We are on the eve of the most wonderful three weeks in sports. The NCAA men's basketball tournament is about to begin. For my money, the first four days of the tournament are the best because of the breadth of participation and the likelihood of surprises. These are the days when the stories like Santa Clara, Valparaiso, Bucknell and, oh yes, the 2005 UWM Panthers are born.
Faithful readers of this blog know that I am a UWM alum and a rabid fan of the Panthers. So here is some Wisconsin-Milwaukee stuff.
Because of a death in the family, this will be the first time that I watch our tournament run on TV. I have generally thought that we are a weaker team this year, largely for the lack of Ed McCants who was a stone stupid outside shot. Boo Davis can do that, but generally only for short periods of time. I think Al Hansen will be able to do it, but it's not his time yet.
On the other hand, we are stronger inside with Adrian Tigert who, as a senior, is flat out smarter than almost anyone he plays against, and, surprise, a Derrick Ford who has learned how to use his rather formidable body at the end of his college career. Joah Tucker is still a star, a guy who would have an NBA career if that league was at all interesting and Jason McCoy who, at 6'9, plays longer than he does high. My guess is that Jason and Avery Smith lock down the inside and outside threats that they face in the first round.
Still, it'd be naive to think we can do it again.
But I'm thinking that - maybe - the committee did us a favor by placing two teams that are more or less on the decline - Oklahoma and Florida - in our path to the sweet sixteen. Oklahoma has great talent but they are swooning. I think it's slightly greater than even that we take them. Florida won an unusually weak SEC. I don't think that conference would have a single team in the sweet sixteen if Tennessee didn't have such a good coach. I am tempted to think that Winthrop will take them out in the first round (a 15 over a 2!), but I have seen Pearl work too much magic to ever bet against him.
I will probably look like an idiot in 18 hours, but I think we are headed to a game in Minneapolis against Ohio State.
And as much as it pains me to say so (because they still act like we don't exist), I think Marquette will be in the last sixteen as well. That is a very good team.
Can the Badgers make it three? While they have more or less fallen apart, they also have a fantastic coach who is more than capable of putting them back together. Arizona is a weak 8 seed. If Allen Ray is not right, they might very well beat Villanova (although if he's ok, they haven't a prayer).
Will we still have three teams playing after Sunday. Probably not, but wouldn't it be cool if we did?