Sunday, February 27, 2011

NCAA Tournament Prospects One and Two

Even though I am doing a countdown, the one thing you will never read from me is reference to the national polls. I think the polls are not meaningful, yet they dominate college basketball conversation throughout the season. Does it really matter who is number one in at any particular point in the season? I’ll answer my own question and say no. A cottage industry has been set up by college basketball writers who criticize other writers for their poll rankings. It also means that “upsets” are created. If “no. 10” Wisconsin beats “No. 1” Ohio State at the Kohl Center, where the Badgers haven’t lost all season, is it an upset? The only thing that gets upset in that situation is me when it is described as an upset. My rant is now concluded. I like to make it at least once a year and now I feel better. Thank you. Here are the top two players heading into the tournament.

2. Nolan Smith, Guard, Duke Blue Devils

Smith was having a nice season before Duke’s point guard, freshman sensation Kyrie Irving, injured his toe on Dec. 4. Since Irving went down, Smith has become a National Player of the Year candidate. Many people figured that forward Kyle Singler would lead the Blue Devils in their attempt to repeat as champions, but Singler is a well-formed product (approximately 17 points and seven rebounds in each of the last three seasons). Meanwhile, Smith has blown up and is leading the ACC in both scoring (21.3 points) and assists (5.2, although the Tar Heels’ Kendall Marshall is lurking at 5.1 assists). In ACC play, the 6-foot-2 senior has not been held under 18 points. While his three-point percentage has dipped a bit from his junior season (37.4% from 39.2%), his overall field goal percentage has improved to 47.6% (from 44.1%). He fearlessly attacked the rim and converts 82% of his free throws. With their loss to Virginia Tech last night, the Blue Devils may not be assured a one-seed, but they will not drop much even if they lose to North Carolina next weekend and/or in the ACC tournament. On the other hand, they could win out and be the tournament’s top seed. Either way, Smith is one of the most reliable options.

1. Jared Sullinger, Forward, Ohio State Buckeyes

It may seem a bit risky to put a freshman as the top option in Fantasy Postseason tournament leagues, but I think Sullinger is the National Player of the Year and could easily double as the fantasy player of the year, if there were such a thing. Because Blue Ribbon Yearbook had Sullinger listed as a center, he received center eligibility in my Big Chief Leagues, which allowed him to fill the two toughest spots (our leagues require all teams to start a center and a freshman). The 6-foot-9, 280 lb Buckeye wins for position scarcity, but he also produces top notch numbers. He is averaging 17.8 points and 9.9 rebounds, and he doesn’t mind crushing smaller opponents: witness his 40 points and 13 rebounds against IUPUI on Dec. 12. He did pretty well against bigger schools as well with 30 points and 19 rebounds in a win over South Carolina, despite the presence of shot blocker Sam Muldrow. You could be concerned that the Buckeyes have lost two of their last four games, but those two losses have been at Wisconsin and Purdue (who also has not suffered a loss at Mackey Arena). Even before the brackets come out, I can tell you that I am going to pick Ohio State to win it all and Sullinger is the key to their success.