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What I thought was a tough draw for the undefeated Wildcats, has been nothing but a cake walk for them. The Wildcats have outscored their opponents 221-146 in their first three games, while their opponents are shooting 28% from the field. Nothing but domination from the Wildcats in the first three rounds but now they will face the best offensive team they've seen all year; Notre Dame.
Notre Dame's run to the Elite 8 wasn't as dominant as Kentucky's but it was impressive. After overcoming a tough round of 64 and 32, they gave the Wichita State Shockers their 5th loss of the season, 81-70. Four starters scored in double figures for the Irish, surprisingly enough, Jerian Grant was the only one who scored less than 10 points but he did dished out 11 dimes. The Irish haven't shot less than 45% so far this tournament, proving why they are one of the best offensive teams in the country.
Of course the Wildcats are the favorites in this game, and rightfully so. Between the 36-0 record and the double digit victories, it look like they will walk into the Final Four for the second straight season. Cincy found a chink in the armor on the rebounding aspect, which help them stay in the game. Notre Dame is ranked 252nd in the country in rebounding, averaging only 33 a game. This will surely go into the Wildcats favor because they have 4 trees that control the paint.
Notre Dame will have to do what Cincy did and hit the boards hard, even the guards. I don't think the Wildcats will stop the Irish from scoring and hitting the trey ball, which they did well against Wichita State, knocking down 47% of there threes. The Irish will have to make this an end up and down to keep those trees out of the paint, but play some exceptional transition defense too because UK can play that style too. Demetrius Jackson could be the most important player in the game which his dribbling and ability to run the fast break. If he can score like he did against the Shockers, going 4-5 from behind the arc, the Irish will be in good shape.
It is in the Irish favor that the Wildcats have not seen an offensive team of their caliber. I don't know anyone that would question how good UK is defensively, but I'm curious to see how they will try to stop the Irish. The Wildcats also have't seen a player like Jerrian Grant none this season and I'm curious to see how they will stop him. I'm not sure if they have anyone that could contain him, so I expect them to do it as a team. Also Pat Connaughton, who I think is one of the most underrated players is the country, is due for another big game, dropping a double-double (16 points & 10 boards) against the Shockers.
The Wildcats depth and length will be the deciding factor. Having those trees down there has been heaven on earth for coach Calipari, and they know how to stay out of foul trouble. Even if one did get in foul trouble, like Karl Anthony Towns did against WVU, Calipari still has another one to rely on, like Dakari Johnson who contributed 24 quality minutes with 12 points, 2 blocks, and 6 boards. The Irish don't have one player taller than 6'11, while the Wildcats have three. Zach Auguste will have his hands full trying to maintain a presence in the paint. Also the Irish don't have 10 players they could out there, running only 7 players.
If I had to pick a winner in this one, it would be Kentucky just because of the length and depth, but I'm not 100% confidence on that pick. i think the Irish could beat the Wildcats because of their ability to score but they will need to win the rebound the battle.
The South region is probably one of the weakest on the bracket. Not to many intriguing matchups and it looks like it could be an easy road for the top seeds. Only thing is I think there will be some 1st round shockers to come out of this region.
Duke is the only #1 seed out of the four regions to not win their conference title, in fact, they didn't even make it to the Finals. Duke still is one of the best teams in the county, just couldn't get over the Irish hump. All 4 of their losses came against conference foes, twice to Notre Dame. The Blue Devils also have two diaper dandies in Jahlil Okafor and Tyus Young. Of course Okafor is the best player on the team but I think Tyus is the key to them making it to the title game. Despite being a Freshman, Tyus has had some of his best games this season in the biggest games, @Wisconsin, @UVA, and against Carolina in overtime.
His last game was a bad one though, along with Quinn Cook, combined shooting 6-25 from the field in the ACC Semifinal against Notre Dame. Coach K can't afford to have both of his stellar guards to have bad shooting nights.
After being snubbed last season, SMU made it to the tournament, thanks to their AAC tournament run, defeating UConn in the finals. SMU didn't do well in their 8 tournament games, finishing 3-5, 2 of those losses coming against Cincinnati.
