A preview of the Final Four teams and the matchups.Read More
March Madness is finally here!
As the regions were announced, one can not help but to realize how wide open the tournament is. This is not say that a 16th seed has the chance to go to the Final Four, but the top seeds are not locks. Creating the perfect bracket will be harder than ever.
At first glance the East region look like it would be the toughest but after breaking it down, it seem like North Carolina could be the only #1 seed to make it to the Final Four.
The Tar Heels are coming into the tournament champions of the ACC regular season and tournament. For coach Roy Williams, this is his 25th trip to NCAA tournament. The Tar Heels have a very deep squad with a stellar guard in Marcus Paige. Paige has been one of the top point guards in college basketball but this season he has relied on his supporting cast to help elevate the Tar Heels to their first #1 seed since 2012. Brice Johnson leads the Tar Heels in points and rebounds and will likely lead them to a Final Four trip. The rest of the cast includes shooter Joell Berry II, Justin Jackson, and Kennedy Meeks. The Tar Heels are a for sure favorite to win it all.
Xavier is coming into the tournament off one the best seasons in the program’s history. For head coach, Chris Mack, he is making his 6th trip to the big dance since taking over as Musketeers coach in 2009. If it wasn’t for their loss to Seton Hall in Big East tournament, Xavier would be a #1 seed in one of the four regions. They have 7 players returning from last years team that made it to the Sweet 16, 3 of which were starters. The Musketeers are a balanced team and have solid guard play, which can compete with any team in the country. It will be interesting to see they can take the program to the next level, never advancing past the Elite 8.
Kentucky drops to the #4 seed after they entered the tournament last year 34-0 and the #1 overall seed. They also lost 7 players to the NBA from that team. This season Calipari has relied on a new set of “Young Cats” led by Jamal Murray, who is averaging 20 points per contest. The Wildcats haven’t proved to be a dominant team or a solidified Final Four contender but they did win the SEC for the 4th time since 2010. Coach Calipari has once again criticized the selection committee for putting his squad in a tough for a another season, which I find amusing being that he brings in the top recruiting class every season. Oddly enough, I actually agree with Coach Cal. The selection committee didn't do a great job with their seeding process, placing Texas A&M as a #3 seed less than an hour after they loss to Kentucky in the SEC championship. The selection process is rarely consistent but this season it was most obvious.
West Virginia is bringing their frantic full court press back to the NCAA Tournament. The Mountaineers reached the Elite 8 last season but suffered a heartbreaking loss to Kentucky. West Virginia will rely on big man in the middle, Devin Williams, who is coming off of a 31 points and 10 rebounds performance in the Big 12 championship. For the Mountaineers to really jump to the Final Four they will need their guards and depth to step up.
- Everyone is a fan of Indiana but I think they will disappoint a lot of people. Stay away from picking them to go deep your bracket.
- The #11 seed will be a tough game for Notre Dame with Michigan and Tulsa playing for the spot. Michigan is walking into the tournament with some momentum from Kameron Chatman buzzer beater against Indiana but will it be enough.
Providence: The Friars started the season off 17-3 in their first 20 games with wins over Arizona, Butler, and Villanova. Kris Dunn, who is potentially the best player in the region, will also give the Friars a fair chance against anyone.
Players to Watch
G Kris Dunn, Providence, 16 points, 5 boards, 6 dimes
Dunn decided not to jump for the NBA, coming back for his senior season. The decision turned out to be a good one with his lottery draft stock still in tact. For now, he will look to lead Providence to the promise land.
G Marcus Paige, North Carolina, 12 points, 4 dimes, 2 boards
Paige’s numbers has dropped since his sophomore season but the talent is still there. Paige has been one of the most exciting players in college basketball, and with this being his senior season, expect him to provide a few more memorable moments.
F Devin Williams, West Virginia, 13 points, 9 boards
Williams will have to be the best big man on the floor every night for the Mountaineers to exit out of this tough conference. So far he hasn’t disappointed, with 4 double-digit rebound games in the month of March.
G Jamal Murray, Kentucky, 20 points, 5 boards, 45%FG, 42% 3pt
Murray made coach Calipari adjust his dribble-drive offense, in order for Murray to work off of screens and it has made the Canadian one of the best scorers in the SEC.
Upset to Watch
#12 Chattanooga over #5 Indiana - #12 versus #5 matchups are always a tough one for the team that is supposed to be the favorite. Every season we see a #12 team send a #5 home and this year will be no different. The Mocs defeated Illinois, Georgia, and Dayton early in the season. Indiana has shown vulnerability in their loss to Michigan during the Big Ten Tournament.
- #4 Kentucky vs #5 Indiana, round of 32 - Last time the Wildcats and Hooisers played it was one of the best game in recent memory.
- #3 West Virginia vs #2 Xavier, Sweet 16 - Two teams with very different styles should make for a very interesting matchup.
- #1 North Carolina vs. #4 Kentucky, Sweet 16 - Since 2010, both teams have defeated each other twice and have had some memorable games, I would expect this to be the same.
