Monday, March 18, 2013

NCAA Tournament Picks: Show Your Cards

Ball So Hard Sports broke down all 4 regions and you know Louisville, Miami, New Mexico and Georgetown made our Final Four. Want to review? Check them out. We've covered the MidwestEastSouth and West Regions for you right here. If you're going to give everyone analysis and predictions for the tournament, you're going to have to unveil your own picks as well. So, time to show our Cards (read into that what you want) and unveil the bracket.

Before we break down the 2 semi-final match-ups and our projected national championship game, take a look at our full bracket. Its out there now, no hiding from whatever upsets and Cinderellas crash the party now! Best of luck to you with your brackets as well. Feel free to use ours as reference of what to do or not do depending on what you think:

With that out of the way, let's dive into the Final Four match-ups we project for Atlanta:

Semi-Final 1: New Mexico vs. Louisville

I wish this could have been the final. I really like New Mexico and think that it is time for a team from the Mountain West to rise up and prove this is a conference worth of the national attention it will get from the ESPN TV deal they just inked. Tony Snell and Kendall Williams are tremendous talents and have gotten it done all year for the Lobos. But, Rick Pitino brings an experienced Louisville team who was in the Final Four last season and hungry to improve on that performance. They run 9 deep in the Cardinals rotation and their starting five all contributed to the team that made it last year.

How New Mexico Wins: Simple. Snell and Williams outplay Siva, beat Louisville's pressure and hit their shots. It won't be easy, but if the Lobos can get out front and beat the press without being afraid of being blocked by Dieng every time they cut to the basket, they may be the one's playing on Monday.

How Louisville Wins: Experience and pressure. If New Mexico is in this game, they are going to be overwhelmed with what comes along with being a Final Four team, especially being as little known as they are. Louisville was here last season and everyone remembers it. More importantly, Rick Pitino has been here a few times and will make sure they stay grounded and focused. Their pressure is going to get to teams throughout the tournament and if they can frustrate the Lobos enough, they'll be looking to cut down the nets in the final game of the season.

Ball So Hard Sports Pick: Louisville. March is all about experience. We always hear about betting on coaches who have been there. Izzo, Coach K, etc. and right at the top with them all is Pitino. He'll get it done one more time with this squad.

Semi-Final 2: Georgetown vs. Miami

Miami is looking to continue their tremendous season by winning 2 games in Atlanta and bringing the NCAA title back to South Beach to pair with the NBA title and crowning Miami as the home of hoops. Georgetown looks to carry the torch of the old Big East into one last tournament and come out the victor. Miami is very strategic under Jim Larranaga and Georgetown is very deliberate under JTIII. This is going to be an interesting game to watch if it happens and whoever imposes their will over the other will get the W.

How Georgetown Wins: Control the tempo. When they wear you down and play their style, they're nearly unbeatable. Miami is prone to scoring droughts and the Hoya defense can capitalize on that. It will be interesting to see if the Princeton offense of the Hoyas can work with the Miami "scramble" defense, but if Otto hits his shots, they should give the Big East a shot at a conference match-up in the title game.

How Miami Wins: Hit shots and play defense. They are known to go cold for long spells and they can't afford that here. Shane Larkin has to be the All-American PG he is and run this offense. The defense will have had a week to work on stopping the Hoyas and should have plenty of plays from their coach designed to slow down Georgetown. This is a veteran team and while they weren't a pre-season favorite, they've performed all year and will be worthy of a title shot if they do their jobs.

Ball So Hard Sports Pick: Miami. Larranaga has been here before with a Cinderella and now he has talent. Miami played nearly flawless in the ACC during the season and the tournament and should do the same here. They were slighted for a 1 seed but a berth in the title game forgives all of that.

National Championship: Louisville vs. Miami

This could be a great guard match-up between Larkin and Siva. One for the ages. Pitino looking to add to his legend while Larranaga looks for the crowning achievement on a storied coaching career. Again, it is going to come down to who hits shots. The same way these teams got here is the same way they're going to win 6 games from now.

Ball So Hard Sports Pick: Louisville. This team is just too good to overlook. They should have won last year and fell just shy. Siva and the team hasn't forgotten what that loss felt like and have worked all year to get back here. On that Monday in Atlanta, they'll be cutting down the nets. Pitino knows what is at stake and will make the most of the opportunity, starting this week when he returns to Rupp Arena with what amounts to a home game for Louisville in the most enemy of territories. It only gets better for him from there, culminating in a national championship.

There you have it. The fun begins tomorrow with the Play-In games in Dayton and finishes April 8 in Atlanta. This is the most wide-open the tournament has been in a while, so good luck with your brackets and enjoy the games, they are sure to be epic!

