I’m heading down to Arizona for a few days to watch some spring training. I’m most looking forward to seeing Manny Ramirez in the Dodgers’ shiny new home in Phoenix. I’ll be back in time for the tournament in all of its’ glory, so while I am gone I wanted to leave you with a preview of what I expect. For each of the next seven days I am going to take a look at the best and worst of each of the seven major conferences’ tournament offerings (I have elevated the Mountain West because of how strong they are). On the last day before my return I will look at a random collection of thoughts and predictions about the beautiful lunacy called March Madness.
I’ll start with my personal favorite conference – the Big Ten. As you know if you have been reading for even a little while, I am obsessed with Michigan in particular and this conference in general. They are highly underrated and disrespected in my view – they play a very tough, disciplined, fundamental style of ball, and that looks like it will be rewarded by the most tournament bids of any conference. Michigan State has the potential to go all the way, and there isn’t a team from among the group that would be out of place in the Sweet Sixteen. Overlook the conference at your own peril.
Best Team – No Surprise here that I pick Michigan State. They have the best coaching (though the general coaching level in the league is as high as any (or higher), the best depth, and the best level of talent. If Tom Izzo has them in form, and he will, then they should get to play a game or two close to home in Detroit.
Worst Tournament Team – Minnesota. I love what Tubby Smith is doing with this team, and am optimistic over the long run. The team just isn’t good enough here, though. They don’t have the depth or the experience to stand up to the adversity they will face, as witnessed by their collapse down the stretch.
True Contenders – Purdue and Illinois have Elite Eight potential. In my mind Michigan will cut down the nets, but I might be alone in that belief.
Team That Bugs Me – Penn State. Talor Battle and the Nittany Lions can look as good as a team can lok one game, and then be truly useless the very next. Unfortunately, I always seem to believe in them right when they collapse.
Potential To Rise Up – Northwestern. As I write this the Wildcats are far from guaranteed a bid. They probably need two or three wins in the conference tournament and a bunch of breaks to get in. It would be a heck of a story, though. This team has never been in the tournament. Ever. They still aren’t great, but wins over Florida State and at Michigan State and Purdue show that they are definitely able to rise up and play above themselves when the moment requires it.
Likely To Disappoint – Wisconsin. The Badgers should be much better than they are. Their talent is very good, but their six game losing streak showed that their confidence and team work can be real issues.
Best Player – Kalin Lucas, G, Michigan State. The sophomore is the best player on the best team.
Player To Watch – DeShawn Sims, F, Michigan. He’s been the second best player on Michigan all year behind Manny Harris, but Sims has been a whole new kind of beast down the stretch. He’s fit and hungry, and could really make an impact.
Overrated Player – Robbie Hummel, F, Purdue. He’s far from a bad player, but he’s too inconsistent and injury-prone for my tastes.