Surviving March Madness

Craigs preview of NCAA basketball March Madness coming soon to a TV near you.

Robert Sacre

Robert Sacre

And just like that we are into March. A great month that usually means the transition from a cold, harsh winter to a nice warm, summery summer. Finally.

Sports wise, it’s also a great time. In local junior ‘B’ hockey, the play-offs are into the second round already with our Rebels taking on the league leading Beaver Valley Nitehawks.

High school basketball just wrapped up and the teams from Stanley Humphries did very well at the West Kootenay championships.

In the pro ranks, the NHL and NBA are in full swing and teams are jockeying for play-off position heading into the post-season, which begins in April.

But of course, March is all about March Madness – the NCAA college basketball tournament. Sixty eight teams enter and play for three weeks. One loss and your season is finished; it doesn’t matter if you went 30-0 and won your conference or stumbled in after finishing 15-17. You have to win six games in a row to get the crown.

Whether you have an office pool, an online pool, or just watch for fun, the single knock-out factor makes for great TV. Some are playing for draft position and a big money pay-out, but most are playing for the love of the game and a chance for fame. At any rate, here are my picks:

Champion: North Carolina. The Tarheels were the pre-season favourite, and although they’ve had a few stumbles along the way, they’re big, deep, strong, and talented and are my pick to win it all. Watch for an all-NBA frontline of Tyler Zeller, Harrison Barnes, and John Henson. All average more than 14 points per game and at least five rebounds per game to form the toughest frontline in the NCAA.

Runner-up: Kentucky. Freshman sensation Anthony Davis is having a great year. The 6’11 centre will likely be the NCAA player of the year and the number one pick in next year’s NBA draft. Davis throws any shot near him into the stands to the tune of nearly five blocks per game. Still, the Wildcats are very young and prone to youthful mistakes.

Final Four: Ohio State and Syracuse. The Ohio State Buckeyes haven’t had as dominant a season as many predicted. But they are still at the top of a very tough Big Ten conference and have all-star centre Jared Sullinger anchoring a relatively veteran squad.

Canadian forward Kris Joseph leads the Syracuse Orange in scoring with 14.1 points per game and also adds five rebounds per outing. The Orange are always tough on defence with their trademark 2-3 zone. All-name contenders Fab Melo and Rakeem Christmas add depth.

Canadian content: The number of Canadians playing in the NCAA keeps growing as does the impact of the Canucks. Besides Joseph, you’ve got Texas guard Myck Kabongo. Although from Ontario, Kabongo (another great name) has all-American skills. He is averaging 9.8 points and 5.3 assists per game as a freshman at NCAA powerhouse Texas. Of course, a lot of great talent lies just three hours down south of Castlegar in Spokane at Gonzaga University.

The Zags feature three Canadians including two British Columbians.

Robert Sacre is a 7 foot centre from Vancouver. Sacre is in his senior season as a Zag and averaging 11.7 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 1.5 blocks per game. We’ll see if Sacre can make it in the NBA with his combination of size and athleticism. The other British Columbian, Kelly Olynyk, hails from Kamloops and is also 7 feet tall. Olynyk is redshirting (sitting out) this year after playing two seasons as a back-up forward for the Zags. Olynyk will be back next year for the Zags and with some extra muscle, should be a major contributor. Gonzaga’s top scorer this year is freshman forward Kevin Pangos, a guard from Ontario who’s averaging 13.8 points and 3.4 assists per outing.

As for the Zags’ chances this year in the NCAA tournament – I think it’ll be tough for them to get past the first round. After losing to rival St. Mary’s in the West Coast Conference final Monday, Gonzaga is looking at a nine or 10 seed which makes the first game a tough one.

But if Pangos and fellow freshman guard Gary Bell can get hot – the Zags could be dangerous.

I’ve run an online NCAA pool now for many years and every year it’s a blast to look at the teams and play prognosticator. Do you go with the top teams or pick some sleepers like Virginia Tech or Butler to go deep? Do you go with the team that dominated their conference tournament or the teams that lost early and got to rest? Those are the tough calls that can make a difference. If you’re interested in joining the fun, email me at reporter@castlegarnews.com.