2011 NCAA Basketball Season Preview
“Misery loves company.” – Proverb
When my wife and I first started dating, one of the first things I warned her about was that I disappear in March.
The days after Selection Sunday are spent agonizing over my brackets, wondering why I am picking VCU to make it to the Sweet Sixteen. The first weekend, I watch with pain as my brackets disintegrate before my eyes and spend the rest of the month swearing that next year will be different. The remainder of the month is spent glued to the TV, for any and all scraps of information about my beloved Tar Heels and who they are playing. This happens every year. For all of March.
I have since dragged my wife into this little crazy world of mine – you might say “Madness”… no? Too soon? – and she hitched her wagon to the Ohio State Buckeyes a few years ago. She picked them the year they lost to Florida in the National Championship (2007). Two years before they had some schmuck named Evan Turner become the AP Player of the Year. And three years before they has consecutive #1 seeds in the tournament.
March Madness and the pains of watching it all fall apart, is now a family affair. Misery loves company.
The Preseason Polls
The season begins this week: the weekly polls; the “pffft, their non-conference schedule is too easy” arguments; the “how did they lose to THEM!?” debates; arguments over who has the hardest conference; and of course: how Coach K has taken a group of misfits and somehow turned them into a contender.
The first polls are out – aptly labeled the “Preseason Poll”- and my Tar Heels are sitting where they belong, at #1.
|1||North Carolina (62)||1,620|
|3||Ohio State (1)||1,482|
|First place votes in parentheses.|
For those new to the polls, the Associated Press poll is the de-facto standard. The AP Poll is run across football and basketball and Wikipedia provides a quick explanation of its system: “The rankings are compiled by polling sportswriters across the [United States]. Each voter provides his own ranking of the top 25 teams, and the individual rankings are then combined to produce the national ranking by giving a team 25 points for a first place vote, 24 for a second place vote, and so on down to 1 point for a twenty-fifth place vote.”
The Big Conferences
With six returning players, including potential National Player of the Year Harrison Barnes, North Carolina (1) looks to be the team to beat in the ACC. Although they started slow last year – they actually fell out of the Top 25 for a few months – Kendall Marshall is now given a full season as the starting point guard for the Heels, a change that last year marked their turning point. Duke (6), as always, will be a contender, simply because of the man at the helm. A friend once told me that “you could give Coach K a band of clowns and he will turn them into a Final Four team” and as much as I bleed UNC blue, after watching NCAA basketball for the last decade, I have to admit this is true. It looks to be a UNC-Duke kinda year in the ACC, with a few quality games from Florida State, Virginia Tech and NC State. Ok, not NC State. Just seeing if you’re paying attention.
Shaping up to be the hardest conference in the country, the Big East sports six teams in the preseason top 25: UConn (4), Syracuse (5), Louisville (9), Pittsburgh (10), Cincinnati (21) and Marquette (22). Not to diminish quality teams like Villanova, Georgetown and Notre Dame, this conference rightfully has defending National Champion UConn at its top. In case you forget, UConn made a huge run last March as a #6 seed, one which blew up many Madness brackets. (In the eleven years I have run a March Madness pool, this is only the second time that out of 100+ brackets, no one picked the eventual Champion). It would not be surprising to see two or even three Final Four teams come out of this conference and maybe even the 2012 National Champion.
Always a competitive conference, this year the top contenders looks to be the emerging powerhouses, pushing out the traditional ones. Top preseason seed Baylor (12) looks to be the team to beat, but with a rejuvenated Texas A&M (20) and an always scrappy Missouri (25) team, this conference is really anyone’s to steal. With perpetual powerhouses like Texas, Texas Tech, Oklahoma State and Kansas (13) all a part of the mix, this conference schedule could be one of the most interesting to watch this season.
To my wife’s joy, Ohio State (3) is the highest-ranked team in this conference and the clear favourite to win. With four returnees, including the dominant Jared Sullinger, Ohio State will need to either have an off-game or their opponent will need a great one to lose this conference. Although the Big Ten has two others in the Top 25 – Wisconsin (15) and Michigan (18) – the Buckeye veterans from last year’s disappointing tournament run will have the rest of the team hungry for not only a conference championship, but a deeper finish than their Sweet Sixteen exit in 2010.
With three teams in the Top 25 – Arizona (16), UCLA (17) and California (24) – the PAC 12 could be just as interesting or better than the Big 12. With their entire team returning, the Arizona Wildcats look to better their Elite Eight run of 2010, and just have to hope that this time around, they don’t run into a very-hot, eventual national champion. UCLA continues to build on their rich history and looks to be poised to make a run at the conference title this year. Come January, this will be one exciting conference to watch.
Projected Major Conference Winners
ACC: North Carolina
Big East: Pittsburgh
Big 12: Baylor
Big 10: Ohio State
Pac 12: Arizona
Projected Final Four
East Bracket: North Carolina
West Bracket: Ohio State
Midwest Bracket: Kentucky
South Bracket: Pittsburgh
Projected National Champion
North Carolina over Pittsburgh
The thing I love about NCAA Basketball is that I know some, if not all, of the above will be wrong. Someone will choke in their conference tournament. A projected star will be no better than me in my Monday night Rec league. A #1 seed will get upset in the brackets. And of course, my fearless predictions will all come crashing down. And somehow, my wife’s Buckeyes will get the better of my Tar Heels. It never fails.
Let the Madness begin.
… and that’s the last word.