Notre Dame

Elite 8 Preview: Midwest region

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. 

John Calipari told his team to be the aggressors in order to beat the press and that's what they did. In the first half. the Harrison Twins combined for 20 points in the first half, 2 more points than the entire West Virginia team. (AP Photo)

John Calipari told his team to be the aggressors in order to beat the press and that's what they did. In the first half. the Harrison Twins combined for 20 points in the first half, 2 more points than the entire West Virginia team. (AP Photo)

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.

Demtrius Jackson became the third different player this tournament to lead the team in scoring. I'm not sure if that is a record but it is an impressive team stat. (AP Photo) 

Demtrius Jackson became the third different player this tournament to lead the team in scoring. I'm not sure if that is a record but it is an impressive team stat. (AP Photo) 

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. 

Sweet 16 Preview

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. 

The Battle of Kansas was won by the Shockers. not only is this a big win for the program but a big win for recruiting. (AP Photo) 

The Battle of Kansas was won by the Shockers. not only is this a big win for the program but a big win for recruiting. (AP Photo) 

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. 

Fan-I Bracketology: Midwest Region

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. 

(courtesy of ESPN.com)

(courtesy of ESPN.com)

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. 

Sleepers

  • 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 

Potential Matchups 

  • #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. 

 

College Hoops Fan-i 12: Week 2

Welcome to the 2nd week of the Fan-i 12, where we rank the 12 best college basketball teams in the country. We decided to rank 12 teams because, one, it's a lot more convenient and quicker than 25, and two, this is an indication of who we think will be the top seeds come tourney time. So lets get the ranking.

Here is the AP rankings so you can compare the two. 

(courtesy of NCAA.com)

(courtesy of NCAA.com)

Fan-I 12 

  1. Kentucky (22-0) LW 1 - The Wildcats went through the week 2-0, defeating Georgia and Florida. The Gators gave the Wildcats problems, fighting to the finish, but the Wildcats pulled it out 68-61. 

  2. Virginia (21-1) LW 2 - The Cavaliers went 2-0 last week, defeating Louisville and North Carolina. UVA might have the best defense in the country, similar to last season. Against Louisville, they held the Cardinals scoreless for the final 10 minutes of the first half, Cards only scoring a total 13 points in the half. 

  3. Gonzaga (24-1) LW 3 - Not much competition for the Zags last week, defeating Santa Clara and San Francisco, both of whom are under .500 ball. 

  4. Duke (21-3) LW 4 - Duke finished the week 3-0 defeating Georgia Tech, Notre Dame, and Florida State Monday night. Their 30-point victory over Notre Dame was most impressive, redeeming their loss to the Irish January 28th. Justice Winslow and Jahlil Okafor combined for 49 points and 21 rebounds.

  5. Wisconsin (21-2) LW 5 - The Badgers continues to be one of the more consistent teams in the country. They defeated Indiana and Northwestern by large margins. 

  6. Villanova (21-2) LW 6 - Nova finished last week 2-0, defeating Marquette and Georgetown, both at home. Their victory over Georgetown revenged a 20-point loss to Georgetown January 19th. 

  7. Louisville (19-4) LW 8 - The Cards went 1-1 last week, defeating Miami and losing to UVA, both games on the road. Prior to their loss to UVA, Cardinals were on a 4 game win streak. 

  8. Arizona (20-3) LW 7 - In their only game this past week, the Wildcats loss to rival Arizona State on the road for the 2nd straight year. 

  9. Kansas (19-4) LW 10 - The Jayhawks moved ahead of Notre Dame, despite going 1-1 last week, defeating Iowa State and up-setted by Oklahoma State on the road.

  10. Notre Dame (21-4) LW 9 - The Irish went 1-1 last week, defeating Boston College and losing to Duke. The 30-point to Duke loss is one of the worst in school history. 

  11. Northern Iowa (22-2) LW 12 - The Panthers go 2-0 last week, moving up in the rankings due to West Virginia going 0-2. 

  12. Oklahoma (17-7) - The Sooners enters the 12 as one of the hottest teams right now, going 3-0 this past week, defeating two teams in the top 15, Iowa State and West Virginia. 

With West Virginia on a two game losing streak, it opened up a spot for another Big 12 team. Big 12 has 5 teams ranked in the top ten, not including Kansas, creating a log jam for 2nd place in the conference. 

 

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