No blogger worth their salt (ok, no *American* blogger) will fail to post some kind of opinion about the upcoming ultimate hoops extravaganza called March Madness. While I'm sure this summer's World Cup soccer tournament will generate enthusiasm over a greater portion of the globe, here in the U.S., not even the World Series or Super Bowl keeps more fannies in the bars or parked on couches for extended periods of time. I've done a yeoman's job of investing time to watch conference tournaments in order to select my teams-brackets with considerable information (if not always confidence), but that's beside the point of today's subject.
The most precise point of it all is whether "your boys" (and yes, of course, your girls-go UConn!) are 'dancing' in the NCAAs vs. playing in the NIT or sitting at home, and that somehow means even more if you are a smaller enrollment or reputation-deficient Wofford, Siena, Arkansas-Pine Bluff or Montana. Okay, maybe the Grizzlies and their 6'3" Superman of a guard Anthony Johnson, who was absolutely stunning in scoring his teams last 21 points in a row as they came from 20 down at the half to win the Big Sky title, don't belong in the same category, but c'mon, are you telling me you legitimately know anything about them?
Wofford (current enrollment 1,439 in Spartanburg, SC) makes 2008 tournament darling Davidson (1,700 students, 20 min. north of Charlotte, NC) look big time. Wofford's Home web page proudly states there are 15,587 living alumni, but if their Southern Conference-winning Terriers do much more than lead first round opponent Wisconsin 4-0 or, holy Badger-beating Batman!, lead at the half, I will hand deliver a double order of wings to proud alum Murray 'Jack' Jackson. That's the essence of March Madness too--betting on your knowledge or against whatever a buddy knows or loves. As they frequently say at Oscar time, "it's nice to be thought of" when possibilities are discussed, so consider yourself thought of Wofford.
Now Siena I know something about, and their Metro Atlantic Athl. Conf. championship and 27-6 record makes them legit. The Saints were usually the Saturday part of weekend double headers (Friday night was Linton HS games) I attended in the 70s, when they still relied on local talent like Gary Holle and Dan Terwilliger, so thats my solid emotional tie talking too. Like with Davidson and Stephon Curry's heroics two years ago, Siena has risen to the challenge of slaying biggies--two years ago they took out Vanderbilt as a #13 seed, and last year they beat Ohio State in double overtime in an #8-9 scenario. This year they are given the nod by no less distinguished a pronostigator than President Obama. The Prez correctly picked UNC all the way last year--and believe me, LOTS of people here in the Carolinas are in shock about *that* particular negative turn of basketball fortunes--but he feels, correctly I say, that Siena has at least one victory in them this time around.
Siena is slightly but definitely more visible on the national radar than Wofford or AR-Pine Bluff, but if you're going to get ahead of the office gang pool-wise, this is the team to try riding a couple rounds to glory. They've won their conference tournament three years in a row now, and while thats not ACC or SEC competition, I've actually got them winning a second round game vs. Utah State too. Interesting stat to consider: Siena has *made* over 100 more FTs (519) than their opponents attempted (415). That is the sort of stat Carolina always showed up with while winning ACC/national championships. While they don't possess an NBA level scorer of Curry's considerable caliber, they won't beat themselves at the line or by coughing up a lot of turnovers for the opposition. I've promoted their 1st round opponent Purdue since they were labeled the 'Baby Boilermakers' as a freshman-loaded team, but losing 6'8" Robbie Hummel makes me think they're vulnerable. DUKE would still be waiting in the Sweet 16 in any case, so I won't get crazy about picking Siena far, but two rounds of points is solid-if-not-"trust me" stuff.
Montana is a team you've got to respect too, because while they were 'only' 22-9, they have size and intestinal fortitude that programs like Maryland and (dare I say it?) SYRACUSE have proven they lack in the past. Despite what everyone considers a troublesome 2-3 zone, the 'Cuse now has a built-in excuse for losing because 6'9" inside presence Arinze Onuaku might be less than 100% after an injury. That said, I dithered back and forth about the Grizzlies before settling on them for a 1st rounder vs. New Mexico. New Mexico's Lobos are 29-4, but they'll have to earn my respect by showing up a couple years at this level, and while they apparently hit the glass hard for rebounds, I *saw* Montana take care of business 100% in their comeback.
As an baseline fact, I admit to being prejudiced against the Orange of Syracuse and for Kansas because of one central fact: the former can't seem to make FTs in the clutch. Bottom line, you miss those in the tournament you go home. Montana's Johnson, who figures to have the ball in his hands regularly, is at 88% for the season, which is snake-bite deadly for someone who can get to the rim any time he doesn't feel like unleashing a 3-pt. shot that was an important part of his 42 when they nailed Weber St. in the Big Sky championship.
Oh, I would have picked Cornell, which is *loaded* with realllllly good shooters and has a 7-footer to boot, as a 'little' achiever too, but Temple has a defensive mentality that I feel is going to take the starch out of the Ivy League champs.