March 19, 2015
I don’t know about you but the college basketball season really does not start for me until the NCAA Tournament arrives. As I get older, I find myself watching less college basketball. I still watch portions of games so I can keep somewhat up to date and provide you with the following Regional previews. Good luck with your brackets. By the time you read this your bracket will already be filled out. Use the knowledge to confirm your picks.
The West Region is loaded. Wisconsin is the top seed though Arizona easily could have been. Baylor could surprise everyone as the number three seed and fourth-seeded North Carolina could beat any of these schools on a neutral court. Despite the talented depth residing in the West, I will stick with the top two seeds, Wisconsin and Arizona, to meet in a classic Elite Eight game.
The Badgers’ Frank Kaminsky is tough to defend and capable of torching anybody. Yet, Arizona has one of the top defenses in the nation. The best backcourt player in this region is Marcus Paige of North Carolina. My upset pick in this region is Oregon. The Ducks have lost just one game since mid-January. Nearby Wofford could surprise also. The Terriers won 15 of their final 16 games, grabbing both the Southern conference regular-season and tournament titles.
Wisconsin was tested in the Big Ten Tournament before winning in the Finals over Michigan State in overtime. Arizona is better than Michigan State. I will go with Arizona in the West.
Number-one and undefeated Kentucky is in the Midwest so this is also a tough region. How tough you ask? The top four seeds in the region: Kentucky, Kansas, Notre Dame and Maryland were all AP Top 10 teams at one point this season. Let me end the suspense with my pick in this region. I will go with the team that enters the tournament with a 34-0 record. Who in this region can beat the Wildcats? I don’t see anyone pulling off the task. I guess Notre Dame could give Kentucky a game. After all, they just blew Duke out to win the ACC Tournament last week. The Irish would have to play the same way they did against Duke. They hit their threes while also pounding the ball down low.
My sleeper in this region is seventh seed Wichita State. The Shockers played Kentucky very tough in last year’s tourney and they only lost one starter from that team. The best player in the region is Miles Taylor from Texas. He, alone, could carry the 11th seed Longhorns to a few upset victories. There will be some interesting matchups within the region. Rivals Kentucky and Cincinnati may meet in the second round this weekend. And you have to like a potential interstate matchup between one of the best mid-major teams in the country, Wichita State, and one of the most highly praised programs in the nation, Kansas. You know the Shockers would love to end Kansas’ season.
The East Region appears to be the weakest region which means there could be a number of upsets. Villanova earned the number one seed thanks to winning the Big East Conference regular season championship and the conference tournament. The Wildcats were also rewarded for the overall toughness of the Big East as the conference was number two overall in conference RPI. Virginia fell to the number two seed after getting outplayed by North Carolina in a 71-67 in the ACC Conference Tournament semifinal but is still a dangerous threat to get to the Final Four. Seventh seed Michigan State is playing very well right now despite losing to Wisconsin in the Big Ten Conference Tournament Championship game on Sunday. Head coach Tom Izzo always has the Spartans ready for March basketball.
Michigan State will be a tough out for anyone in the region. Northern Iowa could surprise as the fifth seed though they have to make sure they are not upset by 12th seed Wyoming. Georgia could make some noise too as the Bulldogs are one of the few schools that should have beaten Kentucky. The top player in this region is Buddy Hield of Oklahoma. If the Sooners advance, try to clear some time to watch the Big 12 player of the year.
The most interesting matchup in this region will take place if top seeds Villanova and Virginia make the Elite Eight. The Wildcats are outstanding at shooting the basketball with a 47 percent field goal percentage for the season heading into the NCAA Tournament. While the Cavaliers defensively have limited opponents to just over a 36 percent field goal percentage and have held several teams under 50 points this season. I will go with Villanova in this region. The Wildcats have won 15 straight and have not lost since January 19th when Georgetown gave them a wakeup call by blowing them out by 20.
The South Region is loaded at the top with Duke, Gonzaga, and Iowas State. Duke has put together an impressive record with a young team, and Gonzaga has only dropped two games all season. Both are poised for a deep run. Iowa State plays in the most competitive conference in the nation – and they won the Big 12 tournament so I would not count them out. This year’s Duke team reminds me of Carmelo Anthony’s Syracuse team that won a national title.
The Blue Devils have the best player in the region in freshman Jahlil Okafor. He could carry Duke much like Anthony did back in 2003. This also could be the year Gonzaga finally wins it all. We have seen a fair share of false alarms from the Zags over the years but this is coach Mark Few’s best team yet.
Upset alert in the South has to be eighth seeded San Diego State with its stifling defense or tenth-seeded Davidson who is known for pulling off surprises. The top matchup in this region would be Duke vs. Iowa State. Okafor vs. Georges Niang and Monte Morris.
How many of you caught my trend of picks in the before-mentioned regions? I went with schools nicknamed “Wildcats” in all three regions. There are not any Wildcats in this region. Therefore, I will go with the Cyclones of Iowa State. They are a deep team with six players who can easily score over 10 points a game.
So my Final Four is Arizona, Kentucky, Villanova, and Iowa State. Stay tuned for my Final Four weekend picks when this quartet of teams get there. And if you believe that...?