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This Year’s Final Four Will Be…

It’s always difficult to predict the four teams out of 68 capable of making it deep in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament we refer to as March Madness. There’s always a bracket busting team that takes out a top competitor or even a Cinderella story making it to the Sweet 16 or even further. However, this year may be a little different and actually attending the games might just provide serious excitement for any fan. Here’s how this non-expert believes it could play out.

Small Schools Getting In

Akron and Bucknell are the most dangerous smaller schools with the ability to make it into the tournament. The reason these two top the list is due to the size advantage they bring to the game. Akron features Zeke Marshall at seven feet tall and Bucknell brings Mike Muscala standing 6’11″ tall. This will help even the playing field with any of the larger schools bringing a significant size advantage.

Other small schools with a great chance of making into the tournament include Middle Tennessee State, Belmont, Boise State, Davidson, Valparaiso, Weber State and Louisiana Tech. Although it is unlikely that all these schools will make the dance you always have to be aware of the ones that do sneak into the dance. A small school with momentum would be like the Kia Sorento winning the car March Madness Contest, unlikely but you never know! Make sure you pay attention to all the little guys before filling out your bracket.

Top Teams Most Likely for an Early Departure

1. Kansas

The Jayhawks might take a top seed in the tournament, but they’re not as good as their record shows. They lost to a team with an RPI of 229 and nearly lost to another team they should’ve beaten easily. If they draw a team they don’t match up well against, Kansas could make an early exit.

2. Ohio State

Not considered a top five team, but in the top 20, the Buckeyes struggled in February. If this was any indication about how good they really are, this is another team potentially leaving the tournament early.

3. Florida

Showing their struggles on the road makes it hard to believe the Gators can go anywhere in the tournament. They’re tough to beat at home, but they won’t get a single game on their home court during the tournament. Look for Florida to fall victim to an upset early.

Final Four Predicted

Looking at all the top teams, potential Cinderella stories and those middle seeds with the ability to go deep, picking the Final Four is still difficult. However, an easy pick for one of the final four spots is the Indiana Hoosiers. This team is tough and has been ranked at the top most of the year. Another pick for the Final Four is Michigan. They’re ready to make a run and it seems they’ve already cleared their system of some of the losses.

The other two spots in the Final Four are a bit more difficult to predict. There will certainly be a middle seed, maybe a #5 or #6 involved. The team basketball of Notre Dame could support a deep tournament run, but they won’t be there in the Final Four. However, another Big East team will be out of a two or three seed in Georgetown. That only leaves one spot left and it goes to Saint Louis University.

Follow the Scores Report editors on Twitter @TheScoresReport. You can also follow TSR editor Gerardo Orlando @clevelandteams and @bullzeyedotcom, and you can follow TSR editor Anthony Stalter @AnthonyStalter.

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Katherine Webb shines in SI swimsuit issue

Alabama’s domination of Notre Dame in the National Championship game didn’t offer much to remember, other than the lovely Katherine Webb of course, who became an instant celebrity after Brent Musberger got all excited when she was spotted in the crowd as AJ McCarron’s girlfriend.

Naturally she parleyed that fame into a great bikini spread in the new SI swimsuit issue, and you can see her showing off her pics as she attends a party with other SI swimsuit supermodels at Marquee Nightclub.

Can Notre Dame beat Alabama?

Of course they can. That’s not a prediction, but it’s foolish to think Notre Dame doesn’t have a decent chance of pulling off the upset. Alabama is currently favored by a whopping 9.5 points, which seems like a lot to me.

Of course there are plenty of reasons for Alabama to be favored, as the SEC has been on a roll and Notre Dame’s undefeated season had its share of close calls. But we also know that anything can happen in the National Championship game.

In arguing Notre Dame’s case, Bruce Feldman points out that Notre Dame stacks up well physically against Alabama, or any college team for that matter.

The Irish are No. 4 in the nation against the run. As I wrote last week, they look much like a top SEC team. Their D-line, anchored by 340-pound Floridian Louis Nix, is going to be a problem for anyone. Ends Stephon Tuitt and Kapron Lewis-Moore each are north of 300 pounds, and both — like Nix — are surprisingly nimble. The smallest of the ND’s four linebackers weighs 240 pounds, and the guts of the defense — Manti Te’o — would start at every program in the SEC.

He then makes a comparison that I’ve considered as well, being a die-hard Buckeye fan.

A few weeks ago, a buddy of mine who is an NFL player likened this year’s Fighting Irish team to the 2002 Ohio State squad quarterbacked by Craig Krenzel that won the BCS title by stunning a Miami team that was the defending national champs and riding a 34-game winning streak. That OSU team, like this ND team, was coming off a five-loss season and made it to the BCS title game after starting the season outside the preseason Top 10 by winning a bunch of close games.

