(Editor's note: Sean Jackson wrote our preseason men's college basketball preview in which he picked UCLA to win it all. Having watched the entire season unfold, he is back with his tournament preview):
So what have we learned this season? Just a few things.
- Turn your phone to vibrate if you know Kelvin Sampson and don't have unlimited text messaging.
- If Erin Andrews is on ESPN, make sure she has her restraining order on Bruce Pearl in hand.
- Tyler Hansbrough and North Carolina have depth upon depth upon depth ... upon depth.
People can keep talking about how wide open the tournament will be, how, while the top seeds are tough, it's anyone's guess who will win, but really, Carolina's got the best team.
How many times has a squad entered the tourney unbeaten on the road? UNC struggled mid conference when Ty Lawson injured himself. You can make that argument that, if healthy, his squad would've beaten Duke in Chapel Hill. But that's in the past. Now, anything less than a title would be a disappointment.
Luckily for them, I'm picking non-disappointment. Or pro happiness. Whatever it is, get ready to give Roy Williams his second ring in four years.
Who will his 'heels beat? I'm not going to tell you now - read, read, read! After the jump, who will join UNC in the Final Four, the big upsets, the sleepers, teams ready for the apocalypse, and fun facts that will make you the talk of your big dance party.
The favorite ... Of course, North Carolina and Tyler Hansbrough. Louisville might be the only team that has a legit shot to beat the 'heels, but that's only if David Padgett and Terrence Williams are passing well, and kicking out of double teams quickly.
Sorry Tennessee: You're darn good, but don't match up well with either UofL or UNC.
Now if we had Erin Andrews on the sidelines for Bruce Pearl to grope, perhaps things would be different. But she works for ESPN, not CBS. Sorry Brucie.
The sleeper ... Don't doubt Notre Dame, and don't forget big man/Big East MVP Luke Harongody. Think he's just a big blob? Watch him move, watch him shoot, watch him bake cakes, watch him break up the Obama/Hillary fight, watch him save the Bush administration ... well, even he has limits. But Luke is an impossible matchup, and seeing how Hansbrough plays him in the 3rd round will be fun.
The big upset ... Winthrop over Washington State. The Cougars got a lot of hype entering the season, and while they played well, the team couldn't beat UCLA or Stanford (a combined 0-5). Winthrop will use the speed of it's guards Chris Gaynor and Michael Jenkins to pull the shocker.
And if they lose by 30, you never read this.
The apocalypse cometh ... Indiana Hoosiers. The good news is Kelvin Sampson isn't bringing his Verizon network with. The bad news is his former team has quit on new coach Dan Dakich: IU is 3-3 since Sampson's forced resignation, and very few outside of DJ White look like they even care.
One. And. Done. Arkansas to the second round.
Impress your friends ... By talking about George Mason coach Jim Larrnaga's son, Jay, will coach the Irish national team. Or that Rick Pitino's son is an assistant at Louisville. Or IU coach Dan Dakich defended Michael Jordan in his airness's final collegiate game (a Hoosier win in 1983, one where Dakich shut down Jordan. It's Dan's claim to fame in Bloomington).
Or just buy them beer. That impresses me the most.
But the winner is ... North Carolina, beating Louisville in the regional finals.
The favorite ... Kansas. The Jayhawks are playing as well as anyone, and should have no problems speeding through the first three games. But can they beat the physical, slowdown style of Wisconsin or Georgetown? Can Bill Self finally get to the Final Four?
Wait, you want to find out now? Come on - you gotta keep reading. Stick with the program, pal.
The sleeper ... Davidson. Stephen Curry scores just a point less per game (25.2 ppg) than Kansas State's Michael Beasley, but Curry does it more with speed and an amazing shooting touch. Stephen is former NBA star Dell Curry's son, and his Wildcats have won 22 straight, more than any team in the nation.
The big upset ... Davidson over Gonzaga. Come on: You read the above. You knew this was coming.
Really, I don't see many huge upsets in this region. Chalk it up to chalk. Or give it up to chalk. Or ... nevermind.
The apocalypse cometh ... Vanderbilt or Clemson. Congrats to both on being overseeded. One of you will make the sweet 16. Clemson should be able to grind down Vandy ... and then get run to death by Kansas. Fun, eh?
Impress your friends ... By telling them that, in 1989, 14th-seeded Siena (a 13 seed this year) not only stunned Stanford, but did so under incredibly strange circumstances.
The school played much of the year without a nickname after dropping "Redskins", choosing Saints before the ECAC North Atlantic Conference tournament. How did they unveil it? To an empty arena: Siena hosted the tourney, but played in front of no one because of a measles outbreak on campus.
Nonetheless, the newly-christened Saints upset Boston University, then took out Stanford as well. Then, to celebrate, everyone got a Z pack to cure the illness.
Well, maybe not.
But the winner is ... Wisconsin. One of these years Bo Ryan will get a team to the Final Four, and while he's got a helluva tough ride here, I'm not sold on Roy Hibbert, Jonathan Wallace and Georgetown. Badgers/Jayhawks will be the style contrast of the century, and Bo's bunch might have enough to frustrate the KU crowd out of the tourney.
