here. (BTW, Kansas can still burn. Just the basketball team, not the whole state.)
For the 2011 NCAA Tournament, I'll once again be filling out several brackets, some for cash and prizes, and some not so much. (The 4QR group is here, and prizes may be offered if we get enough entries. Move fast, time is short.)
The difference this season will be that, instead of using different brackets to go either way on games I'm unsure about, in 2011, I'm going to be "Sheet of Integrity" guy.
One set of picks repeated on every bracket.
If one crashes and burns, they all crash and burn. Er go, I'll not be putting much stock in Kansas. This will be a recurring theme.
Now, some picks for the East Region and why I make them:
(Screw the Play-In Games, this is still the) First Round:
#1 Ohio State v. #16 It Doesn't Really Matter: Ohio State has got the best top-seven rotation in the country. By the end of this one, we'll be seeing some of the other guys who pretend they're part of that team. Ohio State easy.
#8 George Mason v. #9 Villanova: Mason's a chic upset pick, and I'm sick of the Big East getting rammed down our throats like Grandma's rancid Christmas fruitcake, but I have to go with Nova on this one. Neither team is tremendously deep, and the Wildcats know how to get to the line. The last 10 minutes of this one, GMU fans will be nervous as they watch a starter or two dance on the razor's edge of a fifth foul. Villanova in a close one.
#5 West Virginia v. #12 Clemson: Clemson can do two things really well, and they showed them both against UAB last night. They can force turnovers (#33 in the nation according to Pomeroy, 19 last night) and make it hard to get good shots (#23 in 2-point FG defense, held UAB to 6-24 last night). WVU is a team that can struggle with its collective shot, as they hover around the 200's nationally on both two- and three-point field goals. Mountaineers fans may not want to get the hopes too high regarding a return Final Four trip. Clemson by about 8 or 9.
#4 Kentucky v. #13 Princeton: The surprising thing about Kentucky is that, for a freshman-laden team, they don't turn the ball over nearly as much as you might expect (#9 nationally). Neither one of these teams are known for forcing a ton of turnovers, so it comes down more to who's got the horses to execute their system and stop the other team from doing so. Appropriately for the home state of Churchill Downs, Kentucky's got thoroughbreds. As long as the kids don't come in overconfident... Kentucky by 15.
#6 Xavier v. #11 Marquette: ESPN's version of an "upset": pick all higher seeds unless the lower team's from the Big East. Xavier's been getting hammered by that method. Marquette's got an interesting factor going for them in that they don't put opponents on the line too much (#28 in FT Rate). However, is that because they'd rather give up the close baskets than commit fouls that will force them to go down their shaky bench? An eFG% defense of 50.0 (#216 in America) seems to suggest just that. Xavier's star guard Tu Holloway might not be the most important guy in this game. My money's on the seven-foot center Kenny Frease. Xavier by 10.
#3 Syracuse v. #14 Indiana State: Much as I might like to see Larry Legend's alma mater make a triumphant NCAA return, the only way it happens here is if Syracuse comes in with a birthright attitude. Syracuse by large.
#7 Washington v. #10 Georgia: If you're a Bulldogs fan, pray that this game doesn't degenerate into a three-point shooting contest. Dustin Ware is the only guy who drains threes at more than 32%, but it doesn't stop Trey Thompkins, Travis Leslie, and Gerald Robinson (combined 63-211, 29.9%) from jackin' 'em up. Luckily for the Dawgs, they can defend the three pretty well, and Washington takes more than a third of their shots from outside. If Thompkins can keep Matthew Bryan-Amaning from cleaning up others' messes, I think UGA gets out of this one... but barely. Georgia by 2.
#2 North Carolina v. #15 LIU: More intriguing than most 2-15 games. LIU likes to get up and down (#4 in the nation in tempo) and is a great offensive rebounding team (#8), but they can be dragged down by weak free throw shooting. Their defense is strong, and if they can stay in the game and even take a lead late, UNC might struggle to shoot their way back in front. It seems like every year lately, there's a #2 that has to sweat bullets to survive, and this year, it might be the Heels. LIU still has no answer for Harrison "Who Are the Idiots Who Voted Me Preseason All-American and Put a Bullseye On My Head?" Barnes. UNC by 5.
#1 Ohio State v. #9 Villanova: Sully and the boys finally get a test. And yes, I actually do think it might be a test. Jay Wright would be well-served to send his guards on kamikaze runs directly into the chests of Jared Sullinger and Dallas Lauderdale for the entire first half. If those two get into foul trouble, the Buckeyes are a perimeter shooting team all the way. However, when it's Jon Diebler and William Buford raining the threes, that's not much comfort. OSU by 7.
#12 Clemson v. #4 Kentucky: Clemson can certainly force the misses, but do they have anyone to keep Josh Harrellson from cleaning up the mistakes? If the Tigers can keep Harrellson off the boards, they stand a decent chance in this game. If not, then not so much. Kentucky by 8.
#6 Xavier v. #3 Syracuse: Rick Jackson is always a pivotal figure for Syracuse, especially if he can hit the offensive glass. If Kenny Frease can keep him off, then a lot more heat falls on C.J. Fair, Fab Melo and Baye Moussa Keita to pull rebounds. On Xavier's end, they'll need to shoot a little better than their 33.3% from outside to spread the Orange zone out. But I think they'll do just that, and go 2-0 against the Big East in the process. Xavier by 6.
#10 Georgia v. #2 North Carolina: Travis Leslie is an amazing rebounder for standing only 6-4. However, here he has to contend with the 6-10 John Henson, the 7-0 Tyler Zeller, 6-9 Justin Knox, and 6-8 Harrison Barnes. There's just too much Tar Heel length for Georgia to contend with. UNC by 15.
#1 Ohio State v. #4 Kentucky: This game promises to be bombs away from the start. Sully's going to represent the big difference here, as UK hasn't run many offensive plays designed for Harrellson. OSU has much more of an option to work inside out, as opposed to the Cats' plans, which may have to involve much more dribble penetration. The most promising matchup in this one may be Dallas Lauderdale on Terrence Jones. Either way, this game should be fun, but I've still got the Buckeyes moving on. OSU by 6.
#6 Xavier v. #2 North Carolina: Sorry, X-fans, but the Musketeer Mystery Tour might be stopping here. Tu Holloway will get his, but like Georgia, Xavier's solid inside duo of Frease and Jamel McLean may struggle against all the big bodies and long arms in Carolina blue. By this point, I think John Henson will be putting in a strong candidacy for East Region MVP. UNC by 12.
#1 Ohio State v. #2 North Carolina: Ohio State is like Georgia and Xavier, teams with a solid inside duo surrounded by a bigger number of big players. Problem is, there's a big difference between Frease/McLean and Sullinger/Lauderdale. Sully has the ability to go one-on-one with Tyler Zeller, and he's a dangerous man to double, as well. If UNC wins this, it'll be through John Henson coming from nowhere to swat a lot of shots and frustrate Sullinger. If Sully first looks to draw the double and kick out to his gunners, however, Carolina's got a long day on their hands. OSU by 7.
The other three regions will come later tonight. But for now, Ohio State's a dangerous contender for the title. Stay tuned.