I see similarities with that Buckeye team, but I don’t buy the notion that the Irish only beat Alabama by pulling off a Buster Douglas or Rollie Massimino shocker. I know the experts in Vegas have opened the line with Bama more than a TD favorite, but I just don’t see this Alabama team as invincible, or close to it.

Notre Dame’s season has been very similar to that Ohio State team, and both teams relied on a very physical defense. Yet while both are facing what many deem to be dominating opponents, the matchups are very different. That Miami team was loaded with NFL talent at the skill positions, but they cruised through the season without facing a physically dominating defense. When they faced Ohio State, the Buckeye defensive line manhandled an average Miami offensive line and thus controlled the game. Ken Dorsey was exposed as a mediocre quarterback as soon as he faced a pass rush and took some brutal hits.

With Alabama, the matchup is completely different. It’s really strength against strength, as Alabama has an awesome offensive line that now has to face a big and powerful defense. They’ve seen similar defenses in the SEC, but now we’ll see just how good Notre Dame’s defense can be.

Notre Dame wins thriller over Stanford on controversial call

Notre Dame is definitely back, and they pulled out a thriller in overtime against Stanford. Still, the call at the end of the game seemed like a gift for Notre Dame.

Notre Dame forced overtime on a late field goal, and then scored a touchdown on it’s first possession in overtime. The Stanford pushed the ball at the four yard line for first and goal, and the Irish put up an impressive goal line stand. Stanford ran the ball on fourth down from the one yard line, and the runner seemed to be stuff by the Notre Dame defense, but he kept fighting, and on the replay it appeared that he reached over the goal line with the ball.

The refs on the field had called him down short of the goal line, and the replay officials didn’t have the stones to overturn the call.

Alabama dominates Arkansas, makes case for No. 1 (Updated with link to video)

Univesity of Alabama running back Trent Richardson (3) tries to break away from the South Carolina defensive including Stephon Gilmore (5), Antonio Allen (26) and Chaun Gresham (29) during their NCAA college football game in Columbia,South Carolina October 9, 2010. REUTERS/Tami Chappell (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

Go ahead, tell me a team that wants to play Alabama right now.

The Crimson Tide destroyed Arkansas 38-14 at Bryant-Denny Stadium, announcing to the nation — if it didn’t know already — that they were once again a serious national title contender.

But it wasn’t just the score, it was the way the Tide dominated every facet of the game to pick up the blowout victory. Trent Richardson ran wild, accumulating 126 yards on 17 carries, and 85 yards and a touchdown on three receptions. A.J. McCarron was pretty near perfect, going 15-of-20 for 200 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

And the defense. Oh, the defense.

Arkansas finished with 226 total yards, almost all of which came through the air. The Razorbacks run game managed just 17 (!) yards on 19 carries. Yes, math majors, that’s less than one yard per carry. The ‘Bama defense/special teams also chipped in offensively with an interception return for a touchdown and a beautiful punt return for a score by Marquis Maze. On the return, Maze cut back across about half of the Arkansas coverage team (that might be a slight exaggeration), and then cut back on the final guy just for the heck of it. It was as if he wanted the Arkansas trainers to have one more set of ankles to tape this week.

Alabama has another test next week against Florida. The Gators have the type of speed on offense that can score on anyone if given room, but something tells me Nick Saban will outwit Charlie Weis and figure out how to not give those guys room. The big matchup, of course, is Nov. 5 at home against LSU. That will very likely be for the SEC West title, which essentially means a trip to the national title game. Both defenses are outstanding, but at this point you’d have to give a major edge to the Tide offensively.

Some other thoughts from today’s daytime games:

- Ohio State has found its quarterback, and I think a lot of people knew it was going to happen. Braxton Miller didn’t have eye-popping passing numbers by any stretch (5-of-13, 83 yards and a pair of touchdowns), but he used his feet to gain 83 more yards. With either quarterback, Ohio State is going to have to go through some growing pains in the passing game, so it makes the most sense to stick with the youngster who adds an extra dimension to the game.

- Oklahoma State did its part to make sure Texas A&M doesn’t leave the Big 12 with a conference title. The Cowboys rallied to beat A&M 30-29 at Kyle Field, in what is likely the last conference meeting between the two schools. The Aggies, who look to be headed to the SEC next season, jumped out to a 20-3 lead before surrendering 27 straight points to the Cowboys. A&M can still win the Big 12, but it will need some help, and a win against No. 1 Oklahoma. Good luck with that.

- Tommy Rees was horrible for most of Notre Dame’s game against Pitt, but the sophomore found a way to come up bit when it mattered, going 8-of-8 on the Irish’s final touchdown drive to give his team a 15-12 win. On the touchdown, Rees fit a pass through a tiny hole to tight end Tyler Eifert. It was the kind of crisp, decisive pass he hadn’t made all game. His ability to bounce back must be what keeps him in games, because Brian Kelly has certainly had a lot longer leash with Rees than he did with Dayne Crist.

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