NCAA Tournament MegaPreview

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Editor’s Note: Obviously, waiting six months in between posts is not the ideal move when it comes to pleasing an already microscopic fan base. That said, the greatest spectacle in sports seemed like the perfect way to get back on the horse. And what’s not to be excited about? The field is bubbling over with very talented teams in the lower seeded tiers. Tournament favorites such as Kentucky, Syracuse, or Kansas could easily be undone by unpredictable point guard play. And others, could just as easily by outed thanks to tricky matchups. While this format may not be the fairest determinant of a true champion, the fact that it is an absolute crapshoot makes it by far the most enjoyable to watch. So get out your brackets, and lets watch some basketball, because this year has the makings to be a great tournament.

SOUTH REGION

Kentucky may be the runaway favorite to win it all this year, but the committee did the Wildcats zero favors in their selections. For my money, this is by far the most difficult region to get through. Kentucky will have a very interesting second round matchup, regardless of who wins (Iowa State vs. Connecticut). And what happens if they advance to the Sweet 16? Their options are currently Indiana (the only team to beat them in the regular season), Wichita State (maybe one of the top 10 teams in the country), or VCU (don’t even have to explain this one). And that’s just the TOP HALF of their draw. While they are still my pick to advance to the Final Four, they certainly won’t have an easy time getting there.

Five Players to Watch

Pierre Jackson, G, Baylor – This guy may be on the wrong side of 6 feet, but he is absolutely the heart and soul of this Baylor basketball team. He can shoot the three, penetrate into the lane, and jump out of the gym (seriously, watch some of his dunk highlights). Plus, he is an automatic pick to make the south regional’s all-swag team.

Royce White, F, Iowa State – One of the most versatile players in the entire tournament. He’s got range to the three point line, a bevy or post moves, and also the skills to bring the ball up the court and play the point forward. This team faces an uphill battle having to play UConn and possibly Kentucky, but if anyone can lead the charge to pull off this kind of upset, its White.

CJ McCollum, G, Lehigh – Let’s be real, this team opens up against Duke, meaning we’ll only get to watch him for a single game. That said, this dude can flat out put the ball in the hole (has an outside chance of finishing his college career with over 3000 points scored). I’m very eager to see how he performs on the biggest of stages against one of basketball’s purest of bluebloods.

Mike Moser, F, UNLV – I’m sure Ben Howland is really regretting the fact that this kid transferred out of Westwood after just a year. After transferring to UNLV and sitting out a year, this guy has blossomed into one of the top players in the Mountain West Conference. He can score and he can rebound. It’s that simple.

Anthony Davis, F, Kentucky – I try to pick slightly under the radar guys when it comes to lists like this, but come on. One of the top contenders for player of the year, the unibrow has to make the cut. A savant when it comes to shotblocking, he’s not such a bad rebounder either. And he’s only scratching the surface when it comes to his offensive game (can already hit the perimeter jump shot). A talented man on a talented team, it should be very interesting to see how he matches up against some of the other bigs the south region has to offer.

Didn’t make the cut – Jeremy Lamb, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Terrence Jones, Christian Watford, Cody Zeller, Garrett Stutz, Perry Jones III, Tu Holloway, Austin Rivers, Chase Stanback

First Round Picks

Kentucky over Mississippi Valley State, Iowa State over Connecticut, Wichita State over VCU, Indiana over New Mexico State, UNLV over Colorado, Baylor over South Dakota State, Notre Dame over Xavier, and Duke over Lehigh

Second Round

Kentucky over Iowa State, Wichita State over Indiana, Baylor over UNLV, Duke over Notre Dame

Sweet 16

Kentucky over Wichita State, Baylor over Duke

Regional Final

Kentucky over Baylor

Team that could make a run

UConn may be a bit of a sellout when it comes to this kind of pick, which is why I will be going with Wichita State. They might have a tough time even making it out of its opener against a very pesky VCU team, but I feel like this senior-laden team has the chops to give Kentucky a serious run for its money. They are efficient on both sides of the ball, get its scoring from several different sources, and have a coach in Gregg Marshall that has done a fantastic job following in the steps of Mark Turgeon. This may be the teams last chance for a couple of years to be a serious contender, and I’m really pulling for them to take advantage of it.

