Breaking down the Bracket

WRITTEN BY: RODNEY SCEARCE

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I’ve taken my time, I’ve analyzed my picks, and I’d like to assure you that I’m confident with my selections.

But, I’m not.

This is by far one of the toughest brackets I’ve ever had to deal with.  There are so many wild cards in play this tournament season.  Here’s a few to keep in mind:

1.)    More mid-majors (and dangerous ones, too) – I’m counting eight (nine, if you want to include the Bonnies) that are all easily capable of winning one game.  A couple of them will surely make the Sweet 16.  Unfortunately, there are so many this year that we see last year’s Cinderella (VCU) set to take on one of the mid-majors most likely to make some noise, Wichita St.  That’s disappointing because both of them could have made a run.  The other six to be careful of when filling out your bracket: St. Louis, Long Beach State, Murray State, Creighton, Ohio, and Belmont.

2.)    UCONN – Which team are we going to see out there?  They’re extremely talented.  The have all the athleticism and size to take on anyone, but they so often this year have played like goofs and made their team look like a joke.  Calhoun is back and they seem to have a chip on their shoulder.  Watch out for them in the second round against Kentucky, they may just break everyone’s bracket.

3.)    Henson’s wrist – I’m a Tar Heel fan and I’d like to say they are going all the way, but if Henson’s wrist limits him, my guys won’t make it out of the Sweet 16.  If something amazing happens and they do, Kansas will destroy them in the Elite 8.  Yes, Henson’s wrist on his non-shooting hand is that big of a deal.

4.)    Fab Melo – This guy just doesn’t get it.  He can’t keep his grades up (“up” is a deceiving word here) and has now effectively ruined his team’s chances of a run.  With Melo now ineligible, when does Syracuse lose?  I think they still cruise in to the Sweet 16, but Vandy takes them easily.  The first team with an effective inside game will beat them.  Hell, we may even have our first 16-seed take down a #1.  I highly doubt it, but I’ve seen Asheville play and they are no joke.  Still, at the same time, I feel bad for Melo.  Syracuse is a really good school and it’s probably much more difficult for him to keep up his grades there than it would be at most other schools.  I bet he now wishes he had taken that signing bonus at Kentucky.  If Calipari can get DeMarcus Cousins through eligibility, he can do it for anyone.

I’ll run through each of my brackets.  With the wild cards in-play and all of the uncertainty, I folded and went with my gut opinions.

South

As much as I’d love to write down UCONN for my Sweet 16, I can’t convince myself to gamble against Kentucky so early.  Unfortunately for Indiana, they aren’t playing in the state of Indiana and quite frankly, they stink anywhere else – I’ve got Wichita State matching up against UK in the Sweet 16.  This one is no problem for Kentucky and they cruise to the Elite Eight.  The bottom half of the bracket is much less competitive.  Baylor and Duke, no doubt about it.  I’ve got Baylor taking Duke because no one on Duke will be able to defend Perry Jones III.  Unfortunately for Baylor, Kentucky can defend Jones and Kentucky will subsequently represent the South in New Orleans.

West

I don’t care who wins between Memphis and St. Louis because at the end of the day, neither beat Sparty.  I keep hearing about New Mexico making a run.  I just can’t convince myself that they will beat both Long Beach and Louisville.  I’ve got Louisville making the Sweet 16.  Murray State is good, but one win against St. Mary’s didn’t do it for me – Marquette tramples them.  Florida wants to welcome Missouri in to the SEC in a potential Round of 32 matchup.  Not happening – Missouri works them and Bradley Beal chucks up the deuces to Gainesville because he’s headed to the NBA.  Missouri over Marquette and Michigan State easily beats Louisville.  The Missouri and Michigan State matchup will be a tough one to call.  In one bracket I’ve got Missouri and another I’ve got Michigan State.  If I had to bet, I’d go with Draymond Green and Coach Izzo.

East

Syracuse makes it to the Sweet 16 because Kansas State isn’t big enough to take advantage of no Fab Melo.  Wisconsin will try to slow down Vandy and turn it in to another drawn-out boring game, but it won’t happen.  Vandy wins this one, no problem.  Unfortunately for Florida State, they don’t get to play UNC and Duke each game so even if you have them making it to the Sweet 16, they won’t beat Ohio State.  Ohio State will take on Vandy in the Elite Eight because a Melo-less Syracuse can’t compete with them.  Ohio State wins this game.  It’ll be tough, and Vanderbilt could pull it out, but I still like the Buckeyes.

