Before I get to the sledgehammer of a national championship game, a game so big they already have a name for it -- The Game, is what they call it -- let's talk about some subtleties. And really they're not so subtle, but compared to a national title game between Ohio State and Michigan, well ... anything else is subtle.
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And the subtlety is this: Guards and coaches win in the NCAA tournament.
I hear you: Not original. Not all that subtle, either. But that's my overriding theory when it comes to this year's NCAA tournament, given that no other theory makes sense. Not this season. Mainly, there is no dominant team. Not one. Not one Kentucky circa 2012, in other words. Without that one team to make the bracket an exercise in auto-fill, I needed a theory, and this is what I came up with:
When in doubt, pick the better starting point guard or the tougher coach. If one team has both of them in the same game? Then that game is a gimme. And that's how I ended up with four Big Ten teams in the Elite Eight, and three in the Final Four, and two in the national title game. Great point guards. Tough coaches.
And if there were room, I'd have had more Big Ten teams getting to the last eight, then four. Tom Izzo and Bo Ryan won't make the Elite Eight, which hurts me. John Groce won't make the Final Four, which kills me.
But I don't love Bo Ryan's guards, not nearly as much as the backcourt at Ole Miss, which is why I have wacky Marshall Henderson shooting the Rebels past the Badgers in the first round Round of 64. I don't love Tom Izzo's guards, not enough to get past Duke in the Sweet 16. (And honestly I'm not sure I should have picked Michigan State to get past Memphis and Joe Jackson in the second round Round of 32.) And Illinois gets knocked out in the Elite Eight by another Big Ten team, Indiana.
Anyway, enough of the Big Ten fetish.
Well, no. I'm not ready to be done talking up the Big Ten, the best league in the country this season. It's not the best basketball league most years, or even many years. These things go in cycles, and for whatever reason -- great coaches, great guards, a lack of overwhelming talent elsewhere -- the cycle is pointing toward the Big Ten this season.
Best point guard in the country? Depends on what you like in a one. You want a ton of buckets and assists and shooting percentage points? Then go for Michigan's Trey Burke (19.2 ppg, 6.2 apg, 40.1 percent on three-pointers). Prefer a tough defensive genius who can score when he has to, but doesn't have to very often? Then Aaron Craft of Ohio State is your guy.
Those are the best two point guards in the country, and it doesn't hurt that their coaches are nasty in the NCAA tournament format. Who wants to prepare for the symphony of offense that is the John Beilein system, and to do it in 36 hours? Nobody. So if the Wolverines can get some shooting from Nick Nik Stauskas to go along with the mastery of Trey Burke and the genius of John Beilein, the Wolverines are going to get past a brutal, treacherous draw -- South Dakota State, VCU, Kansas, Georgetown and Indiana -- to play for the title.
Ohio State has the toughest coach in the country in Thad Matta. I know, I know. Maybe Izzo deserves that title. Maybe Groce. Bob Huggins? Yeah, maybe him. But only one guy gets the top billing for toughness, and I'm going with Matta. Combine him with Aaron Craft, throw in a scoring savant like Deshaun Thomas, and the Buckeyes aren't losing again until next season
Imagine that. Ohio State vs. Michigan in the national title game. Getting to that game would be such a thrill. Losing it, to that team?
But that's the game that will define this 2013 NCAA tournament, as madness as madness gets. Remember where you heard it first. Unless it doesn't happen, and then forget we ever had this conversation.