There’s two extremes in every March Madness pool.
In one corner, you’ve got the person who hasn’t seen a single game. They are fascinated by mascots and colors. They refer to seedings as “the numbers”. Worst of all, they tend to ignore “State” or other modifiers after state names in schools. (“I picked Ohio to win all of it” generally wouldn’t actually mean the Bobcats to them.)
And then there’s the hoops lover. The Hoosiers quoting, pickup-playing, ESPN head. The person who lives and dies during regular season bottom-half-of-the-AAC games (or even knows what that means).
I’ve been the latter for years now and it barely ever helps. You know both of these people and you know that none of this matters when pens hit the brackets in March.
But it can help now. Your fishing grampa or the lady who loves Scandal in your office may get lucky come tourney time, but they’ve never even heard of half the people I’m about to mention. Here’s some bold predictions to look for this year.
Montrezl Harrell will become the player you can’t wait to see in the NBA.
I was going to say that Montrezl will become the consensus first pick in the draft, but I don’t trust NBA GMs to make that true (especially with the Sixers claiming the twin towers of Joel and Noel). Age has become such an overweighted factor in the draft and Harrell will be 21 at next year’s draft. Insane as it is, that’s old enough to drop a few spots on draft boards.
Harrell is already a sure-fire top ten pick and he’s going to make every team that passes on him rue that day. His natural comparison is Blake Griffin after you’ve seen him attack the rim, but that’s not entirely accurate. Griffin is more mobile and more fluid in the open court. Harrell is bigger and stronger. He’s an absolute beast on the glass. He’s Kenneth Farried with Blake’s explosiveness. That’s scary.
Kevin Pangos will be a First Team All-American
Full disclosure: I’m a Gonzaga fan. I grew up and live 3,000 miles from the school. I’ve never been to the state of Washington. It’s a sort of a long story. We’ll save it for another time.
So I’m biased. 100%. I know this.
But I can’t escape how good these Zags can be. This is Mark Few’s most talented team ever. Adam Morrison’s final year and the Kelly Olynyk led Zags that secured a 1-seed were both very good. Not like this team though.
Transfers Byron Wesley and Kyle Wiltjer are now eligible and each brings something much needed to Spokane. Wesley is the slasher that recent Zags teams have been desperate for and Wiltjer is a sharpshooting stretch 4. They join 3s-and-D athletic freak Gary Bell and Young Frankenstein with a baby hook, Przemek Karnowski.
If you’re bullish on the Zags, it’s a simple formula. Karnowski is 7’1, 300 lbs. Double him? Bell shot 43% from deep last year, Pangos was 41%, and Wiltjer made this video of him making 70 of 75 triples.
That makes Wesley the weak shooter in the starting five at 35% from long range, but he’s got the quick first step to make anyone regret giving him a cushion.
So why Pangos as the All-American? He’s been the team’s alpha-Bulldog since his coming out party as a freshman. Even when Olynyk was an All-American, the Zags went as Pangos went. After Olynyk headed to the NBA, last year seemed like his year. Injuries derailed that thought, as nagging turf toe and repeatedly sprained ankles left Pangos barely able to walk after games last year.
Now? He’s got the perfect cast around him to get all the open shots he’s ever dreamed of. I think he gets hot and puts up 23+ points per game with quite a few assists to wide open shooters.
The ACC will be the best conference, but the Big Ten is still the Big Damn Ten
I’ve never given much guff to the so-called death of the Big East or the sadness of conference realignment. As long as we continue to have 300+ Division 1 programs on the same level and a 64+ team tournament to decide the winner, I welcome any changes. The ACC is stacked. Louisville, Duke, UNC, Pitt, and Syracuse all play each other on a yearly basis. And that’s before mentioning UVA (a top 15 team this season) and other movers and shakers like NC State, Notre Dame, and Miami.
But the Big Ten will continue to be my favorite conference. There’s just something about the style of play and contempt the teams have for each other. I suspect it has something to do with the coaching. Bo Ryan, John Beilein, Thad Matta, and Tom Izzo are all top tier coaches, arguably among the 5 or 10 best in the nation. They may be the class of the league, but it doesn’t end there. Every single road game in the Big Ten is hell. Well, except Rutgers.
TJ McConnell will become this year’s Aaron Craft.
If you already know who both of those people are, you’re nodding your head (and let’s be honest, if you just made it through a 300 word Gonzaga preview, you do). McConnell was basically mini-Craft last year, though he doesn’t get as much coverage playing out West. With a charge-taking, gritty hustler sized hole in their hearts, America’s talking heads will lock on to McConnell. Get ready. It’s happening.
Wisconsin will continue to be fun to watch, no matter what your friends who prefer the NBA say.
(climbs out window onto the roof of my house)
I DON’T CARE HOW FEW POINTS THE BADGERS SCORE. THEY PLAY BEAUTIFUL BASKETBALL. KAMINSKY AND DEKKER ARE BOTH AWESOME TO WATCH. NOW GO ENJOY ANOTHER ROCKETS-CLIPPERS FREE THROW SHOOTING CONTEST, NBA NERDS.
FINAL FOUR: Arizona, Louisville, Ohio State, Wisconsin
Note: I don’t necessarily think these are the four best teams. A list of the best teams right now would be very different. College hoops prophet Ken “KenPom” Pomeroy made this point on Twitter recently. In some ways I agree. But I also think many of the teams that project to be #1 seeds this year aren’t built for March. Duke, Texas, Kansas, and Kentucky are all very reliant on young and unproven players. Could one or all of them prove to be forces to be reckoned with? Certainly.
But right now, I feel more comfortable putting my weight behind these four. All of them have reliable in-game coaching and a backbone of veterans to go to down the stretch.
Frank Kaminsky is the most difficult match-up in America and Sam Dekker is capable of putting up a quiet 30 and 10 every night. I’m taking Bo and the Badgers.
Shane McNichol is the founder, editor, and lone contributor of PalestraBack.com. Follow him on Twitter @OnTheShaneTrain.