If you are like me, your bracket was toast long ago. Even with nearly as many losses as wins, March Madness couldn’t be any more enjoyable! We have a great mix of traditional powers, Cinderella stories and future NBA stars.
We get four games tonight, and another four tomorrow (Friday) night which whittles the field down to the Elite Eight. I am not going to bother picking winners, as one thing I have learned from this tournament, expect the unexpected.
West Region/Honda Center-Anaheim, California
It all tips off tonight with home favorite San Diego State hosting Connecticut in Southern California. Aztec coach Steve Fisher has returned to the limelight with a large role in the ESPN documentary “The Fab Five” where he reminisced as the ringleader of the very talented Michigan Wolverines team of the early 90’s. The program debuted immediately following Selection Sunday giving it a tremendous target audience. Now, Coach Fisher has guided San Diego State into the Elite Eight. By now, you have seen Aztec forward Kawhi Leonard. Leonard was one of the top players in Los Angeles in high school, and has been the catalyst Fisher needed. The Huskies carry the torch as one of only two remaining team of eleven that qualified from the beleaguered Big East. U Conn has a superstar of its own in guard Kemba Walker who has been performing like a player of the year candidate since the late Fall.
Also in Anaheim, a beast from the East, defending national champion Duke meeting the Pac 10’s last man standing Arizona. The Wildcats could be fueled by a regional crowd, expecially if potential #1 overall NBA draft pick forward Derrick Williams can keep the ‘cats close. The Blue Devils have been focused since capturing the ACC tournament and have recieved a major spark with the return of injured guard Kyrie Erving, who had been out for much of the season.
Southeast Regional/New Orleans Arena-New Orleans, Louisiana
Will Butler make another surprise visit to the Final Four? Last season could have been considered an aberration, but if they make it again, they might be onto something. The improbable win over Pittsburgh with a more improbable ending is one we will see replayed for the ages. Matt Howard no longer has his side kick Gordon Hayward who has moved on to the NBA, but back to back buzzer beaters has Butler living on the edge. Wisconsin was not a sexy pick to reach the Sweet Sixteen. The most popular upset pick in the first round had Belmont knocking off the Badgers. So far, so good- winning Wisconsin basketball, even if their coach doesn’t like that references to their ugly, defensive slow style.
Florida is next in line to try and halt the Jimmer Express. BYU and the high scoring Fredette blew out a solid Gonzaga team to reach the Big Easy. So far, the predictions of gloom and doom for the Cougars without suspended forward Brandon Davies hasn’t surfaced. The Gators come in white hot, Florida on a roll through the end of SEC play and conference tournament has coach Billy Donovan looking for a third trip to the Final Four. If the loss of BYU’s best big Davies is going to be felt, the Gators dynamic front line will put it to the test.
East Region/Prudential Center-Newark, New Jersey
In what I maintain is the toughest region, North Carolina gets it started, taking on Big East rep Marquette. The Tar Heels were rolling down the stretch until an awakening in the ACC tournament final loss to Duke. The Tar Heels survived Michigan and now get double digit seed Marquette who tries to save face for the Big East. The marquee match up of the Sweet Sixteen also takes place in Newark, as the #1 overall seed, Ohio State takes on the latest fab freshman group from Kentucky. In a downright demolition of George Mason, the Buckeyes appeared unbeatable.
Southwest Region/Alamadome-San Antonio, Texas
Its an unexpected Richmond reunion at the Alamodome as a pair of double digit seeds from Virginia’s state capital, Richmond and Virginia Commonwealth are but one game away from meeting face to face in the Elite Eight. Richmond faces its toughest test yet as they take on #1 seed Kansas. The Jayhawks, led by the Morris twins, Marcus and Markeith, are considered by many the favorite to win it all. VCU takes on Florida State, with the Seminoles one of three ACC teams (of four) still dancing. Notre Dame was expected to arrive, but FSU added lights out shooting to a stingy defense in an easy win over the Fighting Irish.
The winners meet this weekend, which will bring us to the Final Four.
The 2011 Final Four will be held next Saturday and Monday, at Reliant Stadium in Houston, Texas