Well kids, it's that time again, everyone's favourite time of the year: tournament time, March Madness. As much as I am a hockey fan first and foremost, nothing, aside from the World Cup of Soccer, is more exciting or invigorating than the NCAA Men's Basketball tournament.
The tournament is a time when "illegal" betting on college athletics happens from coast to coast across North America. It's a time when legends are made, when small time American schools like Hampton earn their 15 minutes of fame and other schools, like Gonzaga, establish bonafide underdog reputations. Every year a 12-seed will surprise a five-seed or a 13-seed will topple a four-seed.
The question is always "who?"
Well, I've got my gut feelings and would love to share a few of them with the rest of you.
#8- Louisiana State University Tigers
LSU is hot at the right time of year. After falling flat in South East Conference play, opening the conference season at 1-6, the Tigers made it to the SEC Semifinals before falling short against Mississippi State. This is a squad that has toppled the Arizona Wildcats this year and enters the tourney boasting three battle-tested seniors and shooting near 50 per cent on the year.
#12- Butler Bulldogs
With a solid guard-big man combo in Brandon Miller and Joel Cornette, the Bulldogs have the key elements to make a solid run in a relatively weak East bracket. Factor in the chip Butler has on its shoulder from being passed over for a tournament berth last year, a suspect move indeed.
#6- Missouri Tigers
While a six-seed may not be your traditional underdog or sleeper, any team that needs to get through Kentucky is at a distinct disadvantage. Why Missouri? Simply put, if big man Arthur Johnson can stay out of foul trouble, there are few teams with an answer for the Tigers. Racking up nearly ten double-doubles on the year, the six-foot-nine junior is the key to Missouri's success or failure.
#12- Wisconsin-Milwaukee Panthers
Gonzaga be damned, I've never liked them and, as I have in years past, I see them going down in flames in the first round. Couple that with a very impressive full-court defense, a 24-7 record and a victory over Butler in the Horizon League Championship and this team is a legitimate giant-killer. Reminiscent of one of my least favourite tournament surprises, Wisconsin, the Panthers could definitely catch some teams off guard. However, in a bracket as loaded and potent as this year's West region, they'll be hard-pressed to win more than a game or two.
So there you have it, I've put my good name on the line, based on nothing more than hunches and my experience watching the last 12 tourneys. It will be the year for Tigers' and the year the Horizon League does what the Mid-American Conference did a few years back, led by Wally Szczerbiak and Miami (Ohio): gain legitimacy. Mock me, ridicule me, agree with me, ignore me. It doesn't really matter, because I'll be watching basketball through it all.