The NCAA Tournament has arrived and with it, the annual procrastination in the workplace.
As any basketball junkie knows, NCAA Tournament basketball surpasses anything that work might have to offer in importance. With eyes firmly glued to T.V. screens, white collars and blue collars around the country will shrug off work and spend more time on their tourney brackets rather than spreadsheets.
Ain't it grand.
Working in the field that I do, I can chalk my television watching up to research wink, wink. I'll just chalk that up to one of the perks that the job offers. I'll admit that I've joined up in a few pools, strictly for entertainment purposes of course.
This year's tourney offers a field that is perhaps the most balanced it has been in years, which of course makes things even that much more difficult to pick. So for those who might indulge me I'll offer up some of my choices in this year's tourney.
In the South Region lies one of just a couple of Indiana schools, with the Hoosiers out of the mix following their lost season, Butler carries the torch along with Purdue. However, as much as I would like to see DePauw alumna, Brad Stephens' bunch go deep in the tourney, I think they are a little green to make a dent.
Butler faces the SEC's highest seeded team in LSU in a No. 8 vs. No. 9 match-up that should be enticing for many hoops fans.
The Bulldogs start three freshmen, a sophomore and a junior with two more sophomores coming off the bench. Not to be lost in the mix is Edgewood High School graduate, Garrett Butcher, who could see time as well.
In this one though, I like LSU, as long as the Tigers don't allow Butler to completely control the pace of the game. LSU is an experienced bunch led by three seniors, including dynamic guard, Marcus Thornton, who averaged 20.4 ppg. along with 5.5 rpg. and 2.1 assists. The team has used just three starting lineups all season and familiarity is especially key this time of year.
In the paint, 6'11 Chris Johnson averages three blocks per game and the Tigers average six per game and eight steals per contest.
While sophomore Matt Howard (6'8) is a joy to watch, it's Gordon Haywood, a freshman that could be the difference in this game. He ranked in the top-10 in the league in 10 stat categories.
This was a tough one to pick, mostly because Butler is 11-3 in its last 14 games against BCS leagues.
Another unique game in this bracket is the No. 5 vs. No. 12 match-up between Western Kentucky and Illinois.
The Hilltoppers have had success in this position before and the Illini won't have guard Chester Frazier for this game following surgery on his hand. Western Kentucky doesn't have Courtney Lee anymore and won't sneak up on anyone after a Sweet 16 run last year. This one will come down to whether the Illinois defense will be able to slow down the Hilltoppers' quick pace.
I still like Illinois in this one because they have the third-best scoring defense in the country at 56.5 ppg. and opponents shot only 28.5 percent from 3-point land.
The No. 6 seed Arizona State Sun Devils are a bit of a sleeper in my opinion, led by the eye popping James Harden.
He is just the third sophomore in the history, yes the history, of the Pac-10 Conference to win player of the year honors. He's in great company along with Jason Kidd and Mike Bibby.
Harden deserved the accolades after the 6'5 guard averaged 20.8 ppg., 5.4 rpg. and shot over 50 percent from the field.
These guys meet No. 11 Temple in the first round, but I see the Sun Devils taking the game and upsetting Syracuse in round two with their tenacious zone defense. They allow under 60 ppg. and opponents only hit 40.9 percent from the field.
I have North Carolina coming out of this bracket, downing Gonzaga in the second round and then knocking off Oklahoma in the Elite 8, in what should be a great contest between the Sooners' do-everything, Blake Griffin, and the Tar Heels wunderkind, Tyler Hansbrough.
Guard Ty Lawson's health remains a concern for North Carolina, but if he gets back into a groove, it'll be tough to stop the Tar Heel train.
In the Midwest Region, some interesting match-ups include another No. 8 vs. No. 9 battle. This one is between Ohio State and Siena. While I may be letting my overall dislike of the Buckeyes in all sports, weigh in a little heavy here, the Saints return all five starters from a team that brought down No. 4 seeded Vanderbilt last year. They've also played a tough non-conference schedule with losses to Pittsburgh, Kansas and Tennessee. Their balance is what may be the difference as four starters all average in double-figures.
I've also got a seeded upset in No. 12 Arizona downing No. 5 Utah.
The Wildcats were a bubble team, but have quite a bit of talent with Jordan Hill, Chase Budinger and Nic Wise doing plenty of damage.
