As far back as I can remember, it was always “You bring your guys and I’ll bring my guys, and Let’s Have At It. This year’s Sweet 16 reminds me very much of that old axiom.
As close friends and family can attest, I have always been considered a basketball savant — from a very early age as they would say Bobby is of those coaches who can beat you with his guys, then turn around and beat you with your guys.
Now, after 18 consecutive years as a Division 1 college coach, these last few years not having my own team has been both rewarding and enlightening, but this is the time of the year you start to miss it — the preparation of getting your team ready for a big-game, 40-minute single-game elimination with the utmost pressure — something most people will never understand or get to experience.
For me, there was no greater experience.
As the late Rick Majerus once said of single elimination games: “There is just something very finite about keeping score, and the absolute competition of you’re either going to win or lose it.
It was always during those games when I found peace and clarity, which I’m sure doesn’t make a lot of sense. I guess that’s why I have coaching in my blood.
Anyway, here’s my attempt as a modern-day basketball whisperer to give my picks and feelings on the final games of this year’s tourney.
Might be worth mentioning that I had almost every upset in the first few rounds, including predicting on ESPN radio a week ago on the Dave Rothenberg show that Mercer would beat Duke. On this site, I touted Harvard, Mercer and Dayton (you can see for yourself in the final paragraph of my Cinderella column.)
Maybe next year I might just have to jump in on the Warren Buffett offer.
Also, for whatever it’s worth, every time I ever ran into the NY wise guys in some fancy Italian restaurant in Manhattan, they would always come over and tell me the gamblers loved me as a coach because my teams always covered. I wasn’t sure if that was a compliment or not, but I have heard many times that the big boys in Vegas know as much about what to do at the end of a close game than coaches — so before you take my word on these selections you might want to check Vegas.
Here it goes.
Louisville vs. Kentucky
Easily the most anticipated made-for-TV matchup, they are the last two national champs, and it’s Rick Pitino vs John Calipari– both guys I came up under at the famed Five-Star camp.
These guys will not be exchanging Christmas cards, as you have one of college ball’s best rivalries.
I’m in the minority here, but I’m picking the Wildcats to take down the Cardinals for the 2nd time this year behind the inside play of Julius the beast Randle and the improved play of the Harrison twins.
Virginia vs. Michigan State
Next we have Virginia Cavaliers, where I once coached, vs. the Tom Izzo-led Michigan State Spartans.
This game could easily have been a Final Four game, or even for all the marbles. Two great teams.
I’m going with Mr. March, Coach Izzo, to advance behind the frontcourt of Brandon Dawson and Adrien Payne.
Wisconsin vs. Baylor
A very tough matchup, but the discipline and shooting of the Badgers will prevail.
Florida vs. UCLA
This is a battle of two Power Programs, and I have the Gators’ great team defense winning over the great offense of the Bruins.
Iowa State vs. Connecticut
This features a great individual guard matchup, with Deandre Kane — who committed to me as the coach of Seton Hall, so I am very familiar with his game — vs. Shabazz “This year’s Kemba Walker” Napier of UConn.
My heart says UConn in the Garden will win. Sorry, Deandre.
Michigan vs. Tennessee
Next we have one of the most underrated coaches in all the land, with John Beline’s Wolverines and their high octane offense being my pick over the Tennessee Vols’ inside game.
Nick Stauskas will be the difference for Michigan.
Arizona vs. San Diego State
I like Sean Miller’s Wildcats over San Diego State even though I love the Aztecs’ Xavier Thames. Nick Johnson and Co. will move on.
Stanford vs. Dayton
Lastly, in the double-digit seed matchup of No. 10 Stanford vs No. 11 Dayton, I just feel that the toughness of the Flyers — having already taken down epic teams and programs like Ohio State and Syracuse — have that destiny swagger about them.
My Final Four Picks are Michigan State, Florida, Arizona and Kentucky.
At the end of the day, just like the house always winning in Vegas, the chalk will ultimately rule the day.
Lastly for the GMs and scouts out there for the NBA, if you want a former college coach’s opinion on three guys I loved in this tourney and are not necessarily under the radar, look no further that Cleanthony Early of Wichita State, who I think is a matchup nightmare and big time 3 man at the next level, my former recruit Deandre Kane, who is a power forward in a guard’s body, and lastly Mr. Versatility — UCLAs Kyle Anderson, who is a point guard in a power forward’s body.
These 3 guys will go on to have very productive careers at the next level.
Count on it.
Bobby Gonzalez is a former Division I coach at Manhattan and Seton Hall now writing March Madness columns for SheridanHoops.com. You can reach him via e-mail.