March Madness Mania Begins With These Favorites

I am a University of Illinois college basketball fan. If I am watching a game and the Fighting Illini are not playing, then I am a Big Ten fan. However, I have to give props to a couple of Big East teams.

The college basketball scene has been in disarray since Garnett jumped directly to the pros. Talent, especially really tall talent, abandoned the “academic” game to get paid millions based on potential. Then the NBA forced in coming draftees to play at least one year of college basketball by raising the age minimum to 19 (or bag groceries or play in Europe as Brandon Jennings is experimenting with).

Each year flashy schools advanced deep into March Madness with players that were one and done. Schools like the UNC Tar Heels simply overwhelmed most schools with their talent and athleticism. Some schools, like the Duke Blue Devils, are able to get talent to stay, but each season comes to a close with the question of who Coach K will get back.

UConn is in first place with a team led by four veteran college players. Two seniors, forward Jeff Adrien and guard A.J. Price, and two juniors, center Hasheem Thabeet and guard Jerome Dyson, are leading the big name school in a big conference (the Big East) into the most exciting tournament in sports with a defense only an experienced team can play.

This is not just a team that has a coach that preaches defense and keeps the games moving at a criminally slow pace, but a team that can score as well. The Connecticut Huskies score a very respectable 78.6 points a game (which is 26th in a field of over 300 Division I teams). There is just something about watching a poised team that plays well together instead of simply serving as a showcase for a future lottery pick to display his superior athleticism.

I was surprised to find that I am starting to enjoy watching the Pittsburgh Panthers play. They used to grind out games and I used to find that watching them was like watching the death of basketball. Now not only can the team defend, but it can score too. The Panthers are 35th in the nation at 77.7 points per game. I think that this team is going to surprise a whole lot of people come tourney time.

In fact fans that only start to let college basketball on their radar are going to be surprised by a few teams. Marquette, Clemson, Xavier, and Butler are all shooting for a top three seed in the regions.

I have to officially proclaim that the Butler Bulldogs are no longer allowed to be considered a Cinderella team. They are going to make it to the field of 65 for the third straight season and have been flirting with a top ten position in the polls. They went out in the second round last year, but that was considered an upset. The year before they were a breakout team that made it to the Sweet Sixteen.

This college basketball season is quickly coming to an end. Each team has a handful of games left before their conference tournaments. In two months America’s version of the World Cup is going to start, so if you want to win your office pool you better start paying attention now.