At this point you’ve filled out a countless number of brackets. You’ve been invited to 18 different bracket challenges. This is “the year” your bracket won’t be done by the end of Sunday night. Well I’m here to tell you that if you’re reading this it’s too late. Despite what we all like to think, our March Madness will once again be March Sadness. Hopefully it won’t be too bad for you North Carolina Tar Heel fans. So without further ado let me get to the field of 68 (by the time this is posted we’ll be down to 64).
Before getting started I’ll point out that my teams to watch (surprise picks) from last season were terrible. I think only one of the teams won a first round game and none of them made it to the Sweet 16.
North Carolina Tar Heels – Number 1-seed in the East
Pros – experienced team with some star talent. They won the ACC regular season and conference tournament. Led by Brice Johnson who comes in averaging a double-double (16.6 ppg 10.6 rpg). UNC is a deep team at every position. Joel Berry II leads the team in 3 point shooting, Justin Jackson would be considered a “five tool” player if such a thing existed in basketball, then there’s the big man Kennedy Meeks and the rising star Isaiah Hicks. And if that’s not enough there’s – the ACC Preseason Player of the Year – Marcus Paige. Who despite his struggles is starting to look better as of late and is still too dangerous to be counted out.
Cons – Roy Williams, if you know me then you know I’m tough on Roy. Roy’s been outcoached at times this season and he can’t afford to have that now. 3 point shooting – 31.4% as a team – is not UNC’s strength. Joel Berry II has been the team’s most consistent outside threat. Which Tar Heel team will show up? The one that was locked and loaded after a disappointing home defeat to Duke and is currently on a roll with 5 wins in a row. Or the one that comes out flat with no energy and struggles to impose their will on opponents.
Kansas Jayhawks – Number 1-seed in the South
Pros – Kansas is the overall number 1-seed in the tournament. They enter the Big Dance on a 14 GAME WINNING STREAK! 9 of those 14 wins came against teams in the NCAA tournament. Those teams are Kentucky, West Virginia (twice), Oklahoma, Baylor (twice), Texas Tech, Texas, and Iowa State. And like North Carolina they won their regular season and conference tournament titles. The veteran Perry Ellis leads the Jayhawks along with the tough nosed Frank Mason III. Wayne Selden Jr. and Devonte’ Graham have teamed with Mason III to make up a stiff guard trio. Head Coach Bill Self has done what he seems to always do by leading them to their 12th straight Big 12 Regular Season Championship.
Cons – Depth is a problem for the Jayhawks. The four players mentioned above all play over 29 minutes per game with Landen Lucas the next closest with 17.3 min. per game. The scary thing is that talented freshmen Carlton Bragg Jr. and Cheick Diallo have been relegated to the bench for most of the season. Also rebounding will be a key for KU as they enter with a team average of 37.7 rebounds per game (91st in the Nation).
Michigan State Spartans – Number 2-seed in the Midwest
Pros – Denzel Valentine and Tom Izzo. Valentine is expected to win most if not all major National Player of the Year awards. The senior has racked up a stellar season for Sparty. He’s averaging 19.4 ppg, 7.6 rpg, 7.6 apg all while shooting 46.4% from the field, 44.7% from 3 point range, and 85% from the free throw line. I think those numbers speak for themselves when it comes to the National attention that he is receiving. Tom Izzo has been one of the best coaches in the NCAA for the last 20 years. The Spartans finished 2nd in the Big Ten during the regular season but won the conference championship. They enter the NCAA Tournament having won 13 of their last 14 games. MSU has a balanced squad and they get help from senior guard Bryn Forbes and senior forward Matt Costello.
Cons – What happens if Valentine has an off night? He does everything on the court but if he has a rough night, who will respond? Junior guard Eron Harris and freshmen forward Deyonta Davis will be expected to raise their levels of play when the tournament tips off.
This NCAA Tournament is still expected to be full of surprises as it is every March. The West Region is led by the Oregon Ducks but Oklahoma and Texas A&M are lurking on the opposite side of the region. This portion of the bracket is full of tough teams with Duke, Baylor, Texas, Oregon State, and VCU to name a few.
Virginia is the 1-seed in the Midwest. I expect UVA to reach the Elite 8 with their tough defense and senior leader Malcolm Brogdon who was voted ACC Player of the Year and is receiving First-Team All-American selections. Other tough teams in the Midwest include Purdue, Iowa State, and Utah.
The East Region could give us some of the best matchups of the tournament. An Indiana-Kentucky matchup is possible in the 2nd Round with the winner possibly meeting North Carolina in the Sweet 16. A 2nd Round duel between Marcus Paige of UNC and Kris Dunn of Providence could be possible too. West Virginia and Xavier will be slugfest if both teams are able to reach the Sweet 16.
The South Region could either lead to some big time upsets or some big matchups. Most experts have Maryland and California on upset alert. Wichita State won their First Four game versus Vanderbilt and will be a tough challenge for Arizona. The 2-seed Villanova – a perennial tournament slacker – could meet Big 5 rival Temple if both teams take care of their first opponent.
My Final Four is Kansas, Oregon, North Carolina, and Michigan State. I have Michigan State beating Kansas in the championship game. The Jayhawks and Spartans met at the beginning of the season with MSU winning by 6. I’m not putting much stock into that result because both teams were nowhere near the level they’re at right now. Not sure if any of these teams will reach the Final Four but I am sure that we will get plenty of great games and a bunch of “sadness” that all fans of this time of year don’t mind.
Stats and info courtesy of: