Sports department for the student run radio station 90.3 WRST at UW-Oshkosh
The early-blossoming of spring, an academic break for us college kids, and a lunar cycle full of college basketball… March, the best month of them all, is right around the corner. So, right off the bat, let’s get to some bracketology, shall we? Here are the 16 teams that I think make up the top four seeds as of games played through Sunday, February 24, 2013…
Indiana—The Hoosiers have established themselves as the go-to answer to the question of, “Who is the best team in the country?” They’re nowhere near as dominant as Kentucky was last season, but at this point appear to be the most tournament-ready team. One concern that I do have is how freshman point guard Yogi Ferrell will hold up during March. But, who needs a point guard when you have a two-guard as good as Victor Oladipo?
Duke—Some solid non-conference victories, senior leadership and the program’s reputation put Duke in the one-slot at this point, but I question whether or not this team has what it takes to make a run in the tourney. We’ve certainly seen them struggle in previous years.
Michigan—Two teams from the Big Ten will earn one seeds. The conference is too good for it to be any other way. And, after a rough week for its in-state rival, Michigan finds itself back in position for a one-seed. Yes, the Wolverines have four conference losses, but they’ve all been to ranked teams and have all came after Michigan’s impressive undefeated run through non-conference play. Oh, and they have the best point guard in college basketball.
Miami—The best team that no one knows about. Including me. So I’ll leave it at this: the record speaks for itself.
Florida—I really like this Florida team. They’ve had some questionable recent losses (specifically a “40 Minutes of Hell”-esque beat down from Arkansas), but Florida’s defense makes the Gators a tough team come tournament time.
Kansas—Led by freshman guard Ben McLemore (can we go thrift shopping?), Kansas has managed to stay above ground in a better-than-expected Big 12.
Michigan State—Rough week. You’ll have those in the Big Ten, which has exceeded expectations as a conference this season. Depending on the Michigan’s finish, the Spartans have a chance to jump back up to a one seed.
Georgetown—Rounding out the line of two seeds is, again, another surprising team. The Hoyas suddenly find themselves on top of the standings in a feisty Big East, and are bolstered by marquee wins against Syracuse, Louisville, Marquette, UCLA… the list goes on. They’re even helped out by a 82-72 overtime loss to Indiana at a neutral site back in November. JT3’s squad is definitely dangerous.
Gonzaga—Who have they beaten? Seriously? Besides their undefeated conference record and one-point win over an overrated Oklahoma State team, point out to me one thing that makes this team deserving of its number two ranking. We’ve been down this road before. Gonzaga is a great program from a mid-major conference, but despite all sorts of regular season success, Mark Few’s program hasn’t advanced past the Sweet 16 since 1999. I don’t believe. Neither will the selection committee. Gonzaga’s lack of quality wins plus losses against Illinois and Butler should bump them down to the three slot.
Louisville—After being ranked number one at one point this season, the Cardinals have fallen somewhat under the radar. But look out for this team—it advanced to the Final Four last year with largely the same group of impact players. Louisville has a veteran point guard in Peyton Siva, a prolific scorer in Russ Smith, an impact big man in Gorgui Dieng, and is fourth in the nation in defensive efficiency. It’s hard not to like that combination.
Syracuse—Their name is The Orange (which is awesome). They have one of the winningest coaches in NCAA Basketball history. They play an almost impossible-to-beat 2-3 zone. But yet, I’m not sold. Syracuse is inconsistent in big games. The end of their schedule, which features games against Louisville and at Marquette and Georgetown, plus, of course, the Big East Tournament, will be very telling for The Orange… That name gets me every time.
Arizona—I wanted to bump the Wildcats down, based solely on my lack of faith in the PAC-12, but it’s just hard to argue against their resume when matched up against teams that could possibly make a jump up to a three seed (see: Wisconsin, Ohio State, Kansas State). After all, Arizona did defeat Miami by 19 back in December. Look for them to close out strong in a below-average PAC-12 and maintain a three.
Wisconsin—I know, I can’t believe it either. After a disheartening non-conference season, Bo Ryan has done his best Bo Ryan impression and gotten his team to, once again, 10 conference wins and a top four placing (so far) in the best conference in college basketball. Despite streaky scoring and no cardboard-cut superstar, this Badgers team is better defensively this season than it has been in maybe Bo Ryan’s entire tenure in Madison, and that’s saying something. Need proof? The Badgers have held teams to under 60 points in 10 of their 14 Big Ten games. This list includes Indiana (2nd in the nation in scoring), Michigan State, Ohio State (twice), Minnesota (twice), and Illinois. Oh, and the Badgers are through the toughest part of their Big Ten schedule, and close out the season with games at home against Nebraska and Purdue, and on the road against Michigan State and Penn State. The non-MSU games seem like locks for Wisconsin to me, and even a close loss in East Lansing probably wouldn’t HURT the Badgers’ seeding. They have a chance to climb even higher before Selection Sunday.
