So, how is YOUR bracket?
Ours looks like swiss cheese -- full of holes.
However, we do have a pair of Final Four teams left in North Carolina and Michigan State, the two teams we picked at the start of the tournament to make the championship game.
Our other two picks to make the Final Four were Pittsburgh -- which lost on a last-second shot in the regional finals to Villanova -- and Memphis, which looked way overrated in its loss to Missouri in the Sweet 16. Memphis couldn’t buy a basket from the outside and its supposedly vaunted defense leaked like sieve.
On Saturday, North Carolina is matched against Villanova, while Michigan State takes on UConn. We have to imagine not many people have all four of those teams still alive, as Villanova is the biggest surprise.
On paper, it looks like Carolina by a comfortable margin. The Tar Heels are the most talented team left in the field and they won their regional title game easily against Oklahoma, even with All-American Tyler Hansbrough basically a non-factor. North Carolina has a passel of players we can expect to watch at the next level.
Give Villanova its due, though. It epitomizes what Big East basketball is all about, grittingly tough on the defensive end and it executes well on the offensive end even though it doesn’t have great size. Still, we’d be shocked if Villanova revisits 1985 and pulls a stunner of Georgetown proportions.
The other semi should be fascinating. UConn has been a dominating defensive team and has all the ingredients to win it all.
But Michigan State basically is playing in its backyard. Tom Izzo is perhaps the most underrated coach in the country as all he does is win and he has led a team to the national championship, just like UConn’s Jim Calhoun. All signs point toward a UConn win, but we picked the Spartans to make the finals at the start and we can’t give up on them now.
KU LOOKS TO NEXT YEAR -- The Kansas Jayhawks were better than Michigan State for the first 37 minutes Friday night in their regional semifinal game.
But the Jayhawks imploded those final three minutes under the weight of too many turnovers and ill-advised shots.
Let’s face it. A spot in the Sweet 16 probably was as good as this team deserved, yet given the way it played against the Spartans, to lose was terribly disappointing. It’s a game KU controlled, especially in the first half up as many as 13, until the Spartans’ intense defense in the second half choked the life out of the KU offense.
Sherron Collins and Cole Aldrich carried this team all year and nobody ever stepped up to become the consistent third option. Tyshawn Taylor was the 3-man most of the year, but unraveled in the postseason with a litany of turnovers and questionable decisions.
The big question around Lawrence, of course, is whether Collins and Aldrich come back. We have to believe Aldrich is a no-brainer, as there is still so much he can learn from assistant coach Danny Manning. If Aldrich makes as much improvement from his sophomore to his junior season as he did from his freshman season to his sophomore, he’ll be a top-five pick next year. You have to remember, he really wasn’t a major factor in last year’s title season until late in the year, especially in the Final Four against North Carolina.
Collins is iffy, because he does have a family to support and he’s already played three years. Yet, the possibility of winning a second national championship could be the allure that brings him back.
KU’s other players no doubt will improve, and more help is on the way. Power forward Thomas Robinson reportedly is a Darnell Jackson clone, while 7-footer Jiff Withey transferred in at semester and certainly benefitted from being on the practice floor for the last three months. Point guard Elijah Johnson figures to push Taylor, as he comes in with high credentials. And today, scoring phenom Lance Stephenson from New York could pick the Jayhawks, as they’re in his top three along with Maryland and St. John. He could be the missing piece, as he’s a scorer with range, something KU desperately needs. Brady Morningstar and Tyrel Reed were better than expected, but Stephenson has more size and scouts say he has NBA potential.
LOOK OUT FOR KSU -- Kansas figures to be the favorite in the Big 12 next year, but look for Kansas’ other team to perhaps provide the biggest challenge.
Frank Martin’s Kansas State Wildcats overcame a slow start to finish in a tie for fourth place in the Big 12 and if his recruits come close to their glitzy resumes, it could be a Sunflower State showdown at the top of the standings.
The Wildcats lose only Darren Kent, but add 6-9 Wally Judge, 6-4 Rodney McGruder, 6-4 Nick Russell and 7-0 Jordan Hernandez. Judge and McGruder are especially heralded, with Judge expected to be among the top 50 recruits in the country.
They’ll join a solid nucleus, as KSU could have the best guard group in the Big 12, including KU. Denis Clemente, Jacob Pullen and Fred Brown could see McGruder and Russell eat into their minutes.
The key will be how much Judge can provide punch to the frontcourt, which was spotty much of the year. The hope is he can be a 15-point-a-game scorer, as this year you never knew where the points were going to come from.
Oklahoma figures to lose Blake Griffin and could drop a spot or two. Texas may have the second-best talent returning, while a sleeper could be Oklahoma State.
Tar Heels, Spartans still alive for editor
So, how is YOUR bracket?