On the road to the Final Four, everyone needs a little help. Toward that end, we’ve sought the guidance of five learned observers, posing the same four questions to each. Our illustrious panel includes:
Barry Goheen, a Vanderbilt legend for making seven game-tying/winning shots in the late ’80s, including two outrageous treys in seven seconds against favored Pittsburgh in Round 2 of the 1988 NCAA tournament, the clip of which is available on YouTube; now a litigator for King & Spalding and chairman of the Atlanta Tip-Off Club.
Ron Hunter, an NCAA tournament participant with IUPUI in 2003, when his 16th-seeded Jaguars lost 95-64 to Kentucky, the tournament’s top seed; now the coach of Georgia State, which was picked to finish 11th in the Colonial Athletic Association but won 20-plus games for only the fourth time in school history.
Dave Odom, who as coach of Wake Forest and South Carolina took eight teams to the NCAA tournament, reaching the Sweet Sixteen three times and, with Tim Duncan at center, the Elite Eight in 1996, when Wake was beaten by champion-to-be Kentucky; now works as a analyst for Raycom doing ACC and Sun Belt games.
Larry Conley, an All-SEC guard on the Kentucky team known as Rupp’s Runts, who would lose to Texas Western in the famous 1966 NCAA championship game (Conley scored 10 points and took eight rebounds against the Miners); a Dunwoody resident for the past 42 years and a TV analyst for Fox Sports Net.
Dick Vitale, about whom no more needs to be said.
And now to our questions.
Who’s your Final Four?
Goheen: I like Ohio State in the East. Not many people are paying attention to Ohio State. They’ve had a little letdown, but I think they’ll get it going again. If it’s Ohio State-Syracuse, Ohio State can win that game. In the Midwest, I think it’s North Carolina, as long as John Henson is back. Kentucky is certainly the choice in the South, though UConn could be an interesting game. But it would be in Louisville, which is like a home game to Kentucky. And if Kentucky gets to Atlanta, I don’t see anyone beating them there. It’s hard to tell in the West. Missouri is hard to ignore. They have an unusual lineup and not a lot of size, but a lot of quickness. If it comes to Michigan State versus Missouri, I would take Missouri.
Hunter: Kentucky will come out of the South. Ohio State has the size inside, and they’ll win the East. I think Kansas is a little bit better than North Carolina, and [the Midwest final in St. Louis] would be like a home game for them. The West is probably the toughest regional, and I’ll take Michigan State over Missouri.
Odom: It would be hard to go against the favorites. Kentucky’s the most talented team. North Carolina — with John Henson playing, and I think he will — is a team that can play any style. And I think Michigan State might get to the Final Four mostly because the West Regional is not as strong. Louisville and Marquette are really the only teams out there capable of springing an upset. Missouri might be capable, too, but any time they play a big team — like Kansas — they struggle. Michigan State may be the weakest of the four teams, but have the best shot at the Final Four. And I think Syracuse can still get to the Final Four without their center [Fab Melo was suspended Tuesday] because this guy [Jim] Boeheim is a lot better than people say he is. He’ll be bothered less by this than most coaches would be.
Conley: I’ve got Kentucky and Louisville playing in the Final Four. I think Kentucky will make it because [John] Calipari downplaying the SEC tournament might have had an effect on his players. The question is, can you put your foot back down on the pedal? But they’re fortunate to be playing their first games in Louisville. The reason I like Louisville is that they’re healthy for the first time in a while. They had a bunch of guys hurt, and they’re all back and all healthy. I like North Carolina in the Midwest only if Henson is healthy, and I like Ohio State in the East because they’re solid, they’ve got a lot of experience and [Jared] Sullinger is a go-to guy.
Vitale: This is going to be the year of Goliath. Guys like Sullinger and [North Carolina's Harrison] Barnes staying in school has created real separation between the top clubs and everybody else. Kentucky will win the South, although they’ve got a nightmare in front of them in UConn. UConn has two lottery picks [guard Jeremy Lamb and center Andre Drummond], but I think Kentucky survives that. I think Missouri wins the West — they’ve got great guard play. In the East, I’m taking a gamble. Vandy has two tough teams in front of them: Harvard is not going to be easy, but I think Vandy wins that game, and Wisconsin will be tough, too. I think it’s going to be Florida State playing Vandy to go to the Final Four, and I would have Florida State winning that game. And I like North Carolina in the Midwest.
Who’s this year’s VCU/Butler/George Mason?
Goheen: Maybe I should pick Harvard so they won’t beat my Commodores, but my heart tells me the sleeper will be Murray State. It’s my home school [Goheen is from Calvert City, Ky., which is 30 miles from Murray], and my father played for Murray State in the NCAA tournament. [In 1964, Benny Goheen scored seven points for the Racers in a 101-91 loss to Loyola, then the reigning national champ.] I don’t know if a team that’s 30-1 can be a sleeper, but I think most people see Murray that way.
Hunter: I love VCU. They’ve got a tough matchup with Wichita State, but one of those teams is going to get to the Sweet Sixteen. And I can’t pick against VCU or they’ll put that on the bulletin board when we play them next time. And I don’t know if a No. 5 seed can be a sleeper, but I like Vanderbilt. They’ve got so many experienced kids. Their big guy [Festus Ezeli] didn’t play the first 10 games, and they had so much going on [earlier in the season].
Odom: Mainly because I’ve seen them play, I’m going to say Belmont. I saw them against Duke, and they looked the equal of Duke that night. They’ve got Georgetown in the first game, so that’s possible. And if they win, they’d have San Diego State or N.C. State, so they’d match up there.
Conley: Of all the sleepers, the one I really, really like is Creighton. I would be very leery of them. And the best early game will be Wichita State-VCU. Wichita State might be seeded too high, and VCU is too low. But that should be the most entertaining game of the first [full] round.
Vitale: I say UConn. I don’t know if you can call a team with two lottery picks in the lineup a sleeper, and they’ve got three other kids — Alex Oriakhi, Roscoe Smith and Shabazz Napier — who were part of a national championship team. But if I’m Calipari and I see them in the next round, I’m a nervous wreck.
Who’s your national champ?
Goheen: I think it’ll be Kentucky. I think [losing the SEC final] will help Kentucky. It gives Calipari the chance to tell his team, “You can’t just ‘talent’ your way to the national championship.”
Hunter: I would say Kansas will win it all. They’ve got the best player in the nation [Thomas Robinson] outside of the kid from Kentucky [Anthony Davis]. And [Kansas coach] Bill Self and I are on the board of the NABC [National Association of Basketball Coaches] together. Tom Izzo [of Michigan State] is on there, too, and he’ll probably get mad at me, but he voted against me on a piece of legislation. [Here Hunter laughed.]
Odom: [Before Melo's suspension, he'd picked Syracuse.] I’ll go with North Carolina and their experience now.
Conley: I’ve got Kentucky winning it all. I think they’ll play Carolina, and it could be one of the greatest championship games in history. That said, I think Kentucky-Louisville [in the national semifinals] could be just as entertaining.
Vitale: To win it all, I’ve got Kentucky. They get their eighth title, and Calipari gets his first to go along with [former Kentucky coaches] Adolph Rupp, Joe B. Hall, Rick Pitino and Tubby Smith.
Who’s your player of the tournament?
Goheen: I think Harrison Barnes could be the key. It’s going to come down to Davis and Robinson for player of the year, but Barnes has become kind of a sleeper. He has flown under the radar. His team is more balanced, but if Henson isn’t fully healthy Barnes and [Tyler] Zeller will have to carry the load.
Hunter: I’m going to go with a kid nobody knows — Nate Wolters of South Dakota State. The nation’s going to find out how good he is. He had 30 points against Washington this year, and we played against him when I was at IUPUI and he was a sophomore. He lit us up. [Wolters had 45 points in two games against Hunter's Jaguars in 2010-11.]
Odom: Tyler Zeller or Anthony Davis. Pick one — I don’t care. Big guys get you to the tournament, but guards win it. But who’s the Kemba Walker [the tiny guard who lifted UConn to the 2011 NCAA title] of this year’s tournament? Missouri might have a couple of guys like that, but not many teams have one.
Conley: I like the big guy from Baylor — Perry Jones (III). I’ve seen them play two or three times, and he’s big-time.
Vitale: Anthony Davis can win every award. He can go 5-for-5. Are you ready? He can be the [regular-season] player of the year, the defensive player of the year, the freshman of the year, the first player drafted and the MVP of the Final Four. He may not be statistically the most impressive, but he makes it so you have to make 3-pointers to beat them. You’re not going to get anything inside.
OK, folks. Our tutorial has ended. To enter Bradley’s Bracket Fiasco, click here. To see my picks, click here. And to watch the video chat conducted by esteemed colleague Michael Carvell and yours truly, click here.
By Mark Bradley