The On Deck Circle

The unofficial home of Real Talk

March Madness - Contenders and Pretenders

Posted by Blake Murphy on February 15, 2008

This article has been submitted by the Frank Stallone of the Pennycook family, Alex Pennycook.

Top 5 Contenders
Memphis – The only unbeaten team still has their toughest game of the season remaining when they square off against Tennessee (which should be just an amazing, fast paced game that should be watched by every basketball fan as a tune up for tournament time). Everyone criticizes their weak conference schedule but that hasn’t hurt them lately, easily beating Georgetown and Arizona this year and barely missing the Final Four last year after a tough loss to Ohio State. There is a ton of NBA-ready talent on this team and it’s hard to imagine this squad not making it at least back to the Elite Eight again. Free throw shooting is their achilles heel but I can’t see that being the main reason why they lose a game.

UCLA – The knock on UCLA last year was their lack of a post presence, which really cost them against Florida in last year’s Final Four. Now they have an absolute beast in the middle with Kevin Love and he could be the man to take them to the next level. Even without Love this team has a ton of depth and is very experienced after back to back Final Four runs.

Kansas – This team has been at the top of the rankings all year, has only two losses (both on the road to Texas and a dangerous Kansas State team), and yet you don’t hear all that much about them. Another team that has a history of flameouts in the tournament, they are too deep and balanced this year to lose early. Expect to hear Brandon Rush’s name a lot as he’s a strong candidate to be the guy that is talked about as being underrated so much that he becomes overrated.

UNC – This is the team that scares me the most. They almost knocked Duke without a point guard, Hansbrough seems like he can dominate anyone, and with Ty Lawson back they are the most complete team in the nation. The Tar Heels have struggled the past couple tournaments (losing to George Mason in the 2nd round two years ago and blowing a game against Georgetown after barely squeaking by USC in the Sweet Sixteen) but they should have learned from those mistakes by now. Also, don’t be surprised if Wayne Ellington has a bad game if they lose (he seems to be their X-factor).

Duke – Greg Paulus was a QB in high school and that is the only thing you need to know about this team. I see this team being a lot like the UCLA team from last year (very talented, lots of depth, just not in the post). There is too much talent for this team to lose early, but when it comes down to the last couple rounds it seems like every team has a dominant center (UNC with Hansbrough, Georgetown with Hibbert, Memphis and Dorsey, etc). That will be the difference that eventually knocks the Devils out and sends them home crying.

Top 5 Pretenders
Stanford – I just refuse to believe that this team is any good. They didn’t play anyone who will make the tournament in the first two months of the season and only have one win against a ranked opponent. Brook Lopez is good but other than his brother Robin I don’t think I could name another player on that team. Let’s not forget that they lost to Louisville by 20 points in the first round last year either.

Michigan State – It pains me to write this because Drew Neitzel (aka Nitro) is one of my favorite college basketball players but this team simply isn’t that good (and I don’t know how they are ranked #9). They have beaten Texas but that’s about it (although they barely lost to UCLA) and have the toughest part of their conference schedule ahead which will ultimately determine where they’ll be seeded. Expect them to be a 4 seed and lose in the dreaded 4 vs. 5 game.

Wisconsin – Another Big Ten team that I just don’t think is that good. They’ve also beaten Texas, and have a solid conference win over Indiana but have been blown out by Duke and lost to Marquette, who is now scrapping just to make the dance. Bo Ryan is a great coach and his team’s will always be competitive, but this year they just don’t have the talent to go that far in the tournament.

Tennessee – So I had Texas in this spot first and then they went out and beat Kansas and really made me doubt the selection. Upon further review I realized that they had way too many solid wins to be in this category (They’ve beaten UCLA, St. Mary’s and dismantled Tennessee by 20). The Volunteers are on pace to end up a #1 seed and should easily claim the SEC title, but that isn’t saying much this year. They do have some nice wins (road wins over Gonzaga, Xavier and West Virginia), but have also had some absolutely brutal games, for example, beating LSU 47-45 after LSU had just fired their coach. The key thing about this team is that they are hit or miss, which means they could easily get hot and make a run to the Final Four, or have a tough shooting day and lose in the 2nd round to an inferior team that just happened to catch them on the right day. If they end up beating Memphis in a couple weeks this completely goes out the window but I can’t really see that happening.

Vanderbilt – The Commodores ran through their non-conference schedule a perfect 15-0 and people started to pile on the bandwagon. The problem was that they didn’t play anyone good (maybe Wake Forest makes the tournament, but they only beat them by 3 at home) and are now struggling through a weak SEC season. They are probably still the second best team in the conference but that isn’t saying much. Last year’s run and near miss against Georgetown has probably helped the team in the long run but this just isn’t their year.

This article has been submitted by the Frank Stallone of the Pennycook family, Alex Pennycook.

3 Responses to “March Madness - Contenders and Pretenders”

  1. This is Dave Power Says:

    where is the love, UCONN knocking off Marquette, Notre Dame, Pitt, Indiana all in the pst 3 weeks, 8 game winning streak. Thabeet, Price, Adrien tearing it up!!!! all without the leading scorer Dyson…. Huskies all the way

  2. stu Says:

    UConn might be good, but I don’t think they are at the level of a couple of the pretenders here, let alone the contenders.

    Also, writing off the Big Ten is always a good idea. When have those guys ever done well in the tournament? One of Michigan State, Wisconsin, and Indiana will almost definitely go on a run.

  3. Blake Murphy Says:

    For the third year in a row, I get the pleasure of jinxing my UCLA Bruins by taking them to win it all early.

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