While, I’d love to share all of my final four picks, upset selections, and Cinderellas, March Madness is a fund-raiser for me, not a charity event. Since I am in pools with many readers of this site, I’ll break down the teams in the brackets and lay out what they need to do to win. From there you can decide how you will fill out your bracket. While I generally put together a few brackets, I’ll post my #1 bracket on Thursday at noon, more so for something to mock if it totally blows up thanks to LIU Brooklyn or St. Bonaventure.
The overall #1 seed enters the tournament fresh off a humbling loss to Vanderbilt in the SEC title game. Cats fans hope that it was just a wake-up call and not a sign of things to come. They are the nation’s best shot-blocking team and arguably the most talented. Their problem, as usual is inexperience. Calipari brings in top recruits, but they are usually one-and-done. No different here with Anthony Davis, Marquis Teague, and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. IfDavisgets into foul trouble, this team is beatable, if not, they could make big blue nation proud with a deep run.
Duke has the ability to mix and match lineups with as many as 9 players starting at some point during the season. This allows them the flexibility to matchup with just about anyone in the tournament. They are fundamentally sound but Duke fans have to worry about the health of Ryan Kelly’s foot. They have 3 guys in Curry, Dawkins, and Rivers that can stroke it from deep, but when the shots aren’t falling they will find themselves in trouble. The formula to beat Duke is the same as always, but it has to be followed to a T or coach K might be back in yet another final four.
Baylor has talent for days. Unfortunately like previous Baylor teams, they haven’t lived up to it for most of the season. They want to play inside-out with the speedster Pierre Jackson running the show. When he and Perry Jones III are synced up Baylor is almost impossible to beat. Unfortunately, sometimesJacksoncan be guilty of rushing things and forcing up bad shots. They need to stay aggressive and in doing so can cause major damage. On the flipside, if they are taken out of their game they can lose to just about anyone.
Indianais an interesting team and would’ve been even more so had Senior Verdell Jones not been lost in the Big 10 tournament. Still, Tom Creans team loves to fire away from deep. They have 6 players with 3-point range, but they need to be connecting to free up big man Cody Zellar underneath. When they force teams to respect their shooters Zellar will dominate the inside. When the 3’s aren’t falling however, teams can collapse on him and force them to keep firing from long range.
#5: Wichita St.:
The Shockers are a mid-tempo team but can score with anybody (averaging 77.7 ppg). They usually find ways to get good shots and when they do, they knock them down (48.5% FG%). They have a 7-footer underneath in Garrett Stutz, however besides him they are very small with their next tallest starter at 6’5. Still, when their offense is flowing and Stutz stays out of foul trouble, the Shockers are a tough out.
UNLV has definitely put the “Runnin” back in Runnin’ Rebels. As one of the more athletic teams in the field they want to get out in transition and light up the scoreboard. They are an unselfish team, but don’t seem to have the go-to guy that wants to get it done in crunch time. Still, if they can force you to run with them, they will destroy you. They will run into issues against patient-discipline teams that make you play slow. Controlling the tempo is essential, without doing so they will find deep trouble.
#7: Notre Dame:
Notre Dame has been remarkably solid considering they lost their best player to a knee injury early on. They are a disciplined team that will force you to make jumpers. On offense they have a balanced “burn” that protects the ball, limits possessions, and frustrates opponents. They are very tough to beat when Connaughton or Dragicevich are shooting the ball well. They get into trouble when they aren’t hitting shots because they will continue to force the issue and try to make it happen from deep.
#8: Iowa St.:
The Cyclones are another team that plays with 4-in and 1-out. They also possess a matchup problem for almost anyone with 6’8 point-forward/center Royce White. He is the only player in the country to lead his team in scoring, rebounding, assists, blocks, and steals. He usually flashes to the elbow gets the ball and all plays are run through him. Obviously slowing him down is the key to beating Iowa State. Easier said than done because he’s an excellent passer and finds the open man when teams collapse on him. If they are hitting from deep, they are dangerous, but when they are cold, they will be in for a long night.
Last year’s defending champions are back, but much different than a year ago. Dynamic guard Kemba Walker is gone and no one has really stepped up to fill his role. Their new go to guy is Jeremy Lamb, but I think their key is Shabazz Napier. Napier can take over games, but at times he falls victim to himself in trying to figure out if he’s the man or just the facilitator. The good news is this team seems to be finding themselves at the right time. Getting hall of fame coach Jim Calhoun back from his health problems definitely has helped. UConn has a lot of talent, even if they don’t always put it together. The frustrating part is they are just as likely to knock outKentuckyas they are to go up in flames against Iowa St.
Xavier is really a disappointing story. After rocketing out to an 8-0 start with realistic final four aspirations, their game against Cincinnati ended in a brutal brawl that sent both teams reeling. Cincinnati was able to reestablish themselves with a 4-guard offense, Xavier on the other hand hasn’t been anywhere near the same. Tu Holloway is their leader and the key to them winning. Unfortunately he has become very timid in the wake of the brawl. They have the talent to go as deep as they want, but they are a team searching for their confidence and are coming off a loss in the A-10 championship. Things aren’t trending upward for X, but they are capable if they can somehow regain their swagger.
Predicted to be near the bottom of the dreadful Pac-12, they went out and won the conference tournament. They certainly won’t wow you with any one skill, but they are solid tournament team. I don’t think anyone really views them as a final four contender, but they can put a scare into teams, especially when they win the rebounding battle.
Last year’s darlings are back and playing their best basketball at the right time. They continue to get in your face on defense in what Shaka Smart calls Havoc. Their defense sets up their offense. They aren’t a slow-it-down and grind sort of team, they want to find a decent shot (usually a 3) and put it up. When it falls they are deadly because they can set up their press. When it isn’t falling, they can be in trouble as teams will be able to get easier baskets. Any team that plays defense with this much intensity isn’t someone that teams want to face.
#13: New Mexico St.:
For a mid-major New Mexico State has some bangers on the inside. They need to keep the game close to have a chance as they are one of the worst 3-point shooting teams in the country. Their guards can score, but are brutal from deep (usually needed to spring upsets). Any game where they can’t get established in the paint will be a long game for the Aggies.
#14: South Dakota St.:
Guard Nate Wolters is worth the price of admission. He is a do it all guard and one of the top scorers in the country. He generally gets his shots at will and has a number of moves to finish with. If Wolters goes crazy they definitely has a chance. His slashing opens up the 3-point shot and if it’s falling they could be dangerous.
Lehigh is a good scoring team who takes quality shots and excels from the free throw line. They boast the best player in the Patriot League in CJ McCollum. They won’t wow you defensively and would rather get into a gunfight. Can they hang with Duke? Maybe for 25 minutes, but Duke is much better.
#16: Mississippi Valley St./Western Kentucky:
Jerry Rice went to Mississippi Valley State! Unfortunately that doesn’t do much good to the Delta Devils this year. In their play-in opening round game they take on a 15-18 Western Kentucky team (albeit in a better conference) for the right to get drilled by Kentucky. The loser of this game shouldn’t feel too bad though; sure they don’t get to play in the real tournament, but they do get a two-day vacation in beautiful Dayton, Ohio…