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Welcoming the Madness ... (and picking Miami)

March 21, 2013 - Neil Rudel
The beginning of the NCAA Tournament brings two of the most fun days in sports -- especially for a weekday.

Flip it on at 12:30 and it won't be long until some No. 14 will have a No. 3 on the ropes. Hopefully you have access to a TV in your office and let's cut right to the chase.

I'm picking Miami to win it all.

I've never liked to pick the chalk because most everyone else does and part of the lure of this event is the underdog. (Cue Beano Cook soundbite).

My Final Four includes three No. 2 seeds (Miami in the East, Georgetown in the South, Duke in the Midwest) and a No. 5 (Wisconsin out West). In the Elite Eight, I've got Miami over Indiana, the Hoyas over Kansas, Duke over St. Louis and the Badgers over Notre Dame.

The emergence of the Hurricane program has been one of the biggest stories of the college season. They have a super guard in Shane Larkin, son of the former Cincy Reds' shortstop Barry Larkin, and a great coach in Jim Larranaga, whose resume includes a Final Four trip with George Mason in 2006.

The Canes have impressive athleticism and are building a force in South Beach. Interestingly, many of their players were recruited by former PSU assistant Frank Haith, who split with Jerry Dunn after one year and has become one of the nation's better coaches/recruiters. Haith is currently at the helm of Missouri.

Plus once Miami gets to the Elite Eight, they'll get some extra energy and motivation when LeBron and Dwayne Wade catch up with them.

Other tourney tidbits ...

*Hoping Pitt makes a stronger showing than usual. Jamie Dixon has not duplicated his outstanding regular-season success in the tournament -- in fact, under him, Pitt has never beaten a higher seed -- so with expectations lower as a No. 8 this year, opening this afternoon vs. Wichita State, maybe the Panthers will change their karma if they get a shot at top-seeded Gonzaga.

*I have two 5-12 upsets: Oregon over Oke State and Cal (ifornia, not Bragonier) over UNLV.

*Many have Louisville winning it all, and obviously you can make that case. I have trouble rooting for Rick Pitino after his escapades in that Louisville restaurant/after-hours club a few years ago.

*Seems Syracuse usually has some sort of NCAA issue hanging over its head at this time of the year and I'm wondering if Jim Boeheim, an originaly Big Easter, will surrender after this year, rather than go into the ACC. Has there ever been a more accomplished coach whose ability to recruit so outweighed his ability to scheme? Love the terminal grimace, though.

*Another PSU connection: Shooter Chris Babb, who transferred a couple of years ago, starts at Iowa State, which plays Notre Dame.

*Two of the most underrated coaches in the field: Bo Ryan (Wisconsin) and Buzz Williams (Marquette). You can't call Tom Izzo underrated; in fact, with six Final Fours, he's the best coach/leader in the field not named Coach K.

*Would be cool if fourth-seeded St. Louis, in memory of Rick Majerus, makes a deep run. Former Bob Knight discipline Jim Crews is a good story himself, having served many years of coaching at Army.

*Enjoy the Madness.

I am looking for: