NCAA Tournament: 15 Bold Predictions for March Madness
The NCAA Tournament's one and done format not only makes for the most dramatic play of the season but it also sets the stage for bold decisions and choices to determine who advances and who goes home.
One of the boldest tournament decisions in recent memory occurred just last season when Northern Iowa's Ali Farokhmanesh hit the shot heard round the world which ultimately upset the top seeded Kansas Jayhawks.
In honor of Farokhmanesh's bold decision and because the NCAA Tournament is about two weeks away, it seems like the perfect time to make some bold predictions of my own about what will happen in this year's tournament.
These bold predictions will pertain only to what will happen in or as a result of the upcoming NCAA Tournament and they will go out on a limb while maintaining some level of plausibility.
I could make a prediction that a 16 seed will win the tournament, and while it's certainly bold, the chances of that happening are virtually non-existent. Instead, these predictions will be bold but possible which makes them all the more interesting.
Without further delay here are 15 bold predictions for the 2011 NCAA Tournament.
1. the Big East Will Only Have One Team Reach the Elite Eight
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It might seem ridiculous that the deepest and probably best conference in America would only have one team advance past the Sweet 16, but almost all of the Big East squads have shown some kind of weakness that could make for a surprising year of early round upsets.
Last season the Big East sent eight teams to the dance and had only one advance past the Sweet 16, so it might not seem all that far fetched especially when you start looking at the teams individually.
The Big East might get 11 teams into the tournament and if that's the case, Cincinnati, Marquette, and West Virginia would be the last three teams from the conference to secure bids.
All three teams are good there's no doubt about that, but unless they go on deep runs through the Big East Tournament they will likely be receiving seeds that are eight or above which will make for tough opening round matches that all three could conceivably lose.
Moving on to the teams who will definitely make the dance, Villanova and Georgetown immediately standout as those who are ripe for a first or second round upset because of recent developments.
Georgetown is just a different team without Chris Wright (that's not a knock on them, who wouldn't be?) who broke his non-shooting hand last week. Wright is supposed to be back by the time the tournament starts but it's tough to say how effective he will be if and when he does come back.
Villanova is starting to look a lot like the team that was upset in the second round last year and the relative struggles of their backcourt could sink this team if they don't start to pick up their play.
After those five, you're left with six teams all of which are obviously very talented, but cold shooting days could spell doom for Louisville or Notre Dame and if Kemba Walker isn't at the top of his game, UConn is definitely beatable.
Then there's St. John's who could easily make a run through the tournament but I don't think it would raise many eyebrows if this team lost in the Sweet 16.
The same could be said about a Syracuse squad that seems to have found it's stride more recently but I find it hard to believe that they've completely solved all of the issues which contributed to them losing six out of eight games not too long ago.
Pittsburgh is the most likely candidate to make the Elite Eight and they're an extremely tough team, but when you're dealing with a season as unpredictable as this one, who knows what could happen to them in the tournament.
Although I'm not really buying the cliche idea that the relentless physical play of the Big East has worn these teams down over the course of the season, I do think that because the Big East Tournament has so many rounds that it can negatively affect teams who go on deep runs right before the NCAA Tournament is about to start.
It's a testament to how good the Big East is that it's a bold prediction to state that they will only have one team in the Elite Eight, but we saw last season, it's entirely possible that a bunch of the Big East teams don't come to play in the tournament.
It might be unlikely that only one team for the Big East reaches the Elite Eight but it's certainly bold and plausible so let's move on.
2. Jimmer Fredette Will Drop 40 or More Points in a Tournament Game
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Jimmer Fredette needs no introduction, he's officially reached mythical status at the collegiate level.
The senior guard from upstate New York has already dropped 40 or more points in three games this season but doing so in the tournament is entirely different.
At the same time, Fredette is nearly impossible to guard because of his ridiculous range and ability to get to either the basket or free throw line effortlessly.
Because of the many different ways he can beat you, there really isn't another player in America who presents such a challenging defensive assignment as Fredette does
After their victory over San Diego State this weekend, it seems certain that BYU will wrap up a very high seed in the tournament which will no doubt have the Cougars playing a team in the first round that Fredette could take advantage of.
