Welcome girls and boys to my favorite time of the year! Tomorrow starts what should be a national holiday, the first day of the NCAA tournament. Yes, there were four games already, but we all know those don’t really count. The real madness starts tomorrow and it’s going to be just as crazy as always. After the jump we’ll take a look at the regions and get predictions from the Sports Dump writers.
The top seed in the East has gotten by far the most press coming into the tournament. On Tuesday, Syracuse announced that center Fab Melo will not be making the trip due to academic reasons. Melo also missed three games during the year for the same reason and the Orange went 2-1 in those games. Coach Jim Boeheim has a national title under his belt, but has only been past the sweet 16 four times in his career. Hit the panic button ‘Cuse fans.
Ohio State is the 2 seeds and boasts the nation’s most efficient defense, allowing just 84.4 points per 100 possessions. The Buckeyes return super sophomore Jared Sullinger, point guard Aaron Craft and William Buford from last year’s Sweet 16 squad.
Red hot Florida State is also in this region and is a trendy pick to make the Final Four. After going 4-1 against Duke and North Carolina this year, it’s easy to see why.
Vanderbilt finds themselves the 5 seed in the East and are also red hot. The Commodores knocked off Kentucky in the SEC tournament finals, handing the Wildcats their first conference loss of the year. They have an experience and balanced team that can match up with anyone in the country.
Kansas State gets the pleasure of the 8 seed, meaning they could face #1 Syracuse in the second round. Coach Frank Martin has a knack for big games though and could easily guide his team to an upset win over the Orange.
Bob Huggins and West Virgina face Gonzaga in the first round with the 7/10 matchup. Both teams have fared well in March, so this should be an interesting one.
Michigan State was selected as the 1 seed in this region and it’s extremely hard to bet against them and Tom Izzo in March. The Spartans are coming off a Big Ten tournament title game win over Ohio St and are playing some very good basketball. They have a tremendous defense and one of the most versatile players in the game in Draymond Green.
Big 12 regular tournament champion Missouri finds themselves as the 2 seed in the West. The Tigers have been a surprise this year and are a nightmare to defend. They have the nations most efficient offense, averaging 125.5 points per 100 possessions and four guards that can torch you for 20 on any given night.
Marquette vs. BYU has my attention in the 3/14 game. The Cougars showcase two talented forwards that could be match up nightmares for the Golden Eagles who are led by a 1-2 punch of Darius Johnson-Odom and Jae Crowder.
Big East tournament champion Louisville gets 2008 tournament Cinderella Davidson. Cardinals coach Rick Pitino called the Wildcats “the toughest first round opponent” of his career. That’s a big statement considering UofL has lost in the first round the past two seasons.
Memphis and St. Louis is another intriguing match up in the 8/9 game. Both teams seem to be a bit under seeded as both rank in the top 15 according to Ken Pomeroy. Either team is capable of giving Michigan State a very tough game in the second round and it’s a shame one has to go home in the first round.
Pre-season favorite North Carolina seemed to be sleep walking at times this season, but is still one of the two most talented teams in the nation. Can coach Roy Williams get his team focused for a run into March? They hold the #1 seed in the Midwest and have a fairly easy path to the Elite 8.
Kansas has also had a bit of a roller coaster season, but with Player of the Year candidate Thomas Robinson and senior point guard Tyshawn Taylor they can play with any team in the country.
11 seed North Carolina State finds themselves a 2.5 point favorite over 6 seed San Diego State thanks to terrible seeding from the NCAA tournament. With a win, the Wolfpack will play the winner of the Georgetown vs. Belmont game (3/14), yet another possible upset in this region.
Creighton takes their high flying offense against Alabama’s stingy defense in the 8/9 matchup. Doug McDermott is amazing to watch and can light it up. Can the Tide slow him down? Can he shoot the Bluejays to an upset win over UNC? I love March.
Let’s not kid ourselves. Kentucky is the favorite to win this tournament by a fairly large margin, especially now with Fab Melo out at Syracuse. However, they call it Madness because the favorite doesn’t always win. A loss to Vanderbilt in the SEC final should give this young team the wake up call they needed.
The NCAA must have remembered what happened 20 years ago when they made Duke the #2 seed in the bracket. It really hurt me to link that video. The things I do for you people.
Defending champion UConn rears their head as 9 seed against Iowa St after a disappointing and underachieving season. The huskies have the talent to give Kentucky a game in the second round, but don’t sleep on the Cyclones.
Tom Crean and the Indiana Hoosiers lost senior guard Verdell Jones III to an ACL injury, but Cody Zeller and Christian Watford are perfectly healthy. They face a potentially dangerous New Mexico State team in the first round (4/13).
UNLV is yet another intriguing team in a region that seemed to be assembled based on story lines alone (CBS is praying for a match up with Duke). The Rebels are a dangerous team, just ask North Carolina.
