The NCAA Tournament gets under way tomorrow. That means, of course, that my annual prediction column will appear in tomorrow's paper. It's one of the most simultaneously rewarding and exasperating pieces I do all year. I want upsets. I see upsets around every corner. That means I'm forever searching for an excuse to take a 15 seed over a 2. The statistics are comforting. Some team in an obscure conference ranks in the top 20 in the country in steals and defensive field-goal percentage. So I decide they're capable of stopping players from UConn or Wake Forest, who are superior physically and would rank at the top of the national statistics if they got to play in leagues with the likes of Stetson, Canisius, New Hampshire and Idaho.
But hey, it's fun. After 20 years of this, I hope readers have learned to take what I write with a grain of salt. What fun would it be to pick the favorites in every game? And it's not as if I never come up with a good pick. Last year, I predicted that Siena would upset Vanderbilt in a 13 vs. 4 game. Siena came through. I had Western Kentucky over Drake in a 12-5. Western won and made the Sweet 16.
I generally happen upon a theme that I ride through the bracket. This year, it's that the Big East is overrated. It's a bold assertion, but I think the support for the league has gone a little overboard. They have three of the top four seeds and the conference isn't that good. Everyone went ga-ga over the six-overtime game in the Big East tourney. It was an epic game. But it wasn't especially good basketball. If UConn is the best team in the country, why couldn't they put Syracuse away in regulation or five overtimes -- when SU didn't lead in any of the first five OTs? UConn simply couldn't make a big shot. They really seem to miss their injured off guard, Jerome Dyson. I don't see how a team can lose a starter of that magnitude and be a favorite for the Final Four. As for Pittsburgh, they've never reached the Elite Eight, so I need to be convinced.
I'm sure you'll think some of my picks are crazy. Others might coincide with what you think. I believe the tournament is more wide open than ever, and I just wish there were more mid-majors in the field.