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MORRISSEY: Indiana my early pick, but uncertainty makes NCAA Tournament great

Indianv Michigan

Indiana v Michigan

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In the opening rounds, I have Derrick Rose beating media overkill and personal doubts about his surgically repaired knee but losing in a Sweet 16 matchup to brother Reggie’s iron fist. Oh, wait, wrong story.

I have Indiana winning the NCAA Tournament. There. Much better.

Nothing against Rose and the saga that threatens to never end, but it’s nice to be talking about something you can hold firmly in your hand. The Heat’s streak notwithstanding, mid-March in the NBA is about as interesting as floor varnish. It’s nice to be talking about games that matter. It’s nice not to be talking about Kobe Bryant and the most-hyped barely .500 team in the history of organized sports.

The college game is weak and getting weaker. I know this. I’ve been told it until my ears bleed. I don’t care.

I have before me the brackets for the NCAA tournament. I’ve always loved the symmetry of them. So neat and ordered — everything the tournament isn’t. The Big Dance is messy, and that’s how we like it, even though it drives us crazy after we’ve put ink to paper.

Thursday and Friday of the first week of the tournament often are as good as it gets. Teams you have never heard of beat teams you first heard about in the womb. When Northern Iowa stunned No. 1
seed Kansas in 2010, it was David kicking Goliath in the groin. Remember guard Ali Farokhmanesh hitting that what’s-he-thinking three-pointer to knock out the Jayhawks? The Jayhawks who had Cole Aldrich, Sherron Collins, Marcus Morris, Markieff Morris and Xavier Henry?

That’s what I’m talking about.

As I’ve said, I have Indiana winning the national title, and the beautiful thing about it is that I have absolutely no idea whether I’ll be right. I can tell you that the Heat is going to win the NBA title and feel comfortable I’ll be correct. If not the Heat, then the Thunder or the Spurs. In a seven-game series, the best teams almost always win in the NBA.

When it comes to the NCAA Tournament, too many people confuse talent level with watchability. We tournament lovers understand that the NBA has sucked the college game dry of the best players, as it should. If kids are good enough to be paid for playing hoops, they should go pro. But suspense is suspense, which is why high school gyms are packed in March all over the country. If you go by pro fans’ thinking, no one should go to those games because it’s an inferior product.

I’ll be nice to my NBA-phile friends: Watching the NBA Finals is like watching an Oscar-worthy performance. Watching the NCAA Tournament is like watching the “Bourne’’ trilogy. Matt Damon is not Daniel Day-Lewis in “There Will Be Blood’’ or “Lincoln.’’ But he sure has a bunch of cool ways to kill his pursuers!

If emails were faces, some I received Monday would have had raised eyebrows, thanks to my contention that five Big Ten teams have a chance to win the national title. Those teams are Indiana, Ohio State, Michigan State, Michigan and Wisconsin. Crazy talk, I’m told. But if we agree that it’s a wide-open field and that the conference is the best in the country this season, it’s not crazy. It’s rational.

Then again, rationality is the enemy in filling out brackets.

By choosing Indiana to win it all, I know I’m going against what I’ve said I like about the tournament. But choosing winners is as much about feel as it is about scientific method, no matter what Nate Silver and his magnifying glass say. The Hoosiers have Victor Oladipo and Cody Zeller, two of the best players in college basketball. Both will be first-round NBA picks. I feel just as good about the players around them.

The number of dominant teams in the tournament is a round one, zero being the roundest number there is. Even with a 31-2 record, Gonzaga feels like an unknown commodity, thanks to conference (West Coast) and geography (somewhere out there). Duke is talented but soft, as usual. Kansas? The Jayhawks could get ninth-seeded Villanova in the second round. Northern Iowa was a No. 9 seed when it upset Kansas three years ago.

Louisville? Miami? Georgetown? All nice teams. Nothing great about them except the potential for great drama. For many of us, that’s enough.

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