At the Watercooler: Bracketology
With Midnight Madness just two months away, Myron Medcalf and Eamonn Brennan met at the Watercooler on Monday morning to discuss Joe Lunardi's summer bracket.
Myron Medcalf: What's up, Eamonn? Our college basketball withdrawals will end soon. The Olympics are over, the NFL preseason has started, college football will be here soon. That means college basketball gets started in a few months! I'm ready. You?
Eamonn Brennan: Greetings, Myron. That's a pretty fair summary of our current situation. The summer is winding down and fall is approaching, and before we know it we'll have previews and Midnight Madness to tangle with. But for now, I'm just hoping none of college basketball's most iconic returning players pulls a Honey Badger and ends up playing for McNeese State.
In any case, even as the season gets closer, it's still safe to say it's way, way, WAY too early to start predicting and discussing the 2013 NCAA tournament bracket. But that's exactly what we're going to do today. Joey Brackets puts it out there, we digest it. Your initial thoughts?
MM: Well, it's always exciting to take an early look at March Madness. I'm in the "it's never too early to talk Bracketology" camp, because it's fun. And I think Mr. Lunardi gave us a lot of good stuff to chew on. My initial concern, however, starts with the No. 1 seeds. I just can't commit to UCLA for a variety of reasons. The Bruins dealt with the Reeves Nelson drama. But they had other veterans in that locker room who couldn't steady that ship when everything fell apart. Does UCLA have the leadership to guide those talented freshmen to Atlanta? I'm not sure. Plus, I see Michigan, NC State, Kansas and Syracuse in better positions for that fourth No. 1 slot come March. What about you? You like the 1-seeds?
EB: From this distance, sure. UCLA is going to be crazy talented -- a lock to start the season in the top five. And so on. But as we've discussed in past editions of this here Watercooler feature, this is one of several top 2012-13 teams about which we agree.
Let's count the major question marks: Can two freshmen (Shabazz Muhammad and Kyle Anderson) step in as the team's de facto backcourt leaders right away? What about freshman forward Tony Parker? Is Josh Smith going to get down to his fighting weight, and stay there? Can the Wear twins remain productive off the bench? And then there's Larry Drew II, who quit and transferred away from North Carolina when Roy Williams had the gall to start a transcendent college passer (Kendall Marshall) over him. Until I see it all come together -- and Ben Howland has had well-publicized issues getting young teams to congeal in the past -- I'm bearish on the Bruins.
My pick for that fourth No. 1 spot would be Kansas. As high as Bill Self is on some of the newcomers, particularly guard Ben McLemore, the Jayhawks are not as talented as UCLA -- not even close. But Kansas is, well, Kansas. The Jayhawks are the favorite to win the Big 12 -- after eight titles (shared or outright) in a row, it's impossible to take anyone else -- and if they perform well in the nonconference, they'll have a leg up as the top team out of their league. UCLA might not even win the Pac-12; Arizona is arguably just as likely a candidate. I think KU has more of an inside track, plus you know what you're going to get. That's my fourth No. 1.
MM: I can see that. Every year, we find reasons to doubt the Jayhawks. And then they end up on the podium. But I think a lot of KU's success is tied to Jeff Withey expanding his offensive game. He can't be a one-dimensional player for that program. Yes, they have other pieces. Mad talent. But Withey's offseason improvement will be the difference between Kansas the No. 1 seed and Kansas the 2 or 3.
My fourth No. 1 right now would be NC State. I'm going to assume Rodney Purvis gets his eligibility situation cleared up. Perhaps that's unwise, but I'm making this prediction with that assumption. I'm also going to assume that the C.J. Leslie "You Don't Want None of This" Tour that began in the NCAA tournament will continue. I'm also going to assume that Lorenzo Brown will be 100 percent after tearing the meniscus in his right knee during the offseason. A lot of assumptions, I know. But I think NC State powers through the nonconference slate and wins the ACC if it's healthy. And I think that's No. 1 seed material.
I'm also convinced that Michigan will be in the conversation. Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr. and a very strong recruiting class that's enough to push Indiana in the Big Ten. But it looks like we both agree that UCLA doesn't belong at No. 1. You also mentioned Arizona as a squad that could push UCLA in the Pac-12. So is that 6-seed too low for the Wildcats? Any other squads slotted too low on the chart?
