This is the first of a weekly series of projecting the Final Four. I’m using the brackets from the most accurate bracketologists by projection performance I’ve found on the web. They can be found at bracketology101.blogspot.com.
Also, based on my own observation, I will be using a benchmark I call the 4-1 rule. This states that at least four teams rated as a six seed or lower must make the Sweet 16, and that at least one of these teams must make the Elite Eight.
Intriguing Matchup: (12) Virginia Tech v. (5) California
What makes this interesting is that VT never beats who they should and beats who they shouldn’t. They don’t shoot well by percentage and rely on their athleticism, but when they play their best, they can go to Wake Forest and win. Just ask UNC how much of a pest this team is.
Cal is one of the sharpest shooting teams in the nation. They are top five in the nation in FG percentage and are the best 3-PT shooting team in the country. But they have serious defensive troubles at times and lack an interior presence.
Based on how they’ve played so far, Cal should win this game.
But the “good” VT could run them out of the gym. Given how VT seems to get up around the ACC tournament in recent years and the fact that Cal is a relatively inexperienced team, I’ll give a very slight edge to VT.
First Round Winners: UConn, Utah, VT, Xavier, Butler, Missouri, Syracuse, Wake Forest
Intriguing Matchup: (9) Utah v. (1) UConn
Utah is the kind of team UConn could lose to without Jerome Dyson. Without his leadership, the Huskies have already shown they can’t win it all.
Now their two most productive players offensively don’t have a lot in the offensive repertoire. Jeff Adrien and Hasheem Thabeet are great rebounders but can’t seriously be relied on to produce the bulk of the offense.
A.J. Price has declined significantly in offensive effectiveness since becoming the lone slasher in the starting lineup.
Even with Dyson, UConn had a major weakness in that they can’t hit jump shots with any kind of consistency. They can play great defense, but if you can defend and attack them, as Pitt did, they are beatable.
Utah presents a lot of problems for UConn. They can battle on the glass and defend. They are also one of the top teams in the country in shooting percentage.
Plus, Utah can battle Thabeet with someone his own size. Their best player is 7’2”, 265 lbs.
Luke Nevill gives the Utes 17 points, eight rebounds, and three blocks a game. He can neutralize Thabeet and put him in major foul trouble.
Right now, I’ll still take the Huskies. Utah has beaten Gonzaga and LSU but has beaten absolutely no one on the road this year.
With all of their major road games in conference coming up, we’ll know by the start of the NCAA tournament whether they can pull this off.
Also notable: (12) VT lost at (4) Xavier by a point in OT already this season.
Second Round winners: UConn, VT, Missouri, Syracuse (A healthy Syracuse has the experience and the inside toughness and point guard play to overcome Wake Forest’s defense; Wake is last year’s UConn team reincarnated, minus a giant center.)
Sweet 16 winners: UConn, Syracuse (I want to take Missouri, but by my own rule I need a lower seed in the Elite Eight, and this is the most logical place for it to happen.)
East Region winner: UConn
Intriguing Matchup: (14) VMI v. (3) Duke
Duke’s team this year is much improved from a year ago in that they don’t solely rely on the three. They do defend well as a team most of the time and have several playmakers they can call on in tough spots.
However, it’s evident that the Blue Devils haven’t fixed all of their problems from the last couple of years. They struggle against the press and struggle against teams with a lot of athleticism. Wake Forest, UNC, and Clemson have shown this.
VMI is basically the Mike D’Antoni Phoenix Suns. They play at 100 miles per hour.
They lead the nation in scoring at 96 a game. They lead the nation in steals per game (14), turnover margin, and threes per game.
Duke isn’t proficient statistically in any offensive category. The only thing that they do extremely well is create turnovers. Otherwise, they’re good but have plenty of room for improvement.
VMI can’t defend a lick. There are 330 teams right now better in rebound margin. On top to that, VMI allows its opponents to shoot 52 percent from the field.
VMI’s main weapon besides their shooting is their press, which they do very well. If you can break the press, you get a ton of easy scores. If you can’t, they can jump on you in a hurry.
Duke’s struggles against pressure this year could spell the major upset of the tournament. With shaky play from the point guard spot at times, VMI could come up with a major upset.
The problem with picking VMI is that they are a very hit-and-miss team. Their first two games of the year sum this up.
They went to Rupp Arena and beat Kentucky 111-103 to start the season, but then lost at Virginia 107-97. They have also recently dropped two games straight against sub-.500 teams.
If VMI brings their A game, they probably beat Duke. However, history is on Duke’s side, as VMI hasn’t fared well against good teams in recent years.
First round winners: Pitt, Tennessee, Purdue, Kansas, Ohio State, Duke, Dayton, Memphis
Second round winners: Pitt, Purdue, Duke, Memphis
Sweet 16 winners: Pitt, Memphis (They have the athleticism and the defense to shut Duke down.)
West Region winner: Pitt (More balance and toughness; Pitt could struggle with several teams in the tournament, but have a really nice draw in this bracket.)
