Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Sleeper City, Baby!

You've been staring at the brackets since Sunday night, searching for the one or two picks that will make the difference between you being the king of office pools and being the king of office fools.

Rub your eyes, splash water on your face, and for the love of Pete, shower. Then take a look at my super sleeper picks for this year's Madness.

(Note: For those keeping track, Thursday is the second best sports day of the year.)

Syracuse Regional
No. 5 Villanova -- Strange internal feeling right now as I select a Philadelphia-based sports team to be successful. But Nova's likely second-round opponent will be No. 4 Florida and I'm really excited about the prospects of watching Gators coach Billy Donovan overcoach in the first half, undercoach in the second half and lose it in the last minute. Ordinarily, I'd choose a Nassau gel specialist such as Donovan (Rockville Centre) over a Philly gel wonder, but Villanova coach Jay Wright has some Nassau gel skills. Remember, he coached Hofstra. Wow, never thought I'd call that a positive. But of course, the Wildcats will fall to North Carolina, as will the rest of basketball's free world this year.

Austin Regional
No. 13 Vermont -- Sentimental underdog. Plus Syracuse is not as good as they should be. Coppenrath vs. Warrick will be fun to watch. Besides, a 13-seed has won a game in nearly every tournament for the last 20 years. My fellow 'Cuse alumni will squeeze my oranges for picking against their beloved Boeheim, but I only went there for graduate school, so my loyalties run shallow. Plus, Boeheim wasn't so beloved until he won a national championship. Should the Catamounts sneak past Orangina, then the Spartan Factor will come into play and Vermont will beat Michigan State and reach the Sweet Sixteen. Duke will win that game because J.J. Redick will sink 18 three-pointers.

No. 6 Utah -- This is for purely selfish reasons. No, I'm not a mormon. But I love Ashley Judd. What am I talking about? Here goes: Rick Majerus, formerly the Utah head coach and currently ESPN's college basketball version of John Kruk, had this to say near the end of broadcasting a particularly bad game on ESPN, give or take a word: ''Well, there's not much to look forward to from here on out, so I'm trying to find Ashley Judd in the crowd. It beats the adult videos at the hotel.'' Wow. I'm throwing up from laughter. But if Utah makes the Sweet Sixteen, they could likely play Kentucky, which means Kentucky fan Ashley Judd will likely be in attendance, which means plenty of oh-so-necessary camera shots of her cheering for the Wildcats. She quite possibly could be the hottest white woman in the world. And a second helping of inane Majerus comments are quite tasty, provided he can remove the double-meatball parm hero from his mouth long enough to talk.

Albuquerque Regional
No. 5 Georgia Tech/No. 12 George Washington -- This is clearly the bet-against pick. Since a 12-seed always win a game, this one could be the upset. But regardless of who wins this first-round pairing, it's a lock for this team to beat Louisville. Rick Pitino did a great job getting his Cardinals this far, but they struggle to win big games and will end up losing in the second round. Hate to go against the Long Island guy, but I did it with Donovan up above, and Pitino is his basketball godfather, so the whole family will crumble in the second round. Where's Sebastian Telfair when you need him?

Chicago Regional
No. 3 Arizona -- I know what you're saying out loud right now: "Wow, way to go on a limb there, tough guy. You picked a 3-seed." Well, consider this: I'm picking Arizona to win the region and make the Final Four. It's even more of a bold pick when you realize that every time Arizona gets a high seed, they choke in the first round. Hellooooooooooooo, Santa Clara's Steve Nash, a.k.a Phoenix Suns' Steve Nash. He beat Arizona a few years ago in the tourney as a 15-seed. But the guess here is that Salim Stoudamire will find that can't-miss spot on the floor in Nintendo's Double Dribble and drop 33 points to beat Oklahoma State in the Sweet Sixteen and 36 to upend Illinois at home in the Elite Eight.

The Final Four:
North Carolina, Duke, Wake Forest (unless Chris Paul goes junk-hunting again), Arizona.

The National Championship:
North Carolina 83, Wake Forest 78.

Margin of error for all these picks: +/- 42.

Happy Madness!