By Vin Parise
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1- This is definitely the weakest tournament we've seen in recent history.
7 teams have at least 13 losses . We've never had more than 3 teams with 13 losses in the Dance. And how about the fact that there are 5 teams with 14 losses - that's only happened 6 times in the last 25 years! But as weak as it is, these could be some of the closest and exciting games in tournament history. The committee was way to into the non-conference scheduling this year. It should be one factor but the main factor should be body of work. Colorado beat Kansas State three times, beat Texas, beat Missouri and finished 8-8 in Big 12 play. But they're not in because their non-conference strength of schedule was 325th in the country.
2- VCU is in the field for only two reasons; neither of which is strong resume.
Their strength of schedule was ranked 87th in the country this year and their RPI was 49th. But just because you schedule up and play in a tough league does not mean you should make the Dance. VCU lost to Georgia State when their RPI was 224th and finished 3-5 down the stretch. And how about this stat - VCU finished a game in league standings behind Hofstra this year and Hofstra is not even in the NIT.
3- People are hesitant about the St. John's 1st round matchup against Gonzaga, but I like it.
This isn't your typical Gonzaga team. They had to play well down the stretch to make the tournament and they are weak at the point guard position. Yes, the D.J. Kennedy injury hurts Steve Lavin's team - but Gonzaga will struggle at times vs St. John's matchup zone and pressure with weak point guard play. And the altitude factor in Denver is overrated. Teams get into town and practice so early that they'll adjust and the Red Storm are in really good basketball shape.
4- Don't be surprised if Belmont beats Wisconsin in the 1st round.
Belmont loves to run and press and Wisconsin likes to walk it up and play slow. But what's most impressive about Belmont is their resume. The have 30 wins on the season - 25 of those 30 wins were double digit wins - their 4 losses this year were to Tennessee twice, Vanderbilt and rival Lipscomb. And they play so frenetic in the full court that they have 11 guys averaging at least 10 minutes per game. Still taking the Badgers?
5- Personally, I'm taking Texas over Oakland in the 1st round.
But be sure to tune into the game to watch Oakland big man Keith Benson. He is 6'11" and is projected to be a 1st round pick. NBA scouts have been flocking to his games all season long.
6- Don't get caught up in the fact that UConn will be too tired for the Bucknell game.
This team has peaked at the right time and Kemba Walker is unstoppable right now. And their path in the tournament can't be any more difficult than the Big East tournament was last week. Although this team is very young outside of Walker, Jim Calhoun will have them sharp and ready for their 1st round game.
7- Believe me, I am beyond impressed with BYU and San Diego State.
Jimmer is fantastic and San Diego State's defense and strength is amazing. But I'll never be sold they are 2 of the top 10 teams in the country. Do me a favor, go check out Ohio State, Pitt, Kansas, Florida and Syracuse's schedules this season. Now go check out San Diego State's and BYU's schedules. I'm not taking anything away from them, it's just different in my eyes.
8- This is not the UCLA team you've been disappointed by the last few years in your office pool.
This Bruin team resembles one of Ben Howland's old teams at Pitt. They are big, they are strong, they defend and they rebound. I have the Bruins, unfortunately, beating the Red Storm in the Sweet Sixteen.
9- I've never really been a big fan of the Pac-10.
I've always felt the teams out west can be a little soft and to be fair we don't see many of their games. But Arizona power forward Derrick Williams might be one of the best players you'll watch in this tournament. Don't be surprised if Arizona beats Texas to advance to the Sweet Sixteen.
10- Yes, Villanova is on life support right now.
To say they ran out of gas down the stretch is an understatement - it's more like four flat tires. The Wildcats finished up 5-10 in their last 15 games and the team shot under 30% from 3 point land outside of Corey Stokes. Not the ending Jay Wright is used to. And I know everyone is taking George Mason to beat them in the 1st round. I'm taking Nova. I believe Wright has gotten their minds right and convinced these kids it's a fresh start.
- Vin Parise
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