Teams To Watch: #3 Notre Dame, #4 Maryland
Notre Dame won the tough ACC tournament by an average margin of victory of 8.33 points. Beating both Duke and North Carolina on that run. They’re also winners in eight of their past nine games. The Fighting Irish are scoring nearly 79 points per game this season while shooting the second highest field goal percentage in the country at .510.
Maryland had also been riding a pretty impressive win streak of eight games before losing a close and questionable game to Michigan State in the Big Ten tournament. They draw a couple easy opponents in Valparaiso and potentially Buffalo in the round of 32. Before having to face Kentucky.
First Round Bracket Buster: #12 Buffalo over #5 West Virginia
This isn’t much of a surprise, being as Buffalo is a popular 12 over 5 pick. Bobby Hurley who played at Duke, and also in the NBA has brought the Buffalo Bulls from never being in the Big Dance, to playing a first round matchup against an erratic West Virginia team that padded its record with a weak non-conference schedule. Only to follow it up by going 11-7 in the Big 12, and never making it out of the first round of the conference tournament.
Cinderella: #11 Texas
How can a team that has squandered almost every opportunity it’s had to show its potential as a contender and possibly shouldn’t even be in the tournament be picked as a team to make it to the elite 8? Heres how, they draw a Butler team that has outplayed it’s potential all season long. Followed by a Notre Dame team that will have a very hard time matching up in the paint against the Longhorns big back court. And as we have seen in the past anything can happen in a Texas vs. Kansas matchup.
The Winner: #1 Kentucky over #11 Texas
Though every team will likely give Kentucky their best shot, the strength of teams before the Final Four just don’t have enough firepower to stop a team that mauls teams on defense, and scores at will.
Team to watch: #4 Louisville
Don’t forget how talented this team was when they started the season off with twelve wins. Beating Ohio St. and Indiana during that stretch. Before getting their first loss to Kentucky. They’ve had to deal with suspensions to Montrezl Harrell and Chris Jones for a chunk of their season that hasn’t helped their record. Though Jones won’t be returning to the Cardinals, tourney veterans Terry Rozier and Harrell should be able to carry Louisville past the weaker talent in the East bracket into the elite 8.
Bracket Buster: #8 North Carolina St. or #9 LSU over #1 Villanova
One of these inconsistent teams has to win this game. LSU has beaten Arkansas and West Virginia, as well as losing a close one to Kentucky. But losing convincingly to Tennessee and getting knocked out by Auburn in the first round of their conference tournament hasn’t helped solidify the Tigers as a legitimate team.
NC State was virtually the same. Beating Duke, North Carolina, as well as Louisville. But unexplainable losses to Boston College and Wake Forest taint their resume.
Whoever wins this game will be out for blood against Villanova, and that doesn’t appear to be too daunting of a task for either team. Thats where the bracket shakeup happens.
Cinderella: #6 Providence
The Friars don’t have a strong resume. Losing all but one game against ranked opponents. That one game was a February 4th matchup against then #24 Georgetown.
Providence does however have LaDontae Henton. Who like Shabazz Napier in 2014 has the ability to take over a game. There are tough matchups with Oklahoma, Michigan State, and Virginia in their end of the bracket. But with the right amount of heat from Henton Providence could make a run at the sweet 16.
The Winner: #3 Oklahoma over #4 Louisville
All but one of the Sooners ten losses this season came on the road (the one being a 66-63 overtime loss to Kansas State). Seven of those losses were against ranked teams. Oklahoma, who has managed to stay towards the top of a very competitive Big 12, as well as having balance on the offensive and defensive sides of the ball, should be able to work their way through the middle of the bracket while Villanova and banged up Virginia get weeded out.
Team To Watch: #5 Utah
The inconsistency of alternating wins over the past month can be to blame for Utah recieving a #5 seed. Before their February 22 loss @ Oregon the Utes were sitting pretty at 21-4 and having a legitimate shot at a number two seed. The flip-flopping could come as a blessing though as Utah draws the weakest bracket, and in terms of facing a team with a high-powered offense. Well, that won’t happen until they face Duke in the sweet 16. The smothering defense of the Utes pushed them to winning 14 out of 15 games at one point, all of which came by double digits, eight of those wins were by more than twenty. Utah will play two rounds before they have to worry about Duke, and could potentially push their way into the elite 8.