EB: I'm of two minds on Arizona. The first: Yes, that No. 6 seed is too low. UCLA and Kentucky had great recruiting classes, but they're almost indistinguishable from Arizona's, quality-wise. Kaleb "Go Ahead and Google the Spelling of My Last Name, I'm Used to It, I'll Wait" Tarczewski has been described as the "gem of the class" by our recruiting analysts; he could be the Jared Sullinger/Cody Zeller-esque dominant freshman forward this season. Brandon Ashley and Grant Jerrett are both immediate impact players, or so we've been told. Nick Johnson could break out as a sophomore. And I think Sean Miller plus blue-chip talent is a pretty scary thought. Anyone who fails to see Zona as a major threat to UCLA's presupposed Pac-12 resurgence is missing the boat, I think.
Having said that, and with the caveat that we're still a long way from February (we don't need to repeat this caveat every two seconds, right, we're all clear on this?), that's still a very young team, and one with minimum veteran presence returning from a thoroughly mediocre season. Take that for what it's worth, which is debatable. Either way I'm not going to go overboard and put Arizona as a No. 1-seed candidate. A No. 3 or No. 4 seems more likely to me. But No. 6 seems really low.
In fact, I've got a bunch of teams that should arguably be seeded higher. Joe has Georgetown and Florida State slotted as the No. 8 and No. 9 seeds in the South bracket, respectively; I think Georgetown is going to be much better than an 8-seed, and I think FSU (even without Bernard James) will defend well enough to threaten the top ranks of the ACC yet again. UNLV could totally blow up and dominate the Mountain West and end up with a 2- or 3-seed, as opposed to their current No. 5. And in a Big East that feels like Louisville, Syracuse and a bunch of others, Notre Dame (which, let's not forget, returns one of the nation's best rebounders in Jack Cooley and some really strong guard play) could be right in that mix. They'll end up higher than a No. 8. I'm willing to give that one The Brennan Guarantee.
MM: The Brennan Guarantee is legit. Check the résumé. Great list. I guess I would only add a few names to the "too low" list. I like Missouri's chances of surpassing a 6-seed. That's quite a talented fleet of transfers in Columbia. Plus Phil Pressey and Michael Dixon return. I think the Tigers will be in the conversation for a 4-seed or better by the end of the season. And I think Saint Joseph's is much better than a 10-seed. I like C.J. Aiken's potential for a big year. Carl Jones returns for Phil Martelli. This is a team that could win the A-10. I think 10 is too low.
EB: We'll see on St. Joe's. Sorry, but to me they feel like the classic "well, everyone's back, so they'll definitely get better" fallacy squad. Plus, have you seen the 2012-13 Atlantic 10? Saint Louis, Temple, Butler, Xavier, VCU, UMass -- that's a really tough conference for the same team that was good but never great in 2012. I remain unconvinced.
MM: The A-10 is stacked. No easy games. More parity again. I agree with that. But I think the Hawks will be better. So 10 seems pretty low right now. We can agree to disagree.
But there's also a "too high" list. This is when it gets interesting. I don't think Iowa State is a 7. The Cyclones have lost far more than they'll gain with Korie Lucious, who may have played a role in "Gladiator," and Will Clyburn. Losing Royce White, who did everything, creates a major void for Fred Hoiberg. Definitely a tournament team, but not that high. Memphis is another team that lost a key piece in Will Barton, one of the best pound-for-pound players in the country. Yes, Adonis Thomas is back for this talented team. But talent is never the issue. Chemistry is. And the way they ended the year with that messy collapse against Saint Louis, I'm not sold on that 4-seed.
Wisconsin as a 3? Is Jordan Taylor playing a fifth season? I think Bo Ryan will identify a point guard early and Sam Dekker will take off in his first season. But Taylor dictated the tempo for a team that won by controlling the pace of the game. Can't underestimate the significance of the PG slot for Bo Ryan. And he just lost an All-American in that position.
