Friday, March 27, 2015

2015 March Madness (South and East Regions) - Sweet 16 and Elite 8

South Regional Semi-Final in Houston, TX

#11 UCLA (22-13) vs. #2 Gonzaga (34-2)

After being told they didn't belong in the NCAA Tournament, UCLA knocked off SMU and UAB to reach the Sweet 16. They did it mostly on the back of coach Steve Alford's son, Bryce Alford. Alford has been lethal from three point range in the Tournament, shooting 12 for 16 in two games. They will need an almost equal performance from him tonight if they are to upset the Zags.

You always hear about the importance of guard play in the NCAA Tournament and that explains why UCLA is still playing. In addition to Alford, the Bruins have senior and leading scorer Norman Powell, as well as Isaac Hamilton. Down in the blocks are Kevon Looney and Tony Parker. Parker went ham on UAB scoring 28 points but against SMU he had just 3 points, and I would expect a performance similar to that since Parker will be dealing with Kyle Wiltjer. The Bruins are a balanced offensive team, with five players averaging double figures in scoring. The problem for UCLA is that they don't have much depth and most of their bench has trouble scoring.

The Bulldogs are led by the aforementioned Wiltjer and senior guard Kevin Pangos. Pangos shoots 45% from three point range, so we might see an impromptu three point contest between him and Alford. Gonzaga is an all around team, they lead the country in field goal percentage and rank 50th in points allowed per game. Down in the blocks with Wiltjer is Domantas Sabonis. If the name Sabonis sounds familiar it is because he is the son of former Portland Trail Blazer center Arvydas Sabonis.

Unless Alford hits about ten three pointers, I don't think UCLA can get the necessary stops on defense to upset Gonzaga. The Zags do a great job of getting the ball inside and getting easy looks, and even when forced to shoot from outside, they have a marksman in Pangos. Gonzaga also has much more depth than UCLA and that will be a huge factor as Gonzaga reaches their first Elite 8 under Mark Few.

Prediction: Gonzaga 74, UCLA 66

East Regional Semi-Final in Syracuse, NY

#8 North Carolina State (22-13) vs. #4 Louisville (26-8)

NC State had quite the adventurous first week in the NCAA Tournament. They overcame a 14-point halftime deficit to defeat LSU at the buzzer. Then they pulled off one of the biggest upsets to date in the NCAA Tournament when they knocked out fraudy #1 seed Villanova. Although to be fair, you wouldn't have been surprised by that upset if you had read my post last week. Now they face fellow ACC foe Louisivlle in a rematch from Valentine's Day, when NC State dominated the Cardinals on the road, winning 74-65, and it was a win that served as a turning point for the Wolfpack's season.

Guards Anthony Barber and Trevor Lacey had their way with the Cardinals in that game. Ralston Turner has been another consistent scorer for NC State this season, but he struggled in that game and has struggled thus far in the Tournament. The Wolfpack aren't really known for their defense but they have played solid defense so far in the Tournament and against Louisville in February held them to just 32% shooting. Louisville has had trouble scoring this season and is one of the worst shooting teams in the country. However, they have been successful this season thanks to their defense.

In their wins over California Irvine and Northern Iowa, the Cardinals gave up an average of 54 points. The biggest reason that Louisville lost to NC State earlier this season was their two leading scorers, G Terry Rozier and F Montrezl Harrell didn't show up on the offensive end. Chris Jones and Wayne Blackshear played well, but for Louisville to outscore the Wolfpack they need all of their offensive weapons to show up.

The East region opened up with both Villanova and Virginia going down the first weekend. The Wolfpack know they can beat Louisville and it wasn't just a fluke home win. I think NC State will end up dictating the pace, but the Cardinals scorers will be up to the challenge and enable Louisville to enact revenge for the February defeat.

Prediction: Louisville 75, North Carolina State 73

South Regional Semi-Final in Houston, TX

#5 Utah (26-8) vs. #1 Duke (31-4)

The Blue Devils cruised to the Sweet 16, blowing out Robert Morris and San Diego State. Jahlil Okafor was unstoppable, averaging 23.5 points in the two victories. The competition figures to be steeper tonight against the Utes of Utah. The Utes got past Stephen F. Austin and after a slow start cruised past Georgetown. They have one of the most exciting guards in the country in Delon Wright. Wright uncharacteristically struggled shooting in the Utes wins but still found other ways to contribute. He was all over the court grabbing rebounds, stealing the ball and dishing out assists.

The Utes might have an answer for Okafor in an outstanding freshman of their own, Jakob Poeltl. Poeltl averaged 15 points in the Utes victories and he was able to score 12 points in just 18 minutes of action against the Hoyas. Utah has a deep rotation of players and much more depth than the Blue Devils. Wright and Poeltl are the leaders but the Utes also receive contributions from Jordan Loveridge, Brandon Taylor and backup C Dallin Bachynski, another seven footer. Okafor may never have had to work as hard as he will have to work tonight going against the Utes bigs.

Wright will be matched up against the Blue Devils excellent backcourt of Quin Cook and Tyus Jones. Along with Okafor, Cook and Jones the Blue Devils start Matt Jones and Justise Winslow. Beyond that, not many other Blue Devils will see the floor. Even in the blowout win over the Aztecs, all five Duke starters logged over 30 minutes. The biggest challenge Duke figures to face in this game is the wave of players that Utah can throw at them.

Utah is a very tough matchup for Duke, with their size and depth. Tyus Jones will have his work cut out for him going against Wright. This is a true statement game for Okafor as he goes up against the Utes bigs. I think Okafor is the real deal and it is because of him that I am confident Duke can overcome this challenge and pull out a hard fought win.

Prediction: Duke 70, Utah 66

East Regional Semi-Final in Syracuse, NY

#7 Michigan State (25-11) vs. #3 Oklahoma (24-10)

The Spartans bandwagon is filling up quickly as Tom Izzo once again his team playing deep into March. If you listen to the media you are to never bet against Izzo in March, except you know when he coaches against Roy Williams or doesn't win a national title like he hasn't since 2000. The Spartans held off Georgia and then beat a Virginia team that couldn't hit the broadside of the barn in either field goal attempts or foul shots. The Sooners held off Albany and then won a pseudo road game against Dayton in Columbus, Ohio, overcoming a late deficit.

Oklahoma is better offensively than Virginia but their leading scorer Buddy Hield has been struggling. Hield is shooting just 10 of 29 in two Tournament games, but he was still able to make an impact in the Dayton game because he was able to get to the free throw line. To counteract the Spartans attack Hield is going to have to hit his shot at more consistent rate. If he misses, he at least knows that Ryan Spangler will be there to clean up his messes. Spangler averaged 8 boards a game this season and 23 rebounds in two games last week. TaShawn Thomas is the other Sooners big, and those two will have a distinct advantage going up against the Spartans Branden Dawson. Sooners guard Isaiah Cousins has been quiet thus far in the Tournament and like Heild has been struggling shooting.

Guards Travis Trice and Denzel Valentine shoulder the load for the Spartans. In fact, despite being listed as a guard, Valentine is second on the Spartans, averaging 6.5 rebounds per game this season. The Spartans are right up there with Kentucky as far as depth goes, and their rotation can sometimes go 10 deep. That allows Michigan State to play ultra physical defense, as they don't have to really fear harsh consequences if a player fouls out. F Matt Costello and G Bryn Forbes tend to log heavy minutes coming off the bench.

With so many people picking the Spartans, it makes me feel like going in a different direction. I really liked the resolve Oklahoma showed winning against Dayton in the midst of a partisan crowd. They won't be rocked by the Spartans physical style and I expect them to shoot much better than the Cavaliers did. I know that Hield and Cousins have been struggling but I expect a breakout game from at least one of them in this contest.

Prediction: Oklahoma 69, Michigan State 65

Gonzaga's dreams of finally reaching a Final Four will be dashed by the Blue Devils, as Okafor will outplay Wiltjer. The Sooners will reach the Final Four for the first time since 2002 by defeating Louisville in a close game, putting Sooners coach Lon Kruger back in the Final Four for the first time since 1994.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

2015 March Madness (West and Midwest Regions) - Sweet 16 and Elite 8

Midwest Regional Semi-Final in Cleveland, OH

#7 Wichita State (30-4) vs. #3 Notre Dame (31-5)

The Shockers versus the Catholics will be a good old fashioned defense versus offense battle. Wichita State ranked 9th in the nation in points allowed per game, while the Irish ranked 12th in points scored, averaging almost 80 per game. The Shockers slipped past Indiana, and then had one of the most satisfying wins in program history when they crushed Kansas in the Third Round. Guard Ron Baker led the Shockers in scoring during the regular season, but it was fellow guard Fred Van Vleet that carried the load last weekend. Fellow guard Tekele Cotton had an unexpected impact in the game against Kansas, scoring 19 points against the Jayhawks. The Shockers leading rebounder this season was F Darius Carter, who averaged just a little over 5 boards a game.

