March Madness Picks in February

Barry Rothbard

Now that Peyton Manning and Tony Dungy have their rings and now that Rex Grossman can fade into oblivion until next September, the world can turn its focus to a real sport. No, I’m not talking about the NBA, the league more water-downed than the Titanic. And no, I’m not talking about the NHL (sorry, but no one cares). And since we all know that the Yankees will regain their perch this year, I’ll leave the MLB for some other time. I’m talking about the realest sport there is: college basketball.

Yep, it’s that time of year again. March is but a month away, and the 64…er, 65, teams vying for a shot in the NCAA tournament are beginning to take shape. But let’s be real: there are only about ten teams that have a legitimate shot at the Final Four. Wait a second, George Mason did make the Final Four last year. So, given this information, I will proceed to forecast the Final Four, which will include some really bold predictions.

Pen Florida in. They have five returning starters who have been gellin’ like Dr. Scholls for quite some time. They look even better than last year. Joakim Noah and Al Horford are beasts down low, and would have made an impact in the NBA this year. They are men among boys. Taurean Green has cemented himself as one (if not the) of the best point guards in the nation. Corey Brewer is the best on ball defender in the country and can certainly fill up the hoop himself. Oh yeah, their weak link, Lee Humphrey (the lone non-future NBA baller), is one of the premier shooters in the game. And their bench has improved.

Save UCLA a spot, too. Just like Florida, the defending runner-up looks even stronger than last year (while losing Jordan Farmar). With a leader and shooter like Aaron Afflalo running the team, they play nearly flawless basketball and fierce defense. Afflalo has some nice company too, with a healthy Josh Shipp and tough Darren Collison to help him out in the backcourt. An experienced and consummate team player (along with one of the best names since Reuben Boomjay Boomjay) Luc Richard Mbah a Moute terrorizing the glass doesn’t hurt their cause either. Center Lorenzo Mata is the perfect role player for this team, as he plays solid defense and makes few mistakes. Couple that with an unspectacular yet reliable bench, and this year’s group looks golden.

No, LSU won’t be playing UCLA in the semi-finals this year (let alone make the tournament). Joining the two repeats will be Wisconsin. Led by one of the best and most underrated coaches in the land, Bo Ryan, the Badgers are for real, as is Alando Tucker. Tucker has been one of the most overlooked players in the country until this year, where he has cemented his status as an All-American. Even more overlooked than Tucker is his supporting cast. Kammron Taylor (Chris Rock look-a-like) and Michael Flowers form an experienced and steady backcourt. Brian Butch has proven he can handle the load, if necessary, and Marcus Landry and Joe Krabbenhoft add depth to the senior-laden bunch.

No George Mason won’t join the dance this year either. In their stead will be (as I bite my tongue from going out on a limb and ignoring my heart’s wish for a Pac-10 darling) Ohio State. UNC and Ohio State are basically equally talented and equally inexperienced. The other three teams have seen it all and have proven they can win come March (Wisconsin has proved it this season). What separates UNC and Ohio State is the man-child Greg Oden. While I firmly believe that Kevin Durant is the best player in college basketball, Greg Oden isn’t far off, and with his supporting cast, look of a 40 year-old, and ability to clog up the paint, I simply can’t pick against the “kid.”

Florida won last year with the same team so this year should be a piece of cake. All they have to do is win a measly six games in a row. And get past the likes of Greg Oden and Kevin Durant and Nick Fazekas and Alando Tucker and Aaron Brooks and the magic that is March Madness. On second thought, maybe not so measly.