Here we go on the great three-week ride that is the NCAA basketball tournament.
For the third straight year, Albany’s Andre Young will get to play in the event, but the odds of his Clemson team advancing very far are slim.
This season, the field was expanded to 68 teams with four “play-in” games on Tuesday. Clemson drew one of these tough slots, having to fly to Dayton, Ohio, to square off with Alabama-Birmingham. Talk about a double punishment; first they have to spend a night in Dayton, and then play their way into the field of 64.
Should the Tigers win, they will play again two days later against a rested West Virginia team, and if they happen to pull that out they will most likely get to face Kentucky. Yuck! Stranger things have happened, especially in this tournament, but common sense say Andre and the Tigers won’t make it past the second round.
The expanded field did allow bubble teams like Clemson the chance, but two play-in teams are stacked in the East region. Not only will West Virginia draw a tired opponent, but Ohio State, the top seed in the region will face either UT-San Antonio or Alabama State in their opening game. Do we really want to see that?
That configuration weakens that arm of the bracket and makes the path easier as the Buckeyes could play deep down their bench in that first game, and most likely will.
Still, I am picking North Carolina to get past Long Island, Georgia, Xavier, and then Ohio State to set up the fourth meeting of the season with Duke.
As far as college basketball goes, there is no bigger rivalry. Their campuses are 40 hate miles apart. The teams split on their home courts in the regular season, and then Duke lit it up in the finals of the ACC tournament and holds a 2-1 advantage in 2011.
Should this matchup develop, it would be a nationally televised game on Saturday, April 2. The winner would advance to the title game. You can be sure this would look more like an ultimate fighting cage match than a basketball game. It just doesn’t get any better than that.
A lot has to happen to get us to that point. Duke has to, most likely, get past Michigan (a bigger problem than most think), Texas, and then UConn.
Every year there is a sleeper that arises to reach the round of 16. This year I am predicting Florida State, Old Dominion and Wofford to make some noise. Most of the talking heads are ready to crown Belmont as Cinderella, but Wisconsin will take care of business in Round 1.
Of all the No. 1 seeds, Kansas has the easiest path to the Final Four. Many have said Pittsburgh should glide through the Southeast region, but Florida will most likely pop that Big East ego that has grown with the placement of 11 teams in the field. That’s too much from one conference.
There are several teams that could win this thing. Louisville, Florida, Wisconsin, Cincinnati, UConn, Xavier and Syracuse, but I am sticking with the ACC. My prediction is the winner of the fourth Duke-UNC game of the season, will win it all.
That and a dollar will get you a cup of coffee … unless it’s Starbucks.