Weekly Bracketology Watch...
As we get closer and closer March Madness, the big picture gets clearer and clearer. The Big Ten is starting to get clarity. Iowa has a Big Ten title in sights and for certain will finish within four games of the top team for the first time since 1987. Yes, you read right, for the first time since 1987! If the Hawkeyes hold on to win the title outright, it'll be the first one in 36 years - older than your blogger! Even if they end in a tie, Iowa wins its first title since 1979. Anyway, I digress. Back to March Madness. Following is what Joe Lunardi has in store for our league as of Monday 2/13 followed by where I see the teams going.
- Ohio State is listed as a rising 2 seed, in the Minneapolis bracket (playing in Dayton), slated to face IUPUI. The 7 seed for round two there is Southern Illinois, the 10 seed is Marquette. The number one in the bracket is Texas. I see them as a 3 when all is said and done as I expect two more losses for the Bucks down the stretch (Wisconsin and Michigan State).
- Iowa is listed as a rising 3 seed, in the Oakland bracket (playing in Auburn Hills), slated to play Winthrop. The next round would be intriguing with 6 seed Oklahoma or 11 seed Kentucky lying in wait. The number one in the bracket is Memphis. I see them as a 2 or 3 when all is said and done. If Iowa wins the title outright (it will do so if the Hawks get past Minnesota this weekend) they will get a 2. If they tie for the title they will get a 3.
- Michigan State is listed as a falling 4 seed, in the Atlanta bracket (playing in Salt Lake City), slated to play UW-Milwaukee. The 5 seed is Georgetown. The number one in the bracket is Duke. MSU is an enigma. The Spartans could win out and somehow manage a tie for the Big Ten crown or they could go 4-1 or 3-2. In that case, the Big Ten Tourney will mean more to them in terms of seed than in recent memory. It hurts MSU that they have been pretty shaky on the road in 2006. I see them as a 4 or 5 seed regardless of how the season plays out.
- Illinois is listed as a falling 4 seed, in the Washington D.C. bracket (playing in Jacksonville), slated to play Western Kentucky. The 5 seed is George Washington. The number one in the Washington D.C. bracket is UConn. I see them as a 4 or 5 when all is said and done.
- Indiana is listed as a falling 7 seed, in the Washington D.C. bracket (playing in Greensboro), slated to play Miami-FLA. The 2 seed is Tennessee. The number one in the Washington D.C. bracket is UConn. With the recent hub-ub surrounding Mike Davis, Indiana may tank out and wind up barely making the NIT. If they get it together, the Hoosiers will sneak in as no better than a 10 seed, but right now, that's a stretch.
- Wisconsin is listed as a falling 7 seed, in the Atlanta bracket (playing in Salt Lake City), slated to play Arizona. The 2 seed is Gonzaga, with POTY candidate Adam "Dirt Mustache" Morrison. The number one in the bracket is Duke. I see Wisconsin as a very dangerous 7, 8 or 9 seed when Selection Sunday arrives. Think 2000 when the Badgers were a Final Four team as an 8 seed.
- Michigan is listed as a falling 9 seed, in the Oakland bracket (playing in Dallas), slated to play Creighton. The number one in the Oakland bracket is Memphis. The injury bug has bitten hard in Ann Arbor and the Wolverines need to win at least three of their last five in order to go dancing. That will be no easy task with the slate ahead of them and the injuries mounting. If Michigan slides in, it will be in the 11 spot. The maize and blue join IU as firmly on the bubble at the moment.
Check out the entire bracket breakdown, weekly, at http://sports.espn.go.com/ncb/bracketology
Now, as a MSU grad and fan, I have to ask, What in the hell is wrong with Michigan State? No, I am not hitting any panic buttons and life wearing the Big Ten's largest target isn't easy. The Spartans have finished one game out of the title in three of the past four years and two games out to an unconscious Illini squad a year ago. Chances are they'll finish a game out this season as well. So, no, not all is lost in East Lansing, but as a fan, I sense some problems with this team that could render her a one and done come NCAA Tourney time.
Problem 1: This team misses Chris Hill, Alan Anderson and Kelvin Torbert. All had important roles last year, even while this year's stars carried that team to the Final Four. Most notably, they would bring much needed depth to the backcourt. But they also seemed to have the one thing that everyone criticized them for lacking - fire and desire. They didn't collectively have the talent of Ager or Brown but they scrapped and clawed and fought at all times. Sometimes I wonder how much Ager and Brown are willing to scrap when things are going against them.
Problem 2: Inability to play 40 good minutes on the road. MSU has 20 fantastic minutes on the road down to a science. But give me 40 solid minutes versus 20 great and 20 horrible and I'll give you more road wins. Case in point? At Michigan, at Minnesota, at Illinois and even at Iowa. In all of those games, the Spartans played 20 minutes of great basketball. The problem was they were horrid in the other 20 and they took Ls as a result. I'm not saying State would be four games lighter in the loss column had they done that in those games, but I bet they'd be two games lighter and right in the front of the pack.
Problem 3: The only player that seems to understand how to get the ball to Paul Davis is Drew Neitzel. Toss in Matt Trannon and you have, in my mind, the only guys who are as consistent on the road as at home. Ager is in a Chris Hill/Adam Ballinger like senior slump, particularly on the road. Brown just tries to do too much when Ager is off. It all hurts more than it helps.
The Solution: Playing at home. Four of the last five are at home where Michigan State is 109-7 over the past eight seasons, 56-4 against the Big Ten. MSU has also gone no worse than 4-1 over that same stretch in its last five games of the season and averages 8-2 in the last ten. With a 5-0 run to end this season, MSU would hit that 8-2 mark, finish 11-5 and maybe, maybe luck into a multi-team tie at the top. The bottom line? This team needs to find consistency in a hurry because as much as they could be scary in the tournament as a 4 or 5 or even 6 seed this year, they could as likely be one and done.