Now that the brackets are out, predictions for the 2011 NCAA Tournament are pouring in. We already went over the local teams, but I'm not sure that any of them have a good shot to advance to the Final Four in Houston. So I'll do my best to predict who will be in the final four, and which team will be cutting down the nets in Houston.
East: I love Jared Sullinger. Rarely do I count on freshmen to carry their team in the tournament, but his game is based on things that will not change from game to game. His strength and intensity aren't going anywhere. While a shooter might lose his touch from time to time, nobody is going to keep Sullinger off the boards. I think the Buckeyes can ride him all the way to the Final Four, without being challenged to greatly.
West: I'm a huge believer in the UConn Huskies after their miracle run to the Big East. They'll have a few days to rest, and a pretty favorable bracket. The NCAA Tournament is won by dominant guards, and Kemba Walker is the best player in the country when he is on. We saw how he can control a game, or five, in the Big East Tournament. Things might not get too difficult for them until the Elite Eight, and I could never pick Duke to beat a team that I think has a remote shot to beat them.
Southwest: I'm going to go with a little bit of an upset here and pick the Purdue Boilermakers. I love E'Twuan Moore, and when he is playing well, JuJuan Johnson is all but impossible to guard. I think that having two players like that can help them advance through a bracket that should provide relatively little resistance, other than Kansas who they won't have to face until the Elite 8.
Southeast: Having watched a lot of Big East games this year, I think Pitt is just too tough for everyone. They won't wow you with flashy play or anything, but they will just play their butts off and out-work you on both ends. Brad Wanamaker and Ashton Gibbs can outscore you, and they have the big guys to control the boards. I think they make it through an easy bracket pretty easily.
I like UConn over Ohio St. because of the way they play. They put a huge emphasis on getting to the free throw line, and I believe that Kemba Walker can get Jared Sullinger into foul trouble early. If that happens, this is UConn's game to lose.
I like Purdue. Like I said above, I don't think there are any teams in the country that have answers for Moore and Johnson. They might not be the best team in the country, but I think they have some of the best premier talent, and that is what helps you win in the tournament.
National Championship: Purdue 69 - UConn 63
I really want to pick UConn. I really do. But I think it's a lot to ask for them to win 11 elimination games in a row. At some point, they have to run out of gas, right? No seriously, I'm asking, because I thought they would have for sure in the Big East Tournament, and they didn't. If Alex Oriakhi can rebound like he is capable of, and Kemba Walker continues to be Kemba Walker, I think they can win it all. But I'm not sure I can count on that for six more games, so I'm going with the Boilermakers.