Is there a better time of year than March Madness? When buzzer beaters from unheard of schools began knocking out major contenders from the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, I half expected cheerful carolers to appear singing on my doorstep. Now that my bracket is shredded and my favorite teams have been brutally eliminated, I can truly enjoy the holiday that we sports fanatics call the Sweet 16.
March Madness has seen its usual upsets of national powerhouses, including disappointing showings by Louisville, Pittsburgh, Syracuse, and Texas. This year’s tournament also reflects the now normal trend of deep tourney runs by schools from mid major conferences. Yet upsets and baffling mistakes continue to kill my self-confidence and hurt my reputation. But personal pride is not why we gather around a television screen every March. We love the NCAA tournament for wild surprises and dramatic storylines, and this year’s tourney has plenty of both.
The 2011 NCAA men’s basketball tournament kicked off with screams and tears galore, as stunned favorites wept watching their season abruptly end. Let’s not forget the cold blooded three hit by Demonte Harper in the closing seconds of the game that lifted #13 Morehead State over #3 Louisville in the opening round.
With Pittsburgh’s loss at the hands of Butler’s grit and sharp shooting, 3 of the 4 number one seeds remain in a wide-open field of dangerous teams and deadly scorers. The nation’s leader in scoring with 28.8 ppg, BYU’s Jimmer Freddete sits atop the NCAA tournament in points with 99 and has carried the Cougars to the third round despite the school’s suspension of forward Brandon Davies for having sex with his girlfriend. (Yes, the Mormons seriously did that). Jimmer has simply been unstoppable, but the hopes of BYU reaching the Final Four in Houston, Texas reside solely on his pale shoulders. The other Player of the Year frontrunner Kemba Walker has continued to show why he may be the top NBA prospect in college basketball. With a smooth jumper and one of the nastiest crossovers in the game, Kemba has lead Big East Champion UCONN to the Sweet 16 to face No. 2 seed San Diego State in one of the more intriguing games this coming weekend.
But who is ahead of Kemba and biting at the hells of Jimmer in offensive production in this year’s NCAA tournament? Point guard Joey Rodriguez of VCU. With big performances in wins over USC, Georgetown, and Purdue, Rodriguez has lead the 11th seeded Rams of Virginia Commonwealth to the Sweet 16 for a matchup versus No.10 seed Florida State. After proving themselves in the much-scrutinized play-in games, VCU has gone on a tear through the tournament and look poised to make an appearance in the Elite 8.
So who will win it all? Over the years I have learned that the more you think you know about the NCAA tournament, the more confused and ultimately shamed you will become by the end. With that said, I still like Kansas to cut down the nets in Houston. Now with the easiest path to the Final Four and the luxury of minimal attention from the press, the Kansas Jayhawks have no reason not to win the national championship. The return of diaper dandy Kyle Irving may put Duke in a position to win back-to-back titles, but the Blue Devils have a tough road ahead of them, starting with the task of stopping the PAC 10 Player of the Year Derrick Williams of No.5 Arizona. The Wildcats will have to play the best ball of the season to pull off the upset of the defending champion, but expect at least a couple monster dunks from the freakishly gifted Williams. No matter who comes out victorious, the Sweet 16 of the 2011 NCAA tournament will surely match the excitement of any traditional holiday.
Check back for more Sour Grape coverage of the NCAA tournament.