NCAA South Region: Hoya Destroyas

Ball So Hard Sports is breaking down each of the 4 regions before giving you our Final Four and title picks as well as unveiling our full bracket for you to compete against. We've already covered the Midwest, East and West Regions, leaving the South for the finale, where the Kansas Jayhawks look to return to the Final Four after a runner-up finish last season.

Let me start off by saying this bracket is impossible for me as a fan. My SDSU Aztecs are here as well as pre-bracket favorites Georgetown and Florida, plus Michigan, who I always love to see make a deep run. I would love to put the Aztecs deep into the tournament, but if I'm going to be a blogger, I have to check my alumni card at the door, right? I haven't even mentioned the #1 seeded Jayhawks who could be coming together just in time for a big run. Oh, and there is another team in the mix that everyone wants to pick as I watch the prediction shows and segments this morning: VCU.

Favorites:  Kansas for me is a strong choice to return to the Final Four. Ben McLemore is a star just waiting to lift off and do big things in the NBA. This could be his national coming out party for those that haven't seen him. Georgetown didn't win the Big East but they were the class of the conference all year and head coach JT3 has the Hoyas primed and ready for March. Michigan held the top spot in the polls for a hot minute this year and is from the lauded Big 10. Florida may be one of the most complete teams in the tournament and despite a disappointing SEC title game loss could be poised to bring Billy Donovan back to the Final Four. You can't go wrong with any of these 4 if your bracket takes that route.

Sleepers: Let's just start with everyone's favorite sleeper: VCU. Shaka Smart and his national darlings are staring at everyone from this 5 seed and people think he has them ready to head back to the Final Four. I don't think he can run a gauntlet that could include beating Michigan, Kansas and Georgetown though. North Carolina came on late and made the ACC title game, but will the weeklong hype of playing Kansas in Kansas City be too much for Roy Williams guys, causing them to lose to Villanova in the first round? Last, let's talk San Diego State. Steve Fisher knows how to win in March, but hasn't done so since coming to SDSU. Jamaal Franklin is a special talent and if he, Chase Tapley and James Rahon are hitting their shots, this is a team that is capable of playing with anyone. They have trouble with great two-guard lineups, shoot too many threes and settle for jumpers, but if they learn from their last two tournaments, don't be surprised to see them playing on the second weekend.

Best First Round Game: UNC/Nova is going to be a close matchup and the hype of a Kansas game is hanging over UNC. UCLA and Minnesota may be playing for their coaches' jobs. I love the SDSU vs. Lon Kruger reunion but I think Michigan vs. the other SDSU is the one to watch here. Michigan doesn't handle PG's well and low and behold, Nate Wolters, a Wooden finalist, is ready for you to meet him, nation. I don't know that they'll pull the upset, but don't be shocked if they send Big Blue home early.

Best Late Round Potential Game: While I'd like to see UCLA/SDSU, I think the idea of VCU's press vs. a team that doesn't turn the ball over like Michigan would be fun to watch. Michigan is young,  with no seniors in their 8 man rotation, but 4 freshmen. This would be a huge contrast of styles and a fun one to see take place with an Elite 8 berth on the line.

Ball So Hard Sports Pick: Obviously we're thinking SDSU here, but going with Georgetown to head to Atlanta. Originally had Michigan here, but youth may hurt them as we saw late in the season. A good sign for the Hoyas: the last Big East team to beat the Aztecs in the tourney was UConn two years ago and they kept on winning until the next came down.

NCAA East Region: Hurricane Warning

Ball So Hard Sports is breaking down each of the 4 regions before giving you our Final Four and title picks as well as unveiling our full bracket for you to compete against. We've already covered the Midwest and West Regions and now come back East, where Indiana holds the #1 seed.

This region feels like the one where nobody is really overwhelming, some teams have disappointed and fell into low seeds here. Others got seeded a bit better than they should but are here as well. You'd like to think one of the top 2, Indiana and Miami, would view this as a weak draw and roll through to Atlanta, but you can't help but think one of the lower seeds or a real Cinderella could come out of this one and not just because the new King of Cinderellas, Butler, is here either.

Favorites: Indiana has to be on the top of most prediction lists. They were at or near the top of the polls all year long, they have Victor Oladipo and Tyler Zeller, quite possibly the best duo in the country and after a steady rise, Tom Crean has the Hoosiers ready to return to glory. Miami, led by Jim Larranaga (who knows a thing or two about NCAA Tourney runs) has come from the unknowns this year to run through the ACC with regular-season and tournament titles. Syracuse has had its ups and downs, but they're always a threat in march with Boeheim manning the sidelines.

