*I wrote a piece for The Student Section earlier this week about why Kansas won’t spit the bit early in the tournament this year. Although I agree with the consensus that this tournament lacks a definitive favorite, I firmly believe the Jayhawks are at least heading to Houston.
What really appeals to me about KU’s team is the fact that Bill Self is effectively playing two point guards in his backcourt with Frank Mason III and Devonte’ Graham. I love Graham’s game, in particular, but the duo do a masterful job of steering the flow of the game and taking care of the ball. It just feels like they are in control at all times.
*I liked California more before the Golden Bears got pushed up to a 4 seed. This strikes me as the type of team more likely to ruin someone’s Big Dance as a 7 or 8 seed and make the Sweet 16 than one that can handle being pegged as one of the top 16 teams in the country.
*Gregg Marshall is a superb coach with a hoops junkie’s dream of a backcourt in Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker. Wichita State doesn’t have the same snap to it this season that we’ve seen from the Shockers in years past. They’re missing that third piece they’ve had in the past. (Think Cleanthony Early.)
*I see a great four-year run coming to an end in the first round against Arizona.
*First-round upset: Colorado over Connecticut.
Yes, it’s just a 9 over an 8, but seeing as the Buffaloes are getting 3.5 points, it still qualifies.
The Buffs will boast the best player on the floor in forward Josh Scott, and they have an underrated head coach in Tad Boyle. More importantly, though, this is bad spot for the Huskies. UConn played in the AAC Tournament final on Sunday and now have a short turnaround and long road trip to Des Moines.
*Winner: Kansas over Villanova.
Both of these teams have been dogged by sooner-than-expected dismissals in recent years. Much like Kansas, I’ll take my chances with ‘Nova and put the Wildcats through to the regional final. They are better down low this year following another season of development from center Daniel Ochefu, and most of the key players on this team were around for last season’s early exit.
Ultimately, though, KU’s post play gives the Jayhawks the head-to-head edge.
*This looks like the most competitive region at the top: The top five seeds all fall within 18 spots of each other in the kenpom.com rankings. Not to mention, the 2 seed, Oklahoma, is ranked higher than 1 seed Oregon.
*I’ve seen the Ducks play once this year. It wasn’t particularly memorable. (Which is not to say UO has a bad team.)
From what I’ve seen from the other teams, the Pac-12 is a solid league. UO merited a top seed based on the numbers. Even so, if a 1 seed isn’t making it out of the first weekend, I’m betting it’s UO.
*Baylor remains as perplexing as ever.
The Bears still run that bizarre zone defense that makes sense to Scott Drew and no one else. They still have ridiculous length and athleticism – although they don’t seem to get worked on the glass the way they once did. They still play with the kind of discipline that makes an AND1 game look like Chinese military drills.
Fortunately for the Bears, they won’t lose to Yale. Their size counteracts the Bulldogs’ strength down low.
After the opener, who knows.
*First-round upset: UNC-Wilmington over Duke.
I’ll hang this one out there. UNCW plays really fast and will tax the Blue Devils’ precarious depth.
The Seahawks pull off the stunner.
*Winner: Oklahoma over Oregon.
I can’t believe I’m doing this as I’ve dogged the Sooners all season for their reliance on jump shots and lackluster halfcourt offense. And speaking of depth, Lon Kruger hasn’t used his bench as much as one would hope this year.
Still, OU got a fantastic draw. It starts with two games down the road in Oklahoma City. In the Sweet 16, the Sooners would most likely meet an overseeded Texas A&M team. In the regional final, the Sooners and Ducks look to be almost mirror images of each other – except OU is just a shade better.
Call it homerism if you'd like, but I've got the Crimson and Cream in the Final Four.
*I consider this the toughest region in the tournament this year. Yet, I also think it sets up incredibly well for the Tar Heels from the standpoint of matchups.
*It has been really disarming seeing this version of Dunk City this season. I miss the old days.
*Stinks that Stephen F. Austin got paired with West Virginia in the first round. The Lumberjacks are probably underseeded as a 14 and would have stood a good chance of knocking off a couple of teams on the 4 and 5 lines. As it stands, I suspect the Mountaineers are going to maul them.
(One thing to note: Disparities in officiating can sometimes wreak havoc on teams that play with WVU’s level of physicality. If this game has a particularly tight crew, things could get interesting.)
*First-round upset: Chattanooga over Indiana.
To be fair, I don’t really envision this one coming to fruition. Sadly, if you like chaos, this region appears to be the chalkiest.
The way that the Mocs dominated their conference definitely speaks to their focus, and they defend the three-point line well enough to give the Hoosiers some issues. All in all, however, I wouldn't bet against the basketball gods pitting IU and Kentucky in the second round. Some bad blood there.
*Winner: North Carolina over West Virginia.
I realize I mentioned all that chalk a little while ago, but I do like WVU to bump off 2 seed Xavier and earn the right to duke it out with the Tar Heels for a Final Four bid. Neither of those teams can shoot, which could produce a nasty contest in Philadelphia to decide the East region. (It also wouldn’t shock me if that fatal flaw caught up to both before they reached this round.)
In the end, UNC point guard Marcus Paige will handle the ball well enough against Bob Huggins’ diabolical press to hold off the ‘Eers.
*What a strange region. Between Virginia getting shipped here as the 1 seed and Michigan State catching a break as the 2 seed in front of what should be something akin to a home in Chicago, feels like the selection committee did some baby-splitting.
*No idea what Syracuse is doing in this tournament.
Sadly, I think the Orange are going to win a game. Don't take that as validation that the committee did the right thing in giving the 'Cuse a bid.
*Utah looks super vulnerable to me.
The Utes do have an imposing front line in Jakob Poeltl, Jordan Loveridge and Kyle Kuzma. On the other hand, they lack the same caliber of threat on the wing that they had a year ago in Delon Wright.
Assuming Utah gets past Fresno State, which is no given, I expect either Gonzaga or Seton Hall to have the players in the paint to minimize Utah’s distinct size advantage. The Utes probably won’t need to pack for another trip after Denver.
*First-round upset: Texas Tech over Butler.
Even though the Red Raiders are the higher seed in this 8-9 pairing, the guys in Vegas have installed the Bulldogs are four-point favorites.
I look at this as fading Butler as much as having a higher opinion of Tech. I also like the prospect of Tubby Smith coaching in a one-off spot.
I’m feeling Tech in a very minor surprise.
*Winner: Virginia over Michigan State.
I realize that this match-up hasn’t worked well for Tony Bennett and the Cavaliers lately.
To me, the big difference in this case is my opinion of Sparty. This team doesn’t seem to be as well-rounded as what we’ve come to expect from Tom Izzo’s program. More offense comes from the three than usual, which can cause problems in tournament play.
UVA is just a little sharper this year on offense than in the past two seasons, and the inside-outside combo of Malcolm Brogdon and Anthony Gill make the ‘Hoos extremely hard to guard. I’ll go ahead and roll the dice that this is the year UVA gets over the hump.