While that might seem like the perfect situation for the sweet shooting guard to drop 40, I think he's even capable of doing so in a later round game which turns into a shootout and requires him to keep pace with another high scoring team.
We've known for a long time that the best guards can takeover tournament games and we've seen first hand that Fredette has the potential to carry this BYU offense if he has to.
The fact that tournament games are generally called a little tighter by the officials, only furthers Fredette's chances to get 40 because he draws a lot of contact when he has the ball and is shooting just about 90 percent from the line.
Fredette will no doubt have a target on his back during the month of March but because he's simply so tough to defend and should benefit from more constant trips to the free throw line, he will drop 40 or more points in a tournament game that takes place after the first round.
3. the Final Four Won't Include Any Number One Seeds
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Since the NCAA Tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985, the only time that the Final Four didn't include any number one seeds was 2006.
Even though history tells us that it's unlikely for all the number one seeds to bow out before the Final Four, college basketball hasn't seen this much instability from the nation's best teams in some time.
Over the course of the season and especially during the last few weeks, it's been nearly impossible to determine who the number one team in the nation should be, let alone who the best four teams in the country are.
We've seen teams like Duke, Ohio State, Kansas, Pittsburgh, and Texas all stake their claim to be considered the number one team in the nation only to see these teams lose soon after they were moved up in the polls.
Because the regular season has featured so much volatility at the top of the food chain and there appears to be so many other teams in the nation capable of pulling off the upset come tourney time, it seems only fitting that the 2011 NCAA Tournament would follow suit and leave the Final Four void of any number one seeds.
When you take into account that the four top teams in the nation all lost at least one game during the same week in mid-February, it might not follow the history of the tournament to see no number one seeds represented in this year's Final Four but it's been that kind of a year in college basketball.
4. Tu Holloway Will be a Household Name by the Time the Tournament is Over
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It's hard to believe that a player putting up 20 points, five rebounds, and five assists for a team that's hovered right around the Top 25 all season isn't more well known nationally.
But because Tu Holloway plays for Xavier in the Atlantic 10, his incredible season has flown largely under the radar.
Standing just 6'0'' Holloway is one of the fiercest competitors in the college game today.
Whether he's making teams pay from deep or using his superior quickness to blow by defenders, this junior guard has been nearly impossible to stop this season.
Because of the way that Holloway aggressively attacks the basket, he averages nearly nine free throw attempts per game and his toughness around the rim allows him to finish in traffic amongst much bigger players.
The diminutive guard is also a surprisingly good rebounder and despite the fact that Xavier leans heavily on him to carry the scoring load, he's also a very good playmaker who can get his teammates involved.
Holloway plays one of the most intriguing brands of basketball in the country and as many others have done before him, he should use the tournament as his own personal coming out party to announce his presence on the national scene.
This Xavier team is also capable of making some noise in the tournament and another Sweet 16 run powered by Holloway's transcendent play should have even the most casual college basketball fans recognizing the talent he possesses.
5. North Carolina Will Last Longer Than Duke in the Tournament
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After the first few weeks of the season it appeared that Duke had a very realistic shot at winning back-to-back National Championships and that North Carolina would struggle to once again return to the tournament.
And while Duke still has to be considered a contender for another championship, the loss of star freshman Kyrie Irving has certainly hurt their chances as has the lack of a true low post presence.
Outside of Mason Plumlee, the Blue Devils haven't gotten much production from their big men because neither Ryan Kelly nor Miles Plumlee have shown the necessary physicality to excel in the paint.
Meanwhile, North Carolina seems to be peaking at the right time and the addition of Kendall Marshall to the starting lineup has stabilized the Tar Heels backcourt.
North Carolina is 11-1 since Marshall has taken over the starting point guard duties and he has given Roy Williams a player who is capable of setting up their extremely impressive post players and wings with easy scoring opportunities.
