Last night, immediately after the brackets were announced, I went about the process of running through my bracket picking system to figure out my official one-and-only bracket. Now that this is out of the way, I can step back a bit from trying to analyze what I think will happen and take a look at what I hope will happen – independent of if it is what I predicted.
One of the most entertaining activities to engage in with a fresh, new bracket is to see all the possible matchups that could reasonably (or unreasonably) materialize. In this post, I run down 10 matchups that I really hope to see happen, and encourage you to share yours as well.
Duke v Michigan in Round of 32
If you watched the Fab 5 documentary on ESPN last night, which was absolutely fantastic, then you know exactly why I’m listing this here. A major theme during the early part of the movie was how much the young Michigan players hated Duke. Jalen Rose even went so far as to say that, at the time, he felt like Duke would only recruit black players who were “Uncle Toms”. Obviously that was 20 years ago, but I wonder if the current young Wolverines will be inspired at all by the words of the most legendary team in their school’s history. People forget how big of a rivalry this once was.
Regardless of the Fab 5 connection, this game is intriguing because of style. Both teams love to hoist up 3-pointers, which means that we could see a very entertaining game if both teams are shooting well. And if the Dookies struggle from downtown, and Tim Hardaway Jr and the Wolves are hitting, there is legit upset potential here. Michigan coach Jon Beilien has done it in March before.
While we’re on the subject of the Fab 5, how about Steve Fisher versus the school he led to the 1989 championship and then to two more title games with Webber, Rose, et al? Sure, none of the current Wolverines nor Beilein, have any connection to that time at Michigan, but there would certainly be something fitting about Fisher having to go through Big Blue on his way back to the Final 4.
Plus, if Michigan were to make it to the Elite 8 as an 8 seed, it would mean some craziness happened on their portion of the bracket, which is always fun. The Wolves would have to go through Duke, Arizona, and Texas to get there, and despite how well they have been playing I’m not quite sure they are ready for that yet.
UCONN v Tennessee in Elite 8
And speaking of NCAA sanctions…how about a matchup between Bruce Pearl and Jim Calhoun, two coaches who ran afoul of the NCAA and paid a pretty heavy price for it. Calhoun was suspended for three games while Pearl had to sit out half of the Volunteers’ SEC schedule and still could face more punishment.
And if all of the subplots about NCAA rule breaking got annoying, you could always just turn down the volume and watch the great Kemba Walker go up against Tennessee’s Scotty Hopson. These two are among the most dynamic scorers in the nation, and their teams typically go how they go. If nothing else, watching them trade buckets would be entertaining.
Purdue v Notre Dame in Sweet 16
Purdue and Notre Dame have established themselves as the top two big conference teams in the state of Indiana, with Butler obviously right there nipping at both team’s heels after last year’s tourney run. (As for Indiana…the Cream & Crimson is a sleeping giant, but it needs to wake up and start winning, soon.) Should the Boilers and Irish meet in the Sweet 16, it would present an opportunity for one team to establish bragging rights that certainly cannot hurt when it comes to recruiting the fertile basketball grounds of the Hoosier State.
In addition to the Hoosier State connection, this game would be intriguing simply because these are two really good teams. Purdue has legit stars in E’Twaun Moore and JaJuan Johnson, and the Irish have Ben Hansbrough, who has emerged as a star this year. Big Ten/Big East bragging rights would also be on the line.
Kansas v Illinois in the Round of 32
This is a pretty easy one. Bill Self built the Illini into a national contender before taking the Kansas job and handing the reins over to Bruce Weber. With Self’s recruits, Weber made a Sweet 16 and a title game appearance his first two years in Champaign. Since then, Weber has not gotten past the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament, and he is starting to the feel the heat. The Illini underachieved this year, despite a pretty talented roster.
As for Self, he’s done quite well for himself in Lawrence. The man can recruit like no other, and he consistently has the Jayhawks among the best teams in the nation. They have won the Big 12 for almost a decade straight, and this year they are looking to avenge last year’s disappointing loss to Northern Iowa. Yet again, Self has a team with title potential.
