During this time of the year, seemingly everyone enters an office pool for the NCAA Tournament. The Sun asked Cornell men’s basketball coach Steve Donahue to fill out his bracket and to give his analysis of this year’s field of 65.
Not surprisingly, Donahue nabbed defending national champion Duke to win this region. However, he picked several first round upsets, including sixth seeded Penn, tenth seeded Kent St., and 14th seeded Central Connecticut St. In fact, Donahue had the Ivy League champion Quakers advancing into the Sweet 16.
“I think that’s a great draw for [Penn]. Cal doesn’t shoot the ball very well, and Penn will be able to use some zone to keep them in the game. I really don’t think [Cal] understands how good Penn really is.”
The biggest shocker of the region was the selection of Central Connecticut St. over third-seed Pitt, which is playing its first round game just 1.88 miles away from its campus.
“I’m going to go with [Central Connecticut St.] thinking that Pitt is looking past them. They’re at home, they’re relaxing, and [Pitt guard] Brandin Knight is not 100 percent.”
Donahue believed that the top seeds in this region would coast relatively unscathed. Once again, he had the top-seed, Cincinnati, advancing to Atlanta. He chose the Hawaii-Xavier game as a candidate for a first round upset.
“I’m not impressed with Xavier at all. I think Hawaii has a lot of weapons, and I don’t think Xavier understands that. They’re coming off feeling good about themselves after a win in a weak A-10,” he said. “I think the Ivy League is better than the A-10 this year.”
Surprisingly, Donahue had sixth-seeded Gonzaga bowing out in the second round to third-seeded Arizona, despite the fact that the Zags have reached the Sweet Sixteen each of the past three seasons.
If Donahue is correct in his assessment of the East, this bracket will be blown apart. The Cornell coach tabbed three major upsets — tenth seeded Michigan St., 11th seeded Southern Illinois, and 13th seeded Valparaiso — with the Spartans advancing all the way to the Elite Eight, and the Salukis’ run stopping in the Sweet Sixteen.
“I think [Texas Tech] is overrated. People wouldn’t even be talking as much about them if it wasn’t for Bobby Knight,” Donahue explained about his pick of Southern Illinois’ upset bid.
In the end, however, Donahue selected his third number-one seed and second ACC powerhouse, Maryland, to emerge from its region.
There was no east-coast bias in this region, as Donahue predicted that the second seeded Oregon Ducks would be victorious in this quarter of the bracket. He chose the regular-season Pac-10 champs in an upset over first-seed Kansas in the Elite Eight.
Donahue predicted two underdog victories in the first round — ninth-seed Western Kentucky over eighth-seed Stanford, and 14th-seed McNeese St. triumphing against third-seed Mississippi St.
“Western Kentucky easily,” Donahue announced. “I think Stanford is overrated. I think if Stanford wasn’t Stanford, they shouldn’t have even been in. They’re just not that good.”
Although Donahue picked many upsets early in the tournament, including wins from two 14th-seeded teams, the coach’s Final four consisted of three number one-seeds — Duke, Maryland, and Cincinnati — and second-seed Oregon.
The Red’s head coach picked the Bearcats to knock off the defending champion Blue Devils, and Maryland to get past the Ducks in the other national semifinal. And if Donahue is correct, the national champion will be another ACC team, the Maryland Terrapins.
“I’ve said from the beginning [Cincinnati] is the best team I saw, they’re physical,” he noted. “I think Maryland gets it though.”
Although he is confident in his picks, Donahue noted that he isn’t exactly an expert on the tournament.
“Friends of mine do a better job than I do,” he added. “I’m just trying to go on things that I know, coaches that I know, or what I saw just last week.”
Archived article by Alex Ip