The following is the first half of an exchange between me and Peter Bean of the most excellent blog, Burnt Orange Nation. It began as a simple, friendly email exchange and turned into a post-worthy discussion of the brackets that we both thought our readers would enjoy. Check back on Burnt Orange Nation later today for the thrilling second half!
Peter Bean: Let's just get right into this, Dan. Start us off with your general thoughts on the Madness. Any ill will toward the committee for snubs or seeding issues? Any ill will toward the committee as an entity in general? Thoughts on how things played out this year?
Dan Shanoff: You know, I have a hard time being TOO hard on the Committee. There are snubs EVERY year -- that's as much of a guarantee as the fact that there will be upsets that will make the Committee look amazing (see GMU in '06).
I think the reality is that snubs are a Sunday night discussion -- maybe Monday morning. At that point, we leave the snubbees behind and focus on what's ahead. To crib one of Don Rumsfeld's most-mocked lines ever: You deal with the bracket you have, not the one you want.
So what ABOUT this bracket? We can get into the specific regions in a second, but I think you and I are in a unique position. My favorite team (Florida) is the "No. 1" No. 1 seed and the prohibitive favorite. Your favorite team (Texas) is one of the trendiest picks of the entire field.
It's an interesting position for Gators fans, actually: For the first time ever as basketball fans, anything less than the national title will be a total and utter failure, effectively undermining everything Florida's star players have done this season. (Ironically, on the football side, Gators fans annually wrestle with this concept of title-or-bust.)
I'm not sure how I feel about that. On the one hand, you play to win the titles. On the other, how much fun or appreciation can you have if winning the title merely MEETS expectations and any other result triggers unmatched disappointment? It's the Curse of the Favorite -- and, in exclusive misery, a favorite that returns all five starters from the defending national champion.
I think a handful of teams' fans can relate this year: Ohio State, UNC, Georgetown, UCLA, Kansas.
So here's my question for you: Given the trendy expectations for Texas -- and the fact that this might be Kevin Durant's only tournament -- what are your expectations? And, as a UT fan, how were they tempered between Sunday afternoon, when the possibilities looked limitless, and Sunday night, when you saw that UNC was the likely Sweet 16 opponent?
Peter Bean: How about when we went from up 22 on Kansas in the first half of the Big 12 championship, to losing in overtime, to seeing our name called as a #4 seed opposite North Carolina - the team with the most upside in the entire tournament? That was fun.
I don't necessarily envy your position as a Gator fan; as trendy a pick as Texas may be, we're still underdogs - something that the players and fans can feed off. We're not supposed to beat UNC, but we might, because we've got Kevin Durant and they don't.
I've tended to enter the tournament feeling one of two ways about the Texas team: either they have a shot to win it all and that's the goal (2003, 2006), or they don't (2004, 2005). When they don't really have a shot, I root for the team and hope they make some noise of some kind, but I'm realistic with my expectations.
This year, Texas has a shot to win it all, so anything short will be disappointing. At various points during this season, we've flashed twenty-minute stretches of basketball that would embarrass the 1990 UNLV Rebels. Unfortunately, we haven't put that together for an entire game yet; obviously, we'll have to if we want to beat UNC (let alone Georgetown).
I've got a lot invested in the East bracket, obviously, so let me take this opportunity to ask someone a little more neutral: is the East the toughest bracket this year? You've got two #1 seeds (UNC and Georgetown) and the best college basketball player in the country. Your thoughts?
Dan Shanoff: I'm with you: The East is brutal, and that's entirely due to the Top 4 seeds. The 1-seed, 2-seed and 4-seed are arguably the strongest team of their seed line. And the 3-seed (Washington State) is no less than the second-best of their seed line. This is ludicrous.
Would it have been so awful if the Committee swapped South 4-seed Virginia with East 4-seed Texas? It would have made the East much less brutal, it would have upgraded the South -- and it would have put Kevin Durant on a near-guarantee collision course with Greg Oden in the Sweet 16, which would have been the most widely watched college basketball game of the year, if not the decade. It would have been a poor man's Magic-Bird from '79. If I had any problems with the Committee selections, it was this one.
Anyway, that regional is going to be sick if it follows the chalk. I actually picked Texas over UNC on my bracket. UNC only knows how to play fast -- but that's the only way Texas knows how to play, too. And for all of the talk about UNC having the best freshman class, it would be a nice moment to reveal that the country's best frosh class was in Austin this year.
Georgetown versus Washington State is another doozy, if the diametric opposite of UNC-Texas. Imagine G'town and Wazzu combining for fewer points in the entire game than UNC and Texas combine to score in the first half. Wazzu got a little screwed: Their freakishly deliberate style would give almost any team in the field fits (including Texas and UNC), but the ONE team in the field TOTALLY prepared to solve it is Georgetown.
One of the reasons I have Georgetown out of the East is that Texas and UNC -- completely spent from running each other out of the gym 36 hours before -- will be unprepared physically (or psychologically) to beat the Hoyas. For Texas, beating UNC might BE their national-title game, their vindication as truly the most talented team in the field... if not the champs.
But you're the Big 12 expert, not me, so when you've finished dissecting UT's chances in the East, I'd be curious to hear if you believe the hype (and overflowing bandwagon) of Texas A&M in the South. You know: Texas' OTHER hoops team?
Peter Bean: Nah. . . they're a football school.
Okay, I'll admit it: the Aggies are -very- good this year. So good, in fact, that I think they've got the best shot to win the South Regional. They'll have no trouble muscling Penn out of the tournament, they're too physical and disciplined to get trapped by Louisville (even in Lexington), and then they'll head to San Antonio where an army of farmers will be whooping like the crazy people that they are.
In 2003, Texas got the #1 seed in the South Region, which was also hosted in San Antonio. I, and 40,000 other Longhorn fans, went to those two games, and easily cheered that TJ Ford-led Texas team past UConn (Okafor and Gordon) and Michigan State (Davis, Brown, et al.). It was a grossly unfair home court advantage. As pumped as Aggie fans are about this year's basketball team, I'd be shocked if they don't enjoy a similar advantage this year.
I'm with you on not getting overly-worked up about the committee's selections, but if I'm Ohio State or Memphis, I'm more than a little bit annoyed by the committee sending A&M to San Antonio. I think the Aggies are a very strong basketball team, but their resume is hardly laced with gold; why are they getting such a favorable placement? What's the point of being a #1 seed if you're not afforded any advantage? The Buckeyes are barely closer to San Antonio than San Jose; what's going on here?
I think that's the big story in the South, along with Greg Oden. Ohio State has somehow managed to be relatively underrated by most fans. Greg Oden hasn't shone quite as much as Kevin Durant. The Big 10 is unexciting, if not outright bad. The Buckeyes aren't a pretty team to watch. All told, I haven't seen many brackets with Ohio State advancing to Atlanta. But aren't they a LOT like last year's UCLA team? Are we collectively selling the Buckeyes short?
Dan Shanoff: In short: Yes. Despite the arguments for A&M (most persuasively, the geographic advantages of the regional), it is being totally overlooked that, at least according to the "rankings," Ohio State is the best team in the country.
I have to admit that I'm biased against the Buckeyes: As a Florida fan, I watched Ohio State lose by 26 in Gainesville. Yes, Oden was barely back from his early-season injury, but he was eaten alive by the Gators big men. Oden has gotten better, sure, but so has everyone else since mid-December.
It won't help that they play in the deliberate Big Ten. I'm intrigued to see Ohio State play a team like Tennessee, which is small but fast. Florida has the best and deepest frontcourt in the nation, and Tennessee completely took them out of the game. Also, much like Texas or UNC or Kansas, you have to wonder what the Ohio State frosh will do in their first go-round of the NCAA Tournament... those unexpectedly close early-round games or the pressure of being down late -- especially when you're the 1-seed. Insane pressure. But -- and this is a seven-foot "but" -- it always helps to have the best freshman center since Patrick Ewing. Remember him? Had a pretty good freshman year, if I remember correctly.
You know: There's a reason why you're a great person to talk this over with. I think the Big 12 has the unique chance to pull a "Big East '85" and put three teams in the Final Four. There's Texas. There's A&M. And then there's Kansas, which as the Big 12's only 1-seed, has technically been given the best shot at making the Final Four of anyone from the conference.
So: Looking out West, is it KU's to lose? Given their Tournament performances the past few years, I personally find it hard to give them credit as a team that can string together four wins in a row -- particularly when they couldn't even put together ONE in a row as recently as last March. How do you size up Kansas' chances as compared to their top competition in the region? How does one beat the Jayhawks in the Tournament (besides, one might snarkily suggest, simply showing up) and do any teams match up favorably to derail KU's Final Four expecations?Check back later today on Burnt Orange Nation for the thrilling Part 2, including a look at the West and Midwest regions, along with sleepers, Cinderellas, trends to watch and more!