Utah finished strong, winning 12 of their final 14 games and have the Mountain West player of the year in 7'2 senior Luke Nevill, who averages nearly 17 ppg. and grabs nine boards while blocking 2.7 shots per contest. But I like Arizona's athleticism as long as their defense shows up.
Michigan State is an awfully flawed team to be seeded second, but the tantalizing thought of playing in their backyard at Ford Field in Detroit, will drive them to at least a couple of wins. I have the Spartans taking out Robert Morris in round one and downing a USC squad playing well right now. I think the Spartans run out of gas in the Sweet 16 against a Kansas program that seems to keep reloading every year.
In the Elite 8, I've got a red hot Louisville squad squeezing past the diapered Jayhawks, who have two freshmen and two sophomores in the starting lineup after sending five players to the NBA after last year's national title.
The Purdue Boilermakers call the West Region home and while it's painful to say it, the Boilers are playing great basketball this year after winning the Big Ten Tourney. Robbie Hummel is getting healthy at the right time and JaJuan Johnson is awfully talented.
I think they'll see the Pac-10 champion Washington Huskies in round two and that'll likely be the end for Purdue.
The Huskies may have the tourney's second smallest guard in 5'8 Isaiah Thomas and you gotta love a team led by that name.
Thomas pours in 15.4 ppg. and Washington gets 15.3 ppg. from 5'11 Justin Dentmon, but the bruising Jon Brockman, a 6'7 senior, could likely be the difference maker. He averaged 14.8 ppg. and 11.5 rpg. while hitting over 52 percent from the field.
Banging around with Brockman could prove detrimental to Hummel's health.
It would have been nice to see what No. 6 seed Marquette could have done with Dominic James at the helm, but the Eagles lost the wizard to injury before the conference tournament. I think the Eagles are ripe for the upset by the 30-win Aggies of Utah State.
The Aggies are especially dangerous because they are efficient from the field, shooting nearly 50 percent as a team from the field, near the top of the NCAA in that category.
The up-and-down, 100 miles-per-hour Missouri Tigers will be fun to watch at the No. 3 seed, but I have their season ending against Memphis, who hasn't been tested over the course of their conference slate.
The battle between UConn and Memphis could be a great one, but I think the Huskies size and experience is too much. With three seniors and two juniors in the starting lineup, including the 7'3 Hasheem Thabeet, UConn takes this one and moves on to the Final Four.
The East Region rounds out the field and I think Villanova could be the sleeper of this bracket with plenty of size and experience.
The Wildcats go 6'7, 6'6, 6'8, 6'5 and 6'2 across their starting lineup, which will cause teams match-up fits.
Scottie Reynolds stirs the Villanova drink with 15.7 ppg. and 3.7 apg., but forward Dante Cunningham is the bruiser inside at 16.4 ppg., 7.3 rpg. Sophomore Corey Stokes shoots 37 percent from 3-point range to spark the inside-outside combination.
I've got the Wildcats marching past a talented VCU team that has Eric Maynor, a senior that sparked the 2007 NCAA upset of Duke. I think Villanova is the one that knocks off a Duke squad that doesn't have much of any post threat. If the Blue Devils aren't 'on' from 3-point range, they are very beatable, No. 2 seed or not.
I've also got Bo Ryan's inconsistent Badgers knocking off No. 5 seed Florida State. Both teams don't allow many points so this could be a throwback game that struggles to reach 100 total points. Without any tourney experience, the Seminoles haven't been in the tourney in more than a decade, I think the Badgers' style is a nightmare for Florida State.
At the No. 4 seed, Xavier has struggled down the stretch, going 5-5 over the last 10 games following a 20-2 start. But I think the Musketeers, who can flat shoot it (40 percent from 3-point range), bounce the Badgers in round two before getting drilled by Pitt.
I suppose it's no great leap of faith to have all four top seeds in the Final Four, but I don't see many lower seeds that aren't flawed in enough ways to knock them off on the way to Detroit.
In the Final Four, I've got the Tar Heels meeting the Cardinals in the title game with Rick Pitino's crew claiming the championship. I think that the Big East has proved to be a beast of a proving ground this year and the Cardinals, who have lost just twice in the last 22 games, are fitting champions.
But what makes the tourney so much fun is the journey, and while I'm quite certain that my bracket will be shot to hell by Sunday, it's all about the chase and having a sure-fire excuse to procrastinate at work.