3rd seed Baylor is an incredibly talented and athletic team that has the potential to come out of this region. Perry Jones III is a likely top 5 pick in the upcoming NBA draft and can dominate a game when he is on. The Bears struggled against elite teams most of year, but knocked off Kansas last week in the Big 12 tournament.
SPORTS DUMP PREDICTIONS
Charles ‘Jumbo’ Copeland:
First 1 or 2 seed to lose will be: I have Syracuse going farther than I did prior to losing Melo but I see them losing to Vandy in the Sweet 16. I thought they would lose K State in the 2nd but I think not having Melo will make them better suited to beat KSU. They would not win an inside battle with K State so not even trying will be better for them. Vandy’s senior led team will be too much for the short-handed Orange to overcome in the Sweet 16. I believe Duke will lose to Baylor in the Sweet 16 also.
Player to watch: Casper Ware Long Beach State, NCAA games are won with guard play and Casper Ware is one of the best. He is the key to leading LBS to the Sweet 16.
Surprise Team: Long Beach State will make a run at the Elite 8. They have played close in big games all year and have the talent to advance.
Final Four: Kentucky, Mizzou, OSU, UNC
National Champ: Kentucky over Ohio State. I rarely pick the best team to win it all but I can’t deny UK has a favorable draw and is the best team in the country. I think OSU is coming on strong and will be a tough out but UK should win and get Coach Calipari his first title. (How long he keeps it is up to the NCAA.)
First 1 or 2 seed to lose will be: Duke. They aren’t playing the team game like most Duke teams and their D is not good enough to slow down other teams if they aren’t hitting their 3’s.
Player to watch: Isaiah Canaan. He’ll make noise with his team’s upset of Marquette in the Second Round and possibly against Mizzou in the Sweet 16.
Surprise Team: UCONN could be the surprise team by making a deep run. They have experience from last year’s run and have their coach back from injury.
Final Four: Indiana, Michigan State, Florida State, North Carolina
National Champ: Michigan State
First #1 to lose: Michigan St.
First #2 to Lose: Missouri
Player to Watch: Jae Crowder, Marquette
Surprise Team: Wichita State, They won’t get past Kentucky in the Sweet 16, but will play them tough
Surprise Team #2: CJ Leslie leads NC State to the Sweet 16 before they lose a close one to Kansas
Surprise Team #3: Memphis gets to the Elite 8 after taking out Mich St. early
Final Four: Kentucky, UNC, Marquette, Ohio St.
National Champion: I’m on board with Richard……as long as they don’t have to face Vandy again, Kentucky is the best team in the country
First 1 or 2 seed to lose will be: Ohio State
Player to watch: Perry Jones, Baylor. I like to watch NBA talent, and he is that. He can make people forget about his “passiveness” if he fires up his Baylor team.
Surprise Team: Xavier. This team always seems to play well in the tourney, maybe its just me. They have a pretty easy road, until they hit Kentucky.
Final Four: Duke, Mich. St., Florida St., Georgetown
National Champ: Mich. St.
First 1 or 2 seed to lose: Syracuse. I didn’t like their chances anyway, but the loss of Fab Melo makes this a no-brainer.
Player to watch: Garrett Stutz, Wichita State. The Shockers are a chic pick for the mid-major team that will make the most noise this month, but they’ll need Stutz, their best post player and leading scorer, to be at his best. In the MVC title game, Illinois State went after Stutz and got him into foul trouble, leading to a Wichita State loss. If Stutz ends up on the bench, Gregg Marshall’s team won’t be making a deep run.
Surprise team: Long Beach State. This is the type of senior-laden squad that always manages to sneak up on people, and their early tournament draws aren’t intimidating (New Mexico and Louisville/Davidson).
Final Four: Kentucky, Michigan State, Florida State, Kansas
Champion: As much as I hate to say it, no one is going to beat Kentucky.
First 1 or 2 seed to lose: Neither Duke nor Syracuse will make the Sweet 16. Xavier’s athleticism will give the Blue Devils fits and Frank Martin will coach circles around Jim Boeheim now that Fab Melo is out.
Player to watch: First of all, if you’ve never seen Kentucky’s Anthony Davis play then you absolutely have to. He is a once-in-a-decade talent. Now, for the less obvious answer I would suggest Royce White of Iowa St. White leads the Cyclones in points (13.1), assists (5.2), and rebounds (9.2). He’s also an excellent defender averaging 1.2 steals and 0.9 blocks per game. He can literally do everything and really fill up a stat sheet.
Surprise team: #14 Belmont. These guys went to Cameron Indoor stadium in their first game of the year and left with just a 1 point loss to 2nd seeded Duke. The Bruins have won 17 straight games and face a shaky Georgetown team in the first round and would face a favorable matchup with either NC State or San Diego St in the second round. A Sweet 16 is certainly possible for this team.
Final Four: Kentucky, Michigan State, Vanderbilt, Kansas
National Champ: You think a loss to Vanderbilt changed my mind? Think again. Kentucky hangs up #8.