Assorted college basketball musings

Fo' yo' Wednesday mo'...rning.

1. You're lying to yourself if you don't think North Carolina is still the runaway favorite to win the national championship. You may not want them to be, but they are.

Statistics show that offense - and yes, a touch of defense - wins championships in the modern era, and the Tar Heels are easily the best team in the country when it comes to putting the ball in the basket. I'm aware that the same could have probably been said 12 months ago, but they're better than they were a year ago, and I just don't see a squad out there with the weapons to accomplish what Kansas was able to do in San Antonio last April.

They're going to get bored and lose at least one more time before Selection Sunday, but in the end I wouldn't be surprised to see a Florida '07-esque unchallenged run through the field of 65.

2. Folks like you and I are going to adore this year's NCAA Tournament because of the parity that will exist between seeds 2-12, but expect to hear a lot of bitching from the casual fan about the absence of compelling storylines due to the lack of mid and low major talent. There simply aren't the "unknown" teams with "unknown" talent capable of winning a game or two in the dance like there were last year.

I still think Siena is the best bet because, like Davidson a season ago, they played - and lost to - some of the best teams in the country early in the season, have gotten progressively better as the year has worn on, and are in the process of dominating an ordinarily competitive conference. Also, the Saints boast four of the same starters who helped trounce Vanderbilt in the first round of last year's tourney.

Though I haven't seen them play and they're yet to knock off anyone legit, Utah State (a mid-major team by name, but maybe not by conference) is apparently capable of at least hanging with a mid-level team from a major conference, a statement that also applies to whichever team wins the MAC, Missouri Valley and - assuming it's VCU, George Mason or Northeastern - Colonial conference tournaments.

And then there's Butler and Davidson.

Brad Stevens should probably be the front-runner for national coach of the year, but the Bulldogs aren't as experienced or talented as they've been in years where they've been successful in the dance, and they don't have the athletes to compete if they're pitted against a high-major foe in the first round. If anyone is good enough to single-handedly lead his team to victory in a game it has no business winning, it's Stephen Curry, but the Wildcats aren't the squad that rolled through the SoCon and came within a shot of knocking off the eventual national champions and crashing the Final Four. If they lose to Butler on Saturday and get knocked off in the conference tournament, Bob McKillop's club will be the topic of much conversation in the days leading up to Selection Sunday.

Upsets and Cinderellas are what makes March Madness so sexy to outsiders, but in a season where conference superiority has been debated so hotly, first round matchups like Syracuse/Miami or Texas/Florida will serve as college basketball porn for people like us.

3. I decided last night that if I were a gargantuan shot-blocker (I'm not, by the way), I'd opt against the time-tested post-swat shouts of "get out" or "gimme that" in favor of things that make absolutely no sense.

If you had your shot blocked by a foot-taller Mike Rutherford, you'd be serenaded by screams of, "BUTTON IT UUUPPPP!!!" or "BILLINGS MONTAAANNNAAA!!!!."

Obviously, this is a dream I can never make a reality, but if you are a large man proficient in the art of the blocked shot who plays major college or professional basketball and you're reading along right now, well, I think this is a possible addition to your game that you should consider very seriously.

4. I always cringe when I hear war terms applied to sporting events, but Monday night's Pittsburgh/Connecticut tussle made the faux-pas as close to appropriate as possible.

The Panthers won by eight and Dejuan Blair thoroughly dominated Hasheem Thabeet and Jeff Adrien, but you turned off the television thinking that the Huskies could win by the same margin and Blair could be completely shut down when the two meet again at the Peterson Events Center on March 7.

Being able to watch two No. 1 seeds go at it in mid-February was a treat.

5. The Big East Tournament is going to be incredible, but the race for the regular season title might have it topped in terms of intrigue.

You have the favorite, Connecticut, which probably has the hardest remaining schedule of the four teams currently locked in a virtual tie. Then Pittsburgh, which knocked off the favorite but still has to play them again on the last day of the regular season. Louisville, which has already beaten Pitt, lost to Connecticut and appears to have a relatively easy last six games, but does have the unenviable task of dealing with a handful of squads desperate for a big-time win to boost their at-large resumes. And then Marquette, the ordained long-shot which has to play the other three teams in a back-to-back-to-back stretch from Feb. 25 - March 4.

I don't think anyone would have predicted in December that the '09 Big East champ would have to finish the regular season with a record at least equal to that of the '08 king, but it certainly looks like anything short of 15-3 is not going to be enough.

The crown will likely be decided by the head-to-head tilts between the contenders, and that's the way it should be.

6. You can't question their credentials as a No. 1, but I think it's safe to say that every potential two or three seed is going to be hoping they see their name pop up in Oklahoma's region when the bracket is unveiled in a month.

7. Did Louisville play Oklahoma in last year's tournament?

8. Computer rankings still frighten and confuse me. So does The Mentalist.

9. When Sean McDonough said Monday night that, "often this season, Big East officials have had far too much of an impact on the way the games have been played," I wanted to give him a hug.

Just be consistent and try to remember that nobody came to see you. Don't give me that look, Hightower.

10. The Bilas/Raftery/McDonough trio should make the first afternoon of the Big East Tournament (9/16 and 12/13 games) must-see material. The guys are always golden at MSG, but a heavily diminished level of play will undoubtedly provide even more of an opportunity to shine.

11. Was Mike Patrick really this bad in the '90s? If he was, how did we not notice?

12. I'll admit it: I have absolutely no idea how good any of the teams in the Pac-10 are.

13. This one is down on the list because I've had to work my way up to it...Jodie Meeks deserves even more pub than he's getting. If the man had been healthy and had 3/4 of the season Stephen Curry did in '08, then he'd be an unquestionable first team All-American and serious contender for national POY. Remarkably, Meeks is putting up Curry-like numbers on a daily basis on a team that gives him a bit more support than Davidson does Steph, and against competition better than Curry sees in the SoCon (insert SEC joke here).

I don't care if the team is down, I don't care if the league is down, when you average just under 26 points per game for Kentucky and have dropped 54 and 45 in SEC road games, you're having a season that demands over-the-top national attention.

Jodie Meeks is the real deal.

14. The lack of runaway conference leaders in the mid-major ranks may be bad for the NCAA Tournament, but it should make for some immensely entertaining conference tournaments.

The jumbled standings in the Mountain West, Atlantic 10, MAC, Missouri Valley, Big West, Colonial, Southland and Big South all point to three or four rounds of intense games where every possession could be the difference between the end of the season and an NCAA Tournament bid.

The college sports package: a necessity that trumps warm water.

15. When it comes to picking out All-Americans, there are three givens and then a handful of guys fighting for the fourth and fifth spots on the first team. Where it gets really interesting is when you try to pick the next ten guys to fill out the second and third teams.

Here are my efforts:

First Team

Tyler Hansbrough, North Carolina
Stephen Curry, Davidson
Blake Griffin, Oklahoma
Jodie Meeks, Kentucky
Luke Harangody, Notre Dame

Second Team

James Harden, Arizona State
Hasheem Thabeet, Connecticut
Dejuan Blair, Pittsburgh
Ty Lawson, North Carolina
Jeff Teague, Wake Forest

Third Team

Sam Young, Pittsburgh
Jerel McNeal, Marquette
Tyrese Rice, Boston College
Lester Hudson, Tennessee-Martin
Nick Calathes, Florida

16. I really, really, really want UT-Martin to win the OVC tourney so Lester Hudson gets to play in the dance.

17. Things are about to get very fun.

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