The Tar Heels are athletic, one of the best rebounding teams in the nation, and boast a terrific post duo of Tyler Zeller and Jon Henson who should pose some serious matchup problems for most teams they will see come tournament time.
Obviously, Duke is still a very good team but their recent losses against St. John's, Virginia Tech, and their close victory over North Carolina have shown that this team is indeed beatable.
After watching those games, it's conceivable that Duke could lose in the Sweet 16 while North Carolina could potentially make a run to the Elite Eight thanks to their much improved play during the second half of the season.
6. Two Teams from the Pac-10 Will Make the Sweet 16
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The Pac-10 certainly doesn't possess the depth or firepower that some of the other major conferences do, but that doesn't mean that Arizona, UCLA, and Washington won't give this conference a good name once the tournament gets underway.
All three teams will most likely be making an appearance in the tournament, and while it doesn't seem as though any of them will be receiving anything higher than a six or a seven seed, they're all capable of doing some damage.
Arizona's play has been one of the biggest surprises in the Pac-10 this season and even though they haven't exactly compiled a resume full of impressive wins, Derrick Williams is a special player who can dominate a given game.
When you combine a player as dynamic as Williams with a deep backcourt that's one of the best in the nation at shooting the three, the Wildcats can get hot and be a headache in March.
UCLA might not always put everything together on every night, but they have a roster that's full of talent.
Their recent wins over Arizona and St. John's show just how dangerous this team can be when players like Reeves Nelson, Malcolm Lee, Josh Smith, and Tyler Honeycutt are playing well. Because of this, it wouldn't be a shock to see them notch a couple of victories in the tournament before going home.
The Washington Huskies have arguably the most impressive roster in the Pac-10 but after recent losses to the likes of Washington State (twice), Oregon, and Oregon State it appears that Lorenzo Romar's squad is slumping at the worst possible time.
Even still, I'm a believer in what guys like Isiah Thomas, Matthew Bryan-Amaning, and Justin Holiday can do once this team gets into the tournament.
The inside play of Aziz N'Diaye could be the difference maker for a Washington team who can absolutely score with anyone but has lacked the necessary intensity on the defensive side of the floor during the last couple of weeks.
All three teams are capable of winning multiple games in the tournament, and I'm predicting Sweet 16 runs for two of the three.
7. Either BYU or San Diego State Will Make the Final Four
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Whether or not BYU or San Diego State are legitimate threats to make a deep tournament run has certainly been a fun debate for college basketball fans to have for the majority of the season.
Regardless of how you feel about the teams that BYU and San Diego State have played against this season, it's hard to deny that both have legitimate stars leading the way and some pretty impressive supporting casts as well.
BYU is more than just Jimmer Fredette and they are an extremely good shooting team who takes care of the ball and doesn't beat themselves.
Fredette has certainly dominated the headlines when anyone talks about BYU, but there are plenty of other pieces on this team which make a run to the Final Four a possibility.
Losing Brandon Davies is a significant blow but Noah Hartsock can give this team some production in the frontcourt and Davies absence should allow BYU to push the tempo even more which definitely plays to the strengths of this team.
Guys like Jackson Emery (who is a pretty impressive player in his own right) and swing man Charles Abouo should benefit from this switch to an uptempo game plan which could cause some significant matchup problems for opposing teams .
San Diego State is a very big, athletic, and defensive minded team who can create matchup problems of their own.
Kawhi Leonard is an extremely talented all-around player who is also a menace on the glass and he combines with Malcolm Thomas, Brian Carlwell, and Billy White to make an intimidating frontcourt.
D.J. Gay has shown this season that he can step up and lead this team to victory with his outside shooting and although their two losses against BYU are fresh in everyone's mind, those are the only two games the Aztecs have lost all season.
Both teams will be getting high seeds which will only make their road to a Final Four easier and it's hard to bet against two teams who have players like Jimmer Fredette and Kawhi Leonard leading the way.
8. JaJuan Johnson Will Ascend to the Pinnacle of College Basketball Stars
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This isn't to say that JaJuan Johnson doesn't get his share of publicity from the media because the senior from Purdue is one of the 10 finalists for the Oscar Robertson Award, which is given annually to the nation's top player.
