The brackets are out! You know what that means. Everyone is scouring the internet and TV trying to get any advantage they can. The NCAA tournament turns normal people into hardcore gamblers for three weeks.
So here I am, doing my part to try and give you some insight. If you follow my advice, you will either look like a genius or an idiot. In March, there is no in-between. My best advice is to gather as much information as you can and follow your gut!
Now on to the East Region!
(1)Villanova(12-1 vs. field) vs. (16)Lafayette(1-2 vs. field) at Syracuse, NY: Villanova is making their 35th NCAA tournament appearance and their third straight. This is the 30th anniversary of possibly the most unlikely Championship in tournament history: Villanova’s miracle. That was their only title. They have been back to the Final Four as recently as 2009. Lafayette is making their fourth NCAA tournament appearance, but their first since 2000. They have yet to advance past the first round.
Villanova has not made it out of the first weekend since 2009. This causes many bracketeers to choose them to be ousted early. This year, the presence of Daniel Ochefu in the middle could make the difference. Villanova is no longer just a team of bombers.
Lafayette has no chance to contain Ochefu. They likely won’t have any luck containing anyone else either. Pick: Villanova
Death Valley Voice
(8)North Carolina State(4-9 vs. the field) vs. (9)LSU(6-1 vs. the field) at Syracuse, NY:
NC State is making their fourth straight and 26th overall tournament appearance. They have two National Championships, the most recent being the famed 1983 title. They have not been back to the Final Four since. LSU is participating in their 21st tournament, but it is their first since 2009. They don’t have a title, but they have made four Final Fours. The most recent was in 2006.
Abdul-Malik Abu and Lennard Freeman are going to have their hands full in this one. LSU is huge, and their bigs are athletic. The Wolfpack are a more guard oriented team. Whoever is able to impose their will will take the game. LSU doesn’t really have the guard play to contain NC State, and the Wolfpack don’t have the bigs to battle Jordan Mickey and Jarrell Martin.
At 6’6″, Tim Quarterman is going to be tough for the smaller North Carolina State guards to control. The quickness of NC State will have to be a factor to keep them in the game. Ultimately, LSU’s size up front is going to win out. Pick: LSU
(5)Northern Iowa(4-2 vs. the field) vs. (12)Wyoming(4-3 vs. the field) at Seattle, WA:
The Panthers are making their seventh NCAA tournament appearance, and the first since 2009. That 2009 season saw them make the Sweet Sixteen, the farthest they have advanced in the Dance. Wyoming is making their 15th tournament appearance, but their first since 2002. The Cowboys have been to one Final Four. That was all the way back in 1943 when the claimed their National Championship.
Northern Iowa is full of sharpshooters. Senior forward Seth Tuttle is a matchup nightmare. He is 6’8″, but he can hit perimeter shots with the best of them. That allows the Panthers to spread opponents out and get their big men out of the paint area.
Larry Nance Jr. is a force in the middle for Wyoming, He is an accomplished scorer and a prominent figure on defense. Wyoming likes to slow the game down and grind you. They are good at making the extra passes on offense to open up the middle.
This could be the lowest scoring game of the first round. Both teams shoot well, but they don’t shoot often. There is will be a lot of passing, and a lot of calculated shots. I give UNI the advantage because of their shooters on the perimeter. That said, Wyoming gets the advantage of location. Laramie is a lot closer to Seattle than Waterloo is. Pick: Northern Iowa
Big Red Louie
(4)Louisville(4-7 vs. the field) vs. (13)UC Irvine(0-3 vs. the field) at Seattle, WA:
Louisville is making their eighth straight and 41st overall NCAA tournament appearance. They have three National titles, the most recent coming in 2013. UC Irvine is making their first ever NCAA tournament appearance.
The Cardinals are no pushover – they just ousted Virginia in the ACC tournament – but they aren’t the most consistent team around. Terry Rozier is everywhere for the Cardinals. At 6’1″, he still managed to grab more than five rebounds per game and finish tops on the team in points and second in assists. Montrezl Harrell is nearly averaged a double-double this season, and defends the interior nicely.
Irvine’s claim to fame, aside from the unusual nickname (Anteaters), is their 7’6″ redwood tree in the middle. Mamadou Ndiaye is a slightly more coordinated and aggressive version of Manute Bol. 6’8″ Will Davis looks tiny next to him, but Davis is a more accomplished scorer and rebounder.