Bracket Busters: #13 Eastern Washington over #4 Georgetown; #11 UCLA over #6 SMU
In each of Georgetown’s past five tournament appearances they have been a high seed, and haven’t been able to make it out of the round of 32. Having lost to a double-digit seed in each of those appearances. This year they draw the third highest scoring team in the country in Eastern Washington, who also has the country’s leading scorer in Tyler Harvey. Harvey who averages nearly 23 ppg has carried the Eagles to an impressive 26-8 season. With the only real blemish on their record coming when they lost three games in a row at the end of a five game road stretch.
While UCLA has been discounted as even belonging in the tournament they get an even luckier draw against a less talented team in SMU. While the Mustangs do have the Larry Brown factor, UCLA has quietly gone undefeated at home since losing to Kentucky on December 20th. Norman Powell has been on fire, scoring 21 or more in three of UCLA’s past five games. Powell has also averaged two steals, and four rebounds over that stretch.
Cinderella: #8 San Diego State
Last year San Diego State impressed by going 29-4 during the regular season and grabbing a 4 seed. Winning their first two games and making it into the sweet 16 before losing a close one to a superior Arizona team. This year the Aztecs shouldn’t have any problem accomplishing the same by beating a weaker St. Johns team and drawing a perfect matchup in Duke. Junior forward Skylar Spencer is the perfect matchup to slow down freshman Jahlil Okafor. Forcing Duke to have to resort to outside shooting. Leading San Diego to a “first to fifty” defensive battle against Utah.
The Winner: #3 Iowa State
Iowa State has played an astonishing 19 games this season against teams in the tournament. Going 14-5 in those games. The Cyclones also won the Big 12, a conference which boasts seven of its ten teams making the tournament. Gonzaga is a team that shoots .524 from the floor (number one in the country) and scores 79 points a game. However, Georges Niang and Monte Morris are too good of a 1-2 guard/forward punch for a team that will already have their hands full with North Dakota St. and Fran McCaffery’s Iowa Hawkeyes.
Team To Watch: #4 North Carolina
In wins since the beginning of February the Tar Heels are outscoring opponents by an average of 16 ppg. They knocked off Louisville and Virginia in the conference tournament before losing in the championship to on-fire Notre Dame. The West may be the toughest bracket in the tournament. However if the Tar Heels can continue to score and rebound the way they have they won’t be an easy out for anyone.
Bracket Buster: #10 Ohio State over #7 VCU
VCU has been a popular pick as a high seed to make a deep run every year since 2011 when they beat Georgetown, Purdue, Florida State, and Kansas before losing to Butler in the National Semifinal. The Rams have been a mainstay in the tournament since. They have however posted a 2-3 record in the tournament to follow up the success of four years ago, and have to face the best player in the country in D’Angelo Russell.
Cinderella: #11 Ole Miss
Down 17 in the second-half of play in their game against BYU, the Rebels came all the way back to win the game and make their way into the round of 64. Its what this team has done all year. The stellar guard play of Jarvis Summers and Stefan Moody will be too much for the shoddy defense of Xavier, before essentially playing a home game in Jacksonville against inconsistent Baylor.
The Winner: #2 Arizona over #1 Wisconsin
In a rematch of last years West regional final Arizona exact revenge against the team that beat them by one point. The Badgers still have Frank Kaminsky who unloaded 28 points on the Wildcats last year, and the game is played in Southern California as it was last year. These two teams are virtually mirror images. Wisconsin shoots .480 from the field, Arizona shoots .489. Wisconsin allows 56.1 ppg, Arizona allows 58.6. Both teams have dominated their competition with the Badgers losing two of their three games to ranked opponents (#4 Duke and #14 Maryland) and the Wildcats have stumbled three times as well. On the road, in tough environments, to conference teams. The local crowd will play more of a factor this time around and Arizona moves to their first Final Four since 2001.
#1 Kentucky over #2 Arizona
Kentucky has been the best team all season long and it hasn’t been close, they’re deeper than anyone else and they have more talent in their starting five than anyone else. Meanwhile, Arizona will have to scratch and claw its way through the tough West bracket just to make it to the Final Four. The safe bet here would be to just pick the Wildcats.
Kentucky: 78 Arizona: 62
#3 Iowa State over #3 Oklahoma
Since losing at Oklahoma in their first matchup of the season Iowa State has won both of the following match-ups. Iowa State has played better against top tier competition throughout 2015. They should be able to pull of a late victory.
Iowa State: 66 Oklahoma: 65
#3 Iowa State over #1 Kentucky
Nineteen teams have entered the tournament undefeated. Seven have gone on to win it all.
The Cyclones cut down the nets.