March Madness 2011: Which Teams Will Reach Houston?

For the last few Novembers, my older brother Brian, my friend Lee, and I have shared our Final Four predictions with each other via e-mail. This year, we waited longer than ever before—I sent the initial e-mail yesterday afternoon and they sent their responses earlier today.

One reason for the delay is the growing importance of star freshmen. I never really considered picking Memphis in November 2007 because I hadn’t seen Derrick Rose play. Waiting until Thanksgiving gives me the opportunity to see what these highly-touted rookies can do.

Of course it’s still way too early to make confident predictions regarding potential Final Four teams. Even once the brackets are released in March, I struggle to accurately forecast more than two of the teams.

That doesn’t stop me from sending out the e-mail and leaving an electronic paper trail of my picks, so I figured I’d share them on this space as well. For the 2011 Final Four, to be played in Houston, I am going with Duke, Villanova, Ohio State, and UNLV.

Duke is the consensus top team in the country and the Buckeyes are currently ranked second. Nova, already a preseason favorite to reach Houston, received extra attention because I saw the Wildcats in person last week. I often see at least one eventual Final Four team in person during the season (last year I saw two: Duke and Butler), and while I could have gone with Tennessee, which I also saw last week, or Kansas, Memphis, Michigan State, Purdue, or Syracuse (teams I’ll see later this season), I’m confident in Jay Wright’s squad.

Coach K fills out his 2011 bracket, thinking long and hard about which other three teams to include. (Credit: Ahodges7)

The UNLV pick was obviously outside of the box. But I have high expectations for the Mountain West this season—San Diego State and BYU should be very good also—and UNLV already had two quality wins at the time of my prediction, having knocked off Wisconsin and Murray State. The Runnin’ Rebels (6-0) rewarded my confidence by beating Virginia Tech last night to win the 76 Classic in Anaheim.

While I went with the Buckeyes, another Big Ten team certainly can’t be overlooked: Michigan State. Tom Izzo seems to always have his team playing its best come Tournament time. Kansas State is also a chic preseason Final Four choice, but Denis Clemente was perhaps more important to K-State’s success than many realize. Kansas, Pittsburgh, and Kentucky are also in the mix, but all have flaws.

Feel free to use the comments section to voice your Final Four picks as well as any sleeper teams to watch this season.

Other notes:

  • I was extremely skeptical of Harrison Barnes’s inclusion on the Preseason All-America team. It had nothing to do with Barnes—like most high schoolers, I had never seen him play—but simply with the fact that he was a freshman. The top-tier talent in college hoops may not be as great as in past years, but that didn’t mean voters needed to turn to a kid who had yet to play at the college level. Sure enough, Barnes has underwhelmed so far this year, but it was nearly impossible to meet the expectations placed upon him.
  • I covered Iona last season and will try to attend as many games as I can this season. I saw the Gaels in their home opener against Richmond and was impressed. Siena dominated the MAAC the last two seasons, but I think Iona and Fairfield will make the top of this conference much more balanced.
  • I have connections to Wake Forest and would like to see the program succeed under new coach Jeff Bzdelik, so I was not pleased the Deacs lost to Stetson to open the season. Wake has too much youth and inexperience to be a competitor in the ACC this season, but don’t write off Bzdelik. Athletic director Ron Wellman has made a lot of good hires in his 19 years at the university; give Bzdelik some time.

2 thoughts on “March Madness 2011: Which Teams Will Reach Houston?”

  1. True, Va Tech is nothing but a middle-of-the-pack ACC team. Perhaps even worse than their lack of a big man is that they have their best scorer playing point guard. As for UNLV, they have plenty of size and athleticism, so I think they'll be OK come Tourney time. Very few teams have a really good true center.

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