I am more convinced than ever that this will be a great tournament. There are a lot of pretty good teams but no truly great ones. Here is how I see that last two days of the tournament shaping up. I really hope I don't have to drastically redo this on Monday.
As you know, I have an East Coast bias. I have never been west of the Mississippi and don't care to go. When Lewis and Clark get back and I read their report -- maybe. But until then, I am living on Eastern Standard Time, baby.
|Loren Woods (3) transferred to Arizona from Wake Forest.|
That being said, I like Arizona to win it all. I know that Arizona either makes the Elite Eight or loses in the first round. The Wildcats rarely do much in between. And I think they will give their fans at least one big scare. They will not play up to their potential in one half or even a whole game. That has been their March modus operandi.
There is a sentimental factor in my pick, because coach Lute Olson lost his wife Bobbi to cancer earlier this year. She was such a big part of that school and that program that I know they are all missing her very much right now. I have to admit that I love the idea of the Wildcats winning it all and dedicating the championship to Mrs. Olson. There could be no better end to the college basketball season.
Now this team did not live up to its expectations during the first two months of the season. But they have a lot of leadership, being an older team compared to the rest of the tourney favorites. They have good if not great players at just about every position. I think Gilbert Arenas is one of the more underrated players in the nation. And if another Walton won a national title, that's a nice story too.
Finally, I think that Loren Woods understands his role of being a force inside instead of being all things to all people. He'll be focused and ready.
I'm also picking Duke to reach the title game, but with some question marks. Is Carlos Boozer coming back and how good will he be? I happen to think that Jason Williams is the best player in the country, but his ankle is another question. But Mike Krzyzewski will be remembered as the modern-day John Wooden, putting together a remarkable string of truly elite teams. What he has done in what is essentially the age of free agency in college basketball is amazing.
Iowa State should come out of the West region. I have top-seeded Stanford losing to St. Joseph's in the second round. If that happens -- and you know that the first two rounds will produce three or four jaw-droppers -- then Iowa State has a really good chance. A neutral site and anything can happen.
I'll tell you this: The team that comes out of that bracket will be a survivor. The West has Iowa State, Georgetown, Maryland, Wisconsin and Stanford. You'll have to play great basketball to get to Anaheim and out of that region.
The championship game will be decided inside, and I think Arizona has an advantage with Loren Woods battling a less-than-healthy Carlos Boozer.
The sport has become a guard-dominated sport, with the 3-pointer becoming so important. So I look at guards and I like what I see in Jamaal Tinsley. So I like Iowa State in most matchups. And remember, they lost their big player in Marcus Fizer from last year and still ended up a No. 2 seed. It's a good team.
My last Final Four team is Michigan State. And the Spartans' fortunes are tied to Charlie Bell. They will really rely on his scoring and passing. The inside play will be fine, led by Zach Randolph. Tom Izzo has a good team. I don't know if they are as good as last year, though. They may lack the intangibles that last year's team had. Not toughness or grit, just something I can't put my finger on. And that's understandable when you lose two first-round NBA picks (Mateen Cleaves and Morris Peterson).
So I have Duke beating Iowa State and Arizona beating Michigan State. The championship game will be decided inside, and I think Arizona has an advantage with Loren Woods battling a less-than-healthy Carlos Boozer. Arizona also can play defense and run with Duke.
The Wildcats will not be cowed by the Blue Devils. Just like Connecticut a few years ago. The Huskies were not scared. They said, you still have 40 minutes to play. They kept it close and beat them. Same thing this year.
You have to withstand a few runs against Duke and put up a few of your own. Arizona matches up well with Duke and should be able to do it.