A lot of people are jumping on the Iowa State bandwagon and rightfully so. They are the BIG 12 champs and has won 8 out of their last ten. A lot of their hype is coming from them being in the overrated BIG 12 because they do have two non-conference losses to Maryland and South Carolina, while going 12-6 in the Big 12. I actually do like Iowa State because they play good team basketball and can put up points. They can score with the best of them but they do show signs of inconsistency.
I think this may be one of Gonzaga's best teams ever. With Kyle Wiltjer, the former Kentucky Wildcat who was apart of that 2012 championship team, they have a player who has been through the fire already. For the NCAA Tournament, you need that player that can just take over games, usually it's a guard, but I think Wiltjer is that kind of player. Plus they have depth and in both front court and back court, with some size. This could be the year the Zags finally get over the hump.
The one thing I find intriguing about this region is, it has some legitimate potential upsets.
- Eastern Washington over Georgetown wouldn't be a bad pick. EWU has the nation's leading scorer in Tyler Harvey, and is 2-1 vs tournament teams, one of which coming on the road at Indiana.
- Then you have Stephen F. Austin, who defeated VCU last year in the first round and they are returning 6 players from that game, 3 of which being starters.
- North Dakota State, also was victorious last season in the first round as the 12th seed, defeating Oklahoma. Only three players return from that team one which being Lawrence Alexander who averages 19 points a game. I think they will need to play the perfect game in order to beat the Zags though..
Players to Watch
- #1 Duke v. #9 St. Johns, Third Round - I think the Johnnie's could give the Blue Devils a good run but their inconsistency leaves a big question mark. Duke beat St. Johns earlier this season 77-68.
- #3 Iowa State v. #2 Gonzaga, Sweet 16 - The matchup between Niang and Wiltjer should be very fun to watch.
- #1 Duke v. #2 Gonzaga, Elite 8 - If this does in fact happen, I think this will be the best game of the tournament.
The East region is more top heavy than any of the other regions, I don't see any bracket busters. #1 Villanova doesn't have an easy road though, possibly a harder one than Kentucky. Next to the Midwest, I think this is the 2nd toughest region in the tournament mainly because of the higher seeds.
If Nova can make it to the Elite 8, I would be surprised. Nova won 32 games this season, so they are deserving of a number 1 seed, but I'm not sure if they are good enough to run through this region. The #8-#9 match-up between LSU and NC-State is probably the best out of all four regions. I think NC-State will be the ones advancing, giving Nova a tough third round match-up. The Wolfpack has some big wins against Duke, North Carolina, and Louisville, also taking Notre Dame to overtime. And if Nova do make it pass them, they will more than likely face the winner of Northern Iowa and Louisville in the Sweet 16.
Northern Iowa and Louisville should be a fun game to watch. Both like to run up-and-down the court and can put up some points. I actually picked Louisville to be one of my final four teams before the season began but so much has happened in that span, that I'm not sure anymore. Of course the Chris Jones situation is one of the main reason, but the Cardinals have some tough losses on their schedule where they don't look that good. Terry Rozier Jr. sometimes can go cold and Wayne Blackshear sometimes disappears. You always wonder what Louisville team you're going to get. but if they are playing at a high level, and those shots are dropping, they're one of the best teams in the country.
Unfortunately for Northern Iowa, they can't walk into this tournament as sleepers anymore. Whenever you win 30 games, people don't sleep on you anymore. I don't think the Panthers have played anyone on the level of Louisville or seen a player like Montrezl Harrell. Harrell is a beast and if your big man isn't ready to bang or gets intimidated, you're going to be in for a long game.
The bottom half of the bracket looks to be a favorable road for the #2 Seed Virginia Cavaliers. To me, their biggest challenge is Michigan State, only because you can never count out a Tom Izzo team. They will play hard and make things uncomfortable for you. The thing about the Cavs though is they do the same thing with stifling defense. They also have one of their stars back, Justin Anderson, which gives them another scoring option and better guard play. #3 seed Oklahoma doesn't impress me much. They have 10 losses, 6 coming against tournament teams. Once again, another example of the committee giving the Big 12 too much love.
