My Predictions: March Madness Edition
After one of the craziest NCAA basketball seasons in recent memory, no one team can come into March as a favorite. Every week it seemed like upset after upset, and we can expect March Madness to be no different. The storylines are endless. Number one seeds, North Carolina (26-8) and Virginia (26-7) lead the pack of ACC teams that will consider anything but a Final Four run as a failure.
Reigning champions, Duke (23-10) got a four seed and will look to repeat their success from last year and not get upset early like they did in 2014.
John Calipari and his young Kentucky Wildcats (26-8), who won the SEC tournament, are not even the highest seeded SEC team this year.
In one of the many surprises handed down from the selection committee, Texas A&M (26-8) earned a three seed while UK only got a four seed.
Oregon (27-6) earned a one seed after dominating the Pac-12.
Last year’s conference champion Arizona (25-8) was given a questionable six seed which might make it hard for them to reach their third consecutive Elite 8 appearance but at least Wisconsin is not in their way this year after beating them the last two years.
The Big 12, with 10 teams, has several teams that are favorites to cut down the nets this year. The tournament favorite Kansas Jayhawks (29-4) are the number one team in the country, however, they will be trying to avoid their third consecutive round of 32 loss.
Two-seeded Oklahoma (25-7) led by the nation’s best player, the Bahamian Buddy Hield, could eventually face off against Shaka Smart’s sixth-seeded Texas (20-12) in the third Red River Shootout of the season.
Last but not least, the Big 10, with 12 teams, had a bit of a down season compared to previous years, but will still look to ride the success of conference champions, Michigan State.
Tom Izzo’s Michigan State Spartans (29-5) are right in the mix yet again. It literally seems like they are always in the consideration to win it all because they are somehow always that good. MSU’s Denzel Valentine has managed to inspire debates of whether he or Hield is truly the country's best player.
Opening Round Upsets:
Look for Kevin Ollie’s #9 Huskies to beat #8 Colorado. If Colorado can knock down the three-ball consistently they will be able to stay in the game, however, the dynamic guard play of UCONN’s Daniel Hamilton should lead the Huskies to victory.
Seven seed Iowa's late stumble, losing six of their last eight games, doesn't inspire confidence going into the tournament, especially against a #10 Temple team that doesn’t turn the ball over much.
Even with new coach Shaka Smart, #6 Texas will have a tough time with Missouri Valley Conference champions Northern Iowa, a team that sports wins over both North Carolina and Iowa State. Northern Iowa shouldn’t be thought of lightly this year if they can upset Texas in the first round.
Andy Endfield’s #8 USC outperformed expectations this season with a young lineup, but their great season will find an abrupt end against #9 Providence. Providence might just have the best duo in the country with Kris Dunn and Ben Bentil.
Choosing #12 Chattanooga to upset #5 Indiana might turn out to be a big mistake, but as this season has shown, upsets are meant to happen. Indiana, led by point guard Yogi Ferrell, has some great wins this season, but they have played down to the level of lesser competition with losses to Wake Forest, UNLV and Penn State.
Round Two Upsets:
Cal arguably received too high of a seed, especially with 10 losses on the season. #5 Maryland simply plays cleaner basketball, has less turnovers, and is better from the free throw line. This game should be tight, but Maryland will edge out Cal.
Sean Miller’s #6 Arizona lost many players from their Elite 8 run last year, but this game will come down to the wire and I’d have to favor the Wildcats to beat over-performing #3 Miami.
Northern Iowa should be taken seriously especially after they knock off yet another team from Texas, #3 Texas A&M. When the Aggies have lost this season, it was due to their failure to shoot well from the charity stripe. Northern Iowa could be this year’s Cinderella team.
Any team that has a win against North Carolina and two wins against Duke should be favored so #6 Notre Dame should be able to take care of #3 West Virginia. West Virginia has had a great season, but Notre Dame has been here before and wants their chance at redemption against Kentucky after their heartbreaking Elite 8 loss last year.
Kansas should get by #5 Maryland comfortably to face off against #6 Arizona, who should squeeze past Villanova. Arizona will dominate the glass against ‘Nova and squeak out a victory to go to their third straight Elite 8.
Oregon shouldn’t face many problems getting to the second weekend, however, they will come up against a #4 Duke team that will be the first to knock off a #1 seed in the tourney. Buddy Hield and the #2 Sooners will stop #11 Northern Iowa’s improbable run.
I don’t believe in coincidences, but I'm predicting #4 Kentucky, led by guard Tyler Ulis, will knock off #1 North Carolina and get to face off against #6 Notre Dame in a rematch of last year’s Elite 8. #2 Xavier will fall short of expectations yet again, just like their conference counterparts Villanova.
The top seeds should prove victorious in the Midwest region in the battle of top guards versus some of college’s top big men.
The great guard play of ACC player of the year Malcolm Brogdon will push #1 Virginia past Georges Niang and #4 Iowa State. Future NBA center, Austrian Jacob Poetl and #3 Utah will hit a wall against Denzel Valentine’s #2 Michigan State.
Rock, Chalk, Jayhawk. #1 Kansas will have a tough matchup against #6 Arizona. Kansas is shooting extremely well from deep, but ‘Zona is great at defending the perimeter. Kansas will be able to show they are a well-rounded team that can win in many different ways.
Coach K of #4 Duke will be knocking on the doorstep of history by pushing himself ahead of John Wooden for most Final Four appearances by a coach, however, his record-setting appearance will have to wait. Duke will run into a #2 Oklahoma Sooners squad that can put any team away with their three point shooting.
A battle of great guard play, #4 Kentucky and their backcourt of Tyler Ulis and Jamal Murray will spar with the backcourt of #6 Notre Dame which includes Demetrius Jackson and Steve Vasturia. Another heartbreaking loss should be in order for the Fighting Irish as Coach Calipari goes to his third straight Final Four.
In the only battle between a #1 seed and #2 seed, #1 Virginia will have to face off against #2 Michigan State. Coach Izzo has taken less talented teams to the Final Four and betting against the proven Spartans is nearly impossible.
Izzo goes back to his second straight Final Four and his eighth Final Four in total while at Michigan State.
A Big 12 rematch between Kansas and Oklahoma would be one of the most anticipated Final Four showdowns in the last decade. The Jayhawks won both of the previous meetings between the two teams, but stopping Buddy Hield has been one tough task. In those two games, Hield scored 46 points in the triple overtime thriller in Lawrence, KS, and then dropped 24 points in the second matchup. Beating the same team three times in one season would be extremely impressive, but will it happen? No. Oklahoma will win a nail-biter and push their way into the championship game.
In the other Final Four matchup, it’ll be a showdown of two of the most consistent teams on a yearly basis. Coach Calipari’s Kentucky Wildcats versus coach Izzo’s Michigan State Spartans. The duel between Denzel Valentine and Tyler Ulis will headline the game, but when it comes down to finding a way to win, the Spartans’ Matt Costello will win the battle on the boards and help push the Spartans back to the championship game.
Could you ask for a better championship game? The two best players in the country facing off to cut down the nets and crown their college 2016 national champions. Buddy Hield, the nation’s leading scorer with 25.0 points/game against Denzel Valentine, who on any night can put up a triple-double. The two will be tasked with guarding one another for the entirety of the game. Can Tom Izzo win his long-awaited second national title?
Not on this night. Oklahoma coach, Lon Kruger, gets to cut down the net to win the first national title for the Sooners.