Jay Garneau: March is right around the corner. As the calendars turn, sports fans around the country get pumped for March Madness.
We’re starting to hear a lot about “bracketology” – who is and isn’t going to be in the NCAA Basketball Tournament. Brady, what team do you think is going all the way this year?
G. Brady Selhorst:
Syracuse has impressed me since the beginning of the year. The 20-game winning streak the Orange went on right out of the gate only made them a more appealing pick.
The No.2-ranked team in the country, Syracuse might be the most athletic team in the tournament this year. Jim Boeheim’s famous 2-3 zone defense suffocates opponents with its quickness, length and cohesiveness.
The Orange play no one shorter than 6’2 and have a shot-block extraordinaire in seven-footer Fab Melo anchoring their zone.
Defense is the key in any championship team, and Cuse has that covered. The next check on the list needs to be consistent guard play.
Boeheim plays a three-headed monster at his two guard positions. Scoop Jardine, Brandon Triche and Dion Waiters all average around 23 minutes a game and give Syracuse consistency in the backcourt.
Jardine plays the role of distributor, as he averages five assists a game. He also adds almost nine points a contest.
Triche, along with forward Kris Joseph, provide a deep threat for the Orange. The junior is a pure shooter who can make buckets from all areas of the floor. He can also handle the ball and take some of the pressure off of Jardine in crucial situations.
Waiters may be the least noticed of the group, but is probably the most talented. If we were talking pro prospects, the 6’4 sophomore would top the list. Flashes of Dwyane Wade come to mind when watching Waiters smoothly break down and attack defenses.
He averages 12 points a game and is a huge spark plug coming off of Boeheim’s bench.
The final component every championship team needs is experienced leadership.
We saw it in the tournament last year as Kemba Walker willed the Uconn Huskies to an 11-game win streak to end the season as national champs.
Jardine may get lost among the vast amount of talent that Syracuse puts on the floor every night, but during March Madness his senior leadership will be invaluable.
Syracuse has definitely played well, but the Big East is also in a down year while John Calipari has quickly turned Kentucky into a powerhouse.
With top recruiting classes each of his few years as a coach, he’s had a number of players who spent a year in the program before jumping ship to the NBA. Therefore, his teams have always been youthful and tend to struggle in the NCAA Tournament due to lack of experience.
While the top-ranked Wildcats still have a young team this year, they’re in better position to make a deep run into the playoffs than in years past. Two sophomores on this year’s team, Doron Lamb and Terrence Jones, are in the top three on the team in scoring and were part of a team that made a Final Four run last year.
Freshman phenoms Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist are playing beyond their years and have stepped up to every challenge. That’s going to make Kentucky tough to beat.
Jones, David and Kidd-Gilchrist make it very hard to pick against Kentucky this season. The Wildcats are loaded with NBA prospects once again, but that is no different than the previous two seasons when they fell short of the ultimate prize.
On my champion’s checklist (the list that Syracuse exemplifies), Calipari’s team would fall short in one of the most important categories—experienced leadership.
I know Jones and Lamb have been there before, but the Wild- cats lose the most critical parts of their team every year to the NBA draft. Losing your star players every year is a large mountain to climb.
For this reason, Syracuse is my favorite to win it all. I do, however, think Kentucky will make the Final Four and be very competitive.
Rounding out my teams that will be in New Orleans in April are Missouri and North Carolina.
Missouri has the quickest guards in the country and they make it their objective to hound opposing ball handlers all game long. Harrison Barnes of UNC is a pure scorer and is part of a group who has been to the tourney before.
I could definitely see both Kansas and Mizzou making it to the Final Four from the Big 12. They’ve played top-level teams in conference play all year. Each team has three wins against top-eight teams, while Mizzou is an excellent 5-1 against top-25 teams.
They both have played in big games all year and won’t feel the pressure.
In addition to those two teams and Kentucky, Michigan State will round out the Final Four. They’re on a tear right now, beating three ranked teams in their current five-game winning streak, winning each game by 10 or more points.