Smith on March Madness: Eric’s Elite Eight

Are the Hoosiers and Badgers ready to make some noise in March?

The NCAA tournament is about to tip off and with that in mind, here are Eric’s Elite Eight:

1. How big is this tournament for Kelly Olynyk? Either way, the Canadian big man is getting drafted in the first round but with a solid showing (and there’s no reason to think he and Gonzaga won’t do well) he should easily vault himself into “Top 10” conversations. His stock could only rise higher when the pre-draft workouts begin with teams around the NBA in May and June.

2. A possible showdown between Tom Izzo and Coach K is in the crosshairs in the Midwest Region. If that goes down, call it a tournament. Michigan State against Duke, in the Hoosier State, may as well be the Final.

3. With anywhere from 10-15 teams having a legit shot at winning the whole thing, there’s probably been no better year to invoke the Lisa Simpson game-selection process: Badgers mauling Cardinals and Hurricanes sweeping away Buffaloes and the like.

4. Is this the year — as my Raptors broadcast partner, Paul Jones, says all the time – when the players across the nation finally flip the script on the NCAA and walk out? I doubt it. But it would be great to see one day; kids getting their due after years of the collegiate association — and the schools themselves — making money off the athletes without the players seeing a cent of the profits.

5. Side note: if I could change one rule about the NCAA (aside from those related to the issue I just addressed above) it would be to place bigger restrictions on coaches moving from team to team and school to school. If a player has to redshirt to switch programs, perhaps a coach should have to sit out a year too.

6. The song One Shining Moment has had one too many moments. It’s time to do away with that tune and move in a new direction. Just make sure it’s not One Direction.

7. I wanted to take VCU all the way to the Final Four but, assuming there were no upsets, I just couldn’t see Sherman Hamilton’s alma mater getting through Michigan, Kansas, and Florida to make it that far.

8. If anybody at your office or in your group of friends tries to tell you that they knew how the bracket would unfold — they try to act like a genius when two or three of their Final Four predictions actually come to fruition — feel free to walk away and ignore the idiocy. The human element of sports trumps any and all experts … ESPECIALLY in a one-and-done tournament like March Madness. No margin for error.

And just for good measure, here are eight more quick hits:

1. First No. 1 seed to fall: Gonzaga
2. Biggest upset(s): All three are 11 vs. 6. Belmont over Arizona. Bucknell over Bulter. Minnesota over UCLA.
3. Best conference in the tournament: Big Ten.
4. Toughest region: South.
5. Barack-etology: President Obama has Indiana winning it all.
6. Prime Picks: I haven’t heard who Prime Minister Harper is going with; I think he’s still trying to find the Naismith Cup for future Raptors/Grizzlies battles. So I’ll fill in for the Right Honourable one and go with: Indiana over Wisconsin.
7. The other Canadian: Olynyk may be stealing the headlines but UNLV’s Anthony Bennett is an NBA top-10 pick too.
8. Raptor Rights: Bragging rights in T.O. include: Kyle Lowry (Villanova), Linas Kleiza (Missouri), John Lucas (Oklahoma State), Alan Anderson (Michigan State) and Aaron Gray (Pittsburgh).

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