Illinois certainly has enough talent to compete with Kansas, and a win to move on to the Sweet 16 surely would buy Weber some goodwill with a frustrated fan base. To get it, he’d have to beat Self, whose shadow Weber has not been able to escape since he took over.
Ohio State v North Carolina in the Elite 8
If chalk holds in the East Region, the Buckeyes and Tar Heels will meet up in the Elite 8. From a basketball perspective, this would be a fun matchup featuring the nation’s two best freshman: Jared Sullinger and Harrison Barnes. Watching Sullinger bang down low with Tyler Zeller would be highly entertaining, as would seeing Barnes compete against Ohio State’s terrific wing trio of William Buford-David Lighty-Jon Diebler.
And from a non-basketball perspective, this game would present an opportunity for each basketball team to take the minds of its school’s fans off of turmoil in their respective football programs. North Carolina had the agent scandal and now Ohio State has the Jim Tressel saga, so both schools have dealt and are dealing with pretty significant controversy regarding lack of compliance with NCAA rules. But on this night, all that would matter is basketball, with a Final 4 berth on the line.
Butler v Kansas State in Sweet 16
This would be a rematch of last year’s Elite 8 matchup, which Butler won 63-56 to advance to the Final 4. The Bulldogs no longer have their 2010 star Gordon Heyward, but the Wildcats do still have their #1 option in guard Jacob Pullen. Both of these teams struggled out of the gates this year, but ended the season playing very good basketball. Each team still has enough talent and certainly enough experience to pull a few upsets, making this game somewhat reasonable to hope for, but still very unlikely.
Wisconsin v BYU in the Elite 8
Obviously any game with BYU is intriguing because of the Jimmer factor, but you may be wondering why I’d care about seeing the Cougars play boring ol’ Wisconsin. Simple: Jordan Taylor.
In games I watched this season, no two players were able to absolutely take over portions of games more than Taylor and Jimmer Fredette. Taylor single-handedly pulled Wisconsin back from the brink against Ohio State to hand the Buckeyes their first loss. He also put on one of the great shooting displays I’ve ever seen at Assembly when the Badgers whitewashed Indiana. Surely there would be some mano-a-mano moments between these two great shooters, and it would make for a great Elite 8 matchup.
UAB v Kentucky in the Round of 32
This is a game that only an IU fan could appreciate, and as soon as I remind you that Mike Davis is coaching UAB, the Hoosier fans will start to nod in agony.
Mike Davis’ infamous meltdown occurred during the 2002-2003 season, after the Hoosiers made their unexpected run to the title game. We were ranked in the top 10 at the time, and everybody expected yet another great season. But the loss to Kentucky, punctuated by Davis totally losing his cool, created bad momentum for the season. We finished a disappointing 21-13, 8-8 in the conference, and lost in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. The next year we missed the tourney completely. Two years later, Davis was gone, replaced by He Who Shall Not Be Named, and now here we are missing the tournament for the third straight season after winning three Big Ten games.
And it can all be traced back to the infamous Mike Davis head slap.
Here’s hoping that if UAB can win its first round game over Clemson, and then beat West Virginia, that Coach Davis gives us some more entertaining theatrics against the Wildcats. I may not be able to watch though. Too painful.
And finally, just for shits and giggles…
Indiana State v Michigan State in National Championship Game
The likelihood of this happening is about the same as the likelihood of me ever fulfilling my dream of having a perfect bracket. The Sycamores are the 14th seed in the East and would have to go through Syracuse, North Carolina, Ohio State, and whoever comes out of the West region to make it to the title game. Michigan State is the 10 seed in the Southeast, and while they have a team loaded with Final 4 experience, the Spartans have been far too inconsistent this year to expect a deep March run.
But it sure would be fun, wouldn’t it? Not only would we get to relive Magic and Larry highlights, which are a joy for any basketball fan no matter how often you see them, but this would truly be an incredible Cinderella story combined with a coach in Tom Izzo adding yet another exciting tournament chapter to the storybook of his legendary career.
Think I’ve gone mad for suggesting this one? Well hey, they call it March Madness for a reason…
What potential March Madness matchups do you hope materialize?