Forget sexy sleeper picks this year

BY Jason Whitlock • March 17, 2010

Don’t waste time looking for a “sleeper” this year. Sleepers are overrated.

If you remember, a year ago I went sleeper crazy, picking a tissue-soft Gonzaga squad to win the NCAA Tournament. Win the tournament. Not make a run. The Zags were in the same bracket as North Carolina. The Tar Heels smoked Gonzaga by 21 points in the Sweet Sixteen.

I still get e-mails reminding me of my sexy/stupid prediction.

Nope. My NCAA Tournament Truths won’t be sexy this year. They’ll be accurate. They’ll reflect the reality of American commerce.

Don’t nothing move but the money.

If it don’t make dollars, it don’t make sense.

M.O.B -- money over bracket-busters.

I’m picking the favorites to advance to the Final Four. I’m guaranteeing that Kansas, Kentucky and Duke reach Indianapolis, site of the Final Four. I’m 90 percent sure the Syracuse Orange will be there, too.

But I’ll hedge my bet in the West Region and say there’s a chance the second-seeded Kansas State Wildcats screw up the NCAA’s plan and take advantage of Syracuse center Arinze Onuaku’s stiff leg.

You realize I’m paranoid and believe in conspiracies, right?

Yep. In my mind, it’s not a coincidence that Tiger Woods is making his historic “return” from missing three tournaments at The Masters. Why waste a television-cliffhanger moment on a non-major? Tiger’s return is as calculated as J.R. Ewing’s after he was shot by his mistress/sister-in-law.

The timing of Tiger’s “comeback” is strictly a business maneuver by CBS, Nike and The Masters.

Sunday night, after I examined Duke’s cakewalk to the Final Four, my first thought was the selection committee protected Duke in hopes the Blue Devils can deliver a TV-ratings bump to the NCAA Tournament’s declining ratings.

The NCAA is currently shopping its tournament for another sweetheart TV deal. Propping up Duke for ratings is preferable to expanding the tournament field to 96.

So why not do anything and everything possible to help the other traditional powers advance to Indy? Duke, Kentucky, Kansas and Syracuse have combined to win 14 NCAA titles. Mike Krzyzewski, John Calipari, Bill Self and Jim Boeheim are four of college hoops’ highest-profile coaches.

In your office pool, put all four No. 1 seeds in your Final Four. If you fill out a second bracket, replace Syracuse with Kansas State. It’s more fun filling out a bracket with lots of sexy upsets and an unusual Final Four that would guarantee you victory if it came true.

But winning is most important. Make your bracket boring. Real boring. I’ll tell you the winner at the end of this column.

9. If you insist on a sleeper, take Notre Dame.

I love the way the Irish finished the season, winning six of seven, beating four tournament teams. ND’s only loss in that stretch was a two-point squeaker to West Virginia in the Big East tourney.

Mike Brey’s club has overcome adversity, surviving Luke Harangody’s midseason injury. I like Notre Dame’s draw. The Irish get Old Dominion out the gate and likely will see a Baylor squad that loves to shoot from three in the second round.

CBS would love a Duke-Notre Dame East Region final.

8. Stay away from Wisconsin.

Everybody loves the Badgers and coach Bo Ryan. I’ve heard more than one expert promote Wisconsin as the Kentucky-killer in the South Region. Allegedly the Badgers play just the kind of defense that would give the Wildcats trouble. Please.

I see Temple or Cornell taking out Wisconsin in the second round. Hell, I wouldn’t be surprised if Wofford got the job done.

Look, the Big Ten is awful. Awful. Wisconsin built a nice record sweeping the Big Ten’s non-tournament-qualifiers -- Indiana, Northwestern, Penn State, Iowa and Michigan. Great. The Badgers don’t lose to bad teams.

They’re very capable of losing to a good one. Temple and Cornell fit the description.

7. This isn’t much of a first-round upset, but it’s the only one I like: No. 11 Washington over No. 6 Marquette in the East Region.

Again, I’m staying away from upsets this year. This matchup could be interesting, the worst-BCS conference vs. the best one. I’m not big on the Golden Eagles. They play a lot of close games because their collective basketball IQ is low. They could do just enough dumb stuff to let Washington hang around.