Team that worries me

Baylor was the obvious choice for this one. When they are playing well, they have the talent to go toe to toe with any team in the country, but will we be getting that team for the tournament? If you watched them in conference play, your answer would probably be no. If you watched them in the Big 12 tournament, your answer might be yes. A lot of it comes down to whether or not Perry Jones III can be aggressive at all times, playing like the lottery pick that he is. And again, trying to figure out what Perry Jones we will be seeing is a tough problem to figure out. Baylor is a totally legitimate darkhorse pick to advance to the Final Four. They’re also a great pick to be upset in the second round.

WEST REGION

While I have no idea what’s going to happen anywhere in this tournament, I actually have absolutely no shred of a clue what to do with this region. Michigan State obviously has the coach in Tom Izzo and the player in Draymond Green to make a run. Missouri absolutely has the best guards in the country. And then, what to make of talented by inconsistent teams like Memphis or Florida? What about the team with the best winning percentage in college hoops in Murray State? And I haven’t even mentioned a talented Marquette team or a Louisville squad that might be peaking at just the right time. Needless to say, I am fully expecting to get none of my picks right for this part of the bracket.

Five Players to Watch

Draymond Green, F, Michigan State – If it wasn’t for Anthony Davis and Thomas Robinson, this guy would be my runaway choice for national POY. He can score, he can rebound, and he also might be the best passer on his team. In a sentence, he has put the team on his back for the entire season. This team goes as Green goes, and that’s not such a bad thing.

Isaiah Canaan, G, Murray State – This guy is a legitimate candidate for a first team all-america selection and for good reason. He gets into the lane, he has great range, and he is the unquestioned leader of the only remaining team in the country with a single loss. He is going to have to play out of his mind in the tournament to get this team to the later rounds, but he just may have it in him.

Will Barton, G, Memphis – This guy is having the best season in basketball that absolutely no one is talking about. He is scoring a ton, rebounding unusually well for a guy of his size, not to mention averaging 3 dishes a game. If Memphis can advance to the second round, this team has a VERY legitimate chance of taking out the Spartans, and it will probably be because of this guy.

Casper Ware, G, Long Beach State – I can’t wait to see what this guy has in store for the nation. He is the undervalued leader of an undervalued team that has a shot at making some serious noise in the next week or so. He is a bit of a high volume shooter, which always comes with risks. But what it also means is that if he is on a hot streak, he can easily drop 35 on an unsuspecting victim. America, you’ve been warned.

Phil Pressey, G, Missouri – I could have picked a lot of other guys, but I have to give some love to the engine that makes the best team in Missouri’s history go.  This squad has the best four guard rotation of any team in the country, and it all starts with Pressey. He is lightning quick, averages over 2 steals a game, and has a sterling 2.6:1 assist to turnover ratio. He may not score as many points as Marcus Denmon or Kim English, but make no mistake, Phil Pressey is the most valuable player on this team.

Didn’t make the cut – Keith Appling, Drew Gordon, Peyton Siva, Jae Crowder, Darius Johnson-Odom, Patric Young, Kenny Boynton, Mike Scott, Marcus Denmon, Mike Dixon

First Round Picks

Michigan State over LIU Brooklyn, Memphis over St. Louis, Long Beach State over New Mexico, Louisville over Davidson, Murray State over Colorado State, Marquette over Iona, Florida over Virginia, Missouri over Norfolk State

Second Round Picks

This is where things start getting a little tricky for me. Having a 6, 8, and 12 seed (and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Florida get hot and beat Missouri) is quite a shot in the dark, but that’s half the fun of making picks anyways.

