One Shining Moment: Who will win the NCAA Tournament?
I don't know about you, but my bracket is all sorts of busted. The first two rounds below were my thoughts of how last weekend would go. The Sweet 16 and Elite 8 are starting with the correct teams, but we'll see if I can predict the right outcomes this time!
The South – Round of 64
Considered by most the best team in the country, Kansas is the number 1 seed in the South, and won’t have to look far in the South to find themselves in a tough matchup. Austin Peay WILL NOT be the first 16 seed to upset a 1 seed.
Colorado and UConn is an interesting game in the 8/9 matchup that UConn will come away as the victor. Josh Scott will help keep this game close as the Buffalo big man is averaging 16.1 ppg and 8.7 rpg, but I think the depth of the Huskies will get the better of the Buffaloes, as they have 4 players who average over 12ppg.
Maryland is coming into the tournament losing 5 of their last 8 games, however, their only “bad” loss out of all those is at Minnesota. They play South Dakota State, who had a pretty decent year, tying for the Summit League regular season title with IPFW, but won the conference tournament. Maryland is a victim of a really difficult end to their season, but look for them to turn it around. If Melo Tremble gets hot, this team could be in for a long run.
This is my first real upset central pick. I think the Rainbow Warriors of Hawaii are poised to do some damage in this tournament this year. Could they taste that sweet, sweet 16? Possibly, but they have to get through the California Bears on Friday. The Bears are a very solid team, beating Oregon, Utah, and Arizona this year, but I think the Rainbow Warriors have a little magic and will pull this one out.
First we need to figure out who will be playing the Arizona Wildcats on Thursday. Vanderbilt and Wichita St. play on Tuesday in what I think will be a Shocker victory. They were just a better team this year. They stumbled in their conference tournament against UNI, but they were a pretty solid team all year. The Shockers will try to ride some momentum from their victory over Vanderbilt, and they may be able to do it. The Wildcats have to travel 2600 miles to play their first game of the tournament, which is just about 1000 miles further than the Shockers trip. That, along with the fact that they don’t know who they are playing for sure yet, leads me to believe that the shockers will be victorious on Thursday.
The Miami Hurricanes have had a few good wins this year (Butler, Utah, Duke, Virginia, and Louisville) and I see no reason why they shouldn’t get another win this week against Buffalo. Buffalo has had a fine year, but they lost 8 games in the MAC, and happened to win their tournament. This game shouldn’t be all that close.
I want to pick Iowa so badly because Jarrod Uthoff is a stud, but the Hawkeyes have been really struggling as of late. They have lost 6 of their last 8 games, which isn’t good, but their most recent loss is what really worries me. You cannot lose to Illinois and not be having problems. Temple won the American Conference regular season, and then lost to the surging Huskies of UConn in the semifinals of the tournament. I think the stronger bird in this matchup is the Owl.
Villanova could be a sleeper (if you could technically be a sleeper as a 2 seed) to win the whole thing. Nova has lost 5 games this year and none of them are bad losses: Oklahoma, Virginia, Providence, Xavier, and Seaton Hall. All tournament teams and all have an RPI in the top 50, 4 of which are in the top 25. UNC Asheville really doesn’t have even a punchers chance in this matchup.
The South – Round of 32
The South – Round of 32
UConn has shocked the world before, being a 7 seed and winning it all. They don’t seem to have the same flair as they do this year. Though, this is their MO, they play subpar all year, get hot, win their conference tournament, and then win it all. However, Kansas is really really good and very experienced. Led by Perry Ellis, a senior, the Jayhawks should have zero issues making it to the sweet 16.
Maryland as mentioned before kind of limped into the post season, I expect they have enough to get by South Dakota State, but I don’t think they have what it takes to beat the Rainbow Warriors from Hawaii. Hawaii may play in Big West which has a bunch of no name teams, but they won their league, and won the tournament, beating a team (Long Beach State) who beat them twice during conference play for the championship. I expect the Terps to go in to a shooting slump and get beat by about 7 down the stretch.