- Michigan State Spartans, 23-11, lost in the BIG 10 Finals - The Spartans limped into the tournament, going 4-3 in their last 7 games. Tom Izzo always make sure his team is ready for any tournament, reason why they made it to the BIG 10 Finals, taking the Badgers into overtime.
Players to Watch
- #1 Villanova v. #8 NC-State, Third round - This game will include a few players from the DMV and Baltimore area, Josh Hart, Kris Jenkins, and Phil Booth of Nova, and BJ Anya for the Wolfpack.
- #5 Northern Iowa v. #4 Louisville, Third round - I would say this is the most intriguing #4-#5 matchup out of all the regions, should be a fun one to watch.
- #1 Villanova v. #4 Louisville, Sweet 16 - A few individual matchups in this game that will be fun to watch, Rozier v. Hillard, Pinkston v. Harrell, Blackshear v. Hart.
- #1 Villanova v. #2 Virginia, Elite 8 - I actually think Lousiville will be in this spot, but I wouldn't mind seeing the Wildcats and Cavaliers go at for a spot in the Final Four.
The West region last year was one of the weakest but this year I think it is wide open field. The most interesting thing about this region is how the committee snub the Arizona Wildcats out of a #1 seed. Wisconsin was named #1 while the Wildcats are #2. Only reason why I say they were snub is because they are geographically a better fit to be #1 for the region.
Both Wisconsin and Arizona have the same records, 31-3, and was victors in their conference tournament. To me, what gives the edge to the Wildcats is that they won the Pac-12 with 80-52 victory over Oregon, who is the #9 seed in this region. Wisconsin needed an extra overtime period to win the Big 10 title over Michigan State.
Still though I like the Badgers, I think are one of the four best teams in the country mainly because they have majority of their players back from last year's Final Four, two of which being Frank Kaminsky and Sam Decker. Kaminsky will probably win the National Player of the Year award, and rightfully so. Sam Decker is the perfet complimentary player, along with sophomore Nigel Hayes, who scored 25 points in the Big Ten Final.
The Badgers could have a tough 3rd round matchup if Oregon could advance past Oklahoma State. Oregon is 13-3 in their last 16 games but 2 of those losses was against Arizona, by a combined 62 points. Joseph Young though is the perfect tournament player, one that could take over a game in the backcourt.
There are a few intriguing matchups in this region, like North Carolina-Harvard, Harvard winning their last two first round matchups (13' 68-62 vs #3 New Mexico, 14' 61-57 vs #5 Cincinnati). For some reason though, I have a feeling that North Carolina is going to catch fire in this tournament, mainly because of J.P Tokoto and Marcus Paige, who I expect to have a great tournament.
Another intriguing matchup is VCU vs. Ohio State, two very different teams. The Rams are known for their heavy pressure in the backcourt on the defensive end, while the Buckeyes have one of the best guards in the country in Deangelo Russell. I think the Buckeyes can win this one, since this isn't one of Shaka Smart's strongest team, also Sam Thompson for the Buckeyes.
One thing that does bother me about this bracket is the Baylor Bears are the #3 seed. This is another example of the committee thinking that the Big 12 is the best conference. Baylor finished the season with 9 losses, 7 of which coming against conference foes. Their non-conference play isn't strong either, only 3 wins against tournament team, all of which playing in mid-major conferences. Don't think the Bears are worthy of that spot.
- BYU Cougars, 25-9 - BYU is second in the country and scoring, averaging 84 points a game and 5th in assist, and they have the 5th leading scorer in Tyler Haws who averages 22 points a game.
- Oregon Ducks, 25-9 - The Ducks also can score the rock, scoring 76 points a game. They too have a tournament style player in Joseph Young, who is averaging 20 a game.
- Georgia State, 24-9, Sun Belt Conference Champions - I actually think this team will beat the Bears because they have 3 guards that can ball, RJ Hunter, Ryan Harrow, and Kevin Ware, former Lousiville guard. Hunter and Harrow are averaging 18+.
