With March Madness, a.k.a the best time of the year, on the horizon many people will be filling out their brackets in hopes to win the bracket pool that they are in. From buzzer beaters to upsets to incredible performances like Stephen Curry from Davidson a few years ago or Wally Szckerbiak in 1999 for the Redhawks of Miami (OH), the NCAA Tournament provides drama and interest at every twist and turn. Before you fill out your brackets, here are a few tips on the individual teams and the great matchups that this tournament presents, as well as a few predictions.
TOP SEED- The Kentucky Wildcats are the No. 1 overall seed in the tournament for a reason. The Wildcats have a ton of talent led by Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Anthony Davis. Davis is a premier shot blocker, a good offensive scorer and a tremendous rebounder, and Kidd-Gilchrist is a dynamite scorer. Marquis Teague, Doron Lamb, and Darius Miller along with Terence Jones make the Wildcats a force to be reckoned with.
BEST GAMES- There aren’t many first round games that have my attention in this bracket, but two interesting games are Witchita St against VCU and Iowa St vs. Connecticut.
The Shockers are a really good mid-major. They score the ball well, and are an incredibly deep squad (seven players average more than 20 minutes per game). Garrett Stutz has emerged as a dominant scorer after a sluggish junior season and the Shockers can shoot it from three as well as anybody.
Shaka Smart has his Rams back in the NCAA Tournament after their incredible run last season. VCU plays good defense as always and are extremely athletic.
Iowa St. and UCONN are two major conference teams that have underachieved this season, especially the Huskies. The Huskies have some bad losses, but with Jeremy Lamb, Shabazz Napier, and a good interior defense, the Huskies could do some damage.
Iowa St. scores the ball well and has two big time wins against Kansas and Baylor. They shoot 38 percent from deep and Royce White, Scott Christopherson and Chris Allen can light up the scoreboard in a hurry.
SLEEPER TEAM- Witchita St Shockers. In my opinion, the Shockers are the best mid-major and have a legit shot at beating Kentucky. Stutz can match up with Davis on the interior, Joe Raglund and Toure’ Murry are two very good guards, and the Shockers have two very important ingredients to win in March; senior leadership and depth. The Shockers are incredibly efficient on the offensive end as well, 10th in the country in points per possession, 15th in points per game and 12th in field goal percentage.
FIRST ROUND UPSET- If you consider Connecticut as a nine seed over the eight seed Iowa St. an upset then fine, but outside of that I expect the first round to be fairly chalked. Xavier could beat Notre Dame for sure; I’m just not sold on the Musketeers putting forth their best effort.
SOUTH REGION WINNER- I would bet Kentucky represents this region, because they’re the most talented. Baylor and Duke are too hot and cold to challenge them in my opinion.
However, Witchita St and Indiana could both upset Kentucky in the Sweet Sixteen. Indiana has already done it this year, although it was on their home floor, and the Shockers can use their senior leadership to dethrone another young, talented John Calipari squad.
TOP SEED- The Michigan St. Spartans are well deserving of a number one seed in this year’s tournament. Two wins against Ohio St, swept Wisconsin and split with Indiana and Michigan in Big Ten play. Draymond Green emerged, as many expected, and had a stellar season for the Spartans, leading Sparty nation to their first number one seed since 2001. The Spartans are well coached as always and play terrific team defense making them a very solid number one.
BEST GAMES- This region has a few stellar first round matchups including Memphis vs. Saint Louis, Florida vs. Virginia, and New Mexico vs. Long Beach St.
Memphis against St. Louis is a matchup of two mid majors from good conferences, which always proves to be an intriguing matchup. St. Louis played very well in the Atlantic 10 this season and has wins over four schools from power conferences, Boston College, Nebraska, Villanova and Washington, a bubble team that didn’t make the tourney.
Memphis is a team that has underachieved all season. They were a preseason top 25 pick and never quite lived up to the hype. However, the Tigers have won seven straight and are getting much better production out of Wesley Witherspoon lately, who was suppose to emerge as a big time player this season.
Florida vs. Virginia is a very intriguing 7/10 matchup. Florida lives and dies by the three point shot. When Bradley Beal and Kenny Boyton are on, watch out. When their off, it’s uh-oh time for the Gators.
The Cavaliers do a good job at controlling the tempo of a game and Mike Scott can really play, averaging better than 18 points per game this season.
Last but not least is a terrific 5/12 matchup between New Mexico and Long Beach St. New Mexico, winners of the Mountain West Conference, have won 12 of their last 14 games and are 4-2 against UNLV and San Diego St this season, including four straight wins. They do a good job of rebounding and sharing the basketball, and have a dominant forward in Drew Gordon, who is averaging a double-double for the season.
Long Beach St. has sputtered a bit of late, but this team is nothing to sleep on. They have the experience playing the better schools (played games against Kansas, Kansas St, North Carolina, and Louisville and played UNC and Kansas tight) and have a guard in Casper Ware who can really ball. T.J Robinson is the 49ers double-double machine, averaging 12 points and 10 boards for the season. This will be a really good matchup
SLEEPER TEAM- If the Iona Gaels can get past BYU in the play-in game, Marquette should be very scared. The Gaels are a scary offensive team, first in the nation in points per game, first in assists per game, second in field goal percentage and fourth in points per possession. Scotty Machado is the best point guard in the country, Michael Glover is a dominant scorer down low, and the Gaels do a great job of running in transition. They may have been a bubble team, but this team has the offensive firepower to pull off a monster tournament run.
FIRST ROUND UPSET- A little bit of foreshadowing with the sleeper team, but I’m going with Iona over Marquette. Beware of the Big East trap. Iona will make Marquette play an up-tempo game and their offensive firepower could trip up the Golden Eagles. Crowder is a great scorer, but Glover will give him issues on defense and if Crowder gets into foul trouble, Marquette cannot play with an up-tempo team. If Iona were to lose to BYU, a potential upset is Long Beach St. over New Mexico.
WEST REGION WINNER- This region is absolutely wide open and I really like some of the lower seeds in this region. There are so many talented teams and good matchups in this reason that it’s tough to call a winner. I like Louisville, New Mexico, Murray St. and Florida as challengers to the top three seeds in the region, Michigan St, Marquette and Missouri, but I’m going to go with Missouri as the favorite to represent the region, despite their defensive flaws.
TOP SEED- The Syracuse Orange were consistently one of the top teams all season long. They’re extremely athletic and play that menacing 2-3 zone. Jim Boeheim has another incredibly talented squad led by Dion Waters, Kris Joseph, Scoop Jardine and many others. However, the Orange do have a major Achilles heel. They have struggled all season to rebound the basketball, and as any basketball mind will tell you if you can’t rebound on the weak side of a zone, you become extremely vulnerable.
BEST GAMES- One game stands out in particular in the first round in this region and that’s the Commodores of Vanderbilt against the Harvard Crimson. The Crimson play a slow style of basketball and like to use their size and basketball IQ to their advantage. Kyle Casey and Keith Wright are two interior post scorers and Casey can step it out to the three point arch.
Vandy on the other hand likes to run in transition and live and die by the three. The Commodores won the SEC Championship by defeating number one ranked Kentucky, closing the game on a 16-2 run and holding the Wildcats without a field goal for the final eight minutes. John Jenkins and Jeffrey Taylor are two dynamic scorers, each averaging over 16 points per game (Jenkins 20 ppg Taylor 16.3 ppg). This game is a contrast of styles that should prove to be very intriguing.
SLEEPER TEAM- Who else isn’t sold on the Orange? Syracuse is very vulnerable to a team that can light it up, or play lockdown defense. Watch out for a potential second round matchup between Syracuse and Kansas St. K-State plays terrific team defense as always and has the ability to upset the top teams, sweeping Mizzu and beating Baylor. There’s not a real sleeper in this bracket in my mind because Vanderbilt with their conference championship doesn’t qualify, but K-State could be the team.