Sleepers:  NC State was a chic pic early in the season to do exactly what Miami did. While they sputtered all year, they are playing well now and could pose a big problem for the Hoosiers in round three. Butler is hoping the third time is the charm with coach Brad Stevens. Illinois is being talked about simply for being a Big 10 team and the dominance of the conference this year. While not region winner worthy, Cal, Bucknell, Montana and Davidson all could provide some first round upsets to mess up your bracket.

Best First Round Game: UNLV/Cal was my pick, simply because UNLV is playing with a chip on their shoulder as they hear they were over-seeded and have to play Cal in San Jose, but the best game to watch in this region is going to be the Davidson/Marquette contest. A lot of people picking Davidson in the upset and if it happens, watching a 14 over a 3 will be a highlight of your day, unless you have Marquette, of course.

Best Potential Late Round Game: Indiana vs. Butler. While I don't have this match-up in my bracket, you have to love the potential of this rematch. Indiana getting a shot at revenge and the Final Four by beating a Butler team who beat them on a buzzer-beater and would be heading to their third straight Final Four. Full of drama that we'd all love, but I don't think either will be playing on that day.

Ball So Hard Sports Pick:  Miami. I think point guards are going to be critical in this tournament. Shane Larkin is one of the best in the country and he's going to get a chance to show everyone that, as well as show that Miami isn't a fluke by bringing them to the Final Four. Hell, Miami is currently the capital of the basketball world, so why shouldn't the Hurricanes be our pick?

NCAA West Region: Loco For Lobos

Ball So Hard Sports is breaking down each of the 4 regions before giving you our Final Four and title picks as well as unveiling our full bracket for you to compete against. We've already covered the Midwest and now we head out West where Gonzaga has gone from Cinderella to Belle of the Ball with a #1 seed.

All the talk right now is how Mark Few has taken the Bulldogs to the ultimate Cinderella only a few years ago to a team that ended the year #1 in the polls and even with a weaker schedule, held on for a #1 seed in the tournament. Do they deserve it? Should it have been Miami? We can debate. Truth is, with such a wide open tournament, yes, I think the Zags deserved the distinction of being a #1 seed. Ironically, they should have probably gotten the toughest #2 seed (Duke) and seemed to luck out with Ohio State, New Mexico and Kansas State as their other 3 top seeds. There is a chance for Gonzaga to make a run, but there are a few teams ready to head to Atlanta as well.

Favorites: Gonzaga has their doubters, but with Kelly Olynyk they can definitely win the 4 games needed to make the Final Four. Yes, they haven't played an impressive schedule, but they've beaten who was in front of them. Ohio State is going to be a tough out with Aaron Craft and a Big 10 battle tested squad. East Coast bias will hurt views on the Mountain West, but New Mexico won the regular season and tourney titles and has a tremendous player in Tony Snell. Any of these 3 shouldn't shock anyone if they're cutting down nets in 12 days.

Sleepers: Wisconsin just made a deep run to the Big 10 title game and has the team to do it again in the big tournament. Arizona started out hot and slowed down during the season but with a great shooting performance could re-capture their success of the early-season and finish strong with another Wildcat run. While not sleepers in terms of winning the bracket, Belmont, Iowa State and the winner of Boise St./LaSalle all have a chance to win in the second round (the former first round) making this region the one I predict will have the least chalk as we head through the weekend.

Best First Round Game: This region is LOADED with great games and you should be happy to make it out of this first 2 days of games alive in your pool. Wisconsin/Ole Miss, Arizona/Belmont, Notre Dame/Iowa St. and K-State/Play-In Winner all have potential to be great games. For my money, I'm most excited about Arizona and Belmont. I think Arizona has a lot to prove and will have every opportunity to do so against a Belmont team that presents the toughest possible match-up for the Wildcats. If Belmont makes their shots, this is going to be a wild one.

Best Potential Late Round Game: New Mexico vs. Ohio State. Kendall Williams. Tony Snell. Aaron Craft. DeShaun Thomas. Do I need to say anymore? This will be a talent-loaded Sweet 16 game if both teams make it. Ohio State is right back in the title mix even after losing last year's talent including Jared Sullinger. The Mountain West has not impressed in the tournament even as the conference has become one of the nation's best and this would give the Lobos a chance to put that reputation to bed by beating a top team from what is viewed as the best hoops conference going.

Ball So Hard Pick: New Mexico. Granted, I've seen a lot of Mountain West hoops as an Aztecs fan and New Mexico beat SDSU twice, including the MWC title game. Williams and Snell are one of the best duos in the country and Steve Alford has his team clicking right now. They really only have one bad loss all year, the others were to some of the best teams in the tournament. This is a team that can rise above some of the big names from around the nation and be the surprise story of Atlanta.

NCAA Midwest Region: Seeing Red

Ball So Hard Sports is breaking down each of the 4 regions before giving you our Final Four and title picks as well as unveiling our full bracket for you to compete against. First up, the overall #1 Louisville Cardinals and the Midwest region.

Before the seeds and match-ups came out, I had started talking about the Cardinals in Atlanta. Winning the Big East only helped my cause. You always have to lean on guys like Pitino (even though I hate the guy), Izzo and Coach K when March rolls around. Those guys are ALWAYS in the mix. Unfortunately, they are all in the mix right here. The Region of Doom. Yikes. It almost feels like the winner of this bracket should be the national champion, but only because they'll have nothing left when they get to Atlanta. With that being said, let's break down the bracket:

Favorites: The #1 seed is the tourney's overall #1, so Louisville is definitely a favorite of many to win the region. Duke is going to be loved by their fans and hated by everyone else, but with Ryan Kelly, this is a different squad. They only lost once with him in the lineup. They could be dangerous. Michigan State is coming from the loaded Big 10 and has the team to win 4 and move on. St. Louis is riding high on emotion and there wouldn't be a better story than seeing the Billikens play on Final Four weekend.

Sleepers: Memphis ran trough C-USA undefeated and can score. They could play giant killer and take the Spartans and Blue Devils out. Oregon is coming together at the right time and just won the Pac-12. The seeding for the Ducks is an absolute joke and they may be able to use that slight as motivation to make a deep run.

Best First Round Game: Colorado St./Missouri. The Rams had a great season in the nation's top-rated conference, the Mountain West. The 8 seed might have been a little low. Missouri is a bit of an enigma, but if Phil Pressey shows up, this game could go down to the last possession for the right to take on the Cardinals.

Best Potential Late Round Game: Duke/Louisville. Pitino vs. Coach K. Kelly vs. Siva. Winner heads to the Final Four. You could sub Michigan State for Duke here, but either way, the Elite 8 contest in this bracket is the one to look for provided no big upsets hit.

Ball So Hard Pick: Louisville. As much as it kills me to go against the Cameron Crazies in favor of Rick Pitino, this team is probably the best all-around team in the country and should be cutting down nets on a Monday in April. If I had seen Ryan Kelly for a few more games before the tourney things might be different, but right now Louisville's vets are the play.

Let The Madness Begin!

Forget Christmas, THIS is the most wonderful time of the year for me as a sports fan. The NBA is in full swing heading toward playoff mode, golf is picking up steam as we get closer to Augusta, Spring Training has everyone thinking about summer and mock drafts fill the blogosphere. Oh, yeah, and March Madness is here, shutting down offices and stirring debate like no other sporting event around.

Look, anyone with a bracket and a pen (or keyboard) has a chance. We all have our opinions, our alma maters, our favorite teams, you name it. The receptionist in the office who thinks a Jackrabbit is way cuter than a Wolverine has just as good a shot of winning the office pool as the guy who thinks he's smarter than Jay Bilas and the guy who gloats about staying up every night to watch the west coast games and says that's why he is going to win.

The truth is: this year, its anyone's title to win. We've seen the VCU's and Butler's crash the party the last couple of years and that was when there were heavy favorites. Now we enter a tournament where realistically, any of the top 4 seeds in each region could head to Atlanta and cut down nets. Not to mention, there are probably 2 or 3 lower seeds in each region that could surprise and advance. That's around 20 teams out of the 68 that could make it. Pretty good odds for everyone heading into Thursday and Friday's first round (Yes, first round. These 4 Dayton games are play-ins, stop kidding yourselves, NCAA!) match-ups.

Here at Ball So Hard Sports, we're trying real hard to take our San Diego State Alumni hat off (I swear, this team can get hot and be playing in the Sweet 16...but just as likely is one and done) and not pick our favorites like we do every year (Hey, Berman had SF and Buffalo in the Super Bowl for like 15 years, why can't I have Duke, Syracuse, Arizona and Michigan in my Final Four AGAIN?) and pick the best teams to go to Atlanta.

With that said, here's how the BSHSB is breaking down the brackets:

-Region-by-region analysis: Favorites, sleepers, upset specials. We'll give you all the tools to pick your brackets and be ready for the office pools.

-Final Four picks: Learn who Ball So Hard has cutting down nets and heading to Atlanta.

-The Full Monty: See our bracket and go head-to-head with us.

Six blogs. All coming your way over the next two days. Keep checking back for updates and send us your Final Four, upset and sleeper picks on Twitter.