What we have before us starting today is a unique situation: a largely interest-free March Madness tournament without the depressing spectre of hopelessness that the BCG offered. We have every reason to believe that next year will be at least just fine, even though this year was disappointing. I say we enjoy it, and have fun with our picks.
But before we get rolling, let’s take a look back at ESPN The Magazine’s preseason rankings for the 2013 season. Believe it or not, with a few exceptions, they were actually pretty spot on. Except on Kentucky, of course. But we all know that.
1. Indiana (Projected 1, Actual 1) – The Hoosiers more or less lived up to their preseason hype by earning the East’s #1 seed, but behind someone entirely unexpected. While Zeller and Watford got a lot of love from the Mag in November, the real MVP of this year’s Indiana team has been Victor Oladipo. One of the nation’s premier defenders developed an aggressive, slashing offensive game that has really opened up for the floor for more stationary players like Hulls, Sheehy, Zeller, and Watford.
2. Louisville (Projected 1, Actual 1) – We know Louisville well. Maybe too well. We said after last year’s Final Four that they’d be tough, and sure enough, they enter the tournament as the overall #1 seed, and open in Rupp. There’s very little surprise with the Cardinals: they play tough, super annoying defense, and have super athletic players from 1-19 on the depth chart.
3. Kentucky (Projected 1, Actual NIT) Whoops. Our bad.
4. Michigan (Projected 1, Actual 4) – The Wolverines peaked earlier in the season by reaching a number one ranking, but quickly proceeded to finish the season’s last 12 games with a .500 record. But the Mag said early on that Trey Burke would be the guy to watch, and the Big Ten Player of the Year hasn’t disappointed so far.
5. Kansas (Projected 2, Actual 1) – The Jayhawks are the first team listed to exceed expectations, if only by a little. Give credit for that extra boost to Ben McLemore, the emerging freshman who might take the NBA Draft’s number one spot instead of Nerlens Noel. The rest are solid, but McLemore is the guy responsible for taking a projected 2-seed to a 1-seed.
6. NC State (Projected 2, Actual 8) – The first really disappointing team, after Kentucky, the Wolfpack have played all season either out of their minds, or completely asleep. They’ve picked up big wins (Duke), but also stumbled into ten losses. It’s likely that C.J. Leslie’s lack of improvement has kept N.C. State from the top seed they wanted, as they enter the tournament
7. Ohio State (Projected 2, Actual 2) – This team was all about Deshaun Thomas and Aaron Craft from the start, and after a whole season of play, it’s all about them at the end, too. Some folks may be afraid of a lack of real depth, but those players on the rotation are solid. No surprises with Ohio State.