FIRST ROUND UPSET- Ladies and Gentlemen, the most overrated team in the tournament, your Wisconsin Badgers! The Badgers are a good defensive team and do play at a slow pace, but they cannot score the basketball, or do anything on offense. They are 263rd in points per game at just under 64 points per game, 268th in assists per game and 230th in field goal percentage. Montana can score, shoot the three, run in transition, and Will Cherry can take over a game. I also like West Virginia over Gonzaga, but the no brainer in my opinion is Montana over the Badgers.
EAST REGION WINNER- Ohio St, without a doubt. Florida St, Syracuse and Vandy can put up fights, but Ohio St is the most talented team, with the best player in Sullinger, the best supporting cast of starters, and barring the Buckeyes falling on their face, I expect them to be in New Orleans.
TOP SEED- The North Carolina Tar Heels have firepower similar to Kentucky. Barnes, Marshall, Zeller, Henson, McAdoo, Bullock and the rest of the Heels appear to be ready for a deep tournament run. They’re athletic, dominant on offense and have a ton of depth. Once again, however, the Heels have a weakness. They’re terrible at defending the three point shot. They give up a ton of attempts because of their shot blockers inside, which is a good sign for a defense, but they can’t defend the line. If they run into a team with shooters, they could go down.
BEST GAMES- So many good ones here, Creighton vs. Alabama, SDSU vs. NC State, even the play-in game of Cal and USF should be a good one. However, the best game will probably be Georgetown vs. Belmont. The Hoyas, typical of a Big East school, play great defense, rebound well and go eight players deep. They have some nice wins like Louisville, Marquette and Notre Dame, but also have some bad losses. Hollis Thompson, Jason Clark and Henry Sims are the three big scorers for the Hoyas who will be looking to make some noise after underachieving significantly in the past two tournaments.
Belmont has pulled off the upset before in the tournament and are poised to do it again. Another 14 seed with a talented offense the Bruins are fourth in points per game, fifth in assists per game and third in points per possession. They have four double digit scorers and shoot 48 percent from the field per game and 38 percent from three point range per game. Oh by the way, they lost to Duke by a point in Cameron Indoor early in the season.
SLEEPER TEAM- This bracket has not one, not two, but three teams that the top teams should be weary of. Belmont is obviously one of mine; the other two are Creighton and NC State. The Wolfpack of NC State get very balanced scoring like Belmont (five players in double figures) and have a big time player in CJ Leslie, who has emerged towards the end of the season. They share the sugar, rebound well and play solid defense.
Creighton can light it up at any time. The Jays are another offensive juggernaut, seventh in points per game, first in field goal percentage and second in assists per game and points per possession. They don’t play great defense, but have a good rebounding margin per game (just over six rebounds). The Jays also have a superstar in Doug McDermott who averages an impressive 23 points per game and is shooting 61percent from the field for the season! Look for the Jays to give the Tar Heels fits in the second round.
FIRST ROUND UPSET- We got some upsets in the wild and wacky Midwest Region. I like Belmont to pull the shocker over the Hoyas, NC State to upset San Diego St. in the 6/11 game and the winner of Cal-USF to upset Temple. The Hoyas will struggle to keep pace with the Bruins on offense, and I haven’t been impressed by anything Georgetown has done this season.
NC State is playing terrific basketball of late and despite the fact that Aztecs have two very good scorers in Jamaal Franklin and Chase Tapley, the Wolfpack’s balanced scoring will be too much for the Aztecs to handle.
Lastly I like Cal to upset Temple. Cal has struggled recently, but somehow the Pac-12 always has one team in the Sweet Sixteen despite how bad they may be. Temple can be vulnerable when they struggle on offense and I like Cal’s size and length.
MIDWEST REGION WINNER- I think the Tar Heels are the favorite, but it wouldn’t surprise me if they went down to Kansas, or even one of the lower seeds like NC State in a rematch, or Creighton in the second round. I’m going to give the Tar Heels’ talent the advantage, however.