First round winners: Oklahoma, West Virginia, Arizona State, VCU, UNLV, Clemson, Texas, Louisville
Second round winners: Oklahoma, Arizona State, UNLV, Louisville
Intriguing Matchup: (5) Arizona State v. (1) Oklahoma
It’s a battle of lottery picks as Blake Griffin carries his Sooners against James Harden and the Sun Devils.
The Sooners have done what has been asked of them, but they haven’t won in impressive fashion despite having the best player in the nation. They have looked vulnerable in a handful of games this year.
Arizona State has swept UCLA already this year and matches up well with the Sooners. They have their own big man in Jeff Pendergraph who can at least put a body on Griffin.
Both of these teams emphasize their defense, but Arizona State seems to get the most out of their efforts, while Oklahoma seems to fall asleep at the wheel at times. This lack of concentration could cost them a trip to Detroit.
Right now I’ll take the Sun Devils in this one, as Harden can make his supporting cast a bit better right now.
Also notable: UNLV beat Louisville at home 56-55 earlier this year. However, I think the Cardinals have improved and that UNLV has gone a little bit backwards since then.
Sweet 16 winners: Arizona State, Louisville
South Region winner: Louisville (better version of Arizona State with better defensive ability)
Intriguing Matchup: (9) Arizona v. (8) LSU
This is a great matchup of two dangerous teams in the tournament.
The Wildcats started off as rocky and inconsistent as they’ve played over the last few years. However, the light may have finally gone on.
This team has played differently ever since Chase Budinger got stomped on his face against Houston. Arizona rallied to win that game in OT and hasn’t looked back since, beating Washington, USC, and UCLA.
They have a starting trio of Nic Wise, Budinger, and Jordan Hill that can rival anyone else in the country. If they all play up to their potential, the Wildcats can be the sleeper team of the year.
LSU is learning under a new coach. They are learning how to play and how to win as the season goes on.
They couldn’t beat anyone out of conference, losing to Texas A&M, Utah, and Xavier, but have recently won at Tennessee in conference.
They take care of the ball, shoot the three very well, rebound better than most teams in this field, create turnovers, and can play very good on-ball defense.
The only question with them is just how legit they are given the fact that they lived off very mediocre teams in their out of conference schedule. If they make a deep run in the SEC tournament, the jury won’t be out anymore.
This is a battle between the consistent solid play of LSU and the potential for greatness of Arizona. Right now, I’ll take the Wildcats, as I believe they may finally be living up to their potential.
First round winners: UNC, Arizona, Gonzaga, Villanova, Washington, Marquette, Davidson, Michigan State
Intriguing Matchup: (9) Arizona v. (1) UNC
Nic Wise v. Ty Lawson. Chase Budinger v. Danny Green. Jordan Hill v. Tyler Hansbrough.
The only team the Tar Heels have played which could truly match all three of these players was Wake Forest. UNC lost.
On the season, there’s no question North Carolina has played better. But if Jordan Hill truly is a better pro prospect than Hansbrough, he will shut him down. Budinger also has a mismatch in his favor.
The wildcard in this game would be Wayne Ellington, who should get plenty of good looks from behind the arc. He’s been on and off this year, and UNC will need him to get at least 20 to get out of this game alive.
If the good Arizona shows up, they’ll give the Tar Heels all they can handle virtually in their backyard in Greensboro, North Carolina. UNC’s defensive lapses could come back to haunt them in this one.
At the moment I’ll take UNC, as they’ve been the more consistent team this season. Plus the fact that it’s a “home game” really makes a difference.
If UNC is to win it all, this will be the game they look back on and say they “somehow escaped” with a win.
Second round winners: UNC, Gonzaga, Marquette, Michigan State
Sweet 16 winners: UNC, Michigan State
Midwest Region winner: UNC
UConn v. Pitt
After what DeJuan Blair did to Thabeet in the first meeting, there’s no reason to believe he won’t carry Pitt to victory again. Pitt is more versatile in their offensive ability and tougher mentally.
Louisville v. UNC
This is essentially the national championship game, just like UNC v. Kansas was a year ago. It is also a rematch of the East Regional final last year, which the Tar Heels won 83-73.
Louisville can also match up man-to-man against North Carolina and is the better defensive team.
North Carolina has handled the press well in crucial situations so far this year but will face a tough test here.
The wildcard in this game is Louisville freshman Samardo Samuels. If he can rise to the occasion alongside Earl Clark, the Cardinals have the leadership and ability to pull off the win.
If not, Hansbrough should be able to put the team on his back and carry them to the finals.
Right now, I’ll take UNC because they’ve played more consistently throughout the season. But if Louisville plays their A game, which they haven’t yet this year, they’re the best team in the country.
Pitt v. UNC
It’s a battle of the beauty and the beast. Both teams have great production in the frontcourt, but I think the Tar Heels win off the ability of their guards to create offense.
National Champion as of today: UNC
I feel this is more of a logical description of how things could go. I don’t anticipate three teams from the Big East getting to Detroit, but in a year where there are so few great teams, this is the year for it to happen if it’s ever going to happen.