Prospy pick ’em: March Madness region breakdown
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Alas, March Madness is upon us. That means throwing down money in your buddies’ pool of bets, statistically analyzing all the games and hoping you got the correct upsets in order. Statistically speaking, everyone’s bracket will be a mess by the end of the weekend. So, in your last minute tournament picks, check out the breakdown between regions here:
The top-seeded Villanova Wildcats are playing some of the best basketball in college basketball right now. Under head coach Jay Wright, the Wildcats have been win-heavy, internally rounded and they are perfecting their strengths at all phases of the court. They look like the most threatening team out of the East, but their road ahead looks a little distilled. Wisconsin has upped their play and so has Florida. However, that’s not who Nova has to worry about. If they climb all the way to the elite eight, Nova might have to face off between two of the hottest teams in the East Region – a defense heavy SMU team or a March-hot Duke squad.
Toughest Pick: #4 Florida vs. #13 ETSU
As much as I want to say the NMSU-Baylor game will be hard to pick, it’s pretty unlikely that Baylor gets stunned three years in a row in the first round. So, the hardest pick of the East Region has to go to the Florida-East Tennessee State matchup. Florida looked flat in the SEC tournament, so an upset here could be likely. ETSU is eighth in the nation for field goal percentage, holding an impressive 49.1 percent. On the other end, Florida is known for their defense. They rank 10th in the nation in steals and 12th for blocks. The only problem for the Gators on that end is their loss of their best defender, John Egbunu, to a season-ending ACL tear. This over-seeded Gators team is exactly what ETSU wanted in the tournament.
Game of the region: #6 SMU vs. #4 Baylor
Yes, it’s fair to think that far ahead. The Texas college hoops battle will feature these two teams who will more than likely face a hot Duke team in the sweet sixteen round. Texas’ two best teams will fight off in the scrappiest physical matchup the East will see if and when the teams meet up. Baylor’s Johnathan Motely taking on SMU’s Semi Ojeleye will be special in itself and watching one of the best 3-point teams, SMU, take on one of the best point containment teams, Baylor, sounds spectacular.
Look out for: #10 Marquette’s Snipers
Marquette is by far the biggest sleeper of the region and it’s all due to their stellar 3-point game. They’ve built four impressive 3-point shooters around their big men Luke Fischer and Matt Heldt to make for a dynamic squad. They lead the nation in 3-point percentage with a whopping 43 percent per game. Although they cannot rebound very efficiently, when Marquette is hot, they are pretty unstoppable.
Upset alert: #12 UNC Wilmington over #5 Virginia
This is a matchup of one of the best scoring teams (UNC Wilmington) versus one of the most efficient defenses (Virginia). While Virginia tends to slow the pace, UNC Wilmington likes to speed the game, push the tempo and score fast. This will be a battle of control and if UNC Wilmington has the grip of the game, they can pull off the 12th seed upset.
Editor’s pick of the East: #2 Duke
It’s coach K’s favorite month of the year and this year he’ll show why.
Gonzaga at the no. 1 seed is like the Cowboys finishing off with a first round bye: both teams had a lot of high hopes and expectations, but both teams fell, or will have fallen, when put under pressure. The Zags are rolling on their 19th consecutive NCAA tournament appearance and their fourth time being ranked in the top two seeds.
Let’s revisit those seeds, shall we? In 2004, the second-seeded Zags were upset in the round of 32. In 2013, they fell below expectations and fell again in the round of 32. Although in 2015 Gonzaga reached the elite eight, they had an arguably easier road after beating the likes of North Dakota State, Iowa and UCLA, who were all seventh-seeded or higher. Nonetheless, it might not happen as early as this weekend, but Gonzaga is not on my radar as the likely team to reach the Final Four. On the other hand, the second-seeded Arizona Wildcats are not necessarily on my radar either. The West features teams like Gonzaga, Arizona, West Virginia, Florida State and Notre Dame, who all have noteworthy seasons, but falter come tournament time. Therefore, for all we know, the West Region is up for grabs.
Toughest Pick: #11 Xavier vs. #6 Maryland
This matchup will feature two of the most alike teams in the tournament. Neither teams deserve their seeds because they have both experienced adversity at the end of their seasons. Xavier lost starting point guard Edmond Sumner and Maryland struggled all season finding the right starters and rotations. If Maryland’s star Melo Trimble has a field day, they might be able to squeak by the Musketeers.
Game of the region: #2 Arizona vs. #15 North Dakota
Everyone is already talking about how Arizona freshman Lauri Markkanen has been overshadowed by UCLA’s Lonzo Ball and how the Wildcats are a shoe-in for the Final Four. What they don’t know is they have a quiet, excited North Dakota team who clinched their first NCAA Tournament bid in school history. Arizona likes the flashy style, score heavy offense. But do does North Dakota. In fact, the Fighting Hawks are 16-0 when putting up 80-plus points, so they’re going to play without anything to lose. The biggest battle will be how North Dakota adjusts to the height threat that Arizona poses. Arizona will probably squeak by in the end, but this game could go down to the wire.
Look out for: #4 West Virginia
At a fourth seed, West Virginia has nothing to lose. The Mountaineers have one of the top defenses in the nation and were well-tested throughout conference play. West Virginia poses a huge threat with a chaotic full-court press that crumbles offenses and averages 10.4 steals per game. This is the same team that was seconds away from sweeping top-ranked Kansas and they could easily squeeze into the elite eight or even Final Four.
Upset alert: #14 Florida Gulf Coast over #3 Florida State
Dunk City from 2013 is back four years later. This Florida Gulf Coast team looks hot, run-heavy and eager to turn some heads. Their starting five averages nine points or more, and their star, Brandon Goodwin, is putting up impressive numbers and averages 18.2 points per game. To beat the Seminoles, Dunk City is going to have to control the time of possession and play without anything to lose. Don’t be surprised if Florida Gulf Coast makes their way into the sweet sixteen because it’s definitely possible.
Editor’s pick of the East: #2 Arizona
With all the pieces fitting into their puzzle late in the season, the Wildcats could use fuel from close games in the early parts of the tournament to make some substantial noise.
Let’s be honest, Kansas is not as good as their 28-4 record and top seed claims them to be. They lost to the 19-14 TCU squad in the Big 12 championship and they haven’t made noise in the tournament for a while now. When Kansas is down and out, guard Frank Mason picks them up. Mason is a definite contender for the Naismith award and is impressive from beyond the arc. Other than Mason, the Midwest Region features some interesting matchups. Oregon is coming off a stunning loss in the Pac-12 championship, and as is Louisville from the ACC tournament. The Midwest feels vulnerable and might have to bank of a sleeper team, like Michigan State or Michigan.
Toughest Pick: #12 Nevada vs. #5 Iowa State
It just feels so good to say that Iowa State could make it far into the tournament. Nevada says otherwise. Yes, winning the Mountain West championship doesn’t fare all too well, but the Wolfpack are putting up impressive numbers and carrying momentum into this game. This is their first tournament since 2007 and guard Marcus Marshall is doing everything in his power to keep his team alive. He averages 19.8 points per game. On the other end, Iowa State’s Monte Morris is averaging 16.3 points per game and is a definite threat for the Cyclones. It’s a game that could be decided by three points or fewer.
Game of the region: #6 Creighton vs. #11 Rhode Island
This game is going to turn a lot of heads tomorrow when these two teams clash. According to ncaa.com, 55 percent of fans predicted Rhode Island will upset Creighton. Led by center Justin Patton, Creighton still is a threat to not be messed with. The redshirt freshman ranks fourth in effective field goal percentage (71.2) and true shooting percentage (69.1), so he’s dominant in the paint as well as his shot. Without Mo Watson, Creighton’s prime perimeter shooter, they will have to rely on Patton to have a big game. Rhode Island is led by junior E.C. Matthews, who averages almost 15 points a game, and will be key for his team to upset the Bluejays.
Look out for: #3 Oregon forward Dillon Brooks
To start the season, Brooks was battling injuries and it greatly impacted the Ducks’ overall performance. When he fully recovered, Oregon was propelled back into the Pac-12 spotlight. He averages 27.1 points per game and shoots 51 percent from the field. He’s agile against lanky forwards and he’s too physical for a guard to defend him. If Oregon can avoid early upsets, Brooks will be the reason behind it.
Upset alert: #13 Vermont over #4 Purdue
Vermont can’t be happy with a 13th seed. They have the NCAA’s longest active winning streak with 21 straight victories and the Catamounts aren’t going to let Purdue slide away easily. Purdue’s Caleb Swanigan is averaging an impressive double-double per game with 18.5 ppg and 12.6 boards per game. In order to pull this upset off, Vermont will need to shut down Swanigan.
Editor’s pick: Michigan State
This one is a long shot, I know, but imagine if Izzo does this for the Spartans? I would like to see it.
The South Region features the best players backed by the best coaches. Frontrunner top seed North Carolina isn’t thinking about their 93-83 loss to Duke in the ACC tournament; rather, they’re already anticipating what they hope to be a repeat to the championship this year. It will not be easy, however. They’re in a region with powerhouses No. 2 Kentucky and No. 3 UCLA. Also, the south features some upset-hungry squads like No. 10 Wichita State, No. 11 Kansas State and No. 12 Middle Tennessee State.
Toughest Pick: #11 Kansas State vs. #6 Cincinnati
The Wildcats were explosive in the play-in round of the tournament as they knocked off a talented Wake Forest team 95-88. The Bearcats, on the other hand, are coming off a menacing 71-56 loss to SMU in the AAC championship game. Kansas State’s Wesley Iwundu wants this tournament as his own and he showed it with his 24 point game against Wake Forest. He will be tested against Cincinnati’s Troy Caupain, who averages 10.2 points per game. The winner of this game will peak in the early second half.
Game of the region: #8 Arkansas vs. #9 Seton Hall
Seton Hall is seeking their first NCAA win since 2004 and the Razorbacks are the only thing in their way. It will be a battle between Arkansas’s Moses Kingsley taking on Seton Hall’s Angel Delgado. Both players can put up points and rebound the ball effectively. Delgado, however, leads the nation with 13.1 boards per game.
Look out for: The coaches
While the players in this region are very significant, such as Kentucky’s Malik Monk, UNC’s Justin Jackson and UCLA’s Lonzo Ball, the coaches are the ones who are really impressive in this division. UNC’s legendary coach Roy Williams and Kentucky’s storied John Calipari, no matter if you like or dislike them, are undoubtedly wizards at the game. Then, there’s the coaches who are on the rise, such as Dayton’s Archie Miller, Butler’s Chris Holtmann, Wichita State’s Gregg Marshall and Minnesota’s Richard Pitino. In fact, Middle Tennessee’s Kermit Davis, who reaps C-USA wins each season, is in the talk for a bigger job in the near future.
Upset alert: #12 Middle Tennessee over #5 Minnesota
Kermit Davis isn’t going to let his Blue Raiders go down early. In fact, I don’t think Davis and his squad are worried about the Golden Gophers, but rather anticipating who they have to play next. Middle Tennessee can easily slither their way into the Sweet Sixteen or even Elite Eight.
Editor’s pick: UNC
UNC looks pretty strong this year, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them in the ‘ship.