That lack of size could present problems for the Shockers tonight. Notre Dame ranks low in rebounds but that is partially because they shot the ball so well. G-F Pat Connaughton averaged 7.4 rebounds per game and F Zach Auguste averages almost 7 rebounds per game. The best player on the floor will be Irish guard Jerian Grant. Grant leads Notre Dame in scoring and assists, and has been held to single digit scoring just twice this season. The Irish were a bad team this year, mostly due to Grant's absence and their quick turnaround is evidence of how important he is to the team. The Irish got a huge lift from G Steve Vasturia in their overtime win over Butler, after he was non-existent in their close win over Northeastern. The Shockers will need to keep a close eye on G Demetrius Jackson, who shoots over 40% from three point range.

Ultimately, I expect Wichita State's defense to keep this game low scoring, but the Irish have been battle tested all season long and will be ready to win an ugly game. The Shockers will have a bit of a letdown after the Kansas game, and while I think they will be ready to play, I think energy wise they will be down from the fire we saw last Sunday. Grant will be prove to be the difference maker, making some key shots late to key the Irish win.

Prediction: Notre Dame 62, Wichita State 58

West Regional Semi-Final in Los Angeles, CA

#4 North Carolina (26-11) vs. #1 Wisconsin (33-3)

Wisconsin breezed past Coastal Carolina and then made a late charge to push past Oregon to reach the Sweet 16. National Player of the Year front-runner F Frank "The Tank" Kaminsky dominated Coastal, and while not as dominant against the Ducks, was a key force in the Badgers victory. It will be fun watching Kaminsky go up against the size that North Carolina will throw at him. Unfortunately for the Heels they might be missing one key player, as Kennedy Meeks is battling an ankle injury he suffered in the Third Round win over Arkansas last Saturday. Meeks presence is vital to Carolina's hopes of springing the upset, even if he just serves the role of another body that can get physical and afford to foul Kaminsky.

Kaminsky receives all the attention but F Sam Dekker is another key cog in the Badgers machine. The Heels will need to try to force Dekker outside of the lane, as he shoots just 30% from three point land. When he is able to penetrate he is deadly, hitting over 50% of his shots. Sophomore F Nigel Hayes has really come on in recent weeks for Wisconsin, providing more scoring on the offensive end, and remaining a presence for opponents to deal with on the block. Another dangerous offensive player for Wisconsin is G Bronson Koenig, who shoots over 40% from three point range. Koenig has really stepped up his game since having to replace the injured Traevon Jackson. There is a slight chance that Jackson plays in this game, but even if he does, he will be so rusty that I wouldn't expect him to make much of a difference. This isn't old school Wisconsin, they have plenty of offensive talent and don't get by just on defense.

The Heels nearly blew a 16 point lead against Harvard before holding on to a victory and then beat Arkansas in a track meet in the Third Round. Marcus Paige was the difference in that game in the second half for Carolina, while freshman Justin Jackson continues to shoot better and better as the year has rolled on. Jackson is a much less refined version of Kaminsky, a taller player that can play like a guard and has the shot to back it up. Whether Meeks plays or not, Joel James should see heavy minutes off the bench, as I expect Roy Williams to try all sorts of defenders and tactics on Kaminsky. That means extra pressure on guards Paige, Nate Britt and Joel Berry to try to slow down Dekker and Koenig. Forwards Brice Johnson and J.P. Tokoto will be relied on heavily to guard Kaminsky.

Carolina is better offensively than Wisconsin, but the Badgers have the major edge defensively. If I am Carolina I let Kaminsky get his and focus on controlling Dekker, Hayes and Koenig as much as possible. Unfortunately, I don't think the Heels have the defensive chops necessary to pull off the upset. They also are way too turnover prone, which comes with their fast break style. Against lesser teams Carolina can overcome those turnovers but the Badgers are too good.

Prediction: Wisconsin 68, North Carolina 62

Midwest Regional Semi-Final in Cleveland, OH

#5 West Virginia (25-9) vs. #1 Kentucky (36-0)

The Mountaineers took out Bobby Hurley and the Buffalo Bulls, and then dispatched the Maryland Terrapins with their press to reach the Sweet 16. For Kentucky, they continued steamrolling through the competition, blowing out Hampton, then letting Cincinnati hang around for a bit, before demolishing them. The Mountaineers will need a perfect game to pull off the upset tonight. The Mountaineers like to push the ball and against the Wildcats defense that has proven ineffective this season.

