Author: Dan Labosky
The most exciting time of the year has finally arrived in the form of non-stop college basketball madness. This season has been one of the most unpredictable ones in recent history, and I can’t wait to see how the NCAA tournament unfolds. Sadly, Wisconsin did not make the tournament this year but the tournament will still be exciting. So without further ado, here is your region-by-region breakdown. Take my picks at your own risk
#1 Virginia vs. #16 UMBC
#8 Creighton vs. #9 Kansas St.
#5 Kentucky vs. #12 Davidson
#4 Arizona vs. #13 Buffalo
#6 Miami (FL) vs. #11 Loyola-Chicago
#3 Tennessee vs. #14 Wright St.
#7 Nevada vs. #10 Texas
#2 Cincinnati vs. #15 Georgia St.
Virginia: Defense, Defense, and more defense. The Cavaliers are the top overall seed in the tournament and the top team in defensive efficiency and its not even close. They took home a slew of ACC postseason awards this season led by first-teamer Kyle Guy. They also are led by defensive player of the year Isaiah Wilkins and ACC Coach of the year, Tony Bennett. Their only glaring weakness is they are not a great rebounding team, so a big front line could pose some problems.
Cincinnati: The Bearcats are yet another great defensive team, ranking second in overall defensive efficiency. The Bearcats are led by senior forward Gary Clark (13.0 ppg) and junior guard Jacob Evans (12.9 ppg). They have a fabulous coach in Mick Cronin, but this team has struggled to score at times. An extended drought on the big stage could spell doom for this team.
Arizona: The Pac-12 Champions are the biggest threat to upend Virginia. It looked like men against boys in the Pac-12 Championship vs. USC last Saturday. For the Wildcats, it all starts with the potential #1 overall pick in the upcoming NBA Draft, Deandre Ayton. Standing at 7’1”, this giant is averaging a double-double per game. They also have veteran guard play in Allonzo Trier and Parker Jackson-Cartwright.
Texas: The 10 seed could pose some serious problems to its counterparts. Led by 7-foot behemoth Mo Bamba, Texas has an outstanding front line. Paired with Bamba is Dylan Osetkowski, who is averaging 13.6 ppg. Perimeter shooting is a glaring weakness for the Longhorns, but they pose a matchup nightmare for teams.
Loyola-Chicago: The Missouri Valley Champions are extremely balanced, with five players averaging at least 10 points a game. They are outstanding at spreading the ball around and are great on the defensive end, ranking 24th in the nation in efficiency. They are also one of the slowest teams in the tournament, so if they can slow the tempo, look out for an upset.
Davidson: The Atlantic 10 Champions are in and they are dangerous. Offensively, they are one of the best teams in the nation, coming in at 15th in efficiency. Senior Payton Aldridge, who is averaging 21.5 points per contest leads the Wildcats. If they tighten up on the defensive end, they could make a nice run into the second weekend.
Players To Watch:
Kyle Guy G Virginia
Gary Clark F Cincinnati
Deandre Ayton C Arizona
Kevin Knox F Kentucky
Caleb Martin F Nevada
Dean Wade F Kansas St.
Mo Bamba C Texas
Payton Aldridge F Davidson
CJ Massinburg F Buffalo
Davidson Over Kentucky
Loyola-Chicago Over Miami (FL)
Texas to the Sweet Sixteen
Final Four Pick: Arizona over Cincinnati
#1 Villanova vs. #16 LIU/Radford
#8 Virginia Tech vs. #9 Alabama
#5 West Virginia vs. #12 Murray St.
#4 Wichita St. vs. #13 Marshall
#6 Florida vs. #11 St. Bonaventure/UCLA
#3 Texas Tech vs. #14 Stephen F. Austin
#7 Arkansas vs. #10 Butler
#2 Purdue vs. #15 Cal St. Fullerton
Villanova: The Big East Champions lead the nation in offensive efficiency. Led by player-of-the-year candidate Jalen Brunson, they have tremendous spacing as all five players on the floor can shoot the three. They have six players averaging double figures in points, along with an outstanding coach in Jay Wright. They only way I see this team not making in to the Final Four is a cold shooting day, which very well could happen.
Purdue: This team is incredibly efficient on the offensive end of the floor, ranking second in the nation. All-Big 10 pick Carsen Edwards leads the Boilermakers with 18.5 ppg, while 7-footer Isaac Haas chips in 15 ppg. Matt Painter’s bunch are extremely gifted, but a lack of forced turnovers and depth could hurt Purdue.
Texas Tech: Their hopes rest in the health of superstar Keenan Evans (17.5 ppg). He has missed some time this season and is still getting up to speed. The Red Raiders are a great defensive team, but not a great shooting team. A possible matchup with Florida looms in the second round, which could knock them out.
Wichita St: Wichita State is an extremely potent offensive bunch, ranking fourth in the nation in offensive efficiency. They rely on Landry Shamet (15.0 ppg) outside and Shaq Morris (14.0 ppg) inside. If Gregg Marshall’s team can bear down on defense, they could make a run.
West Virginia: This is an under-seeded team that excels on both sides of the floor. Bob Huggins’ press style can be a nightmare for teams. Senior guard Javon Carter (17.0 ppg) is dynamite and will be relied upon heavily in this tournament. This is a team that could make a run to at least the second weekend.
Butler: The Bulldogs barely got into the tournament, but they could be a force to be reckoned with. Grossly under-seeded, they excel on both sides of the ball. They rely on senior forward Kelan Martin, who averages 20 points per game. Don’t be surprised if they upend Purdue to advance to the Sweet 16.
Marshall: If you want some long shots, there are two good ones. The first, Marshall, plays a frantic pace and has three players averaging at least 15 points a game. The Thundering Herd could be a sneaky team in this bracket.
Stephen F. Austin: They’ve won in this tournament before and could do it again. They play a fast pace and are great at forcing turnovers, which could be a nightmare for Texas Tech early on.
Players to Watch:
Jalen Brunson G Villanova
Carsen Edwards G Purdue
Keenan Evans F Texas Tech
Landry Shamet G Wichita St.
Javon Carter G West Virginia
Kelan Martin F Butler
Colin Sexton G Alabama
Egor Koulichov F Florida
Jaylen Barford F Arkansas
Jonathan Stark G Murray St.
Marshall Over Wichita St.
Murray St Over West Virginia
St. Bon/UCLA Over Florida
Butler Over Purdue
Final Four Pick: Villanova Over Texas Tech
#1 Kansas vs. #16 U Penn
#8 Seton Hall vs. #9 North Carolina St.
#5 Clemson vs. #12 New Mexico St.
#4 Auburn vs. #13 Charleston
#6 TCU vs. #11 Syracuse/Arizona St.
#3 Michigan St. vs. #14 Bucknell
#7 Rhode Island vs. #10 Oklahoma
#2 Duke vs. #15 Iona College
Kansas: The Jayhawks are over-seeded. There are a couple of teams I would put ahead of them. They are strong on the offensive end including ranking sixth in effective field goal percentage. They are led by All-American candidate Devonte’ Graham (17.3 ppg). A storyline to follow is the health status of big man Udoka Azubuike. He missed the Big 12 tournament with a knee injury but is expected to be good to go. Defense is a question mark for this team.
Duke: The hated Duke Blue Devils come into this tournament as one of the best all around teams in the country. Ranking third national in offensive efficiency and seventh in defensive efficiency. They are lead by freshman superstar Marvin Bagley III, who is averaging a double-double. Senior Grayson Allen will be counted on in the backcourt, but depth could be an issue for this squad. But nonetheless, Coach K has the Blue Devils playing stout defensively, which could propel them to yet another Final Four berth.
Michigan State: This region is a three-horse race to the Final Four. Tom Izzo is one of the best coaches in the nation and you can never count out the Spartans. This is yet another balanced team, ranking ninth in both offensive and defensive efficiency. All American Miles Bridges will give it his last go-around, as he is sure to bolt for the NBA draft this summer.
Syracuse: I feel like it’s a yearly occurrence that Syracuse is on the bubble, somehow gets in, and makes a run. This could be another one of those years, as Jim Boeheim has the 2-3 zone firing on all cylinders. A team that has won the first four in Dayton has won another game in the tournament each of the last three years. They have been offensively challenged this season so if it lives up to the defense, look for the Orangemen to make a run.
New Mexico State: Coming in with a gaudy 28-5 record, the Aggies are as dangerous as any double-digit seed. They defend at an extremely high rate and cause plenty of turnovers. Senior Zach Lofton has been a stud for them, averaging just under 20 points per contest. Look for this team to make a run.
Charleston: A gifted offensive team and an opportunistic defense make the Cougars a sleeper in this region. They have three players averaging over 17 ppg and can easily pull off an upset or two.
Players to Watch:
Devonte’ Graham G Kansas
Marvin Bagley III C Duke
Grayson Allen G Duke
Miles Bridges F Michigan St.
Grant Riller G Charleston
Mustapha Herron F Auburn
Vlad Brodziansky C TCU
E.C. Matthews G Rhode Island
Trae Young G Oklahoma
Desi Rodriguez G Seton Hall
Zach Lofton G NM State
Seton Hall Over Kansas
Syracuse Over TCU
New Mexico St over Clemson
Charleston Over Auburn
Final Four Pick: Michigan State over Kansas
#1 Xavier vs. #16 NCCU/Texas Southern
#8 Missouri vs. #9 Florida St.
#5 Ohio State vs. #12 South Dakota St.
#4 Gonzaga vs. #13 UNC-Greensboro
#6 Houston vs. #11 San Diego St.
#3 Michigan vs. #14 Montana
#7 Texas A&M vs. #10 Providence
#2 North Carolina vs. #15 Lipscomb
Xavier: Another number one seed that is over-seeded. Chris Mack’s team has performed extremely well, ranked seventh nationally in offensive efficiency. Their trouble lies on the defensive end, where they are prone to giving up points in bunches. It will be up to senior stud Trevon Bluiett (19.5 ppg) to lead the way for the Musketeers.
North Carolina: Seeking its third straight Final Four appearance, Roy Williams’ squad looks poised for another run. They play a fast, offensive game, as they are ranked 4th nationally in offensive efficiency. A perimeter-oriented team, that relies heavily on a pair of seniors: forward Luke Maye (17.5 ppg) and guard Joel Barry II (17.1 ppg).
Michigan: The Big Ten Champions come into the tournament red-hot. A dominate defensive team ranked 4th nationally in efficiency, they can still light up the scoreboard. Moe Wagner (14.5 ppg) leads the Wolverines with a dynamic inside-out game. With underrated coach Jim Beilein, this team could make a serious run.
Gonzaga: Last years’ national runners up are dangerous in March yet again. Under-seeded, the Zags are a balanced team in the top 20 nationally in both offensive and defensive efficiency. Five players average at least 11 points per game and with Coach Mark Few at the helm, this mid major could make a deep run in back to back years.
Missouri: They are an eight seed, so not much of a Cinderella, but they could make a serious run to at least the second weekend. A balanced team with a veteran coach in Cuanzo Martin at the helm, they finally got their highly-touted recruit Michael Porter Jr. back from injury this week.
South Dakota St: For the Jackrabbits, it starts with their do-it-all big man Mike Daum. He is averaging 23 points per game to go along with 11 rebounds a game. South Dakota State’s frantic pace and potent offense could give higher seeds fits.
San Diego St: The Mountain West champs have gotten hot at the right time. Stud Malik Pope is back from injury and this team is great on both ends of the floor. Unfortunately they drew the Houston Cougars, a very tough matchup.
Players to Watch:
Trevon Bluiett G Xavier
Joel Barry II G North Carolina
Luke Maye F North Carolina
Moe Wagner F Michigan
Jonathan Williams F Gonzaga
Keita Baites-Diop F Ohio State
Rob Gray G Houston
Kyron Cartwright G Providence
Mike Daum F South Dakota St.
Garrison Matthews G Lipscomb
Missouri Over Xavier
SDSU Over Ohio State
Providence Over North Carolina
Final Four Pick: Gonzaga over Michigan
In the Final Four, I have two four seeds in Gonzaga and Arizona, one three seed in Michigan State, and one number one seed in Villanova. I really believe that a matchup of Villanova and Michigan State game will decide the National Champion. I’ve been on ‘Nova all season long and I’m sticking with them to win the 2018 National Championship.
Gonzaga vs. Arizona: Arizona
Michigan St vs. Villanova: Villanova
National Champion: Villanova
Good Luck and enjoy the Madness!