Midwest

I like UNC to beat Creighton and take on the Wolverines in the Sweet 16.  NC State will roll over the Aztecs, but hit a wall against the Hoyas as Georgetown moves on.  Kansas will not have a problem against St. Mary’s or Purdue and I’ll still take the Jayhawks over the Hoyas as they move on to the Elite Eight.  UNC will beat Michigan because Michigan can’t run with them, end of story.  The UNC/Kansas winner will rest solely on Henson’s wrist.  If he’s healthy, the Heels will match up just fine against the Jayhawks in this rematch from the Final Four in 2008.  Roy Williams will get his vengeance and the Heels will march on down to New Orleans.

My predictions for the Sweet 16, Elite 8, Final 4, & National Championship

Final Four

Kentucky, Michigan State, Ohio State, and North Carolina will make up my Final Four.  From these 4, I believe we’ll see a rematch from the December 3rd game in Lexington – the Kentucky Wildcats vs. the North Carolina Tar Heels.  Kentucky is more talented and by all accounts, they should win.  However, I will NEVER pick Kentucky over the Tar Heels.  EVER.  I say the Heels get their revenge from the one-point loss at Rupp and cut down the nets for their 3rd time in 8 seasons.  You can discount this as me being a homer, but let’s be honest, the Heels have a real shot and I’m not making any drastic predictions.  However, I’ll go back to my wild cards – if Henson’s wrist is not 100%, UNC will be lucky to even make the Final Four and you may see the Wildcats get Calipari his first championship (only to be taken away a few years later following another NCAA investigation).  – Sorry, had to say it.

Enjoy the tournament.

Comment below with your Final 4 picks and remember to click here and  join Can of Corn’s FREE NCAA Bracket Challenge There will be a prize for the winner!

Rodney Scearce is the Public Relations Coordinator for a major professional sports team.  He earned his bachelor’s from the University of North Carolina and received a Master’s in Business Administration and Master’s in Sport Business Management from the DeVos Sport Business Management Program at the University of Central Florida.  Having grown up in the Research Triangle, Rodney was born into a basketball culture.  He grew up a fan of the Charlotte Hornets but his passion is college basketball.  He was in the heart of North Carolina for the golden years of Dean Smith and Coach K.  He understands the Tobacco Road rivalry and considers his own involvement a badge of honor.  Though he strongly dislikes Duke, his respect for the program and the rivalry is second to none.  Rodney is a diehard fan of the Chicago Cubs and the Carolina Panthers, but will tell you that his expertise lie within college basketball and everything involved with it.   You can follow Rodney on Twitter @rscearce.

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Rock Chalk or M-I-Z?!?

Please feel free to comment below or tweet us @can_of_corn!

KU/Mizzou Trash Talk is highly encouraged.

The Baylor Dilemna

 

Submitted by: Nick Freeman

For weeks now, all of college football has been talking about expansion. Most of the expansion talk has revolved around Texas A&M and their determination to join the SEC. A few days ago, the SEC voted to let Texas A&M join their conference but, only if there is threat for legal action. The problem is many of the teams in the Big 12 are considering legal action, with Baylor leading the charge. The question is, why does Baylor care if Texas A&M joins the SEC when they didn’t say a word when Nebraska went to the Big 10 and Colorado went to the PAC 10, which is now the PAC 12.

I believe Baylor is worried about the conference breaking up, if it does break up, they know the chances aren’t good that they would get invited to a major conference. Of the 10 teams currently in the Big 12, Texas A&M is trying to go to the SEC. Oklahoma, Texas, Oklahoma State, and Texas tech are all being mentioned as candidates to join the PAC 12.  Mizzou, Kansas, and K-State are rumored to be candidates to join the Big East. That leaves Baylor and Iowa State with nowhere to go. Baylor has a student body of roughly 12,000 students. For a comparison Alabama has a little over 27,000 students. Baylor just doesn’t have the size or the money a big conference would be looking for, so who can blame them for trying to stop Texas A&M from leaving?