And I don't know if Baylor is a 4-seed. The Quincys are gone. Perry Jones was a frustrating talent but he caused matchup problems just by being on the floor. I like the Brady Heslip/Pierre Jackson backcourt. And I think Isaiah Austin will block a lot of shots. But is he an offensive threat? Not sure. And Jackson in charge full-time? He'll win some games for the Bears. He'll lose some games for them. Four might be too high, IMO.
And I can't call Minnesota a 7-seed until I see Trevor Mbakwe perform after tearing his ACL last season. Plus, Rodney Williams and Andre Hollins were great in the NIT, but very inconsistent before that tournament. Will the real Hollins and Williams stand up? We'll see. And finally, I think North Carolina takes a step back and ends up with a 4 or 5. Young, unproven point guard. The Tar Heels lost a lot of NBA-level talent. And James Michael McAdoo is in the starring role for the first time. This might be one of those down years that seem to hit the program in between title runs as they reset. One man's opinion.
EB: Correction: That is one man's score of opinions. But that's the only correction I have. Baylor greatly intrigues me. I do like the backcourt and the Bears will be crazy talented again, but everything I've seen, heard and read about Austin indicates that he's born of the Perry Jones mold: a 7-footer who would rather handle the ball and shoot jump shots than go down on the low block and dunk on people's heads. Which is great for NBA draft value, maybe, but not so good when you're trying to keep Jeff Withey off the offensive glass. Austin is the undisputed key to Baylor's season. That's a lot of pressure for a freshman, but this is college hoops in 2012-13. Freshmen, particularly ones that talented, really do have that sort of impact.
EB: I'll switch gears and give you one team where I agree wholeheartedly with Joe: The No. 4-seeded Duke Blue Devils. They won't fall further than that -- they're still Duke, after all -- but I think this team will have many of the same flaws that plagued it last season: no go-to post scorer, soft perimeter defense, poor rebounding. Anything higher would seem too optimistic; anything lower would be hard to fathom. At this point anyway.
MM: I like that slot, too. The coach who just won a gold medal in London will fine-tune this team, add Rasheed Sulaimon to the mix and help the Blue Devils earn a top-5 seed. Glad to see a couple of mid-majors get their appropriate slots: 5-seeds Gonzaga and Creighton. I think both teams will live up to that.
EB: Yep, I'm in on both, especially the Zags. Creighton just needs to defend. It's not asking for much. They don't have to be Florida State. Just be mediocre! They might get higher than No. 5 if that's the case, because they're going to score the ball like crazy again.
And I'd just like to say, as a marginally athletic dude from Iowa, that Doug McDermott remains a daily basketball inspiration. That is all.
MM: He inspires everybody. Speaking of Iowa where are the Hawkeyes? I think this is the year for their return to the NCAA tournament. That's one of my sleepers, for sure.
EB: Yeah, lots of optimism surrounding the Hawkeyes this season, particularly from my buddy Tom. To be fair, Tom has been banging the Iowa "look out here we come!" drum for three years. But this year he may be right. If Melsahn Basabe gets back to his freshman form and the top-100-ranked Sioux City guys Fran McCaffery is bringing in are ready to go right away, this could be a tournament team. They weren't that far away last season, and with the exception of losing guard Matt Gatens, this team is clearly better.
Joe has seven teams from the Big Ten in his bracket: Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Purdue. No Iowa. And -- drum roll -- no Northwestern. Here's a kooky prediction. Get ready. Are you ready? OK, here goes: Northwestern won't make the NCAA tournament in 2013. But the Wildcats will tease their fans just enough to make it hurt when the bottom falls out in February again. God, those poor people.
MM: It's like every season is more brutal than the last one. Last year was particularly painful for this team, which just had to show up to the Big Ten tournament and act like a bubble team. That's all. A little desperation. And yet they flopped. But next year could offer a lot of repeats. Arizona, UCLA paging the rest of the Pac-12? Kentucky. Final Four. Again. Louisville, you should come, too. Big Ten gets a bunch of teams into the Dance, only one that's clearly equipped for a national title run (yes, I'm talking about you, Indiana). So much to look forward to.
EB: Agreed. Now all we have to do is not be in August anymore. Or September. Or even October. Bring me November now. We'll still be overreacting to Joe's brackets, but at least we can watch basketball while doing so. We don't ask for much, do we, Myron?
MM: We do not, Eamonn. We do not.