West Virginia's leading scorer this season is G Juwan Staten. Staten couldn't buy a bucket against the Terps and was picked up by the rest of the Mountaineer starters. F Devin Williams has really come on strong recently for West Virginia but he will face a whole new set of challenges playing against guys like Willie Cauley-Stein and Karl-Anthony Towns. The Mountaineers are a horrific three point shooting team, so they will be forced to have to overpower Kentucky inside to try to score.

Kentucky has amazing depth and it has often been said that their backups could be their own Top 25 team. Ten Wildcats players averaged double digits in minutes per game. The Harrison twins, Andrew and Aaron, along with freshman guard Devin Booker are the facilitators on offense. Booker has been struggling as of late though, but when you have nine other guys that can pick up the slack, no one really notices.

Mountaineers guard Daxter Miles Jr. may be predicting a win but I doubt anyone else is. I think West Virginia can keep the game interesting for a bit with their defensive pressure, but Kentucky will do what they always do, eventually impose their will and run away with the game. The final score will make the game appear closer than it actually was.

Prediction: Kentucky 70, West Virginia 60

West Regional Semi-Final in Los Angeles, CA

#6 Xavier (23-13) vs. #2 Arizona (33-3)

The Musketeers crushed Mississippi, and then held off Cinderella Georgia State to punch their ticket to the Sweet 16 as the Big East's lone representative. Arizona remains dominant and along with Wisconsin and Duke, appear to be the best bets to potentially knock off Kentucky.

Arizona's demolition of Ohio State in the Third Round was even more impressive considering freshman sensation Stanley Johnson played miserably. He scored just 4 points on 1 of 12 shooting. I expect Johnson to play much better tonight, especially if dork nerd Matt Stainbrook guards him at times. Stainbrook would have the height advantage but Johnson would easily have the athleticism advantage. The Wildcats other big is Rondae Hollis-Jefferson as Sean Miller's team has just the right mix of size and athleticism. The Wildcats second leading score Brandon Ashley was also quiet against Ohio State, and the struggles of Johnson and Ashley gave G T.J. McConnell a chance to shine.

Dee Davis will be charged with trying to slow down McConnell for Xavier. Forward Trevon Bluiett was non existent in the first two rounds for Xavier but for them to have any chance in this game, he will have to have one of his better games of the season, something I don't see happening. G Miles Davis and F Jalen Reynolds round out the Musketeers starting five, solid players in their own right, but nowhere near the level of players Xavier has.

This matchup appears to be the most lopsided of the eight Sweet 16 games. The level of competition for Xavier from what they faced in the first two rounds, to what they will face tonight will be overwhelming. I expect Johnson and Ashley to bounce back after tough games and for the Wildcats to cruise to victory.

Prediction: Arizona 82, Xavier 66

Kentucky will continue their undefeated run on Saturday when they outlast Notre Dame in a high scoring game. Wisconsin and Arizona meet in a rematch of last year's Elite 8, and once again Wisconsin will squeak by the Wildcats to make their second straight Final Four, and set up a Final Four rematch with the Cats. 

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

2015 March Madness - East Region (First Weekend)

Best Game: #8 NC State vs. #9 LSU

Mark Gottfried's Wolfpack teams have had some tournament success in his tenure. With the draw they received in the East region I think they are primed for another Sweet 16 run, which they reached as an 11 seed under Gottfried in 2012. Alabama transfer Trevor Lacey has immediately become a team leader in his first season with Pack, leading the team in scoring. NC State doesn't play excellent defense, ranking towards the bottom of the NCAA in steals and middle of the pack, no pun intended, in scoring defense. However, they are peaking at the right time, having won six of their past eight games. The Tigers are also a strong offensive team, and weaker defensively, but they do rank highly in rebounds, blocks and steals. Offensively, they are paced on the boards and scoring by forwards Jordan Mickey and Jarell Martin. Texas Tech transfer guard, Josh Gray is more of a passer than a scorer, and their other guard Tim Quarterman has seen his minutes triple this season from last year and has responded well. Both teams have had their coaches criticized for not maximizing the talent they have, but Gottfried gets a bad rap in my opinion as he has returned the Wolfpack to the success level they had lost under Sidney Lowe. These teams are evenly matched and this is a game that should be competitive throughout and not be decided until the very end.

