Sunday, March 11, 2007

There is a massive event about to take place, one so large that it will consume the attention of the American people for the rest of this month. And believe it or not, it's not the release of the Mark Wahlberg opus Shooter on March 23. It is the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament Championship.

As you may have noticed if you read this space once in a while, I like to predict the outcome of games. You may have noticed that I am wrong frequently and spectacularly. But those of you who think that I would be humbled by the wildly inaccurate Bears by two touchdowns Super Bowl pick and I would retire from the prognostication business are only half right.

I like Kansas to win it all. I think they have more depth in more positions than any other team in the field. If a team can find a way to contain Durant (extremely unlikely, but possible) or better yet shut down Augustin, Texas is eminently beatable. Throw Oden and Conley in for those two and the same goes for Ohio State. If UCLA were really ready for prime time, they wouldn't have stumbled so visibly against markedly inferior teams in Washington and Cal.

Florida is still out there, and they're still the champs. But I don't like them this season. They haven't been as hungry this year. I don't like the SEC (maybe you ought to pick them, since I said the same thing about SEC football before the BCS championship game). They did demolish Ohio State, but that was a very long time ago now, and Oden was just coming back from his injury. But I think it all comes down to the fact that Joakim Noah is almost, except for the height difference, a perfect doppelganger to a woman with whom I went to school.

I hate Bo Ryan and Wisconsin, so I can't rationally evaluate their chances, but if I could I think I'd short sell them. Memphis hasn't played any one. And I'm not crazy about NC. They seem to be able to do as many different things on the floor as Kansas does, but not quite as well. As for Georgetown, I can't get past the history of underperforming in the tourney under John Thompson Jr.

Obviously, with 65 teams and my chronic laziness, I can't break down every team in the field. I'll just say this about why I think Kansas wins. In the film The Ghost and the Darkness, Michael Douglas' character says that in prize fighting, every one has a plan until they get hit. The two recent wins against Texas show that Kansas can take a hit and come back hard. They can survive incredible runs by the best player in the game. They don't lose their cool, they don't try to get the game back in one possession. That's why I think they'll win it all.

I was surprised that Syracuse was not included, with the 22 wins over all and 10 in conference. I wonder if it had anything to do with the fact that Jim Boeheim spoke out in favor of expanding the field. The coach from Clemson was also in favor of the proposal, and they didn't make the cut. Having said that though, I had enough of Boeheim whining today. And Dickie V could have cut his rant on Drexel down to about 20 minutes.

I was surprised that Illinois and Arkansas were seeded. Illinois had a decent record in the Big 10, and they're one of the few teams I don't hate. But they lost to Ohio State and Wisconsin. Purdue blew them out, and to face facts, the Illini are lucky to score 50 points most days. I noticed a commercial during the Illinois-Wisconsin game that one of the fans featured in the CBS or CSTV "Fan's Journey" segments they're going to broadcast during the tournament coverage that one of the people involved is an Illinois fan. I really hope that the Illini are bringing more to the table than that. But we'll see.

As for Arkansas, they were below .500 in the SEC. I really think the SEC is overrated. Florida has had an excellent season, and they're the defending champs. But LSU fell of the map this season. Alabama was a disappointment. I hate Bruce Pearl, and Tennessee isn't going to do much damage in the tournament. Kentucky seems to want to get Tubby Smith fired. But I should stop ripping on the SEC before they put three teams in the Final Four.

I should say this right now. I have never won a bracket challenge. Every year I fill a sheet, and every year my brackets look like they got hit by the Andromeda Strain by the end of the first weekend. I try to pick based on rational analysis of the teams and their strengths and weaknesses. But I am a bitter, bitter man. So I usually end up taking the teams I hate (and there are so many - Duke, BC, Wisconsin, UCLA are only a few of them) and finding the first matchup I can foresee them losing and I go with it.

But as I thought about the years of embarrassing futility and my spectacularly bad history of picking games in any sport over the last 11 months of blogging, I had an idea. I want to know how many of my readers are smarter, or at least more rational, than I am. So I set up a group on CBS Sportsline so that you all can compete against me.

This link should take you to the site. My entry is the Lancey Howard Bracket, so you can see it before it becomes a smoking ruin by this time next week. If you want in, make sure you sign up by Wednesday. The password is s3dition. Only one entry is allowed per contestant, because it is not cool to submit multiple entries to the same pool. Either you like your picks or you don't. Feel free to ask your friends to enter, provided you have friends. I look forward to the competition and to defeating all comers.

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