Players to Watch
- #1 Wisconsin v. #8 Oregon, Third round - Curious to see how Wisconsin stop Young and how Oregon will matchup against Kaminsky and Decker. SHould be an entertaining game with a lot of points.
- #10 Ohio State v. #2 Arizona, Third Round - Two freshman standouts will be featured in this game, Russell for the Buckeyes and Stanley Robinson of the Wildcats.
- #1 Wisconsin v. #4 North Carolina, Sweet 16 - A good ol' Big 10-ACC challenge, plus J.P. Tokoto and Sam Decker matchup, which should be fun.
- #1 Wisconsin v. #2 Arizona, Elite 8 - I think their will be some resentment coming from the WIldcats being snubbed on the #1 seed.
It's finally that time of year again, the best time of the year in my opinion. After two weeks of some great conference tournaments, all 68 teams have been selected for the NCAA Tournament. Similar to last year, the Midwest region is the toughest of the four, also the #1 seed in this region walks in with 0 losses.
I am very surprised that the NCAA Selection committee gave the Wildcats the toughest draw out of all of the #1 seeds, but for the sake of entertainment, I am happy that they did this. My guess is that, the committee thought in order to really find out if the Wildcats are the greatest team in college basketball history, put them in the toughest region. Usually the #1 overall seed gets the weakest of the regions but not this year.
One thing I can say about the Wildcats is they have one of the toughest non-conference schedules. They faced and defeated 7 teams that are in this year NCAA Tournament, two of them being Buffalo and Kansas. Just in case you don't remember, Kentucky defeated the Jayhawks 72-40 in the Champions Classic back in November, which sparked the phenom that is Kentucky.
Like I said though, this is a tough draw for the Wildcats, who are 6 games away from completing their pursuit on perfection. Purdue, who has two seven footers on their roster, Freshman Issac Haas and junior A.J Hammons give the Boilermakers a chance, matching the Wildcats size in the paint, but can Hammon and Haas match the intensity of Karl Anthony-Towns and Willie Cauley-Stein, which I don't think they can.
In the Sweet 16, Maryland or West Virginia could get an opportunity to end the Wildcats run, unless one of those are shocked in their 2nd round matchups. Maryland will face Valparaiso, who I think they should beat, while the Mountaineers will face Buffalo. Buffalo is the Mid-American Conference champs, entering the tournament 23-9. 6'7 forward, Justin Moss, who averages 18 points and 9 boards with 15 double-doubles this season, could pose a problem for the Mountaineers who struggle to score at times. I think Maryland will get that opportunity to meet the Wildcats in the Sweet 16 but it all depends on how well the Mountaineers can score and how the Terps react to the full court press of the Mountaineers
In the bottom half of the region, the Kansas Jayhawks look to be the favorite but not for me. Kansas hasn't impressed me too much this season, especially in the final stretch, going 8-5 since February 1st. People say that the Big 12 is the toughest conference in the country, reason why the committee blessed them with a #2 seed but I disagree with everything about this. For me, the ACC was the best conference this season, and Notre Dame, ACC Champs should have been the recipients of that #2 seed. I like the Irish to come out of this bottom half of the region. I think the Irish are set up perfectly for the tournament with great balance plus they beat Duke twice along with 6 other Tournament teams.
Wichita State is a very tough #7 seed. Their big 3 of Fred Van Vleet, Ron Baker, and Tekele Cotton all have tournament experience and was apart of that 2012-13 team that made it to the Final Four. It's not to often you see a #7 seed with that kind of experience and only 4 losses.
- Buffalo Bulls, 23-9 MAC Champions - The Bulls won't be an easy win for whoever step on the court with them. They have a tournament type of player in Moss, along with Shannon Evans who averages 15 points a game. The Mountaineers will have to score some points in order to advance past the Bulls, who average 75 points a game (28th in the country).
- New Mexico State, 23-10 WAC Champions - The Jayhawks are very shaky and I don't trust them in the tournament this year. The Aggies, on the other hand, are on a 13 game win streak and have 4 players that score in double figures. I don't think the Jayhawks can afford to have an inconsistent outing against them.
