NCAA Tournament preview

By Clayton Coffman |
Photo courtesy Gregory Hotchkiss, Pittsburgh Athletic Department

PHOTO CAPTION: Pittsburgh forward DeJuan Blair (center) has averaged 16 points and 12 rebounds this season.

Do you see the days of March flying by? That can only mean one thing: the NCAA Tournament is approaching. The greatest post-season tournament ever created, and that includes the NFL Playoffs, is just days away from starting.

“It’s such a unique event in sports,” Orlando Sentinel writer Andrew Carter said. “You just don’t get that kind of excitement for any other sporting event. It’s great drama. People love drama.”

From Jimmy Valvano storming the court in 1983 looking for someone to hug to George Mason knocking off top-seeded UConn in the Elite Eight, the teams and moments that make up the “Big Dance” truly make it the best postseason competition.

“The NCAA Tournament is awesome because there are so many teams and there are so many chances for upsets. There are so many storylines that you can’t help but get caught up in it,” Florida Times- Union writer Michael DiRocco said.

The upcoming 2009 tournament offers just the same as ones from the past. Could there be another George Mason-type run from a mid-major?

Carter, who covers Florida State for the Sentinel, thinks the best cinderella teams are the ones no-one sees coming.

“Last year was Davidson. I think the best cinderella stories are the ones that just completely come out of nowhere,” Carter said.

DiRocco, who covers the Florida Gators for the Times-Union, doesn’t see a small school, like Davidson, making a deep run.

“I like UCLA from a standpoint that Darren Collison is a fantastic point guard. They have a bunch of guys that have played in the NCAA Tournament,” DiRocco said.

Like last year, which saw all four No. 1 seeds play in San Antonio, DiRocco feels that will happen again. “I think this year a lot of higher seeds will be in the Final Four.”

But who’s going to win it all? Could Kansas repeat on the incredible skills of point guard Sherron Collins?

“Right now I’d probably pick North Carolina. Those guys have the best collection of talent. If they don’t get in the way of themselves, they’ll win it all,” Carter said.

The Tar Heels have one of the best offensive teams in the nation; however, DiRocco thinks that defense will be the difference.

“I like UConn because of (Hasheem) Thabeet and their defensive presence. I also like Oklahoma. If Blake Griffin is healthy they’ve got a real good inside/outside deal with him and Austin Johnson,” DiRocco said.

Oklahoma’s power forward, Griffin, is believed to be the front-runner for Player of The Year honors. And Carter doesn’t see why not. “He’s doing it on both ends of the court. He’s been pretty much unstoppable. He’s having a phenomenal year,” Carter said.

DiRocco sees the best player heading into the tournament as Thabeet, Connecticut’s center who has the potential to alter every shot in the lane.

“He averages four blocks per game. He reminds me a lot of (Joakim) Noah and (Al) Horford. He changes shots inside. If you have someone driving, they’re going to think twice about driving into the lane,” DiRocco said.

March madness begins on the 19th.

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