6. I love these coaches who continue to say expanding the NCAA Tournament is about making sure more kids “experience” the tournament because half the Division I football teams get the bowl “experience.”

Just shut up.

Does anyone really believe the Motor City Bowl “experience” in Detroit is equal to the Rose Bowl experience in Pasadena?

We already have the N.I.T. and the College Basketball Invitational and probably a couple of other postseason tournaments I know nothing about. The kids I saw celebrating N.I.T. victories Tuesday night didn’t look like they were deprived of a memorable experience.

The Jacksonville kids sure seemed to enjoy knocking off Arizona State. Coaches want the NCAA Tournament expanded so they can pad their resumes and wallets. Period.

5. Would ESPN please take the chains off Doug Gottlieb? The kid is a superstar and needs a bigger role in the network’s college basketball coverage.

Gottlieb and Jay Bilas are in a class by themselves when it comes to talking college hoops. With the right host, they could be the Charles Barkley and Kenny Smith of amateur basketball. Gottlieb has the personality, passion and knowledge. Bilas has the knowledge and respect for the game.

I don’t have a problem with Digger Phelps and Hubert Davis. They’re fine. It’s just that Gottlieb and Bilas have more upside.

4. Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt should avoid engaging his critics and concentrate totally on justifying his sweetheart contract.

I like Hewitt. A lot. He’s smart and dignified and personable.

He’s also suffering from having way too much job security. He has a contract that annually rolls over to a six-year deal and if Georgia Tech fires him, he’s owed $7.1 million. He signed the deal in 2004 after he took the Yellow Jackets to a runner-up finish in the NCAA Tournament.

At the time, Hewitt looked like Mike Krzyzewski Lite. Six years later, Hewitt hasn’t had one winning season in ACC play and just one additional NCAA Tournament victory. In his 10 seasons as coach, Hewitt’s record within the ACC is 67-93.

Hewitt told reporters on Tuesday that speculation about his contract and job security are the “lowest form of journalism.”

Apparently he missed my Greg Oden column

Again, I like Hewitt. A lot. But he’s lost his mind. He received a bullet-proof contract because Georgia Tech expected him to build on his 2004 season. It hasn’t happened. Criticism goes along with the big paycheck and buyout. Quit whining and start winning.

3. I’m disappointed President Obama caved to political-correctness pressure and filled out a women’s bracket this year.

I’m not anti-women’s basketball. I wish the women would start their season in late December and hold their tournament in April. I would cover the Connecticut Invitational and enjoy it.

Last year USA Today’s Christine Brennan ripped Obama for failing to fill out a women’s bracket after Obama wasted his time filling out a men’s bracket at the behest of ESPN. This year, in typical political, make-everyone-happy cowardice, Obama filled out two brackets for ESPN.

I’d have more respect for him had he just avoided the whole thing. Instead, he went through the charade of pretending he knows something about any women’s team other than Connecticut.

I can’t stand politicians. They have no backbone. None.

2. OK, for those of you headed to Vegas to bet on tournament games, I’ve got your seven-team parlay right here.

* Georgetown minus 13 vs. Ohio: The Mid-American Conference stinks. The Bobcats will melt under Big East pressure.

* Wake Forest plus 5 vs. Texas: I know Wake is bad. But you haven’t seen anyone waste talent as consistently as Rick Barnes.

* Notre Dame minus 2 vs. Old Dominion: This line makes no sense. Go heavy on Dame.

* Kansas State minus 15.5 vs. North Texas: Frank Martin will have the Wildcats ready to go. They’ll win by 25.

* Georgia Tech plus 1.5 vs. Oklahoma State: If Tech’s guards can figure out how to make a post pass, Tech’s size will destroy the Cowboys.

* New Mexico State plus 13.5 vs. Michigan State: The Big Ten stinks. This number is much too large for the Spartans.

* Pittsburgh minus 10 vs. Oakland: I’ll be shocked if Pitt wins by less than 20.

1. Kansas is going to beat Kentucky in the championship game.

Sherron Collins will outplay John Wall, much the same way Collins outplayed Derrick Rose in Kansas’ last national championship game.

E-mail Jason or follow him on Twitter. Media requests for Mr. Whitlock should be directed to Fox Sports PR.

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