- West Virginia Mountaineers, 23-9 - I think the Mountaineers are a sleeper because people don't think they can score efficiently enough to make a run in the dance. The thing about WVU is they play defense and use a full court press that could really irritate a few teams, and if they do start knocking down shots consistently, watch out.
Players to Watch
- #4 Maryland v. #5 West Virginia, Third Round - It will be fun to watch the guards of the Terps go against the guards of the Mountaineers.
- #7 Witchita State v. Kansas, Third Round - Both schools are representing the state of Kansas, which will back heading back home first?
- #1 Kentucky v. #4 Maryland, Sweet 16 - A lot of Maryland fans are upset about the Terps being in the same region as the overall number 1 seed but no matter what region you're in, the road to the Final Four is never easy.
- #1 Kentucky v. #3 Notre Dame, Elite 8 - If there is a team that could end the Wildcats pursuit, it's the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame, who I think cause some matchup problems for Kentucky with their ability to spread the floor and shoot the rock.
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I would like to thank the CAA conference for bringing their tournament to the city of Baltimore, we rarely get big time basketball like this, as a fan and native, I greatly appreciated. This is the best time of the year and to get a chance to witness one these great battles that goes on during the month is very gratifying. Unfortunately, only one team could go dancing from this conference, the Blue Hens of Delaware.
Congratulations to the University of Delaware for capturing the CAA title. They were the best team throughout the season in the conference, going 19-2 since January 1st, 14-2 in the conference. This is the Hens first conference championship in school history . For the past 2 seasons the Hens have been eliminated in the semi-finals of the CAA's but they took full advantage of the school's first championship game. Head coach Monte Williams has built a program since becoming head coach in 2006. After a few years of bad basketball, 53-103 in first 5 seasons, the program has done a 180, going 62-37 since 2011. I would say the turning point for Monte was when he recruited Devon Saddler, who started as a true freshman and will finish his Delaware career as the school's best scorer.
Mid-Major conferences are always filled with gems and Saddler is one of them. Saddler has been a starter for all 4 season but he burst onto the national scene his junior season, where he averaged 20 points a game and became one of the best guards in the country. Saddler is not very tall, only 6'1, but he is strong and can score in a lot of ways. He reminds me of Eric Bledsoe because both are strong guards that can attack the paint at will. Saddler averaged 16 points and 5 dimes in the conference tournament but his leadership was more vital in the championship game. In fact Saddler dish out the assist to Carl Baptise for the game winning bucket. Saddler didn't start of well though. The Hens lost their first two games and afterwards he was suspended for 7 games. To make it to this point shows how he and the team can overcome adversity. I am excited what this kid will do in the dance because he is the perfect tourney player, can take over at any time. He is NBA Bound.
Williams didn't just recruit players out of high school, he also got some talent from other schools. Seniors Carl Baptise and Baltimore native Devon Usher both transferred to UD, Baptise form Saint Joeseph in 2011 and Usher from Mississippi Valley State just this season. These two help make UD a tournament team. Baptise scored a career high 24 points and 8 rebounds while controlling the paint and Usher hit two big 3's in the last stretch of the 2nd half. Jr. point guard Jarvis Threatt also made a big bucket, an AND-1 layup that put the Hen's down 2 with 51 seconds left. The Hens had a 10 point lead early in the 2nd half but the W&M Tribe began to make a run, outscoring the Hens 33-17 for 13 minutes.
This is a great win to have going into the big tournament simply because they faced adversity. While the Tribe was on their run, all the momentum was going their way and the Hens couldn't seem to find a way to slow it down. Tribe guard Marcus Thorton, scored 10 point in the final 7 minutes but missed his final two shots, one of which could have been a game winner. The Hens were smart for going inside to Baptise for the game winner because he was already having a career game. This will be a tough team to play for anybody in the first round. Saddler, Usher, and Threatt combined averaged 58 points this season, while Baptise at 6'9 270lbs controls the paint. This is a veteran squad with one of the best backcourts in the country. Don't sleep on the Hens.