Thursday, March 07, 2013

10 Potentially Sweet Match-Ups in the 2013 NCAA Tournament

The NCAA, as an institutional construct and quasi-kleptocracy, is a pretty terrible thing. The great makers and enforcers of rules make rules that are not great but are instead unnecessarily voluminous, exceptionally self-serving and excruciatingly perplexing. I don’t know how many sports are listed in the organizational charter as part of its allegedly benevolent domain, but in practice it’s pretty clear they only care about exercising power over two: the ones that generate the biggest TV contracts.

March Madness. It is one of the things about the NCAA that is not terrible. The NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament is not what it used to be either. The lines between David and Goliath get blurrier and blurrier even as the chasm separating the haves from the have nots widens further and further. If a BCS school has to play its way into the first round of the tourney and the little program that could, Gonzaga, looms as the overall number one seed, who is the more authentic underdog? If Butler couldn’t win a championship with two clean shots at blue blood programs in the sixth game that counts, can a Cinderella team ever be fully consummated?

Of course, there’s the matter of how the rules governing who can enter the NBA draft affect the way major college basketball is recruited and played. Does the whole sport quietly suck? Are those three weekends in spring the sum total of college basketball’s value? Probably best not to get lost in the rhetorical weeds. The first Thursday and the first Friday are nigh. All that will matter then is whether the beer is cold and the wings are hot enough. The Madness will be there. In some form. We can be sure of that.

If we have any control over which games we get to watch—and we certainly do have some thanks to the CBS/Turner broadcasting partnership—I’d like to suggest a few match-ups the Selection Committee could do us a solid to line up somewhere in the brackets. Following are 10 potential games (and 1 game we’ll never see) that could be really fun to watch:  

Louisville v. Kentucky: Let’s start with the game we’ll never see. If Nerlens Noel had not blown out his knee, the idea of him defending the goal at one end of the court opposite a healthy Gorgui Dieng manning the paint in front of the other hoop could have been a defensive match-up for the ages. Or what that foul-plagued, awkward game from late December should have been. Alas, the rematch wasn’t meant to be.  

Arizona v. Ohio State: There is still a great match-up of brilliant perimeter defenders to set up. Nick Johnson on one end and Aaron Craft on the other. Both also happen to be clever offensive players who generally make good decisions with the ball. (And both are from Findlay, although not the same Findlay.) They’d be cross-matched at least a little bit. Perhaps for a full 40 minutes if this game were to materialize. That should be meant to be.  

Michigan v. Oklahoma St: How about the guy every NBA Draft projector thinks is the best PG in the country battling the guy who is the best PG in the country? Marcus Smart battling Trey Burke? I’m in for that. If you need more, how about Markel Brown and Le'Bryan Nash shooting it out with Tim Hardaway Jr. and Glenn Robinson III? The sickest collective backcourt match-up possible. Also, both teams are weak on the interior. So there’d be little risk that one would beat the other up in the paint.

Georgetown v. Creighton: Otto Porter Jr. Doug McDermott. Two small forwards who could go for 25-10 in just about any game. Big numbers for college kids. Like POY big. One of ‘em is gonna be a lottery pick. The other will end up with the Spurs. Both of their teams employ offensive systems that contextualize their individual talents within the natural flow of a team offense. Or these dudes can just go off. That’s cool, too.

Gonzaga v. Miami: Both teams are large up front. And both teams have high-calibre playmakers leading their offenses. Both also do that chip-on-the-shoulder thing. If the ‘Zags were a #1 seed and the ‘Canes were a #2, who’d have the more rightful claim to the chip? Hard to say. But this would have to be a chippy, intense game where someone’s mistake in the last 40 seconds is the thing that kill’s one program’s dream.

VCU v. Florida: Speaking of intense…this coaches in this would-be match-up might be the two most alpha alpha dogs when it comes to tenacity in a head coach who once played college ball. Both teams are balanced in the front- and backcourts. That’s pretty rare in college. Usually a team is lopsided in one way or another. The pressure that would be employed and the pace this game could be played at…man…just tell me which TV screen above the sports bar to focus on and that game has all my attention for two hours.

New Mexico v. Butler: New Mexico Coach Steve Alford matching up against his alma mater (Indiana) might have the more obviously appealing storyline, but a basketball game between Alford’s Lobos and the other elite hoop program from Indiana (Sorry, Purdue.) would be way better. Both the Lobos and the Bulldogs have endured humbling losses this year. Both have shown big time, big game chops. Neither is famous for making a ton of bad decisions. The execution on both sides of the ball could be beautiful in this one.  

Syracuse v. Georgetown: We had ‘em on the schedule twice this season for their final Big East home and homes. We may get them one more time in Madison Square Garden. Let’s give ‘em a fourth to prolong the official rivalry for one more day.  

UCLA v. UNC: I don’t really like either of these teams this year. But both are playing well to close out the regular season. And they haven’t played an NCAA Tournament game since 1989. Hell, they’ve only battled twice ever in the Big Dance. That should not be a thing that is true.

UNLV v. Duke: The 14-year-old me kinda wants UNLV to get one high-stakes chance to redeem itself against Coach K for what happened in ’91. The however-old-I-am-today me is intrigued by the idea of Anthony Bennett showing what he can do against an NBA starter-level stretch 4, Ryan Kelly. Objectively, these two teams could play a phenomenal game what with their shooters and their bigs taking turns putting a wallop on each other. Give us this one anytime after the first weekend.

IU v. KU: If last year’s dream title tilt was UK v. KU, then Hooisers/Jayhawks would be this year’s choice. There’s no Anthony Davis on either roster. And there’s no obvious depth gap. These would be the two most evenly matched blue blood programs this season could give us. And if you would prefer to postpone the first time Victor Oladipo and Ben McLemore lock horns…man…I don’t think you really like basketball.