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 Akron or Hampton.
It doesn’t take a genius to recognize that Pitt is a talented team. They are built back to front, but still are a very good rebounding team. Ashton Gibbs is a dynamic scorer and 3-point threat, but they proved that they could win without him when he was injured. Coach Jamie Dixon is probably the most underrated coach in the nation, and Pitt can take you out of your system and make you play ugly. Adapt and they can be beaten, failure to do so leaves teams little chance.
Florida boasts SEC player of the year Chandler Parson and will look to avenge their first round ouster of a year ago. They can be inconsistent running the offense in stretches and struggle from the line, but when they are on, they can beat anyone in the nation. They are skilled, with multiple scoring options and although their backcourt is shallow, Florida can do some major damage in the tournament with the right matchups.
Jimmer Fredette rivals God Shammgod as the top tournament cult hero of the past 20 years. Shammgod led Providence to the elite eight and almost the final four. Fredette will attempt to do the same thing and will be forced to shoulder the entire load with forward Brandon Davies not expected to be available. Can he do it? Never doubt the Jimmer!
If Jordan Taylor catches fire like he did against Ohio State, Wisconsin can be unbeatable because they certainly won’t beat themselves. They also lead the nation in free throw percentages and will try to force teams to play at a snail’s pace and deal with their inside-out offense. They are coming into the tournament vulnerable though and could get outathleted in if they aren’t careful, but it will take a complete effort to ouster the Badgers.
#5: Kansas St.:
The Wildcats have avoided disaster by finishing strong down the stretch. They are deep and talented, but very inconsistent. It’s tough to tell which Kansas State team will show up night to night, but if they play to their capabilities they have the talent to cut down the nets in April. However, they drew a tough opener against Utah State though and could just as easily find themselves headed home early.
#6: St. John’s:
The Johnnies were on their way to being this year’s “it” pick before DJ Kennedy blew out his ACL. Without him they are still no joke and can win anywhere. The Red Storm is another tough team to project, with enough talent to make a deep run and a very impressive resume of quality wins. Like most teams, matchups will determine their fate.
The Pac-10 was a pretty bad conference this year, but the Bruins seemed to get hot at the right time before getting bounced in the conference tournament. They have the talent to create mismatches and the ability to punish teams who don’t correct for them. It will be a fun to see Tom Izzo and Ben Howland go at it on Thursday night.
3 inches from winning the National Title last season the Bulldogs are back as an 8 seed. They still play solid defense and execute when it counts, but with Gordon Hayward’s departure will need Matt Howard to stay out of foul trouble and come up big. They are a confident and experienced bunch that wants nothing more than to show that last season wasn’t a fluke.
#9: Old Dominion:
When the Monarchs struggle it’s because they really can’t shoot. They have stickability though because they play some of the toughest defense in the country. They are beasts on the inside and are not afraid to muscle up with anyone. A dangerous team if the matchups present themselves accordingly.
#10: Michigan St.:
Michigan State was picked by many to win the Big 10 this season. Instead they struggled and made the tournament on a few strong wins and Tom Izzo’s resume. That doesn’t mean that they will be an easy out however. They are talented enough to be ranked #2 in the nation during the preseason, are battle tested, and talented and oh yeah, have that guy Izzo on the bench.
Gonzaga was sleepwalking through much of the season before turning it on a bit late. They find themselves back in double-digits seedwise, but have the inside-outside game to be dangerous. John Stockton’s son David is fun to watch, but Steven Gray is the Bulldogs leader and go-to guy when it counts.
#12: Utah St.:
A #12 seems a little unfair for the Aggies. They are a good squad that runs a very complicated offense. Because of its complexity, it’s difficult to prepare for, but also provides a way to beat them. If you can disrupt the system and crash the boards, you can take them out.
The Bruins legitimately go 11-deep, so it’s tough to catch them on an off night. They are very balanced and strong from deep. They also boast competent bigs that can bang the boards and finish well. Their downfall will be their lack of athleticism, a matchup against better (and bigger) athletes could spell doom for the Bruins.
The Terriers are a small team, with their front court players topping out at 6’6 and will get manhandled by a bigger squad. They do have a punchers chance in the form of their 3-point accuracy though and have played some bigger schools.
The Gauchos get half of their scoring out of two players: Orlando Johnson and James Nunnally. Aside from those two, there isn’t much else to like. They do have a nice win at UNLV to hang their hat on, but finished 8-8 in the conference and 18-13 overall. They do get the most favorable #15 – #2 matchup with Florida in the worst pod of the bracket. That alone means Jim Rome will have his alma mater in the sweet 16.
#16: UNC-Ashville/Arkansas-Little Rock:
UNC-Ashville upset heavily-favored Coastal Carolina to win the Big South. For their troubles they get an Arkansas-Little Rock team that finished 19-16, but only 7-9 in the Sun Belt. Ashville is led by the sharpshooting backcourt of Matt Dickey and JP Primm and should handle Solomon Bozeman, his 46.4% 3-point percentage, and Arkansas-Little Rock in Dayton before getting drilled by a very good Pittsburgh team.