It’s that time of the year again.
It's when for two weekends in March and one in April nothing matters except the NCAA Tournament.
It’s March Madness!
There isn’t a greater postseason in sports: the best 65 teams in the nation battling, trying to win just 6 games in a row so they can call themselves the 2010 National Champions. From powerhouses like Kansas and Kentucky to first time members Arkansas-Pine Bluff and Wofford, every team has an equal shot. So without further adieu, let the madness begin…
We start in the Midwest, where the number one overall seed, the Kansas Jayhawks, is slated to dominate. Kansas won the Big 12 regular and tournament championships. They have been ranked number one in the country for most of the season, so you would figure the committee would give them the easiest road to the Final Four, right?
They have to get past Big Ten co-champions Ohio State (#2 seed) and Michigan State (#5 seed), Big East tournament finalist Georgetown (#3 seed), and ACC co-champion Maryland (#4 seed). In other words, this region is loaded: Evan Turner, Sherron Collins, and Greivis Vasquez all in one region?!?
Upset Special: #11 San Diego State over #6 Tennessee. The Volunteers haven’t been the same team since they dismissed Tyler Smith off the team. SDSU has beaten New Mexico (#10 in RPI rankings) twice and UNLV (#48 in RPI) twice and they don’t have any bad losses.
They also have a solid rebounder in Kawhi Leonard. They are the sixth best offensive rebounding team in the nation, which creates second-chance opportunities. The only thing they have against them is poor free throw shooting (61.4%...338th in the nation).
Sleeper: This region is just so top heavy that I would have to say #5 Michigan State is a sleeper. While this isn’t the Michigan State of years past, Tom Izzo is still a great tournament coach. They should have no problem in their first game, and then they will likely get #4 Maryland.
If Michigan State can control the tempo, make free throws, and contain Greivis Vasquez, then look for the Spartans to make the Sweet 16 for a matchup with Kansas.
Region Winner: #1 Kansas just has too much experience and too many weapons. They will wear teams down. They shoot 41% for 3 point range and are top five in both offensive and defensive efficiency. They also have an effective field percentage of 55.1% (twelfth in the nation).
Sherron Collins is the most clutch player in the nation, and Cole Aldrich down low is a perfect complement for Collins. Xavier Henry is the best freshman on a team not named Kentucky. This team is scary good.
The East Region’s number one seed is the SEC regular season and tournament champions Kentucky Wildcats. Big East tournament champions West Virginia are the two seed, followed by New Mexico and Wisconsin to round out the top four seeds.
The major question in this region is will Kentucky’s inexperience eventually get to them and cost them a shot at the Final Four? We also have some under-seeded teams facing off against each other in the first round, #5 Temple and #12 Cornell.
Upset Special: #10 Missouri over #7 Clemson. This is a very interesting game. Both teams love to play tough, in-your-face, full court press. They both play a trap and run up and down the court offensively.
Missouri’s Justin Safford is injured, but Missouri still has weapons and a great coach in Mike Anderson. They have a 27 turnover percentage (third in the nation), which is turnovers per possession, and they boast a 15 steal percentage (second in the nation), which is steals per possession.
Sleeper: #4 Wisconsin has been under the radar all year long. They started the season unranked but have beaten the likes of Maryland, Duke, Marquette, Ohio State, Purdue, and Michigan State.
This is the kind of team that can really get into Kentucky’s freshmen’s heads (namely DeMarcus Cousins). They milk the clock on offense, looking for the best shot, distribute the ball well, and have proven leaders in Jason Bohannon and Trevon Hughes. Look for Wisconsin to give Kentucky a battle in the Sweet 16.
Region Winner: #4 Wisconsin has the tools to make a deep run in March. Bo Ryan is a hell of a coach and will have this team ready to play come tournament time. They shoot threes, and make them (36.2%) and have veteran leaders as stated above in the sleeper section. Veteran players are key in the tournament, and it also helps that both of Wisconsin’s leaders are guards, and college basketball is a guard’s game.
The South Region, according to the “experts”, has the easiest road to the Final Four. Duke, the ACC co-champions and tournament champions, have the top seed in the South. Villanova, who has lost six of their last ten, is the two seed. Baylor out of the Big 12 is the third seed, and Purdue, co-champions of the Big Ten, rounds out the top four seeds.
This region is full of sleepers, which is why I don’t believe this is the weakest region. It’ll also be the hardest one to predict.
Upset Special: If you watch ESPN, CBS, etc. you will see nothing but Siena over Purdue as the “sexy” upset pick. In the words of Lee Corso, “not so fast my friend”. For a first round upset, look no further than Old Dominion over Notre Dame.
The Irish had a miracle run in the Big East tournament, and Old Dominion is under seeded at #11. They beat Georgetown in out of conference and cruised through their conference schedule in the CAA , one of the most competitive conferences in the nation (regular season and tournament champions).
Sleeper: #7 Richmond plays a St. Mary’s team that hasn’t proven much this season and is only in because they won their conference tournament, then Richmond would likely get a Villanova team that isn’t playing their best basketball.
Richmond has wins against Mississippi State, Missouri, Old Dominion, Temple, and Xavier. They start two seniors and three juniors, which means they have great team chemistry.
Region Winner: Look for #1 Duke to make it out of the South. They have the best trio in the nation (John Scheyer, Kyle Singler, Nolan Smith) and have one of the best offenses in the nation.
They do it all: rebound, create high-percentage shots, and make their free throws. Defensively, they bring a man-to-man-defense that would make Gene Keady proud.
The West Region, in my opinion, is the weakest region in the tournament. Syracuse, without Arinze Onuaku for at least the first weekend, is the number one seed (Big East regular season champions). Kansas State out of the Big 12 is the two seed, and Pittsburgh (Big East) and Vanderbilt (SEC) round out the top four seeds.
There are some interesting matchups, and possibly a classic 12-5 upset.
Upset Special: #9 Florida State over #8 Gonzaga. Weak, I know (considering 9 seeds win 54% of the time over 8 seeds), but outside of this game, the rest of the first round games in the West appear to be chalk (higher seeds winning).
Florida State boasts a top five defense and Solomon Alabi is one of the best post players in the nation. Their only bad loss is to NC State (twice). The only stat that might come back to haunt them is free throw percentage. They shoot 64.6% from the charity stripe, 298th in the nation.
Sleeper: #6 Xavier plays in the Atlantic 10 conference, the best mid-major conference out there. Their losses are to Marquette, Baylor, Kansas State, Butler, and Wake Forest (2OT) out of conference (all those teams are in the NCAA tournament).
They have a very strong team offensively that likes to drive and either draw a foul or dish it back out for a three point attempt. They have a possible rematch with Kansas State in the Sweet 16, and every team loves to get revenge, especially in the NCAA tournament.
Region Winner: #1 Syracuse has an easy road to the Elite 8 and they will take full advantage of that opportunity. Wesley Johnson can flip the switch and take over a game at any moment.
Syracuse played in the Big East, the best conference, and won the regular season championship by two games. They have a top twenty offense and defense, have the best two point field goal percentage in the nation (57.2%) and also shoot 38.5% from downtown.
So there you have it; my take on this year's NCAA tournament. This year expects to be one of the craziest of all-time, so sit back and watch it all unfold.