While, I’d love to share all of my final four picks, upset selections, and cinderellas with you guys, March Madness is a fund-raiser for me, not a charity event. Instead, 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, moreso, so you have something to mock when it totally blows up thanks to Akron or Hampton.
Things certainly got interesting within the past week when it comes to the Blue Devils. First, they absolutely destroyed North Carolina in the ACC tournament championship, and now word comes out that PG Kyrie Irving may be ready to play for the first time since December. With a healthy Irving, Duke may be the best team in the country. Even without him, they are darn good and boast the best coach in the country in Coach K. Can Duke repeat? We will soon find out.
#2: San Diego St.:
How good are the Aztecs? That’s what bracket predictors across the country are trying to figure out. Are they as good as they looked when they thumped a Brandon Davie-less BYU team? They have the 3rd rated RPI in the country and have the defense and rebounding necessary to make a deep run, but the school is looking for their first win ever in the NCAA tournament and often times teams without experience aren’t treated kindly by the basketball gods.
In the Big East tournament, UCONN showed they are more than simply Kemba Walker. Guys like Napier and Lamb stepped up and the Huskies made history, winning 5 games in 5 days and probably moving themselves up 4 seedlines or so. The question is, do they have anything left in the tank? History says maybe not, but UConn has won both tournaments they’ve been in this season, and it’s not a huge stretch to think they could do it again.
The Longhorns seem to have a big problem with being #1 in the nation. Last year they were #1 and fell so far they were bounced in the first round as a middle-seed. This year, they didn’t fall as far, but still lost 4 of their last 7 coming in. Texas is strong at just about every position and could very well punch their ticket to Houston. It should be said though, that they could just as easily continue their fade and find themselves at home before the opening weekend begins, especially if their defense takes a night off.
Arizona has one of the best players and prospects in the country in forward Derrick Williams, but their hopes for advancement will hinge on the quality of play they get out of MoMo Jones. If the Wildcats don’t move the ball they are dead, plain and simple. Their go-to play is stylistically similar to Ohio State in that they wait for the double on Williams and dish out for the three. They are a good team from deep, so if they get hot they will be tough to beat, but if a team can stop the ball, they will have a shot to knock them off.
Cincinnati got a generous #6 seed based on their conference, period. They played next to no one in their non-conference schedule and don’t shoot well enough to hang with the better teams on a night-to-night basis. They do play a strong man-to-man and love to press which annoys and tires out their opponents. They may be a tough out, but they will do themselves in when they start chucking improbably threes like George Costanza.
Temple needs a tournament win as bad as any team in the nation. They are finally getting their go-to players back, but their fitness has to be a concern. They were lucky to draw Penn State, but the Nittany Lions are playing good basketball and won’t be an easy victory. The Owls play tough D and have no problem knocking you down. If Randall is healthy, they are dangerous. If not, could be one-and-done… again.
How Michigan got an #8 seed is beyond me. They are a young team that has played well at times but has shown their youth plenty this season. The Wolverines are simple to figure out, they love to shoot the three and will either live or die based on if it’s falling or not. I don’t think they have the experience to compete with a team like Duke, but this tournament will be great for future years.
The Vols are a rare team in that they can look great and awful within the same 10 minute span. Usually Tennessee lives and breathes with the three, but this squad is different. They don’t have the tried-and-true gunners for deep, preferring to score in transition. Teams that play a strong zone can force the Vols to settle for the outside shot, which doesn’t bode well for their chances of advancing very far.
#10: Penn State:
Penn State played their way in via making it to the finals of the Big Ten tournament. How they were rewarded with a #10 seed while Utah State got a #12 is baffling to me, but that’s how it goes. The Nittany Lions start four seniors, who won the NIT IN 2009, and will have to lead the way if they are going to make any noise. Their bench is more or less non-existant, so what you see at tip-off is what you get.
This is not the 40-minutes of Hell Missouri pressing team that you are used to seeing. They still press and want the game to be played at break-neck speed, but the Tigers fall back into sets more regularly this season and have stretches where turning defense into offense is difficult. They have also struggled on the road this year but a game against a less-disciplined team could mean Mizzou moves on.
This isn’t the talented Memphis team of a few years ago. This team starts five freshmen and still came from behind to beat UTEP in the C-USA Championship game. Scary how good this group could be in a few years and a win over Arizona isn’t out of the question this year. I don’t see them going deep, but if they are allowed to get into the lane, they can put a scare into teams.
Oakland joins Utah State, Belmont, and Bucknell as very, very good low-seed with bad matchups. Oakland likes to run and can score with, and beat just about anybody. They have a center that is a legit first-round pick. They struggle defending the three and will need to put it all together to spring a major upset.
The Bison are a tough, fundamentally sound group with a monster underneath. When paired with senior guards and solid 3-point and foul shooting, they have all the tools to pull an upset. In a different bracket I would definitely consider them, but they have the misfortune of taking on Cardiac Kemba and a red-hot (but maybe tired) UConn team. If the Huskies come out flat, they could be in trouble, but I don’t think Kemba will allow that.
#15: Northern Colorado:
The Bears won the Big Sky behind dynamic scorer Devon Beitzel and his in-the-gym range. Beitzel averages over 21 points per game and does everything well. Aside from him, the supporting cast lacks the talent to put a scare into anyone, but one player has carried a team before, Beitzel could be the next to spearhead a huge upset.
The Pirates play good defense and have some nice players in Kwame Morgan and Darrion Pellum, but on the whole, they really aren’t very good. As we know, no #16 seed has ever beaten a #1 seed and it won’t start here. There are few things in the world that are locks, but if Hampton beats Duke, I’ll personally make a sizable donation to the Hampton athletic department. Their defensive intensity may give less disciplined teams fits… but this is Duke. You won’t outdiscipline the Blue Devils.