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The LegendsCorner welcomes guest March Madness blogger, Arnie D. Fielkow, President & CEO of the National Basketball Retired Players Association (NBRPA):
Heck, since many of the NBRPA members are writing blogs regarding the NCAA Tournament on the NBRPA's new partner site, Sportsblog.com, I figured why not take a crack as well. While I certainly don't possess the basketball pedigree of my more famous NBRPA Members (now numbering more than 650!), I love college basketball and nothing is better than the 3 weekends which tip off at 11:00am CST tomorrow. I will proudly be wearing Cardinal and White as my Wisconsin Badgers begin what I hope will be a championship run in Milwaukee, just down the road from their campus (some day I will also be rooting on my beloved Northwestern Wildcats – the only major Division I team never to make the NCAA Tournament. It is coming under new coach Chris Collins!)
So, after much deep analysis, I am boldly predicting that the nets in Dallas will be cut down April 7 by the West Region winner: hopefully my UW Badgers or, if not, the powerful Wildcats from the University of Arizona. An Elite 8 match-up of my picks is very possible and, if it occurs, will be a beauty of a game with two great coaches (and assistants as U of A's lead assistant, Joe Pasternack, is a close friend and soon to be a hot commodity for future D-I head coaching vacancies).
There are some great teams in the field of 64, but I believe both Wisconsin and Arizona have that special "it" factor. Arizona is a hugely talented squad, which plays outstanding defense and which can play effectively either fast or within a half-court system. The Cats feature future NBA lottery pick forward Aaron Gordon, and have two seasoned guards, Nick Johnson and T.J. McConnell. McConnell, a Duquesne transfer, has brought the Wildcats an unselfish point guard who has been a great contributor this season. While the Wildcats may be a bit thin in the front court, 7 footer Kaleb Tarczewski and athletic freshman forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson provide Arizona with toughness inside. Arizona played a very competitive non-conference schedule and their loss in the PAC-12 Tournament Finals to UCLA will make them even hungrier to reach Dallas.
And for my Wisconsin Badgers – a team I have followed since my youth as a native of the Badger state – the 2014 Tournament may present its best opportunity for Coach Bo Ryan and the "Grateful Red" fan base to celebrate with a national title. The Badgers cannot match the athleticism of Arizona or several others in the NCAA field, but they sure know how to play the game of team basketball and simply do not turn the ball over. The 2013-14 Badgers are the best offensive team Coach Bo has sported and have the ability to beat you with a final score either in the 50's or the 80's. With a 3-guard system who can all hit 3's, an agile 7 foot center, and a 6th man freshman forward/center who has a 1st step which is nearly unguardable, the Badgers are tough to defend. Badger fans will watch 3 things closely: are they hitting their 3's (when they have lost they have gone into too many 5 minute droughts), is their man-man defense able to stop the "in the paint" short jumpers, and is All-Big 10 1st team center Frank Kaminsky able to provide the Badgers with some easy points down low.
I have been greatly impressed with Virginia (you gotta love coach Tony Bennett), Michigan State and Florida – all teams the Badgers have defeated this year – but in the end I believe the West Region Champion will be celebrating with "One Shining Moment." Let's get ready for the best time of the year and here's hoping NBRPA Members – and Wisconsin greats – Cory Blackwell and Wes Matthews and are celebrating with me in April!