NCAA March Madness Preview

Kyle Laska and Jake Luce

SOUTH

Top Teams: #1 Florida, #2 Kansas, #3 Syracuse, #4 UCLA

   Florida comes in as the top overall team in the tournament, after winning the SEC Championship. The Gators are currently on a 26-game win streak. Kansas enters the tourney with some injury problems, while Syracuse will come  in playing their worst basketball of the year. UCLA has a Pac-12 Championship and an offense that doesn’t stop scoring.

Most Intriguing Matchup: #8 Colorado vs #9 Pittsburgh

   Colorado is a team that really doesn’t stand out. They finished 10-8 in the Pac-12 and are severely challenged offensively. Pittsburgh, however, has an impressive record at 25-9, yet could not beat the best teams in the nation. Seven of their 9 losses were by 5 or less points. This game should be close, as the two teams play a similar style. Expect a tight, well-played matchup.

Biggest Sleeper: #12 Stephen F. Austin

   Riding a 28-game winning streak and Southland Player of the Year Jacob Parker, the Lumberjacks are dangerous. They have a strong defense that prides itself on forcing turnovers. This team could very easily find itself winning against VCU.

Most Overrated: #6 Ohio St.

   The Buckeyes have been a question mark for everyone this year. The team, expected to do big things under head coach Thad Matta, has struggled all year to maintain offense. Although they were an expected lock for at least a 4-seed this year, a 6-seed still seems generous after their poor play.

Top Coach: Jim Boeheim (#3 Syracuse)

   The guy has 947 wins and a national title. It’s probably safe to assume he’s the best coach in the region.

3 Players to Watch:

1) F Andrew Wiggins – Kansas

– Freshman phenom is finally heating up and living up to expectations

2) F Lamar Patterson – Pittsburgh

– This forward leads his team in points and assists, and is second in rebounds

3) G/F Kyle Anderson – UCLA

– A true baller who can score off the dribble and create better than anyone

Winner: #1 Florida

   At the end of the day, the best team will emerge victorious. The Gators, on paper, aren’t  the best team. Kansas, if C Joel Embiid can play, is the best team. However, the question marks are too great for the Jayhawks. Syracuse hasn’t been able to win as of late, and there are no other teams that truly pop out. It’s all about coming into the tourney hot, and the Gators are doing just that.

East

Top Teams: #1 Virginia, #2 Villanova, #3 Iowa St., #4 Michigan St.

   The East features the two hottest teams in the nation: Virginia and Michigan St. Virginia comes in off of a ACC Championship, while Michigan St. comes in off of a Big Ten Championship. Iowa St. just won the Big 12, and is looking like a legitimate contender. Villanova was upset in their conference tournament, but still sports an elite defense.

Most Intriguing Matchup: #5 Cincinnati vs #12 Harvard

   The Bearcats have been a shaky team all year, moving from a top-10 team to an unranked team. However, they still have G Sean Kilpatrick, one of the nation’s top scorers. The Crimson are a definite sleeper as they have a very consistent gameplan, filled with no obvious weaknesses. However, the Bearcats sport a terrifying defense. Harvard pulled off an upset last year in the first round, and if the game goes as expected, they may have a shot at another one.

Biggest Sleeper: #6 North Carolina

   Generally you would never call North Carolina a sleeper. However, the Tar Heels have been so inconsistent this year that they have fallen to a 6-seed. With G Marcus Paige and F James Michael McAdoo, the Tar Heels have shown that they can play with the big boys. They have beaten Duke, Michigan St., and Louisville. However, the team also has bad losses. If the Tar Heels play like Roy Williams expects them to, the Tar Heels have a shot at playing deep into the tourney.

Most Overrated: #2 Villanova

   There is just something about Jay Wright’s Wildcats that doesn’t feel right. The team has a great offense, being a force all year long. The team can handle itself well defensively, as it doesn’t regularly get outplayed. However, the Wildcats are 1-3 against top-25 teams, and they just don’t have that go-to scorer that will take over games. James Bell is a playmaker, but it’s hard to tell if he’s got the “March gene” that allows for certain players to become superhuman. The Wildcats are good, but not National Championship good.

Top Coach: Tom Izzo (#4 Michigan St.)

   His ability to take a team that hasn’t been healthy all year and turn them into a Big Ten Champion is unbelievable. But actually, it’s not unbelievable. It’s Izzo being Izzo. Tom Izzo has a reputation for being a winner, and with the team he has this year, there is no reason to believe it can’t happen again. Izzo can turn any team into a champion, and he’s got that kind of team this year.

3 Players to Watch:

1) G Joe Harris – Virginia

– A good shooter with size, Harris keeps the offense moving with consistent play

2) G DeAndre Kane – Iowa St.

– A ball handler with the true intangibles of a playmaker, plus unbelievable speed

3) G Shabazz Napier – UCONN

– Talented scorer with fantastic vision, and a great ability to create his own shot

Winner: #4 Michigan State

   The key to picking a winner is March isn’t too difficult. First, pick a team with a true superstar; Michigan St. has two in Gary Harris and Adrian Payne. Next, a team that has a good enough coach to draw up a winning gameplan; Michigan St. has Tom Izzo. Then, pick a team who is coming into the tournament hot. The Spartans just won the Big Ten tournament in convincing fashion. Everything is pointing towards Sparty’s success.

