teams, but they can struggle to shoot the ball far more than a team that features two high-scoring guards should. Their best 3-point shooter averages a whopping 4.1 points a game. With that said, I like the Syracuse zone to force deep 3-pointers, and Wesley Johnson and Andy Rautins to have a big game as Syracuse advances to the Final Four.
Kentucky-West Virginia: West Virginia's mojo ends here. Teams with size can give the Mountaineers problems, and Kentucky has ample size to go with those talented guards. And, Bob Huggins will press and trap to try to speed Kentucky up, but Kentucky likes to play fast - so that strategy is likely to backfire. West Virginia can keep it close, but I like Kentucky to advance to the Final Four.
Duke-Baylor: This is a terrible matchup for Duke. If Baylor plays defense (and they have struggled with that this season) they could blow Duke out. LaceDarius Dunn is a great scorer, and Tweety Carter is capable of shutting down whoever he guards, too. Duke's best hope in this game is Kyle Singler banging home 30 points and Jon Scheyer finding some shooting room, because I'm not that impressed with Duke's bigs (when the national media is singing the praises of Brian Zoubek, you know you have serious issues down low). I like Baylor in the upset.
Georgetown-Syracuse: So, if the Whitless Wonder's bracket actually comes true, Georgetown and Syracuse will play for a fourth time, and I hate the matchup for the Orange. They're more successful against teams that haven't seen the zone for a while, and Georgetown could teach a class on how to attack a 2-3. Since I'm a Syracuse fan, I'm hoping Georgetown loses early. I don't see it happening, though. If he gets to the Final Four, I think you'll see a much more aggressive Wesley Johnson, and something tells me Jim Boeheim will have a few new wrinkles for the Hoyas that they didn't see in the Big East Tournament. Let's go with the Orange and call it a 75-69 win.
Kentucky-Baylor: Baylor caps a dream run with a loss to Kentucky, but it's a close game. John Calipari might cheat to get his athletes to his college, but once they're on campus, he gets the most out of them. I like Kentucky to win, perhaps by double digits.
Syracuse-Kentucky: In a rematch of the 1996 national championship game, Syracuse finds itself with much more firepower than it did back then, when a John Wallace-led team just didn't have enough scorers to hang with Kentucky. Nobody on Kentucky's squad shoots better than 40 percent from 3-point range, which means the Orange collapse on DeMarcus Cousins and Patrick Patterson and force deep shots. And, while Patterson and Cousins are good scorers, they aren't the best of passers.
Do I even need to actually write down who I'm picking?