Ohio State—The Buckeyes have one of the best pure scorers in the Big Ten in Desean Thomas, not to mention junior guard Aaron Craft, who is one of the best-defensive and, wait for it, CRAFTIEST point guards in the nation. One thing that concerns me about OSU is its like of signature non-conference wins. But it’s hard to argue with the consistency—the Buckeyes have not lost to an unranked team all season.
Kansas State—Much like Ohio State, the Wildcats have managed to avoid the bad loss. Four of their five losses have come against ranked teams, with the other coming on the road against an underrated Iowa State squad. However, Kansas State only has two wins against ranked teams: at a neutral site against Florida, and at home against Oklahoma State. That’s the kind of resume that might not get the job, but certainly earns a follow-up interview. Give ‘em a four seed.
New Mexico—The Lobos are one of those teams that you know is good, but you’re not sure how just good they might be. The Mountain West might be the seventh best conference in college basketball, after the power six, and New Mexico has been the best of that group. That earns them a four seed to this point, and we’ll see what they can do come tournament time.
Now that that’s done, let’s talk mid majors… How bad is the Horizon League? On Bracketbuster Saturday, three of the league’s top four teams were defeated by comparable schools in the Missouri Valley Conference. The metaphorical award for “Worst Bracketbuster Loss” goes to UW Green Bay (15-13, 9-5), which got housed by Drake (13-15, 6-10) by a score of 71-54. In the league’s defense, the Missouri Valley is not a conference that I even consider to be a “mid major”… It has reeked havoc in the NCAA Tournament for years, and will send anywhere between two and four teams to the dance this year (Creighton and Wichita State are shoe-ins, and Northern Iowa and Indiana State are possible candidates, as well). The Missouri Valley as a whole might be better than the PAC 12 (It was certainly better in the 2011-2012 season) or the SEC. It’s hard to defend Green Bay, however, which boasts an NBA prospect in the 7’1” Alec Brown, as well as leading scorer Keifer Sykes, perhaps the best point guard the program has seen since Tony Bennett in the mid-1990s. The Phoenix are two games back of first place Valparaiso in the Horizon as we are now. This will be a big week for Green Bay, with arch Rival UW Milwaukee coming to town on Tuesday, and Valpo heading to the Resch Center on Saturday to close out the regular season schedule.
A quick trip to the world of Division 3 basketball… My heartfelt congratulations go out to Brad Fischer and his UW Oshkosh women’s basketball team. The Lady Titans completed one of the most remarkable turnarounds in NCAA basketball history, posting a 20-6 record and jumping up 12.5 games from last season’s 7-18 mark. The Titans, however, did not earn an at large bid to the NCAA Tournament after being eliminated from the WIAC tournament after a 59-50 loss to UW Stevens Point, the eventual tournament champion, on Friday. Despite this, what this team did this season can’t be understated. Fischer realized the talent he had with senior guards Megan Wenig and Katie Kitzke (both of whom reached the 1000 point plateau during the season). He committed to a plan, delivered his message, and his team ran with it. It was truly an honor to cover and watch this team throughout the season, which will be my last full season covering WIAC basketball… This year’s Titans were one of the best comeback stories in D3 history, as well as one of the best teams ever to take the floor in the rich history of UW Oshkosh women’s basketball. But, more importantly, they were also a great group of people off the floor. They deserved one more game. And while they won’t get it, many of us will remember them as the team that, in Fischer’s own words, “made women’s college basketball matter again in Oshkosh.” Every year there’s always something that revitalizes my love for sports. And ladies, this year, that was you. So, from all of us: congratulations, and thank you.
World of Sports…
JJ Redick is a Milwaukee Buck, and 14-year-old me could not be more thrilled… What do y’all think? How does this trade benefit Milwaukee in the short term? How does he fit into the offense with Jennings and Ellis already taking a majority of the shots? What about in the long term? They didn’t have to give up any picks to secure him. Redick is an underrated defender, has tailored his game to be able to make plays consistently off the dribble, and is still one of the best shooters in all of basketball. Thoughts?
Brandon Kinnard, Titan TV Sports Director