If all of the conference expansion actually occurs, it will change college football as we know it. Rivalries that we have followed for years will cease to exist. They will be replaced with rivalries we have to fly halfway across the state to see. Suppose Texas goes to the PAC 12 and Texas A&M goes to the SEC to watch Texas play USC you have to go clear to California if you’re a Texas fan and to Texas if you’re a USC fan. You can’t just drive an hour and a half and go to College Station from Austin. Aside from that, if the Big 12 breaks up, the bowl system will have to be completely reconfigured. In a few weeks, Oklahoma will decide whether they are going to the PAC 12 or not and we will know the future of the Big 12. Hopefully, Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe can come out of his cave perform a miracle and keep conference armageddon from happening.

 

Every Lockout Has A Silver Lining

I would personally like to thank Carolina Panthers’ wide receiver Jamorris Warren for giving me the opportunity to interview him.

On March 11th of this year, there was a collective groan across sports nation as the NFL owners confirmed our worst fear – there was going to be an NFL Lockout.  The idea that there might not be a professional football season to look forward to in 2011 was now a possibility.  For many players it meant having to organize work outs, and for those whose names aren’t as familiar to us – it meant having to find a second job.   For some players it was an opportunity to pursue other sporting interests such as boxing, the MLS, track, and professional bull riding.  The players held their breath uncertain of what may happen next.  The sports media grew worried and were anxious to generate football-related news.  The sector of the American public who find sanctuary on their couches every Sunday afternoon and Monday night for 17 weeks a year felt as if they too had been locked out and were being deprived.   The NFL had bolted it’s doors and in that moment, a window in the small town of Warrensburg, Missouri was opened.

Six days after the lockout was announced, Jamorris Warren stepped inside the Devine Indoor Pavillion on the campus of the University of Missouri. Warren was coming off of a spectacular season for the Division II Central Missouri Mules.  In his senior year he had set school records for receiving with 109 receptions for 1,458 yards and 20 touchdowns.   This 6′ 195 pound receiver who ran a sub 4.5 40 yard dash was the favorite target of Harlon Hill winner Eric Czerniewski as Warren helped lead the Mules to their first playoff win in school history.

On this particular day, more than 125 NFL talent evaluators, scouts, coaches, and executives representing all 32 teams had descended upon Columbia, Missouri but none of them were there for the wide receiver in a red Mules football shirt standing on the edge of the field.

Some were there to see the coveted defensive end Aldon Smith and others were there for the highly touted quarterback Blaine Gabbert.   Even a quarterback prospect with as much draft stock as Gabbert had, is useless without somebody to throw the ball to.  That’s where Warren came in.

Due to restrictions imposed by the NFL Lockout, Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert (above) was forced to do his workout with Division II receivers as opposed to NFL players.

Due to the NFL lockout, Gabbert would not be able to do his Pro Day workout with current NFL Players (such as Eagles wide receiver Jeremy Maclin or Rams wideout Danario Alexander, both Mizzou alumni) as is traditional.  Since Missouri had no draft eligible receivers, that option was not available to him either.  Gabbert’s camp was charged with finding wide receivers he could work with.  The result was a Division II all-star receiving corps from colleges around the state that included, among others, Jamorris Warren and his teammate, running back Anthony Stewart.

As a senior Warren set UCM records with nearly 1,500 yards receiving, 109 receptions, and 20 touchdowns.

Everyone may have been there to watch Gabbert throw but Warren knew that the NFL lockout had given him the chance to show the NFL how well he could catch.  ” [Blaine Gabbert’s Pro Day] … was a great opportunity for me to showcase my abilities in front of all 32 teams and several GM’s.”  Jamorris took full advantage of that opportunity. Gabbert had an impressive workout for the scouts but some overthrown passes that Warren was able to reel in caught the attention of the scouts on hand.  He snagged up every pass thrown his way.  A series of acrobatic grabs turned the heads of those in attendance.  One particular catch, a one handed grab near the sideline, even garnered some applause from those at the Pavillion.

Afterwards many scouts who had, most likely, never heard the name Jamorris Warren or of the University of Central Missouri, now had this small school receiver on their radar.  The NFL Lockout had presented Warren the chance to work out with a potential number 1 draft pick and he had shown 32 teams that he was a big time talent. Coaches and GMs pulled him to the side after the display and only confirmed something that Warren had long known, “they told me that there was a place for me in this league.”

