March is going to get wild.
With the release of the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball tournament bracket seedings yesterday, March Madness is upon us. And it’s about to get crazy. For the first time in a while, there is lots of parity in the bracket with numerous teams having a chance to advance and win it all.
Upset Alert: VCU and Colorado. 5 vs 12 seeds are always good matchups to pick an upset and the tables could be turned on VCU this year. Stephen F. Austin, on a 28-game winning streak, leads all Division I teams in assists. Assists translate well to the NCAA tournament, leading to the Lumberjacks possibly upsetting VCU and advancing out of the second round. A 9 over an 8 seed isn’t really an upset anymore, but look for a better Pittsburgh team to beat Colorado, who recently lost their star player to injury.
Teams to Watch: Kansas and Syracuse. Although Florida is the favorite to win the South region and advance to the final four, the 2 and 3 seeds, Kansas and Syracuse could change that. Syracuse was ranked No. 1 for a large portion of the season and has 7 wins against RPI Top 50 teams including Duke and Villanova. Kansas is one of the most talented teams in the nation, but with Joel Embiid injured indefinitely, Kansas could be looking at an early exit.
Player to Watch: Joel Embiid, C, Kansas. Embiid has jumped up the draft board this season, all the way up to the No. 1 selection, with his dynamic play at center. But the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year is out for an unknown period of time, leaving Kansas vulnerable and possibly looking at an early loss in the tournament.
Elite Eight Prediction: Florida vs. Syracuse. Florida is the best team in this region and shouldn’t have much trouble advancing to the Elite Eight. VCU and Pittsburgh might give them some trouble, but nothing the Gators can’t handle. With Embiid out, Syracuse edges Kansas, after beating Ohio State.
Upset Alert: Cincinnati and UNC. Another 5 vs 12 seed upset pick, Cincinnati relies heavily on Sean Kilpatrick and is a very streaky offensive team. Meanwhile Harvard is your stereotypical first round upset, and with a top 35 defense this year, will give Cincinnati trouble. UNC, the No. 6 seed, takes on Providence, an 11 seed, who is on fire after winning the Big East, while North Carolina ended its season with two losses.
Teams to Watch: Michigan State and Iowa State. After winning the Big Ten tournament with a convincing win over the No. 2 seed in the Midwest region Michigan, experts are picking the preseason AP No. 2. Michigan State suffered through injuries the entire year but are now healthy and one of the most talented, experienced and well coached teams in the bracket. Iowa State won their conference tourney, the Big 12, as well, and with five guys that can shoot the three, including Big 12 Player of the Year Melvin Ejim, they are one of the highest scoring teams in the bracket.
Player to Watch: Gary Harris, G, Michigan State. The Spartans leading scorer hurt himself in the Big Ten championship game, but should be fine for the tournament. Harris’ stout defense and polished offensive game make him just one of the many Spartan options when Keith Appling takes the ball down the floor. If Sparty’s going to make a run, Harris is going to be a part of it.
Elite Eight: Michigan State vs. Iowa State. The two best teams in the East region, Iowa State might have trouble with NC Central, but should be able to advance to the Sweet 16 where they’d take on Villanova. While a tough matchup, Iowa State firepower should be enough to advance them to the Elite Eight. Michigan State doesn’t have an easy road either, having to play Cincinnati or Harvard and Virginia to reach the Elite Eight, but they’re starting to play well at just the right time and with Izzo’s coaching, the Sweet 16 is a definite possibility.
Upset Alert: Oklahoma and Gonzaga. Another 5 vs 12 seed matchup in Oklahoma vs. North Dakota State, the Bison are led by a prolific scorer in Taylor Braun, 18.0 PPG and 41.2 percent from 3-point range, which could give the Sooners some trouble. Oklahoma State was a preseason favorite led by Marcus Smart and Markel Brown. Both Smart and Brown should give Gonzaga troubles and could possibly make a tournament run.
Teams to Watch: Oklahoma State and Creighton. Oklahoma State was a preseason top 10 team but fell off with Marcus Smart’s suspension. If they get by Gonzaga, they are very talented and capable of making a tournament run and shaking up the West region. Creighton, led by Doug McDermott, the nation’s leading scorer, has the experience and the shooting key in a tournament run. Creighton is No. 3 in the nation in field goal percentage and No. 1 in 3-point field goal percentage.