After a great first two rounds of the NCAA tournament, we are now heading into the nitty gritty of the Big Dance. Before I get into my preview of what should be an entertaining Sweet 16, I want to recap some of my predictions from the earlier rounds. I did miss on a couple, like predicting the Hoyas to exit in the 1st round, but I was right about a few too. I said the BIG 12 was overrated, Iowa State, Kansas, Oklahoma State, and Baylor all losing in the first two rounds. I said the ACC was the best conference, 5 teams in the Sweet 16, most out of any conference. And I said that Nova had a tough matchup with NC-State, who is the only 8th seed in the Sweet 16.
Midwest: #1 Kentucky v. #5 West Virginia, #3 Notre Dame v. #7 Wichita State
Kentucky is only 4 games away from the record books but from here on out it's not going to be easy. Cincinnati gave them a tough challenge but they manage to still win by 15 even though they were out rebounded 43-35. Cincy couldn't hit their shots reason why they lost by 15 but they did irritate the Wildcats. I think the Mountaineers can do the same thing but they also might struggle to score against this great defensive team. The full court press of the mountaineers will keep them in the game but the size disadvantage in the paint will be the deciding factor for the Wildcats. Towns and Cauley-Stein could have a monster game against the undersized front court of the Mountaineers. If WVU can keep this game in the backcourt, along with knocking down 45% of their shots, they'll have a chance of shocking the world.
Notre Dame defeated Northeastern and Butler by a combined 7 points, so their road has yet to be easy. Luckily for the Irish they are Tournament ready. They have their closer in Jerrian Grant and a great supporting cast. In both games, someone other than Jerrian Grant led the team in scoring. Zach Auguste scored 22 points against Northeastern and Steve Vasturia scored 20 points scored Butler. Wichita State will be another tough challenge for the Irish, mainly because of their experience. Not shocked at all that the Shockers beat Kansas because like I been saying all season, they were overrated. This is a tough game to pick because both sqauds are very even. I will give the edge to the Irish just because they have a POY candidate in Jerrian Grant, but I think it will be a instant classic.
West: #1 Wisconsin v. #4 UNC, #6 Xavier v. #2 Arizona
The Badgers had somewhat of a scare against Oregon, which I wasn't surprised by. Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker combined for 33 points while Joseph Young of Oregon dropped 30. The Badgers look like they are ready for another run to the Final Four and I'm sure they still remember how Kentucky ended their championship hopes. North Carolina could be a tough matchup depending on which Carolina team show up. Carolina is a very talented team but sometimes doesn't play up to their potential. If Marcus Paige and Brice Johnson can get into an early groove, I think they will be able to beat the Badgers. J.P. Tokoto will be the x-factor in this game, and to me, for the entire tournament.
The funny thing about this region is that it could possibly be an Elite 8 rematch between Arizona and Wisconsin. Wisconsin defeated Zona in the West region Elite 8. TJ McConnell, Gabe York, Kaleb Tarczewski, and Rondae Hollis-Jeffereson all return from that 2013-14 Zona squad so I'm sure they are hoping for another crack at the Badgers. First they will have to go through Xavier who hasn't seen a caliber team like Arizona yet. I don't think the Musketeers has what it take to knock off the hungry Wildcats.
East: #8 NC-State v. #4 Louisville, #3 Oklahoma v. #7 Michigan State
I don't think anyone got this part of the bracket right. The only region without a #1 or #2 seed in the Sweet 16. I said along with the Midwest, this is the toughest region. The Wolfpack continue their Cinderella run, defeating LSU with a buzzer beater after being down 14 at halftime, then defeated the #1 seeded Villanova WIldcats by three. Next they have Lousiville who they already beat earlier this season, 74-65, while the Cards still had Chris Jones. I'm not really sure if they can knock off the cards again but it's not impossible. Louisville has had moments through out the season where, like Carolina, they don't play to their potential. It hasn't happened in the tournament so far but if it does, the Wolfpack could possible take another win from them. I do think the Cards will actually play well, especially Montrezl Harrell who only scored 7 points in that first matchup.
Surprised that Oklahoma actually made it this far. I thought the committee was a little too generous with their #3 seed but they are making the committee look right about that decision. Now they have to deal with a totally different beast than #14 Albany and #11 Dayton with the Michigan State Spartans. Three things are for certain in this world, Death, Taxes, and Tom Izzo in the tournament. You can never count out a Michigan State team whenever Tom Izzo is on the sideline. I like the Spartans in this match-up just because I think the Big 12 is overrated and Tom Izzo is on the sideline.
South: #1 Duke v. #5 Utah, #11 UCLA vs #2 Gonzaga
I said this region would have the most upsets and I was wrong on that prediction, only 1 major upset UAB over Iowa State. I do still think it is the weakest especially when you look at who the two top teams have to play to advance to the elite 8. Duke has Utah, who isn't a bad team, and could possibly give Duke a good run but I don't think they have enough to keep up with the Dukies. Delon Wright is a big guard who score some points but so far in the tournament he is 4-14. The Utes also have a freshman 7'0 center in Jakob Poeltl from Australia, so they could match the size in the paint but I don't if they can match the production, and who is going to stop Tyus Jones.
I said that this may be the best Gonzaga team in awhile and they're proving me right, scoring 173 points in the first two games, most out of all remaining teams. UCLA is proving to everyone that they do in fact belong in the tournament but that will end when they step on the court against Gonzaga.
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.