But when you think of the best players from around the country, Johnson's name is generally not mentioned in the same breath as guys like Jimmer Fredette, Nolan Smith, Kemba Walker, and Jared Sullinger.
All four of those guys have had fantastic seasons, but if you look at what Johnson has done for this Purdue team during his senior season, you could make the case that he deserves to be mentioned with these players and that he might even be having a better season than a few of them.
The fact that Johnson is putting up 20 points and eight rebounds per game for a team that is eying a top two seed in March is reason enough to include him with the aforementioned players.
Johnson's numbers and team success are similar to what some of the players from the above group have achieved, but the thing that sets him apart in my eyes is his ability to change any game with his defense.
Johnson blocks 2.4 shots per game and is a constant deterrent around the basket in addition to what he does on offense and the boards.
With recent wins over Illinois, Wisconsin, Ohio State, and a 20 point thrashing at Michigan State, it seems as if the Boilermakers are peaking at the right time and Johnson's play in the tournament will see him mentioned with and even eclipse guys like Fredette, Walker, Smith, and Sullinger.
9. a 15 or 16 Seed Will Win a Game.
Since the NCAA Tournament expanded in 1985, only four 15 seeds have ever defeated a two seed and we all know that a 16 seed has never toppled a number one seed.
It's certainly not a common occurrence that a 15 or 16 seed even keeps their first round game close but it's not totally unprecedented either. The last team to pull off an upset of this magnitude was Hampton back in 2001 when they defeated Iowa State in one of the most shocking tournament games ever.
And while a 16 seed has never managed to win a tournament game, teams like Princeton, East Tennessee State, Murray State, and most recently Western Carolina have all made some of the nation's top teams sweat out their first round games.
In a regular season that has seen plenty of erratic play from some of the nation's best, it seems that this season might be one of the best chances that we've had in a long time to see a 15 or 16 seed pull off one of the biggest upsets in tournament history.
There are still plenty of games to be played before Selection Sunday, but teams like Kent State, Charleston, Long Island, Murray State, or Morehead State all seem like they're capable of shocking the world.
10. Old Dominion Will Make the Sweet 16
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The field of 68 seems as wide open as it's ever been and the Old Dominion Monarchs have all the ingredients for a trip to the Sweet 16.
Old Dominion isn't going to blow you away with their offensive firepower or gaudy statistics but they excel in the areas of rebounding and defense which have historically helped mid-majors cut power conference teams down to size in the tournament.
This Old Dominion team is just relentless on the glass and they're the best offensive rebounding team in the nation, recouping 45 percent of their missed shots.
The fact that this team has the ability to gain so many extra possessions off of their missed shots is a huge advantage for ODU and definitely makes up for the fact that they're not a great shooting team.
The Monarchs are also very tough defensively and this team has the ability to slow down the game and grind out a few wins once the tournament starts.
Unlike most mid-majors, the Monarchs have played a very solid schedule and they have recorded wins over Clemson, Xavier, Richmond, Dayton, Cleveland State, George Mason, and they fell to Georgetown by just three points in the first game of the season.
Frank Hassell is a game changer in the paint and players like Kent Bazemore, and Ben Finney are just the type of slashing swing men who can propel this team to a couple of wins in the tournament.
There are plenty of quality mid-major teams who have the potential to win a few games in this year's tournament, but Old Dominion is right at the top of that list because of their dominance on the glass and tough defense.
11. Someone Will Record a Triple-Double in the Tournament
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This astounding feat has been accomplished just nine times in the history of the tournament.
Basketball greats like Oscar Robertson, Magic Johnson, and Shaquille O'Neal have all recorded triple-doubles in the tournament and the last player to do so was Cole Aldrich back in 2009.
There's no doubt that recording a triple-double in the tournament is one of the rarest things that can happen but when you look at some of the players who will be on the court this March it seems possible.
In almost every triple-double points and rebounds are a given, so let's examine some of the guys who could potentially pair double digit points and rebounds with either double digit blocks or assists.