UC Irvine has the size in the middle to give Harrell hell, but they just don’t have anyone to chase down Rozier. The Anteaters can keep this close, but will likely get mugged into submission. Pick: Louisville
(6)Providence(7-8 vs. the field) vs. (11)Dayton(3-3 vs. the field) at Columbus, OH:
Providence is making their second straight and 14th overall tournament appearance. They have not advanced past the first round since 1997, and have not made a Final Four since 1987. Dayton made a run to the Elite Eight last year with basically the same team. This is their second straight and 14th overall appearance as well.
Kris Dunn is fun to watch. He averaged 15.8 points, 7.6 assists, 5.6 rebounds, and 2.8 steals per game this year. He can do it all. LaDontae Henton plays bigger than he is. He is an accomplished scorer who can hit from anywhere.
Dayton stormed back beat Boise last night basically without Jordan Sibert, who was in foul trouble most of the game. Scoochie Smith and Dyshawn Pierre carried the Flyers. They have so many weapons that you can’t just key on one. Dayton also got a terrific draw. Not only did the get a home game in the play-in, they are only a couple of hours from home for the first and second rounds. This may be too much for for Providence to overcome. Pick: Dayton
Stormin in Norman
(3)Oklahoma(11-6 vs. the field) vs. (14)Albany(0-1 vs. the field) at Columbus, OH:
Oklahoma is making their 29th tournament appearance and third in a row. They have made it to four Final Fours, most recently in 2002. Their best shot at a title was in 1988 when they lost to Kansas after beating them three times before in that season. Albany is making their fifth tournament appearance and third in a row. They won their play-in game last year for their first NCAA tournament win.
The Sooners have one of the best starting fives in the country, but their lack of depth could hurt in the tournament. Buddy Hield and Isaiah Cousins are big, physical guards who can shoot from all over. Ryan Spangler and TaShawn Thomas are beasts in the middle. Sometimes their lack of consistency and inability to put games away has caught up with them. But if they get hot, there are few teams that can beat them.
Sam Rowley is the best scorer on the team, and Peter Hooley is a good all around player. The Great Danes, despite their nickname, are very undersized. They may have the play on the perimeter to neutralize the Oklahoma guards, but they have no answer for the big guys in the middle. Pick: Oklahoma
(7)Michigan State(7-8 vs. the field) vs. (10)Georgia(2-6 vs. the field) at Charlotte, NC:
The Spartans are in the tournament for the 17th straight time, and the 29th overall. They last made it to the Final Four in 2010, and won the most recent of their two titles on 2000. Georgia is making their 12th tournament appearance, and their first since 2011.
It’s March, so Michigan State has flipped the switch. They are possibly the most dangerous team in the tournament come March. And they have a fairly decent draw this year. The Spartans lack the size of previous teams, but Denzel Valentine is a tough one to guard. He is long for a guard, and can hit from all over the place.
Marcus Thornton is going to be a tough matchup for Branden Dawson on the inside. That said, the Bulldogs don’t have anyone to stop Denzel Valentine. Here it comes down to coaching. I’m taking Izzo in March. Pick: Michigan State
(2)Virginia(9-3 vs. the field) vs. (15)Belmont(0-2 vs. the field) at Charlotte, NC:
Virginia is going to their second straight NCAA tournament and 19th overall. They have not been to a Final Four since 1984 though. Belmont has made their seventh tournament, all of them since 2006. They have yet to advance past the first round though.
The Cavaliers are one of the toughest teams to play. They swarm on defense and have the size to push anyone around. They allow the fewest points in the nation as well. Malcolm Brogdon is the most accomplished scorer on the team, but they don’t need scorers when they play defense like that.
Belmont is 32nd in points per game, 26th in assists, and 25th in field goal percentage. They do a lot of things well, but how good was their competition? As evident by only two games against teams in the tournament field, not very. They haven’t faced a team anything close to Virginia’s defense. This could get ugly. Pick: Virginia
First round winners: Villanova, LSU, Northern Iowa, Louisville, Dayton, Oklahoma, Michigan State, Virginia
Second round winners: Villanova, Northern Iowa, Oklahoma, Michigan State
Sweet Sixteen winners: Northern Iowa, Oklahoma
Regional Champion: Oklahoma
Okay, maybe my bias is showing here a little bit, but they are due. Oklahoma has the easiest road they have had in a while, and the best team that they have had possibly since 1990.
Stay tuned for the final region: the South!
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