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ACKERMAN: Final Four Picks, Cards Thoughts

Tom Ackerman
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JUPITER, Fla. (KMOX) – It’s that time of year.

The baseball season is right around the corner.

The tournament is about to tip (I know it already has, but Thursday is the real first day. Right?) — and in less than three weeks, a basketball team will be cutting down the nets in Atlanta.

I think that also means there will be thousands of students swimming in Showalter Fountain. Look it up.

At any rate, I’m ready to reveal my NCAA Tournament picks. But before I do, some quick thoughts on the Cardinals:

  • Joe Kelly vs. Shelby Miller. To me, the season is like an amoeba; it’s always changing, never in the same form in which you started. No matter who is named the fifth starter, that doesn’t mean it’s the end-all, be-all. The rotation will be fully established in July-August. So will the 25-man roster, for that matter. The most intriguing thing about this competition is what the Cardinals do with Miller if they name Kelly the starter. Will they keep Miller in the bullpen? Is that best for Miller? Does it make the club better to have Miller available out of the ‘pen? Or should he stay in a starter routine? These are legitimate questions, and that’s part of the reason that patience is required before they make this decision. Kelly’s transformation into a groundball pitcher is also progressing. And you know what? The chances of Kelly and Miller both starting this season are very good. Remember the amoeba.
  • Matt Adams. The big fella is a strong lefthanded power option off the bench. And while the Cardinals haven’t confirmed that he’s made the Opening Day roster, you can pretty much lock it up with the release of Ronny Cedeno. Adams can bash, and he’s a better defensive player at first base than he gets credit for. His presence gives the team the flexibility to play Allen Craig in right field from time to time, giving Carlos Beltran a day off.
  • Matt Carpenter. All he does is hit. All he does is make sharp defensive plays. This second base project is still underway, however, because Carpenter has yet to be tested in a big league game. He’ll have to turn some tough double plays, potentially violent ones. He’ll learn about sharing the territory with the first baseman. But Carpenter is as observant as anyone I’ve seen down here in 15 years. He’s a sponge. Jose Oquendo is molding Carpenter into a big league second baseman and there’s not much that’s going to get in Carpenter’s way. Daniel Descalso hasn’t shown anything this spring that would make him lose the starting job, but it’s going to be hard to keep Carpenter’s bat out of the lineup. If anything, the Cardinals bench is stronger as a result. Descalso and Carpenter have shown they are adept at playing multiple infield positions.

You can check out my random thoughts on the Cardinals throughout the day on Twitter at @Ackerman1120. I’ll give you some news nuggets here and there, but mostly my goal is to let you experience spring training through my eyes and ears. I hope it serves as a nice addition to our coverage on KMOX.

OK, without further ado, here are my Final Four picks. As it turns out, they’re the same as President Obama. That’s not all bad, is it? Is it?

Midwest Region: Louisville

  • I have enjoyed SLU’s season immensely. But the Cardinals are going to be tough to handle in the Sweet 16. Rick Pitino’s team has it all going right now: exciting guard play, pressure defense, post players that can disrupt offensive flow. However, don’t be surprised if a potential Missouri-Louisville Saturday matchup goes down to the wire. I was in the Bahamas when the Tigers and Cardinals met earlier this season (a Lousiville romp). I’ll never count out a coaching staff that has the opportunity to make adjustments. Mizzou’s Laurence Bowers was a non-factor in that November game. The Tigers were clearly struggling without Michael Dixon as a second ballhandler. Missouri is a better team now. The recurring problem that’s surfaced, however, is Phil Pressey’s inability to close games. He’s the best player on the floor, most of the time. Pressey’s job is to lead the Tigers to the finish line. Will we see the best of Pressey and Mizzou, or much of the same? Stay tuned. (By the way, I think Creighton upsets Duke in a shootout in this portion of the bracket.)

West Region: Ohio State

  • The most underrated coach in America is Thad Matta. Does he ever get mentioned among the best in his profession? He should. Also, a rule in picking Final Four teams: take the one that has a great point guard and a scorer that can dominate. Ohio State has both.

South Region: Florida

  • Again, coaching comes into play. Billy Donovan knows how to guide a team through the tournament. Florida’s going to find a way to knock off an inexperienced Michigan squad in the Elite Eight. As good as Kansas is, the Jayhawks are vulnerable if they aren’t knocking down three-pointers, and the Wolverines have guards that can get after it. But Florida will make it to Atlanta by beating Michigan.

East Region: Indiana

  • The Hoosiers have too many weapons to be denied a trip to the Georgia Dome. IU survived the best conference in America — the Big Ten — and went 7-0 against the Top 10 for a reason. Tom Crean, when he isn’t pacing up and down the sideline and barking at opposing coaches, can choose from six different players that can go for double figures. Miami provides the biggest threat to IU’s return to glory, but the pick here is that Marquette will outwrestle the Hurricanes in the Sweet 16 and set up a game against Crean, its former coach.

National Championship: Indiana over Louisville.

  • You thought I’d pick against my alma mater? :)

Enjoy the games!

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