When it comes to blocks, guys like Keith Benson (3.8 bpg), John Henson (3.2 bpg), Kenneth Faried (2.1 bpg), Rick Jackson (2.4 bpg) Tristan Thompson (2.2 bpg), and JaJuan Johnson (2.4 bpg) immediately jump off the page as guys who could perhaps block 10 shots in a game.
But the really intriguing triple-double candidates come from the guard position where players who are asked to do it all for their teams have compiled some pretty insane stats this season.
Players like Norris Cole, Brad Wanamaker, Tu Holloway, Jordan Taylor, Nolan Smith, Kemba Walker, and Darius Morris all average double digit points, at least four rebounds, and over four and a half assists per game.
Holloway, Walker, and Morris have already recorded triple-doubles this season and Norris Cole was just one assist from accomplishing this feat during his epic 40-20 game in mid-February.
It's not a sure thing that all of these players make it to the dance but with the exception of Morris and Cole the rest will no doubt be playing at least one, if not more games in the tournament.
If Florida State's Chris Singleton can recover from his broken foot by the time the tournament gets underway, he's also a potential triple-double candidate thanks to his amazing ability to accumulate blocks and steals.
It would be only the 10th time a player recorded a triple-double in tournament history, but there are plenty of talented players around the country who have shown that they're capable of accomplishing this feat.
12. This Year's Kentucky Team Will Go as Far or Farther Than Last Year's Squad
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Speaking strictly from a talent standpoint, it's not much of a fair fight to compare last season's Kentucky roster to this season's.
A team which included the likes of John Wall, Patrick Patterson, DeMarcus Cousins, and Eric Bledsoe was certainly a force to be reckoned with and they led the Wildcats to the Elite Eight before falling to West Virginia.
This year's version of the Kentucky Wildcats is very talented, but they certainly wouldn't be confused with last season's team.
Of course, they do feature another impressive freshmen class which consists of Terrence Jones, Brandon Knight, and Doron Lamb, who have enough talent to allow this Kentucky team to compete with anyone in the nation.
In addition to their prized freshmen, this Kentucky team is athletic, long, deadly from behind the arc, and they have a very impressive group of veteran role players who should be ready to do their part come tournament time.
Darius Miller has really started to step up his game in the last few weeks and the junior guard has become another consistent scoring option for John Calipari in addition to their three freshmen.
DeAndre Liggins might not be quite the scorer that Miller is, but this 6'6'' swing man is a terror on defense and has done an excellent job locking down the opposing teams best player all season.
Finally, Josh Harrellson is a mountain in the middle and has become a difference maker under the basket as a rebounder, shot blocker, and capable finisher.
There's no doubt that the 2010-11 version of the Wildcats have struggled mightily on the road, but as we all know tournament games are held at neutral sites so this shouldn't play as much of a factor.
This Kentucky team isn't as good on paper as they were last season, but tournament games aren't played on paper.
This team has the right combination of talented freshmen and returning role players to match what this team did last during last season's tournament and might even take it a bit farther.
13. Kemba Walker Will Struggle in the Tournament
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UConn's Kemba Walker has had an incredible individual season and is a huge reason why the Huskies have far exceeded their preseason expectations.
The 6'1'' guard has been nearly unstoppable during his junior season and whether he's getting to the rim or pulling up from behind the arc, there haven't been many players who are as tough to defend as this native New Yorker.
Despite his brilliance during the majority of the regular season and the fact that I included him as a player who could potentially record a triple-double, I'm predicting a rocky NCAA Tournament from one of the nation's best players and leading scorers.
Due to the fact that he's had to carry the majority of the load for this UConn team all season, Walker is averaging an astonishing 37 minutes per game because Jim Calhoun doesn't have the luxury of resting his best player for very long.
When you combine the number of minutes Walker has logged this season with how hard he plays the game, it wouldn't be a complete shock to see him a little low on energy once the tournament rolls around.
On top of the fatigue factor, teams like Louisville, Syracuse, Pittsburgh, and St. John's have laid out the blueprint of how to stop Walker.
