2024-06-18 4:00 AM

Picking Splinters: Splinters’ Picks

I know a lot about college basketball. My girlfriend knows a lot about shoes.

I know this because last year she dragged me to Discount Shoe Warehouse so she could she spend her NCAA Tournament pool winnings. I have since recouped the financial damage, but the mental scars may never heal.

Even for experts, picking a winning bracket is a crap shoot. John Wooden couldn't pick a perfect bracket even if he had Miss Cleo on speed dial. You could pour over statistics, RPI ratings and geographical considerations for days and still be defeated by your mother who picked all the teams with blue uniforms, giving the edge to the Catholic schools.

I already hate my bracket. It's preposterous. I have at least five picks that are almost certain to doom me to another year of shoe shopping, but I'm going to stick with them and below I'll tell you why.

I'll keep you all updated as this catastrophe unfolds in the comments section below, but first here is the thinking behind my top four upsets … and the counterpoints that make me think these will be the final four nails in my bracket's coffin.

Drake over Connecticut

At the end of February, UConn looked like a Final Four contender. Then they lost to Providence (again) and fell in their first Big East Tournament game to West Virginia. Against the Mountaineers, UConn did not contest shots and did not rebound. West Virginia, particularly Joe Alexander (34 points), got great looks at the hoop and converted them.

If there's one thing that Drake does well, it's shoot. The Huskies can cause some chaos with their press, but in their half-court defensive sets they've relied a lot on center Hasheem Thabeet's shot-blocking capability. I think Drake can neutralize Thabeet with their perimeter shooting and get him to the bench. That's a necessity though, since the Bulldogs (whose tallest player is 6-foot-8) have no one who can match up against Thabeet inside. 

Also, this season the Huskies have had a tendency to play to the level of their opponents, playing close games against DePaul (11-19), South Florida (12-19), Cincinnati (13-18), Central Florida (16-15) and the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference's Morgan State. Those aren't exactly tournament-caliber teams. If the Huskies take a night off, the Bulldogs of Drake will burn them.

This pick will fail miserably because: The Huskies' A.J. Price is a faster guard than Drake has seen all year and Hasheem Thabeet could use Adam Emenecker as a toothpick. If UConn is firing on all cylinders a Final Four run is not out of the question.

Pittsburgh over Memphis

Pitt is on a roll, having just defeated Georgetown, Marquette and Louisville en route to the Big East Tournament crown. Meanwhile, Memphis hasn't beaten a tournament-caliber team since Siena on Jan. 3. The Panthers have the ability to gum up the Tigers' silky smooth offensive sets with some hard-nosed defense and Pitt's DeJuan Blair could be a handful in the low post. I have a theory that Blair will frustrate Memphis big man Joey Dorsey into early foul trouble and allow the Panthers to exploit the Tigers inside. The Memphis loss to Tennessee showed the Tigers are prone to some bad decisions when they get flustered, and Pitt will almost certainly do that.

Last but not least, for all of the great non-conference games Memphis won, only three of them came on the road, at neutral site Madison Square Garden. In two of those games the Tigers failed to break 65 points. If the game is in the 60s, I really like Pitt's chances.

This pick is as weak as Conference USA because: Pitt's aggressive defense could put them in foul trouble if Memphis' speedy guards can get a step on them. Relying on a freshman (Blair) to outplay a senior (Dorsey) is risky. And, oh yeah … Memphis is really, really, really good.

Butler over Tennessee

I actually have no idea why I think Butler will take down one of the best teams in the country beyond the fact that Butler is tournament tested, has a great backcourt and plays tremendous defense. Tennessee will want to run and gun, but I don't think Butler will let that happen. If Butler can set the tone with a half-court game, the Bulldogs will pull off the upset. I also didn't like Tennessee's defense-optional performance in the (weak) SEC Tournament.

This pick is as ugly as Bruce Pearl's orange blazer because: The Vols are faster than the 'Dogs and while Mike Green is busy setting up Butler's half-court set, Tennessee's Tyler Smith will be dunking the ball at the other end of the floor. Tennessee scored in the 80s against Xavier, Gonzaga and Western Kentucky on the road. Butler has only hit that mark in regulation three times this season. If Tennessee gets a decent lead, Butler might not have the firepower to close the gap.

Notre Dame over North Carolina

I don't buy the argument that UNC won't lose because they're playing in Charlotte. The Tar Heels lost on their home court to NIT-bound Maryland, so playing in-state is hardly a guarantee.

Tyler Hansbrough may be a beast on the glass and score at will, but he does not play great defense. The only time the Heels played someone with a big man as talented as Luke Harangody they were pushed hard BYU on a neutral court (with Trent Plaistead scoring 24 and grabbing 17 rebounds for the Cougars). Notre Dame's supporting cast is far superior and will easily be the best non-ACC opponent Carolina's faced all season. Notre Dame might not win, but I'd put good money on two things: The combined score will break 170 and either Hansbrough or Harangody will bleed.

Mike's girlfriend is already shopping online because: When it gets tough for Hansbrough he plays even harder. When things weren't going Gody's way against Marquette in the Big East Tournament, he threw up his hands to the referees. Oh yeah, and there's a decent chance the Irish won't make it past George Mason or Washington State.

And the bonus … Georgetown over Everyone

I am a complete homer.

Honestly, I like the Hoyas' early matchups and I think they're the only team in this tournament that can stop Kansas besides UCLA. Georgetown can play at any speed, but is adept at slowing that pace, which may be the Jayhawks' only weakness.

I've heard a lot of barking about Davidson pulling an upset in round two. I don't see it because Georgetown has done well against teams with only one major scoring threat (Exhibit A: West Virginia and Joe Alexander in the Big East Tournament).

The Hoyas present a tough test for anyone in the field because of their unique “Prince-town” hybrid offense that is tough to prepare for on short notice. Add in 7-foot-2 All-American Roy Hibbert and anyone lining up against Georgetown will have their work cut out for them. Oh yeah, and they'll defend you all the way to the locker room.

The big “upset” pick is GU over Kansas. I'm banking on an ugly game with little to no tempo and a close score in the waning minutes. Georgetown has been literally unbeatable when it's close in crunch time (6-0 in games decided by three points or fewer), and I think the Jayhawks might tense up with some of those ghosts of past tournaments hanging around. Speaking of which, there's also the chance that Kansas will hold true to their early-exit form and is sent packing before the Elite 8.

Like UNC, Kansas has not faced many non-conference tests and every time they have (Arizona, USC) the Jayhawks won by fewer than five points. In those types of games, I like the Hoyas.

I will ultimately throw this bracket down the Exorcist Steps in anger because: Kansas is exactly the sort of team that gives the Hoyas trouble. They're fast, lanky and held Nebraska's dominant center Aleks Maric scoreless in a Jan. 26 meeting. Hibbert and GU are lightyears better than Maric and his Huskers, but Kansas could use their length and athleticism to deny the entry pass to the post and use their speed to strip Hibbert when he tries to make a move.

Turnovers and points in transition have also plagued the Hoyas this year and Kansas excels in both categories.

There is no good reason to be confident in any prediction made in March, but I still like these picks. Of course, as my girlfriend has already proven, even after intensive research there is just no such thing as a shoe-in.


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