Thursday, March 19, 2009

Happy Hour Game

No. 4 University of Washington Huskies (25-8, Pac-10)
No. 13 Mississippi State Bulldogs (23-13, SEC)
Portland, Oregon
5:00 P.M. EST

Logic says that Washington will enjoy a meaningful home court advantage in this game. The Huskies only have to travel 144 miles from campus. The Bulldogs? Mississippi is way farther away. On the other hand, maybe familiarity will breed contempt at the Rose Garden. It's possible that local neutrals will go against their Pac-10 rival and get behind the hot Bulldogs, who just played their way into the Dance by running the table in the SEC tournament.

After eschewing the 5/12 upset pick earlier, I could see myself tapping Mississippi State here. Mostly because I'd like to see Jarvis Varnado play through the weekend. Partially because his last name sounds like a weather phenomenon. And partly because he is the leading shot blocker in the country, with 4.7 rejections per contest, and stands just 6-9. It's hard to overlook Washington's resume, though. They've beaten UCLA, USC, Oklahoma State and Arizona State. Those are nice wins. But, this club finished last year 16-17. And, I'm having a hard time trusting them.

As the day progresses, I've been able to unburden myself of some long-standing prejudices. It's been cathartic. Another is that I can never trust a non-elite team from the Pac-10. Just like in football, I think this conference is top-heavier than Barb Wire-era Pam Anderson. I'll almost always pick against the mid-seed dance entrants from out West while tending to overvalue the top-seeded UCLA and Arizona clubs.

For me, this game is all about Mississippi State. Are they too tired from the travel? Are they happy just to be here? If the answers to these questions are "No." Then I think they take this. I think that Varnado is unlike any other player in the game and that the Bulldogs defeat a Pac-10 foe in the first round of the NCAA tournament just like they did last year (when they vanquished Oregon).

There figures to be a few upsets in Day 1 and I think that Mississippi State is hot enough (coming off SEC tourney wins over LSU and Tenn) to get one of them. Oh, and 4/13 is the new 5/12. Tell your friends.

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