Player to Watch: Brady Heslip, G, Baylor. One of the best three-point shooters in the country, having made over 100 three-point shots this season, Heslip and Baylor have been on a late season run and could make some noise in the tournament. Heslip, a senior, leads a Bears team that lost to Iowa State in the Big 12 Championship.
Elite Eight: Arizona vs. Wisconsin. While Oklahoma State will give Arizona a tough time, the Wildcats should be able to get past the Cowboys and their second round matchup to advance to the Elite Eight even without Brandon Ashley. While the Badgers always seem to underachieve come tourney time, this Wisconsin team is more offensively oriented than in years past and is therefore better suited for tournament play. The Badgers should be a shoo-in for the Sweet 16 and will have a tough battle with either Creighton or Baylor. If they can limit the threes, the Badgers should advance to the Elite Eight.
Upset Alert: University of Massachusetts and St. Louis. Both teams will play with winners of play-in games, Massachusetts taking on the winner of Iowa vs. Tennessee and St. Louis taking on the winner of Xavier vs. North Carolina State. The Minutemen faded near the end of the season and could face an Iowa Hawkeye team that likes to run, exposing their short bench, while the Volunteers, on the other hand, are a tough defensive team. In another 5 vs. 12 matchup, St. Louis could have trouble with Xavier or N.C. State after losing in the Atlantic 10 quarterfinals.
Teams to Watch: Kentucky and Michigan. The preseason favorite, Kentucky’s starting five, headlined by four incoming freshman didn’t come together as planned, yielding an 8 seed in the tournament. But as of late the Wildcats have started playing well and were one slip away from beating Florida in the SEC Championship. Kentucky’s athleticism could give Wichita State some problems. Michigan also lost in their conference championship game and was in the preseason top 10. The Wolverines overcame a season ending injury to their star big man, Mitch McGary, to win the Big Ten regular season title. Nobody is giving them any respect as a 2 seed, and their length, even without McGary, could pose problems for Duke.
Player to Watch: Cleanthony Early, F, Wichita State. Last season against Louisville, Early had 24 points and 10 rebounds against the eventual national champions. Early, the Shockers leading scorer, will play another big role if Wichita State is to make another tournament run, especially against an athletic Kentucky team and in a possible rematch against Louisville.
Elite Eight: Louisville vs. Duke. Heavily under-seeded, Louisville, the reigning champion, has many of last years stars returning, including Russ-diculous (Russ Smith), who is even more ridiculous than last year. Rick Pitino has the Cardinals playing their best basketball of the season, having won 12 of the last 13 and shouldn’t have too much trouble till a possible rematch with Wichita State in the Sweet 16. Pitino’s team is playing well enough to beat the Shockers and advance to the Elite Eight. Duke, led by Jabari Parker, the nation’s top freshman, has a tough draw, having to play Mercer, Tennesse/Iowa/UMass in the third round and probably Michigan in the Sweet 16. Duke shouldn’t have too much trouble in the first two rounds, but Michigan’s length may give it some trouble, but the Wolverines will have no match for Parker and Hood, leading to the Blue Devils second Elite Eight appearance since losing to Lehigh in the second round.
Final Four: Florida vs. Michigan State and Arizona vs. Louisville. Led by four senior starters Florida is the best team in the nation for a reason, having won 26 straight and winning both the SEC regular season and tournament title. They beat a stumbling Syracuse team to advance out of the South Region to the Final Four. Michigan State is just hitting its stride and with great experience, depth and coaching, will make its eighth Final Four, and first for the Spartans seniors. Arizona beats a balanced but streaky Wisconsin team with the two best players on the floor in Nick Johnson and Aaron Gordon. And Louisville takes out a Duke team that lacks size and depth, leading to foul trouble for Parker and the Blue Devils, something Rick Pitino and the Cardinal can exploit with their full-court pressure and excellent defense.
National Championship: Michigan State over Louisville. Michigan State beats Florida in a rematch of the 2000 National Championship and Louisville continues its run with a win over Arizona. In the championship, the Spartans beat the Cardinal to bring the NCAA Championship back to East Lansing. After overpowering Florida with good defense and a better offense, the Spartans are able to run with Louisville and have too many weapons for Russ Smith and the Cardinal to stop.