How long have Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet been playing basketball for the Shockers? It seems like forever. Do these seniors have what it takes to lead Wichita St to another long dance? My heart says yes, but this Miami hurricane team is fierce, and I can’t see them losing just yet. I do think this will be Baker and VanVleet’s last collegiate game.
There will be no brotherly love as these two Philadelphia schools duke it out. They met each other on February 17 where Nova dismantled Temple, but the Owls have won 5 of their last 7 since that game and are looking for revenge. Villanova is just too good. This will be the first year that Nova makes it past the Round of 32 since 2009 when they went to the Final Four.
The West – Round of 64
Southern will get passed Holy Cross, who has a record of 14-19, but won their tournament (which is absurd, but again not a discussion today) and got in. The fact that I spent any time discussing the fact that Southern would beat Holy Cross is just a waste of time, because it doesn’t matter. Despite Oregon being considered the worst of the 1 seeds, they will not be the first team in history to lose to a 16 seed.
St. Joes is coming into the tournament after winning their conference tournament. They also were just one game out of a four way first place tie in the A 10 league. Isaiah Miles will have to continue putting up big numbers if he wants his team to win. The senior averaged 22 points per game during the tournament. However, the Bearcats aren’t a team to be overlooked. They struggle offensively at times, but they are a tough, gritty, defensive team, just like usual. They will be able to slow down the Hawks and get a W.
When you think about the NCAA tournament, you don’t normally think of an Ivy League school, and that’s fair, they haven’t performed very well in year’s past. Baylor has been very hit or miss this year, when they play well, they are very good, but they haven’t showed up in some big games. Look for Yale to give you that 12-5 upset.
Duke may struggle in the tournament, as they will be playing games on just 1-day rest. Everyone does this, but it is a little different for Duke. They have had a number of injuries and only use six players all game. That should not be a problem when they take on the Seahawks on Thursday. If UNCW can keep it close late, they have a chance, but look for Greyson Allen and Brandon Ingram to lead the Blue Devils to victory.
Duke pulled off a close game as UNC Wilmington gave them everything they had, but it just wasn't quite enough.
Shaka Smart can coach, but will he be able to take this Texas team, in his first year with the program, on a deep run? It’s definitely possible. He did take VCU to the final four in his second year with the program, but since then he has only won two NCAA tournament games, and hasn’t gotten passed the round of 32. I don’t think he is going to get his first tournament win with the longhorns this year. Northern Iowa has been solid defensively all year, and I think they are poised to upset Texas in a thriller.
Green Bay has played very well as of late, but they are running into a red-hot Aggies team (despite their loss to UK in the SEC championship). The Aggies should make quick work of the Phoenix behind their guards, Jalen Jones and Alex Caruso. Texas A&M shares the ball extremely well (11th in the nation in assists), and they lock down on defense, giving up only 65ppg (31st overall).
No Shaka- no problem, that’s the Rams’ motto this post season. They have lost 10 games this year, but only two were by digits. They have experience on this team, starting two seniors, two juniors, and a sophomore. Oregon State really only has one really impressive win, and that was against Oregon, but it was at home. I just think that VCU will give them more than they can handle.
Oklahoma is one of the best teams in the country. They have perhaps the best player in the country in Buddy Hield, and he isn’t going to let them lose this early… if at all. Look for the senior to have a huge game as the Sooners blowout the Roadrunners.
The West – Round of 32
I could see this game going either way. The Ducks are a high scoring offense, but their defense isn’t anything to write home about. They are also poor on the glass, which is where the Bearcats thrive. Look for a big upset with Cincinnati out-performing Oregon and cleaning up the glass down the stretch.
Yale was a fun story, until they took on Duke. The Blue Devils are in a position to make a deep run this tournament, if they can get out to big enough leads to give their guys some rest. The second game of each weekend for Duke will be the hardest, because they only play six people.
The Aggies should be able to make it through to the sweet sixteen without too many issues. They simply out-match the Panthers and should be able to enforce their will. I don’t think this game will be much of a contest, unless the Aggies are looking ahead to their matchup against Oklahoma (likely).
