Haven't talked about college basketball for a while, but I have seen quite a few games in the interim. (Missed the UNC-Duke game last weekend, as we finally finished the move we started in January.)
Some talking points:
1. Player of the Year. In the great debate between UNC's junior center Tyler Hansbrough and KSU's freshman forward Michael Beasley, I find myself solidly in Hansbrough's corner, and I feel guilty about that. Not because he's a Tarheel, but because he'll return next year, and Beasley won't. Isn't that strange? It's like I said about Kevin Durant last year: you have to start thinking of these one-and-done players as seniors rather than freshmen.
But while Beasley is tearing up the Big 12 with double-doubles, Hansbrough is doing the same within the context of a much better team, and as the most hated player in America. (Anyone who tells you that Duke's Greg Paulus is more hated is just being ridiculously biased. Aside from the occasional Virginia Tech player, anyone would rather slug Hansbrough than Paulus if given a chance. In fact, of all the people who most deserve to be punched in the face, Tyler's up there with Pete Wentz.)
2. Coach of the Year. No debate here, because it's the same guy that would win Coach with the Coolest Name: Keno Davis. Imagine how easy his recruiting pitch would be:
"Hello, young man. I coach basketball up at Drake University, and I'd like you to be a part of my team. I can't guarantee you playing time or stardom, but I run a clean and fair program where you'll get a solid education and exposure to a really outstanding level of basketball. Oh, and my name is Keno."
Sure, his team overachieved greatly this year, and he deserves the award anyway, but it's all about the name. Too awesome for words. He should win this award every year, or at least until his brothers Blackjack and Craps join the profession.
3. Final Four in advance. The teams I picked in April 2007 to make the 2008 Final Four are doing pretty well. Memphis has been a top 3 team all season. Kansas has hovered in 1-2 seed range. Louisville and USC struggled early but have come on strong recently. All four will make the tourney, and I feel confident all are Sweet 16 material at the very least. (Though USC is probably a 6 or 7 seed right now.) How they fare from there depends a great deal on where they appear on the bracket.
I'm happy with the teams I picked, but if I had to choose alternatives, I'd go with UCLA, Tennessee, Xavier, and Indiana.
4. Who wins it all? A year ago I said Kansas, and nothing's happened this year to make me change my mind. They have the most talent, and almost none of the pressure that can cripple high-profile favorites UNC, Memphis, Tennessee, or UCLA. Again, a proper evaluation requires me to look at where the teams are seeded on the bracket, and I'll try to do that next week.
5. The Lopez twins of Stanford. I can't decide: are they strikingly attractive, or just plain ugly? Click on their names here and decide for yourself.
With conference tournaments underway, and Selection Sunday fast approaching, here is my final seeding chart.
South Regional (Houston)
01. Memphis: Calipari's year to return to the Final Four.
08. Xavier: Tennessee-like depth, without the hype.
09. Duke: So tired of fellow fans giving the kid glove treatment.
16. Notre Dame: Annual underachievers now kinda dangerous.
West Regional (Phoenix)
02. UCLA: Won't have to face Florida this year.
07. Texas: I'm sensing an early upset victim here.
10. Louisville: February's hottest team could March on.
15. Butler: As tourney-tested as UCLA. Perhaps more.
East Regional (Charlotte)
03. UNC: No bad losses, but still the least tested top seed.
06. Georgetown: Held off all kinds of Big East challengers.
11. Drake: Adam Emmenecker is a hero to one of my readers!
14. Indiana: Will Dan Dakich be the next Steve Fisher?
Midwest Regional (Detroit)
04. Tennessee: Creamsicles not as visually repulsive now.
05. Kansas: Yes, you can win a title without Danny Manning.
12. Wisconsin: Pull out wins by boring you for 40 minutes.
13. Stanford: Late slippage prevents a 2 or 3 seed.
Also considered: BYU, Gonzaga, Kent State, Davidson.