Warren's ability to catch the ball turned the heads of many NFL scouts at Missouri's Pro Day

Warren’s coach at UCM, Jim Svoboda, had previously served as the offensive coordinator for two National Championship teams at Northwest Missouri State and the quarterbacks coach at UCLA before coming to Central Missouri.  He once said of Warren’s ability to catch the ball that he had, “fabulous hands.”  “I’ve been around some kids with great hands,” Svoboda said “but he may have the best hands I’ve seen.”

While the media talked about Gabbert and Smith and speculated about where they may land in the draft, Warren took his newly found draft stock and got to work feeling like he was one step closer to his dream of playing in the NFL.

When the NFL draft rolled around in late April, Warren took it as an opportunity to spend some time with loved ones.  He watched the first night and saw Aldon Smith go 6th overall to the 49ers and his friend Blaine go 10th overall to Jacksonville.   He watched the second and third day with his family that weekend.

Warren was excited as the third day of the draft came believing that he could go in the 6th or 7th round. He saw Abilene Christian’s wide receiver Edmund Gates, who his Mules had beat in the second round of the playoffs, go in the 4th round to Miami.  And then in the 7th round, the Vikings selected wide receiver Stephen Burton from West Texas A&M (who had lost to UCM in the first round of the NCAA-II playoffs) and Warren was still on the board.

The Houston Texans announced the final pick of the NFL Draft and Warren was still without a team.  “Not getting drafted didn’t bother me,” Warren said, “because that’s been the story of my life – proving everybody wrong.”  When asked if he felt that being from a Division II school had put him at a disadvantage Warren replied, “Teams will find you no matter the level of play.  I can say it [coming from a small school] made me hungrier and more determined to be successful.”  He was complimentary of the experience he had at Central Missouri and mentioned that the coaching staff there had played a large role in his success.

Traditionally, NFL teams would have reached out to players like Warren who went undrafted to offer them rookie free agent contracts after the draft had concluded. Unfortunately, the same lockout that had created the chance for Warren to get noticed had now created uncertainty for him as to whether or not he would find a team.

After finishing his senior year at UCM, Warren returned to his hometown of Belle Glade, FL and spent the summer working out at Glade Central High School, which he had once attended, and the Test Football Academy in Boca Raton.  He knew that the lockout had to end and when the call came he wanted to be ready for play in a faster game.  He worked hard all summer with the confidence that when play resumed, some team would give him the chance to make every other team regret ever passing on him.

On July 21, the NFL officially lifted the lockout and returned to work as usual.  Shortly thereafter, teams started calling Warren and less than a week after, he signed on with the Carolina Panthers.

There are still many questions as to whether or not Warren can make it in the NFL but he has already drawn comparisons to another MIAA conference wide receiver who went undrafted – Missouri Southern’s Rod Smith who went on to become an integral part of a Denver Broncos team that won two Super Bowls.  For now, the long wait to find an NFL team is over for Warren.

Warren knows, however, that the journey that started with a rare NFL lockout opportunity is far from over. He is fully aware of how much harder he will have to work as he adjusts to the speed of the game and perfects his skill sets so that he can compete at the pro level.  He has enjoyed the opportunity to learn from established receivers like Steve Smith and Ricky Proehl in camp and he often takes advantage of the chance he has to learn as much as possible from them.  “The great thing about having guys like … [Proehl and Smith] here is that I can pick their brains.  I really utilize that.”

Many are going to talk about the disadvantages of the NFL Lockout and how the rookie class was affected by the shortened offseason training activities (OTAs).  For Warren though, the NFL lockout created a unique opportunity for him to showcase his talents before the entire NFL.  If not for the labor dispute, he may not be fighting for an NFL roster spot in Spartanburg, South Carolina this week so for him shortened OTAs are better than none at all.

While Warren  received calls from the world champion Green Bay Packers and the St. Louis Rams, he is excited to be apart of a Carolina team that some believe, after a strong draft class and re-signing all of their major free agents, could come out and surprise people this year.

And maybe that’s why the Panthers make sense for Jamorris Warren – he has been surprising people his entire life.

Questions? Comments? Snide Remarks? Let me hear ’em!