West

Top Teams: #1 Arizona, #2 Wisconsin, #3 Creighton, #4 San Diego St.

   Although their best basketball was being played at the beginning of the season, the Arizona Wildcats are still an excellent team who can go far in the tourney.  Wisconsin has had many troubles this season, but they remain one of the top contenders.  Creighton, led by the best scorer in the NCAA, Doug McDermott, and San Diego St., who has one of the strongest defenses in the NCAA, will both have a serious shot at winning the championship.

Most Intriguing Matchup: #8 Gonzaga vs. #9 Oklahoma State.

   Gonzaga had a good season.  However, their strength of schedule was not very tough.  They did not play a single team in the top 25 this season.  Despite this, Gonzaga has a lot of talent on their team, and they have excellent potential.  Oklahoma State also has great potential.  They had a quality win against Kansas, and with star player Marcus Smart, this team can be excellent.  It will be very interesting to see how this game turns out.

Biggest Sleeper: #6 Baylor

   Baylor is a solid team to say the least.  They have won 10 of their last 12 games, and it is very important to be playing your best basketball come tournament time.  Guard Cory Jefferson has had an excellent offensive season, and 7 ft. 1 center Isaiah Austin is a huge threat on both ends of the floor.  This duo can lead Baylor far into the tourney.

Most Overrated: #4 San Diego St.

   The Aztecs had a decent season, and their defense is incredible.  However, I do not believe they will have enough offensive strength in order to be a legitimate contender for the championship.  I would not be surprised if SD State made an early exit in the tourney.

Top Coach: Bo Ryan for Wisconsin.

   Bo Ryan has been an excellent coach over the years, especially at home.  Because his team is playing in Milwaukee, only a short distance from the school’s hometown of Madison, they will have an advantage.  Bo Ryan is 268-101 at home throughout his career, which is why he is the top coach of this region.

3 Players to Watch:

1) F Doug McDermott – Creighton

– Overall, the best scorer in the NCAA, and a top contender for the Wooden award.

2) G Nick Johnson – Arizona

– Excellent all around player.  He can score the ball, dish out assists, and defend.

3) F/C Frank Kiminsky – Wisconsin

-Kiminky is a great forward.  He can not only play in the post, but shoot three-pointers as well.

Winner: #1 seed Arizona

   Arizona is the most complete team in this bracket.  They know how to defend, score, rebound, and win.  The Wildcats will have some tough match-ups, but they will be able to win the Western bracket, and possibly make it to the championship.

Midwest

Top Teams: #1 Wichita State, #2 Michigan, #3 Duke, #4 Louisville.

   Overall, the midwest is the toughest bracket in the tourney.  The number 1 seed, Wichita State, had an undefeated season.  Wichita State has a quick, pesky defense that is excellent at creating turnovers.  Michigan is a team full of excellent shooters, such as Big Ten player of the year, Nick Stauskas.  Stauskas has had an incredible season, and John Beilein should be able to lead Michigan far in the tourney.  Duke has had a good season, but they have not fully reached their expectations.  However, the duo of Coach Mike Krzyzewski and freshman phenom Jabari Parker, is a dangerous matchup for any team.  Louisville had an unbelievable season last year, winning the championship last April.  They do not have the same amount of talent as last year, but it will be interesting to see if the Cardinals can make another run in the tourney.

Most Intriguing Matchup: #7 Texas vs. #10 Arizona St.

   Both teams have had decent seasons.  Texas finished with a record of 23-10, and Arizona finished with a record of 21-11.  The reason that this matchup is exciting is because of these two teams’ potential to play great.  Arizona State stunned Arizona this season, and they also had a solid win against Oregon.  Texas has beaten Kansas, Iowa State, and North Carolina this season, all three of which are high seeds in the tourney.  If both teams play at the level they are capable of, this will be a very exciting game.

Biggest Sleeper: #7 Texas

   As mentioned previously, Texas has an unbelievable potential to play great.  Their front court has been nothing short of spectacular this season, and if they play like they did against Kansas, they can make a run in the tourney.

Top Coach: Coach Mike Krzyzewski of Duke.

   Coach K is easily one of, if not the best coach in all of college basketball.  He has been coaching Duke since 1980, and he has been to the final four 11 times, winning 4 championships.  Experience is key when it comes to March Madness, and no one has more of it than Coach K.

Three Players to Watch:

1.) F Jabari Parker – Duke

– Even as a freshman, Jabari Parker is one of the most dominant players in the NCAA.  He can score, defend, and do it all for the Blue Devils.

2.) G Nick Stauskas – Michigan

– Stauskas is easily one of the best shooters in the nation.  This 6’8” Big Ten player of the year poses a threat for any defense he plays against.

3.) F Cleanthony Early – Wichita St.

– Scoring 15.8 points per game, this power forward is one of the top players in the country.  Also, Early has had experience in the NCAA tournament, being one of the premiere players in last year’s final four.

Winner: #2 Michigan

Just like last year, I believe that Michigan will be able to win their bracket.  Being in the toughest bracket, their journey will not be easy.  However, they have the potential to get past Duke, and possibly hand Wichita State their first loss of the season.  Coach John Beilein and guard Nick Stauskas will prove to big of a threat for their opponents in March.  The Michigan Wolverines will be the winner of the West bracket.