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It’s Hard to Pick the Final Four without a True Favorite

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by user Jgov05

Filling out your bracket and entering into online pools is one of the more fun things to do as a sports fan, and it is something unique to the NCAA Tournament. Though it is almost impossible to get even a single region entirely correct, the whole process is so addictive that I filled out five brackets in the last 30 minutes. Usually, there is at least one team you can completely trust to make the Final Four. Not the case with this year’s bracket.

In the past few years, there have been bracket-ruining upsets such as Bucknell-Kansas or Wisconsin-Milwaukee over Alabama and BC last year. This happens basically every year, as having a perfect bracket involves roughly the same chance as Kobe and Shaq exchanging Christmas cards. But usually, there are a few favorites that everyone can correctly predict to make the Final Four. Last year, the Illinois-North Carolina matchup could have been predicted before the season started. 2004’s classic Connecticut-Duke Final Four game was a battle of two heavily favored #1 seeds. 2002 Champion Maryland was a #1 seed. What I’m trying to say is that usually it is easy to predict the winner or at least a few of the Final Four teams.

But this year, nearly every team is shaky. There are no “sure things” as there have been in past years. Sure, Duke and Connecticut are #1 seeds with only 3 losses a piece. But you wouldn’t exactly bet your life on either of these teams to win the Big Dance, or any team in the field of 64 for that matter.

Let’s start with the Blue Devils. Despite being ranked #1 almost the entire season, this team has had more close calls than Jack Bauer on “24.” They lost to Florida State once and needed overtime to beat the Seminoles the other time they played. The Blue Devils also lost to Georgetown on the road and North Carolina at home, and barely survived about five to ten other games. Despite the presence of two All-Americans, the team lacks depth, and only plays 7 men usually. They are just screaming “upset waiting to happen.” Though I couldn’t imagine them not making the Sweet 16 once again—they just have to get through 16th-seeded Southern and the winner of George Washington/UNC-Wilmington to make it there—but I don’t think they’ll will come out of Atlanta as regional champs. Their bracket contains surging Syracuse, dark horse LSU, Big 10 champion Iowa, and Texas, who got crushed by Duke back at the beginning of the season but has improved since then. JJ Redick and Shelden Williams, despite their incredible talent, are very inconsistent along with the rest of the team. If one of these two has a bad night, the Blue Devils’ season will be over. So even though Duke seems like a favorite to come out as champions, don’t count on them. In the end, they lack the consistency it takes to make a run at the championship.

Though some may agree that Duke will be upset in this tournament, even the lamest of college basketball fans think Connecticut will roll through the DC bracket. I might be the only one that doesn’t see why the Huskies are so great. Sure, they only lost 3 games this year—to Tournament teams Villanova, Marquette, and Syracuse. But this team just doesn’t seem as dominant as the 2004 UConn squad, which rolled through its’ opponents like a lion hunting gazelle on Animal Planet. That team featured current NBA starters Ben Gordon and Emeka Okafor. That team flat-out suffocated Georgia Tech throughout most of the final. I just don’t see that type of dominance with this year’s team. The Huskies have plenty of talent, but they lack the true consistency it takes to make it all the way through the NCAA Tournament. This is the type of team that will follow flashes of brilliance with an awful game. For example, early in the season they followed up seven straight double-digit wins with a 15-point loss at Marquette. My forecast for them is that they will roll through the first few rounds, but will be upset and not reach the Final Four. Connecticut’s region features the weakest 2 seed—Tennessee—but also has Illinois, North Carolina, Washington, Michigan State, and Kentucky. All of these teams could pull off a win over UConn if they play solidly. The Huskies might be the most talented team in the tournament, but don’t bet your life savings on them winning the Big Dance.

The other two 1st seeded teams don’t seem that great to me, either. Memphis is lucky just to get a number 1 seed playing in Conference USA. Their Oakland region features multiple teams poised to upset the Tigers. Kansas or Pittsburgh loom on the same side of Memphis’ bracket, and the Tigers will be lucky just to get through either of them. I could even see Arkansas or Bucknell upsetting this team in the second round. Despite the Tigers’ depth, they lack a true superstar. The only thing Memphis has going for them is that they have beat UCLA already this year—and the Bruins are the second seed in this bracket. However, I don’t think Memphis will make it that far in the tournament.

Villanova, the top seed in the Minneapolis bracket, has been predicted by many as national champions. This is the team that is probably the hardest to predict out of the top seeds. On one hand, I could see them rolling through this bracket and giving the school another national title. On the other hand, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Wildcats were upset by another team in this bracket, which is loaded with question marks. The problem I have with Villanova is that I didn’t think to myself during any point of the year: “Wow, we’re looking at this year’s national champions.” Another problem is that they are too guard-dependent, with their loaded front court averaging an astounding 60 points per game. To win in March Madness, usually a team has to have a dominant forward or center, which the Wildcats lack. Potential teams that could unseat Villanova in this bracket are Boston College, Florida, OSU, or even Nevada.

This March Madness seems to be one of the most unpredictable in years. I could envision 10 different teams winning the tournament, and there really is no true favorite. While in year’s past you could predict which of the 1 seeds would make it to the Final Four, I think that none or even all of the top seeds could make it this year. I don’t know what to expect. And that’s what makes the NCAA Tournament so much fun.

My Final Four: Texas, Kansas, Illinois, and Villanova (I had to have one top seed…)

My National Championship Game: Texas vs. Illinois

My National Champion: Texas

If you have any comments email me or just post them. I’ll probably look back at these picks after it’s all over and wonder how I could have done so wrong. Then again, most of us will.



Date

Tue 03/14/06, 8:27 pm EST



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