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Going with the chalk
March 15, 2011 - Neil Rudel
I almost never pick a top seed to win the NCAA Tournament. I've always figured it's a copout, that it's not exactly an out-on-a-limb prediction and therefore not as much fun.
But I'm changing it this year, in part because the field is so balanced that you can throw a blanket over the five and two seeds and not see much difference and in part because I'm tired of being wrong.
Not necessarily in that order.
So I'm picking Ohio State, the top seed in the whole field. The Buckeyes have great size in Sullinger and Lauderdale (sounds like a law firm) and an incredible shooter in Diebler. They have complementary parts, a deep enough bench and a superior coach in Thad Matta.
My Final Four include the Buckeyes, UConn, Kansas and Kansas State. That's two No. 1 seeds, a No. 3 and a No. 5.
As for Penn State, it's nice to see the Nittany Lions finally back in the field. I'm happy for Ed DeChellis, a good guy who finally got there, and of course Talor Battle deserved to Dance.
The key to Penn State's hopes, though, may just be Jeff Brooks. When Brooks plays his best, the Lions are tough to beat.
Other than having to go to Arizona to play Temple, it's tough to complain about the draw. If the Lions can get by the Owls, that would make the trip a success and they could relax and "let it all hang out" (a Paternoism) as a big underdog against San Diego State, which might be the most beatable No. 2 seed in the entire tournament.
Even if Cory Giger thinks they're getting to the Final Four.
As for Pitt, the Panthers have got to at least get to the Elite Eight to shed the label of underachievers in the Big Dance. And it will be tough to do with Kansas State standing in the way.
Until the Panthers get there, they'll be haunted by Scottie Reynolds' coast-to-coast drive that knocked them out of the 2009 Dance, when Pitt -- with future NBA players DeJuan Blair and Sam Young --overcommitted defensively and lost at the buzzer.
As for the Big Ten, I've got the Buckeyes in the Elite Eight with Michigan State because I'm an Izzo believer and Purdue, which has a great tandem in Johnson and Moore.
Good luck with your bracket.