Welcome to another special edition of the College Hoops Report Card. On Friday, you got a look back at a great day of college hoops at Madison Square Garden. Now, let's look ahead to what we've all been waiting for -- the NCAA Tournament.
Every week in this section of the Report Card, I featured a star player on a team from a smaller conference, or occasionally an underrated player on a team from a power conference. Most of those players had a happy Selection Sunday -- 10 of the 16 will be playing in this year's Big Dance. If you missed their stories or want to learn a little more about these players, just click on their names below:
Jamaal Williams, Washington
Steve Burtt, Iona
Ben Jacobson, Northern Iowa
Steve Novak, Marquette
Darrel Mitchell, LSU
Marcus Slaughter, San Diego State
Chris McNaughton, Bucknell
Jamar Wilson, Albany
John Goldsberry, UNC Wilmington
Gerry McNamara, Syracuse
And, in case you're curious, here are the six who missed the tournament (all except Jason Smith will be playing in the NIT):
Coaches at smaller schools often get better jobs by leading their teams to a win or two in the NCAA Tournament. Last season, Bruce Pearl led UW-Milwaukee to the Sweet 16, which catapulted him into the head coaching job at Tennessee.
So who will be the hot coach coming out of this year's tournament? My prediction is Greg McDermott of Northern Iowa. The No. 10-seeded Panthers are my sleeper Sweet 16 team, plus McDermott already has gotten some national attention. In particular, if Steve Alford leaves Iowa for Indiana, keep an eye on McDermott.
Atlanta Region: TEXAS -- Texas has as good a starting five as any team in America. In a regional final rematch with Duke, the Longhorns will be extremely amped up to avenge their 31-point loss in December. And I think they'll beat the Blue Devils.
Oakland Region: UCLA -- Memphis and Kansas are too reliant on freshmen, and Gonzaga is too weak defensively. UCLA will face Indiana in the regional semis, and the winner will go to Indianapolis. If the Hoosiers get to Indy, it would be such a great story -- but the Bruins' guards will put them over the top.
Washington, D.C., Region: CONNECTICUT -- The Huskies have the most talented roster in the country. The best game in this region will be Michigan State vs. North Carolina in Round 2 -- the Spartans will prevail, but will lose to Connecticut in the regional final.
Minneapolis Region: VILLANOVA -- Really looking forward to a potential old-school Big East matchup between the 'Cats and Boston College in a regional semifinal. The winner of that game also will go to Indy -- Nova will squeak past BC.
In Indianapolis, I'm picking Texas to topple UCLA and UConn to knock off Villanova in another exciting rematch. And then UConn will defeat Texas to win its third national championship.
|Check out ESPN.com's coverage of the NCAA Tournament.|
That's what Albany coach Will Brown told the Albany Times-Union after the brackets were announced Sunday -- with Albany matched up against No. 1 seed UConn. I like Brown's attitude. It's always fun to watch a No. 16 seed when it can hang with a No. 1 in the first half. One of these years, a No. 16 is finally going to get a W. I don't think it will be Albany, but I'll still be pulling for the Great Danes -- even though that would torpedo my bracket.
• I was very sad to see John Chaney's great career come to a close. The world of college basketball, particularly the Philadelphia Big Five, will never be the same.
• I must admit, I find some of this year's potential NIT matchups intriguing -- maybe that's because I believe at least a couple of the teams belonged in the NCAA Tournament (Cincinnati and Hofstra in particular). And I can't help but pull for Temple, even if Chaney doesn't coach the team.
• I'd give the first new episode of "The Sopranos" a 7.5 out of 10, but I expect the episodes to get better. One thing's for sure, I'm not going to forget that hanging scene for quite a while. Disturbing.
As for other upset specials ... I have No. 14 seed Northwestern State knocking out Iowa; No. 12 seed Kent State beating Pittsburgh; No. 11 seed UW-Milwaukee defeating Oklahoma; and No. 12 seed Utah State winning over Washington.
And, oh yeah ... I was thisclose to picking No. 16 seed Oral Roberts to beat Memphis. Just for the fun of it. Actually, it wouldn't be totally shocking.
Picking your players is an art form. Of course, J.J. Redick and Adam Morrison will be prime candidates for the top two picks. But I don't think I'll select either of them if I have a pick that high because I think Gonzaga will lose in the second round and Duke will lose in the regional finals. I tend to focus on collecting secondary scorers on teams I think will go all the way to the Final Four. I'm rarely the early front-runner -- but I often have a bunch of players left at the end of the tournament, and comeback victories are especially sweet!
This week, I'll ask you this: Which sporting event do you look forward to more, the Super Bowl or the NCAA Tournament? You know what my answer is -- I'm curious to find out yours.
Feel free to send me questions or column ideas. You can e-mail me here.
I don't have to tell you the best games to watch anymore. The answer is: all of them! Enjoy the Madness!
Kieran Darcy is an editor at ESPN.com and a contributor to ESPN The Magazine. You can e-mail him at email@example.com.