VCU hasn’t had much success in the tournament since 2011, but they will look to make a big splash in the tournament this year after getting a win against Oregon St, they will try to take down the Sooners. I don’t think they will be able to get passed Oklahoma as they are a high powered team that can also clean up the glass on their misses. I think this will be another big win for Oklahoma.
The East – Round of 64
First, FGCU will beat Fairleigh Dickinson on Tuesday setting up an EPIC match of UNC vs DUNK CITY… oh wait, that was a couple years ago. FGCU is a fine team, but they aren’t going to be the first 16 seed to beat a 1 seed. The Tar heels will advance easily and be ready to go Saturday.
USC has had a decent season this year, but what really worries me is that they have lost 7 of their last 10 games. Providence has a couple studs in Ben Bentil and Kris Dunn who will lead them to do some great things in this tournament. Watch out for Providence!
The B1G 10 (especially MSU and Indiana) were shown a great deal of disrespect by the selection committee. Yogi Ferrell will show why he should be drafted in the first round during this tournament, despite his small stature. He is averaging 17ppg and 5.5 apg and will continue that way this post season. The Hoosiers have shot the ball extremely well and have begun to buy in on defense since the injury to James Blackmon Jr. Expect IU to keep it up and make a run this tournament.
Stony Brook is a team that is poised to make a big splash in the tournament and upset the Wildcats. However, I don’t think this is the time for Kentucky to lose in the tournament. They have been up and down all year, and John Calipari has done an exceptional job coaching these young men this year. Kentucky in a closer than it should be game.
Neither Michigan nor Tulsa should be in this spot. They really didn’t do enough to get into the tournament, but again that’s a discussion for another time. I think Michigan will get the win on Wednesday for the right to play Notre Dame. The Irish have been playing pretty well as of late, and they will look to keep that going against the Wolverines.
Despite S.F. Austin being 18-0 in their conference, I don’t think they’ll be able to pull the win out over the Mountaineers, but don’t sleep on the Lumberjacks. They could do some damage and they could keep this game close. I just think ultimately West Virginia has more talent and is ready for an Elite 8 run.
Wisconsin has been playing some inspired basketball since the departure of Bo Ryan. They have helped Greg Gard earn a permanent job as the Badgers head coach. I think they will be able to outwork the Panthers of Pittsburgh and get a win for their new coach.
I feel like Xavier has been one of those quietly dangerous teams. They just play good basketball, but very few people are talking about them. As a two seed they will have no issue getting by Weber State in the first round. I could also see them making a deep run this year, but they may run into a road block in the second week.
The East – Round of 32
UNC go put in a terribly hard bracket. The East is so difficult and this Providence team is chomping at the bit to prove themselves. I think the amount of pressure that will be on the Tar Heels as the 1 seed will ultimately get to them in this game, as Kris Dunn and Ben Bentil go off knocking off the first 1 seed of the tournament. Which is a shame, because if UNC was in the West (despite the geography), they would have a much easier path to the Elite 8.
This is what the committee wanted. Neither team was correctly seeded, both probably deserved to be a 3 seed, but this is what happens when you let people who are trying to make a huge profit take over. I am really excited to see the Yogi Ferrell vs Tyler Ulis battle in this game. Yogi is averaging 17 and 5.5 where Ulis is averaging 17.2 and 7.2. The place that Yogi really excels is from 3, where he is shooting 41% compared to Ulis’ 34%. I think Indiana has more weapons, especially from 3 (41% as a team to 36% for UK). Look for IU to get a big win over Kentucky on Saturday.
The Fighting Irish have done something that no one else had ever done, which is win 5 straight games vs UNC and Duke. However, the Mountaineers are a different animal all together. West Virigina has won 6 of their last 7 and their last loss was to Kansas in the Big 12 Title game. I think the Mountaineers will correct their ways and get a big win on Sunday.
