It’s almost the best time of year again, where everyone fills out brackets and has their hopes dashed by that pesky 15 seed and loses their money time and time again. But we all keep coming back to it. Why must we subject ourselves to such torture?
Because we get a full month of chaotic, spirited basketball; an unrivaled finale to a long season, where any team can go from unknown to household. We all want to know who the glass slipper will fit on this year and join the Mount Rushmore of Cinderella’s of the past decade (2006 George Mason, 2008 Davidson, 2010 and 2011 Butler, 2011 VCU).
This year’s tournament is shaping up the be one of the greatest in a long time. There is such a high level of parity that I would be shocked if the Elite Eight did include a team seeded in the 5-11 range. To piggyback the work of my good friend Mike Platania, here are the teams that I know will make a splash, teams that will break your heart, and teams that will surprise their way into the second, third, and possibly fourth weekends of March.
Think I’m insane with my picks or am spot on? Leave comments underneath and tell me what you think! Make a case for any team or game, I’m all ears!
Teams Who Will Step Up (6)
- Indiana – They have two of the best players in the country in C Cody Zeller and SG Victor Oladipo. They shoot the three better than anyone, and they don’t do it enough. They make you earn every point you get with one of the better defenses in the tournament (even if their PPG allowed doesn’t show it off), and in all of their losses they have been in it until the bitter end. With a one seed and navigable bracket, they have a great chance at reaching the Elite Eight and beyond.Prediction: Elite Eight loss to Miami (FL).
- New Mexico – This team can be shaky on offense at times, but have played a tough schedule and have come out looking clean. Their bell winning prospects come from a stingy defense, which will frustrate a lot of teams. They were arguably given too high of a seed, and should do damage from the 3 spot. Junior guards Tony Snell and Kendall Williams bring an efficient, solid overall game and presence to lead the Lobos. I may be giving them too much credit with my bracket, but in a Downy soft West region, someone has to win.
Prediction: Final Four loss to Louisville.
- Miami (FL) – There isn’t a whole lot that jumps out about Miami that makes them feel like a complete team, but PG Shane Larkin has been playing beautiful ball. Consistent scoring PG’s can make magic in the tournament. They are capable of playing good defense and F Reggie Johnson is a load to deal with down low. At the end of the day, with Larranaga at the helm and what they have shown throughout conference play, you have to like this team’s chances. I am thinking big things for the U this tournament with such a level playing field this tournament.Prediction: Championship game loss to Louisville.
- Louisville – They play obnoxiously strong defense and can make good teams look very poor in a matter of minutes. They also have an extremely strong, athletic, talented, and balanced offense. When they are nailing threes and PG Peyton Siva is dicing up the paint with dribble drives, they make mince meat out of opposing teams. Just ask Syracuse’s vaunted 2-3 zone about that. With no glaring holes and strong play as of late, they are the deserved top dogs of March coming into the tournament. I guess I should note that in the past couple tournaments, the Big East champion has represented in the Final Four. I think they can do better than that. Buyer beware though; a potential Sweet Sixteen matchup with Saint Louis would be a gritty rock fight and the Billikens have the poise and experience to deal with a full court press.Prediction: Kings of March.
- Saint Louis – Thoroughly disappointed they were drawn as the 4 seed in the Louisville bracket, as they were going to be my darkhorse Final Four pick in any other region. Still, they have the experience, size, lack of turnovers, incredible defense, and offensive balance to throw a wrench in any teams’ March plans. If you want a 4+ seed with a lot of potential who can stack up against anybody, take a second look at the Billikens. They are good enough to make the Final Four.Prediction: Sweet Sixteen loss to Louisville.
- Wisconsin - As Jon Rothstein tweets nearly every week, there are “Death. Taxes. Bo Ryan.” And it’s true. Despite any obvious limitations or set backs, every year head coach Bo Ryan has his Badgers in position to beat anyone with their sludgy, suffocating defense and time stealing offense. It’s incredible the consistency of product Ryan puts on the court every March, and this year is no different. The Badgers drew a decent path as a 5 seed to become movers and shakers this March because of how they play. I could easily see Wisconsin going on a tear with their impressive defense (55.9 ppg) and their timely three point shooting. To those who don’t know Wisconsin basketball, they can be an upset du jour.Prediction: Elite Eight loss to New Mexico.
Teams Who Will Disappoint (6)
- Michigan – But they have such offensive good guards! How could they disappoint us this year after losing to Ohio last year! Surely they have learned! Listen, I understand all of that, but considering that their team revolves around four players being hot for nearly the entire game (Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr., Glenn Robinson III, and Nik Stauskas all average above 30 minutes a game), I find it hard to believe in conjunction with their late seasons woes that they can consistently bring it to the stalwart defensive teams in their region. Against the great defensive teams in the B1G conference, Michigan only scalped Ohio State once in overtime. This team is reminding me a lot of Missouri from last year, with a little better guards.Who they may fall to: I’ve officially sipped the Kool Aid, but I think VCU’s defense could give the Wolverine guards problems and keep them from getting into the rhythm of the game. Frustrations on offense compound themselves in all aspects of the game, and they will be dogged.
- Syracuse – You may as well pencil Syracuse into this section every year, or so it seems. Every year they are predicted to reach lofty goals but end up with a disappointing, underachieving finish. The team does have potential, as PG Michael Carter-Williams has been one of the best distributors this season and their defense is sound against most teams. But in the end, their hopes swing on the offensive production of Brandon Triche and three-point specialist James Southerland. A poor offensive showing against a top flight defense could have these guys packing in the first or second weekend.
Who they may fall to: With superstar talent Anthony Bennett, UNLV has the resume and players to take out Syracuse in the Round of 32. If all of the talented players put together a solid 40 minutes, I like the Rebels’ chances.
- Illinois - This team lacks consistency, and for the better part of conference play have underachieved relative to what they accomplished in the non-conference schedule. Still, they are coached by John Groce who used his three point barraging formula last year to take Ohio to an unprecedented (yet extremely easy path) to the Sweet Sixteen. If the three ball isn’t falling, which it hasn’t on most nights against stiff competition, and SG Brandon Paul isn’t taking over the show, I don’t like the Fighting Illini’s odds of advancing far.Who they may fall to: Colorado could give them trouble from the opening gates, but I expect Miami (FL) to end the team from Champaign’s campaign. Miami is just too balanced, too talented, and too consistent to fall to Illinois. Larranaga will have his Canes covering the three point line and in Paul’s jersey.
- Duke – Ah, Duke. I actually believe Duke will do alright this year, but they are too easy of a team to pick for this category. They lack much in the bench department, so foul trouble or a tiring team could run them out of March. Limiting their guards perimeter game and the effectiveness of PF Ryan Kelly are the ingredients to beating the Blue Bullies of Durham.Who they may fall to: I believe Michigan State will be able to outlast the Devils in the Sweet Sixteen. Tom Izzo is a Madness Maestro this time of year, and his Spartans are peaking at the right time. Their defense is good enough and big enough to neutralize what the Blue Devils do best.
- Missouri – Not many teams are as inconsistent away from home as the Tigers from Columbia, MO. If they do well, it’s largely because Phil Pressey, Lawrence Bowers, and Alex Oriakhi have played well at the same time. On the road though, they have been a disappointing bunch and haven’t been on the same page. I would like to see Frank Haith have a team perform well in March before I give them my faith.Who they may fall to: I have them falling to the Colorado State Rams in the Round of 64. The size and rebounding strength of Colorado State will keep them competitive no matter the style of game, and I believe the Tigers may come out shooting flat to start the game. Also, they are good enough on defense to cause the Tigers to do just that, and in that event their rebounding strength will take Oriakhi and Bowers out of their games very quickly. Plus, their coach is named Larry Eustachy, which is fun to say.
- Memphis – What they have in athleticism and speed, they lack in decision making and planning. It seems when watching their games that they do little by means of strategy, and simply try to outrun and out-talent opponents. In March, talent goes to the way side. Like with Missouri, I’d like to see Josh Pastner coach the Memphis Tigers past some higher tier teams in March before feeling safe picking his team. Also, the Tigers haven’t played much stiff competition in over two months, save for the Xavier Musketeers.Who they may fall to: It’s possible that Saint Mary’s or Middle Tennessee State could be Memphis’ undoing, but I have them advancing to a third round loss to Michigan State. As I said about Duke, Tom Izzo is just too good of a coach every year in March, and I can’t imagine his team being out-talented or out-coached by the Spartans.
Teams Who May Surprise (7)
- Iowa State - With their NBA style spacing and proclivity to score the three ball in droves. If this team can get hot as they have shown they are capable of in the past, they can scare some teams.Player to watch: SG Tyrus McGee (13.2 PPG, 45.7% 3PFG)
- La Salle – This pick comes from the fact that they have one of the best “never-before-seen” backcourts in college basketball. If Gs Tyreek Duren and Ramon Galloway are on fire, they could upset a couple teams in the first weekend.Player to watch: SG Ramon Galloway (17.0 PPG, 4.6 RPG)
- VCU - It’s hard not to be biased talking about VCU, but with an unorthodox defense teams have to prepare for on short notice, and an offense that is actually better than their defense, a clicking, hot VCU team could blaze a trail to the second or third weekend if teams are unready for HAVOC.Player to watch: SF/SG Treveon Graham (15.5 PPG, 6.0 RPG). Also, SG Briante Weber (5.4 PPG, 2.8 SPG, 21.1 MinPG)
- Belmont - Arizona needs to beware, as their glaring weakness is three point field goal percentage allowed. That is Belmont’s specialty, and head coach Rick Byrd is long enough in the tooth to have his team prepared for the game.
Player to watch: PG Ian Clark (18.1 PPG, 46.5% 3PFG, 54.1% FG)
- Wichita State - The Shockers were supposed to have a down year, but with the defensive guidance of head coach Gregg Marshall, they stuck tough and showed that they aren’t a flash in the pan with recent tournament berths. They also do have a great offensive players; “Swiss Army Knife” forward Cleanthony Early and poised PG in Malcolm Armstead lead the way.
Player to watch: F Carl Hall (12.8 PPG, 7.2 RPG)
- Temple – The Owls won’t blow anyone away with their defense, but that isn’t what makes them tick. This team, headed for the Big East next Fall, is senior heavy and have a lot of valuable role players. On a night where their offense is unstoppable, they could give NC State and Indiana some trouble.Player to watch: SG Khalif Wyatt (19.8 PPG, 4.1 APG, 33.1 MinPG)
- Akron – It pains me to place Akron here, as I am a VCU fan. Although they are now a fringe potential upsetter due to the loss of starting PG Alex Abreu. Still, the Zips play stingy defense and have a big man who is good enough to compete with any in the country. What Larry Sanders is in the NBA, senior C Zeke Marshall is to college basketball.
Player to watch: C Zeke Marshall (13.0 PPG, 7.1 RPG, 3.7 BPG)