Memphis over Michigan State (taking the Will Barton love to another level), Long Beach State over Louisville, Murray State over Marquette, Missouri over Florida

Sweet 16

Memphis over Long Beach State, Missouri over Murray State

Regional Final

Missouri over Memphis

Team that could make a run

I may have Memphis making an unorthodox run to the Elite 8 as an 8 seed. But, given their coaching and basketball talent, I believe this kind of run should actually be expected of them. In all actually, their low seed is simply a product of having to win a bunch of games in the Conference USA. That means my pick here is Long Beach State. They have a coach in Dan Monson (the same guy who first brought Gonzaga to national prominence) who knows a little something about making a run with a mid major team. They have a guy in Casper the ghost, who I already gushed about a little earlier. While they could just as easily lose in the first round to a good New Mexico squad, I’m not betting against them. They played a murderous non-conference schedule and were extremely competitive with some of the best teams in the nation. This team is seasoned, talented, and isn’t just happy to be there. They expect to win games.

Team that worries me

This might blow up in my face, but there’s something about Michigan State that I don’t like a lot this year. And if we learned anything from last year, playing (and winning) in the toughest conference in the country guarantees you nothing come tournament time. Tom Izzo and Draymond Green may make me look stupid here, but I think these guys could be ripe for an upset. I’m going with my gut here and moving on before I get too freaked out and decide to change it.

EAST REGION

Well the news that Fab Melo will be out for the entirety of the tournament certainly shakes things up in the East. Syracuse suddenly becomes a lot more vulnerable, and some of the lower seeded teams start looking a lot better. The fact of the matter is that Ohio State, when firing on all cylinders, is probably one of the three best teams in the country, and I expect that to be the ultimate factor when sorting through this region. Florida State is absolutely on fire right now though, and could make things very difficult for the Buckeyes. In the top half, Wisconsin is always a tough out, and Vanderbilt is coming fresh off a victory over Kentucky. Not to mention Harvard is probably very hungry to prove they deserved a little more respect from the selection committee.

Five Players to Watch

William Buford, G, Ohio State – For the most part, I feel like you know what you are getting with Jared Sullinger. He may be the best player on the team, but the determinant of how far this team advances could be which William Buford shows up. He is a do everything wingman in a similar mold to David Lighty, and will need to be aggressive and on point if he wants to advance to a Final Four before he graduates.

J’Covan Brown, G, Texas – Brown is personally responsible for putting Texas into the field this year. It’s been him, an at times inconsistent Myck Kabongo, and a bunch of other guys in Texas uniforms. Simply put, the guy can score. Like Ware, he shoots in high volumes, but mostly because there is no one else on the team that can provide the kind of offense he can. It will be very difficult for Texas to advance, but don’t be surprised if he hangs 30 on a team before bowing out.

John Jenkins, G, Vanderbilt – This guy is an absolute dynamo from outside the three point line (averages 4 made 3 pointers a game) and is just the type of player that can carry a team to 2-3 wins in a tournament. Vanderbilt is starting to live up to their lofty preseason expectations, and Jenkins is a key reason why. Expect him to make life very difficult for opposing teams.

Bernard James, F, Florida State – The ‘Noles are one of the best defensive teams in the country, and it starts with James, an ultra-athletic post defender. He is a 26 year old senior thanks to serving in America’s military for a few years, and that kind of maturity might just give him, and his team, an advantage that not many others have. Florida State is riding a wave of big wins into the tournament, and if its going to continue, they’ll certainly need big things from James.

Kris Joseph, F, Syracuse – The loss of Fab Melo for the tournament is a huge blow for the Orange, who will need other guys to step up in big ways to help compensate. Perhaps more than anybody, Joseph will have to play like the star that many have expected him to be over the last few years. His lack of big numbers are somewhat a product of the depth Syracuse has on the wing spots, but also from a lack of aggression on his part. If this guy can average around 20 ppg in the tournament, this squad still has a legitimate shot at cutting the nets down in April.

Didn’t make the cut – Dion Waiters, Jared Sullinger, Jamar Samuels, Jordan Taylor, Yancy Gates, Elias Harris, Kevin Pangos, Kevin Jones

First Round Picks

Syracuse over UNC Asheville, Kansas State over Southern Mississippi, Vanderbilt over Harvard, Wisconsin over Montana, Cincinnati over Texas, Florida State over St. Bonaventure, West Virginia over Gonzaga, Ohio State over Loyola (MD)

Second Round Picks

Syracuse over Kansas State, Vanderbilt over Wisconsin, Florida State over Cincinnati, Ohio State over West Virginia

Sweet 16

Vanderbilt over Syracuse, Ohio State over Florida State

Regional Final

Ohio State over Vanderbilt

Team that could make a run

I’m expecting some big things from Vanderbilt this tournament, and like I said before, they are finally starting to play like the team we all expected them to be at the beginning of the season. They have a great trio of stars in Festus Ezeli, John Jenkins, and Jeffery Taylor, and a coach in Kevin Stallings who knows who to get a team geared up for big games. Things will be difficult from the outset, but I am expecting them to rise to the challenge and perform at a very high level. If they can make it to the Sweet 16, I believe they have the chops to make life very difficult for the Orange and exploit the absence of Fab Melo. I hate going on a limb like putting a 5 seed in the Elite 8, but the fact that the team is Vanderbilt makes that decision a little easier to sweat out. I never thought I would say this, but go ‘dores.

Team that worries me

I don’t really like putting Syracuse here but I just have to do it. Yeah, yeah we all know about Fab Melo and how the team was that much worse when we saw how they played without him during the season. But another problem, and perhaps just as serious, is Scoop Jardine. I think the guy is a great player at times, but he is just a little too inconsistent for my taste. Not all teams have absolute studs at point guard (look at Kentucky), but I don’t see this team being a serious championship contender when you aren’t positive what you’ll be getting out of your point guard. Maybe he plays out of his mind and has a huge tournament. If he does, Syracuse fans can rest a little easier. But I’m not betting on it.

MIDWEST REGION

If everything plays out like it should in this region, always a dangerous assumption, we could have matchup of two of the nation’s premier programs and coaches in Kansas (Bill Self) and North Carolina (Roy Williams). While the masses might be expecting chalk to play out apart from an upset or two, there are some teams in this part of the bracket that should certainly make things very interesting. St. Mary’s has one of the most underrated coaches in the country in Randy Bennett, and a lead guard in Matt Dellavedova who can make things very difficult for opposing defense. California could be hungry to prove that they belong. And Georgetown is the teams that scares me the most as a Kansas fan. Henry Sims is one of the best passing big men in the country, Otto Porter has emerged as a young star, Hollis Thompson is an athletic slasher, and Jason Clark is an absolute rock in the backcourt.

Five Players to Watch

Reggie Bullock, G, North Carolina – It’s no stretch to say that North Carolina might have the best frontcourt in the country. But Kendall Marshall is a pass-first point guard, and as a result, the Tar Heels have had trouble finding ways to score on the perimeter and space the floor at times. If they are going to have any shot of winning a championship, their guards and smaller forwards will have to make jump shots, and it all starts with Bullock, who is their most talented scoring guard. He is going to have be dangerous from 20 feet and beyond, easing the pressure on the Tar Heel big men, and adding another weapon to Carolina’s offensive arsenal. If Bullock can step up, this team is my favorite to win the title. 

Thomas Robinson, F, Kansas – This is a pretty obvious choice. This guy is one of the top candidates for player of the year and is the most important player in the country when it comes to being a direct determinant to his team’s success. He is a ferocious rebounder with a fast improving offensive game. If he can stay under control, out of foul trouble, and convert easy basketbs, Kansas will be a tough out. Robinson certainly has the ability to be “the guy” on a championship level team, but will he get enough support from his role players?

Allen Crabbe, G, California – Crabbe is a dynamic scorer who has the athletic ability to drive to the hoop, as well as the touch to be a lethal threat from beyond the arc. Cal has the potential (thanks to a very underrated group of guards) to advance to the round of 16, and if they are going to do it, Crabbe will be the one leading the way.

Doug McDermott, F, Creighton – There is a reason this dude is getting so much attention as a possible first team all-america member. He shoots an absolutely blistering 61% on field goals, and 49% from three point range, and also rebounds very well for his position. He is right up there with Thomas Robinson when it comes to being incredibly valuable to the outcomes in his team’s games. If the opposition finds a way to shut him down (a very tall order), Creighton will be out very early. On the other hand, if he can go off, Creighton will give North Carolina all it can handle in the second round.

Ray McCallum, G, Detroit – Calling McCallum a diamond in the rough would probably be a disservice to his talent. He was very heavily recruited out of high school, but merely decided to play for his dad at Detroit. As a result, he has teamed up with Eli Holman and Chase Simon to form one of the most talented and dangerous 15 seeds in recent memory (trying not to freak out). Now that Detroit has advanced to the tournament, McCallum has a national platform to display his NBA calibur skills to all who are watching. When Detroit matches up with Kansas in the first round, it wouldn’t be a stretch to call him the best guard on the floor.

Didn’t make the cut – Tyshawn Taylor, Elijah Johnson, Harrison Barnes, Jorge Guttierez, Trevor Releford, Tim Hardaway Jr., Henry Sims, Robbie Hummel, Matthew Dellavedova

First Round Picks

North Carolina over Lamar, Creighton over Alabama, California over Temple, Michigan over Ohio, NC State over San Diego State, Georgetown over Belmont, St. Mary’s over Purdue, Kansas over Detroit

Second Round Picks

North Carolina over Creighton, California over Michigan, Georgetown over NC State, Kansas over St. Mary’s

Sweet 16

North Carolina over California, Georgetown over Kansas

Regional Final

North Carolina over Georgetown

Team that could make a run

I don’t think California is a complete enough team to be a serious contender. But I do think they have enough fire power at the guard position to steal a few games. Furthermore, it appears the draw breaks for them just the right way with favorable matchups against South Florida, Temple, and Michigan to make some noise. Yeah, they come from the historically bad conference in the Pac-12, but if we look at this team independent of conference affiliation, I think we will see a team with a level of talent that isn’t correctly represented by their seeding. Furthermore, they have a very seasoned coach in Mike Montgomery who is very capable of leading a team in a tournament setting.

Team that worries me

I might be over analyzing, but I can’t help but put Kansas in here. Assuming they advance to the second round, they meet a very tough mid-major in St. Mary’s who is more than capable of competing with the big boys. And this is a team featuring a player in Matt Dellavedova who is very capable of putting a team on his back and winning a game by himself. Not to mention the other possible speed bumps along the road to possible a regional final matchup with North Carolina (the most formidable being a Georgetown team that has already given Kansas trouble this year). Bill Self has done an incredible coaching job this year, and has done a good job of maximizing Kansas’ talent, but I also think that might be something of a problem. When they run into a team that is deeper and more talented, I just don’t know if they have the firepower to pull out a win. Here’s to hoping the Jayhawks prove me wrong.

FINAL FOUR

Missouri over Kentucky

North Carolina over Ohio State

NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP

North Carolina over Missouri

This would be a great matchup of different styles, but equally high octane offense. Missouri emphasizes its guard play and is deadly from three point range. North Carolina, on the other hand, runs its offense through its bigs, hitting high percentage shots in the paint. In the end though, Missouri’s lack of depth on the frontline after Ricardo Ratliffe will end up being too big of a deficiency to ignore, and Harrison Barnes and Reggie Bullock will hit the big shots from the perimeter when it matters. Apologies to all Carolina fans for the kiss of death.

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