Whether these teams played man or zone, they chose to guard Walker collectively and threw multiple looks and defenders at him. These defensive tactics essentially forced Walker to either take contested shots or defer to teammates and definitely played a big role in limiting one of the nation's best players.
Whoever faces Connecticut in the tournament will no doubt make it their priority to focus on Walker and force some of the younger and less proven scorers on this team to beat them in the postseason.
Walker is a great player, one of the best in the nation, but I'm predicting a rocky tournament for this superstar who will no doubt be the focus of every team he plays and just might be feeling the effects of a full season of wear and tear.
14. Texas Will Lose Before the Sweet 16
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On the surface, the Texas Longhorns look to have everything necessary for a deep tournament run.
Even considering their recent struggles, Texas is one of the best defensive teams in the country, they feature two players in Jordan Hamilton and Tirstan Thompson who have NBA level talent, and they have a very competent supporting cast.
But when you dig a little deeper into the makeup of this team it appears that Rick Barnes and Co. are destined for another early round exit.
During their recent slide which has seen this team lose three of their last four games, Texas has exhibited an alarming trend of being severely outplayed in the second half.
In these three losses the Longhorns have been outscored by 34 points in the final 20 minutes, which could certainly become an issue if this disturbing play continues into the tournament.
Another factor that definitely increases the likelihood of an early exit is the Longhorns below average free throw shooting.
Texas is shooting under 65 percent from the charity stripe as a team and some of the Longhorns most important players like Tristan Thompson, Gary Johnson, and Dogus Balbay may end up hurting this team more than helping them down the stretch of a hotly contested tournament game.
One of the reasons why this Texas team was so much better than they were a year ago was because of the maturation of Jordan Hamilton and his shot selection.
During his freshman season, Hamilton wasn't a very willing passer and took way too many bad shots to be much of a difference maker for the Longhorns.
During this recent slide Hamilton seems to have reverted back to his old ways. The sophomore is shooting just 22 of 72 from the field and hasn't shown the patience on the offensive end of the floor which made him one of the most dangerous scorers in the country for the majority of the season.
Hamilton absolutely has the ability to correct these issues which plagued him during his freshman season but it's become apparent that he tends to revert to these selfish ways when things aren't going well.
If Texas comes out flat in a tournament game we could be in store for last season's Jordan Hamilton, which didn't workout very well for the Longhorns then and probably won't serve them very well now.
There's no denying that Texas is one of the most talented teams in the nation, but their recent slide will no doubt have them looking at tougher opponents in the first few rounds of the tournament.
When you combine that with all of the factors mentioned above, I'm predicting either a first or second round exit for Texas.
15. Wisconsin Will Win the National Championship
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You can't have a list of bold predictions about the NCAA Tournament without crowing a champion and my bold pick to win it all is the Wisconsin Badgers.
Bo Ryan's team has put together an impressive 22-6 record which includes wins over Purdue, Marquette, Illinois, Minnesota, Michigan State, and Ohio State.
The Badgers play their traditional hard nosed defense and slow tempo which has only allowed 70 or more points once all season and can dominate even the best scoring teams.
At the same time, they're also a force to be reckoned with on offense.
Wisconsin is an extremely efficient offensive team that shoots good percentages from both inside and beyond the arc as well as being the best free throw shooting team in the nation.
In addition to their superb shooting, the Badgers take great care of the ball which is evidenced by the fact that only two guys on the roster average more than a turnover per game and neither of these players turns it over anywhere near two times per game.
The dynamic duo of Jon Leuer and Jordan Taylor is a formidable tandem and each player is one of the best in college basketball at their respective positions.
Leuer and Keaton Nankivil are extremely challenging for opposing teams to matchup with because both players are 6'8'' or taller and hit over 40 percent of their three pointers. Because of this, the Badgers force most big men out of their comfort zone defensively by taking them away from the basket which can leave the middle virtually unguarded for easy opportunities at the rim.
The main contributors on this Wisconsin team are upperclassmen who have tournament experience and should be ready to make waves once March Madness begins.