The favorite ... Don't believe anyone that says Memphis is vulnerable because "it plays in that mediocre Conference USA". Yes, the league isn't great, but here's who the Tigers beat in non conference:
Georgetown, USC, Gonzaga, Arizona, Oklahoma and UConn. Those teams have an average seed of five in the tourney. Last time we checked, that's pretty good. Last time we checked Memphis is pretty good.
The sleeper ... St. Mary's is a great team no one is talking about. The Gaels won 25 of 31, beat Gonzaga and everyone's favorite mid-major Drake, and has a point guard named Patty (Mills, from Australia). How do you not love that? Plus they play a struggling Miami (Fl.) team in round one, and a bumpable Texas team in round two. Sweet 16 run? Maybe.
The big upset ... While I could see St. Mary's knocking off Texas, I'll take Oral Roberts over Pittsburgh. Why? I have no clue, but everyone is too in love with Pittsburgh right now. Something has to give.
Actually, I think Pitt's a great team - Levance Fields is healthy and playing controlled, strong hoops; Sam Young was awesome in the Big East tourney; and DeJuan Blair is a beast on the boards. But remember the last time a Big East team won four games in four days? Syracuse in '06. A 4-seed. Losing to Vermont in round one.
Coincidence? Well ...
The apocalypse cometh ... Kentucky. We applaud the job Billy Gillispie did in rallying the troops after losses to San Diego and Gardner-Webb at home. But let's face it: UK isn't that great without star frosh Patrick Patterson. Yes, they won at South Carolina and beat Florida without him, but UK looked flat against Georgia in the SEC tournament (some of that can be blamed on the tornado delay).
Don't expect a great game with Marquette: The Golden Eagles guards are darn tough.
Impress your friends ... Oral Roberts is named after a preacher who, in 1987, said during a fundraiser IF they didn't raise $8 million for the ORU medical school (City of Faith Medical and Research Center), God would “call him home”.
Fearing a vengeful lord murdering a guy begging for money, folks donated $9.1 million.
Guess what? It still didn’t work: By 1989, the Center was $25 million in debt and closed it’s doors. It’s now used for office space.
But the winner is ... Memphis. Texas likes to play fast, but can't speed with the Tigers. Stanford isn't talented enough, and I just don't buy the Pittsburgh loving. Look for something unusual, possibly Memphis over Marquette the regional finals.
The favorite ... So UCLA won the PAC-10. We congratulate them. But if refs had their head on straight for the Cal or Stanford win, the Bruins might be a 2-seed and heading another direction. Alas, they're the big dogs in a bracket that is shaping well for said Bruins.
The sleeper ... Purdue. Ok, we're suckers here: The Boilers players are adorable, from Chris Kramer to Scott Martin to Robbie Hummel. Beyond that, the young kids play darn well together. Forget the conference tourney loss to Illinos - an aberration. They'll recover nicely here, and will give Xavier fits in the second round.
The big upset ... Purdue over Xavier will be one. We're THIS close to saying UConn will beat UCLA (Kevin Love hasn't faced anyone like the Huskies' front line) but, well, I just don't have the guts. Sorry coach Calhoun.
The apocalypse cometh ... Georgia. Ok, not really the apocalypse since they weren't expected to be here, but how much can they have left in the tank? Four games in three days, and the reward is playing Xavier in the first game of the tournament? Musketeers have six players in double figures. Enter the Muskies into round two. Nice run here, though, UGA.
Impress your friends ... That despite dominating the Atlantic 10, Xavier had no one on the first team all-conference. Senior guard Stanley Burrell called the league "pathetic" ... and then proceeded to aid XU in losing to St. Joseph's in the A-10 semifinals.
But the winner is ... Duke over UCLA. Why? More a hunch than anything. Yes, on paper UCLA should expose all of Duke's weaknesses. But the same should be said for the Cal game, one the Bruins should've lost. The Blue Devils do a great job of spreading the floor, and I have a feeling they can do that enough to knock the Bruins 3-straight Final Four dream out.
So we end up with your nightmare and Dick Vitale's dream: UNC and Duke in the Final Four. Drives you crazy, eh? Don't worry: We couldn't fathom picking them both in the finals.
Still, the Tarheels will make it. UNC is just too talented for Wisconsin. And they'll play Memphis, who likewise is too talented for Duke.
In the finals, Memphis will outrun the Tarheels in the first half, but UNC will grind the game down in the second, shave the lead away, take a 1-point advantage with just a few seconds remaining. Suddenly Chris Douglas-Roberts drives the lane, fires a miss, but draws the foul with 1.2 seconds remaining. All he needs is two free throws to win.
Clang, clang. Rebound Hansbrough, outlet pass to Ty Lawson, championship to the 'heels. Second title to Roy, John Calipari gets anointed the new "best coach who can't win the big one" ... and Kelvin Sampson becomes the new coach at LSU. Well, hopefully not. For all our sakes. --Sean Jackson