Xavier is playing great basketball as of late, and I don’t think it will stop in the Round of 32. Wisconsin will want to slow down the Musketeers and take away possessions by playing a slower paced game if they want to win. It is what they do best, but I think Xavier has what it takes to play their way and force the Badgers into an up-tempo game.
The Midwest – Round of 64
Virginia may not be the best 1 seed, but they certainly won’t lose to Hampton… Sorry Hampton, maybe next year. They have too much talent and are just a GREAT defensive team. Hampton isn’t a particularly good offensive team to begin with, so look for them to be held to under 60.
The Red Raiders are the worst of the Big 12 teams to make the tournament, but bad in the Big 12 is still decent everywhere else. The only thing that really worries me about Tech is their lack of good wins. They did beat ISU, Baylor, and Oklahoma, which was the beginning of a five game winning streak, but since then they have dropped 3 of 4. Look for the Bulldogs to show their teeth and get a win in Raleigh.
Butler was able to pull away late with a win.
Purdue, like the rest of the B1G Ten is feeling a little disrespected, being that they were 3rd in the conference and lost in a close game to MSU in the B1G Ten Championship. They were also 15th overall in the RPI which isn’t everything, but it tells us a lot about what they actually did. Purdue is BIG and PHYSICAL and is going to be too much for Little Rock to handle.
Iona’s AJ English is a STUD, and if they want to win this game, he is going to need to give them the game of his life. But Iowa State as a STUD themselves in Georges Niang. The Cyclones like to move the ball up the court quickly, which is the same style that Iona plays. This should be an exciting high scoring game, but I am giving the edge to Iowa State in a close until late game.
This game has me going back and forth. My heart wants to see Kyle Wiltjer and the Zags make a run, and my brain thinks it’s a good pick. It’s pretty common to see 11 upset 6 and normally if your heart and brain agree, it’s the right decision. However, my gut tells me that Seton Hall is going to the Sweet 16. I like Isaiah Whitehead and think he is going to help the Pirates get there.
This may be one of my more reckless picks of the first round, but I really like what Fresno State is doing right now. The senior, Marvelle Harris, is playing some great basketball all year, and I think he will continue to do so. The Bulldogs have won 9 straight games heading into Thursday’s showdown looking to make it 10. Utah, however, isn’t playing poorly be any means as they lost to Oregon in the Pac-12 Championship for their first loss in 10 contests. The Utes will try to bounce back from their blowout, 31-point loss, but I think they will fall short.
Syracuse does not deserve to be in the tournament. They have been mediocre all year and they have lost 5 of their last 6 games. Dayton on the other hand has won 4 of their last 6 and will look to make quick work of the Orange as they are thankful they don’t have to play someone good, like Valparaiso.
Two words: Denzel Valentine. The dude is a beast averaging 19.4 ppg, 7.6 rpg, and 7.6 apg … He was just one assist shy of his third triple double of the year in the B1G Championship. I believe that MSU is playing the best basketball out of everyone in the tournament right now. They are a great shooting team, and they have a true do-it-all player in Matt Costello, whose numbers are good (10.4ppg and 8.2rpg), but his impact is on the hustle plays. Give me MSU in a big way.
The Midwest – Round of 32
Butler likes to get out and run with the ball. I expect them to try this against Virginia, but I’m not sure how well that will work. The Cavaliers are very stout defensively, and should have zero issues turning over the Bulldogs and getting a win in this game. Kellen Dunham has had a great four years, but it looks like his Butler journey will be ending this weekend.
A.J. Hammons is a man among boys… when he wants to be. It’s a good for Purdue that he has wanted to be much of this year. The senior isn’t the only big boy for this Purdue squad though, look for freshman, Caleb Swanigan to be a big part of Purdue’s success. I think the Boilermakers have what it takes to beat down Iowa State, physically. Purdue will win in a game where the score looks closer than the game actually was.
Fresno State winning their first game as a 14 seed is a fun story, for a day. But I think they’ll have a hangover when they play Seton Hall, which isn’t what you want in the tournament. Seton Hall has played in and won more big games than Fresno State has played. That experience will help them down the stretch.