Player to Watch: Oklahoma guard Buddy Hield

This isn't a region filled with big name stars so I had some trouble when deciding what player was worth watching. That led me to who would be the most exciting and that player is the Big 12's leading scorer, the Sooners Buddy Hield. Hield's shooting accuracy can leave a bit to be desired but he is similar to a Marshall Henderson in that no matter how well he is going, he isn't afraid to shoot and take the pressure off of his teammates. Hield is also a very good free throw shooter, so he is at his best when he is driving to the hoop and forcing contact. If the Sooners make it to the second week of the tournament it will be on the back of Hield.

Best Potential Game: #7 Michigan State vs. #2 Virginia

This game would be a rematch of last year's Sweet Sixteen game that the Spartans won.Virginia enters the Tournament trying to figure out how they can get Justin Anderson worked back into the rotation. Anderson was awful in the ACC Tournament, shooting 0 for 6 in two games. That means more pressure on Malcolm Brogdon to try to produce for UVA. Of course, Virginia has their most success when opposing teams wilt under their suffocating defense. North Carolina was able to shoot lights out on their defense in the ACC Tournament and Michigan State is another team that shoots the ball well and can be hard to stop from scoring. Virginia would certainly have the added motivation of looking for revenge from last season but for a 2 seed, this is quite the challenging matchup they could have so early in the Tournament.

Lowest Seed to Make It Through the Weekend: #8 NC State

I like the Wolfpack to take down the Tigers and then I think they have what it takes to beat the weakest #1 seed in my opinion, Villanova. The committee thinks Villanova is the second best team in the country, but they showed signs of overvaluing the Big East throughout their seeding of those teams. Now, to be honest, I couldn't name a single Villanova player and have barely seen them play since the Big East is relegated to Fox Sports 1, but there is precedence to my doubting the Cats. They were a 2 seed last season after steamrolling through the sorry Big East and then were manhandled by the eventual champion UCONN Huskies in the Third Round. Things change from year to year, but I am in a show me mood when it comes to the Wildcats this year.


First Round

#11 Dayton over #11 Boise State

Second Round

#1 Villanova over #16 Lafayette

#8 NC State over #9 LSU

#12 Wyoming over #5 Northern Iowa

#4 Louisville over #13 UC-Irvine

#11 Dayton over #6 Providence

#3 Oklahoma over #14 Albany

#7 Michigan State over #10 Georgia

#2 Virginia over #15 Belmont

Third Round

#8 NC State over #1 Villanova

#4 Louisville over #12 Wyoming

#3 Oklahoma over #11 Dayton

#2 Virginia over #7 Michigan State

2015 March Madness - South Region (First Weekend)

Best Game: #6 SMU vs. #11 UCLA

Mustangs coach, Larry Brown faces his former team, the Bruins. UCLA's inclusion in the Tournament was probably the most debated part of Selection Sunday. The Bruins played well the latter part of the season but early on in the year they lost five games in a row and suffered blowout losses to Kentucky, Utah, and Oregon. They are playing better as of late, having won four of their final five games. People always talk up the importance of guard play in the NCAA Tournament and the Bruins excel in that area. Coach's son Bryce Alford teams up with Normal Powell in the Bruins backcourt. The Bruins then have a bruising presence on the glass in Kevon Looney. The Bruins are also balanced offensively, with five players averaging double figures in scoring. Brown has the Mustangs back in the NCAA Tournament after a 22 year absence. The Mustangs feed off their big bodies inside, C Yanick Moreira and F Markus Kennedy. Nic Moore is a solid point guard, but you have two teams with slightly different philosophies offensively. I think the Bruins are playing improved basketball and won't be the pushover most expect. However, I think the difference in this game will be coaching, and I will take Larry Brown over Steve Alford any day.

Player to Watch: Duke center Jahlil Okafor

Okafor appears to be the consensus #1 pick in this June's NBA Draft assuming he leaves early as most expect. Okafor was just a rebound shy of averaging a double double per game and he also averages 1.5 blocks per game. Where Okafor struggles is at the foul line, shooting just 51%. If Duke is in tight games, expect to see a lot of Hackafor strategy being employed by teams late in games. Okafor would do himself a favor if he just remains close to the basket, because if teams do try to foul him he earns a ton of and one opportunities.

Best Potential Game: #6 SMU vs. #3 Iowa State

This would be a great game of highly differing philosophies. SMU is all about size and defense, while Iowa State plays defense when they have to but mostly just looks to outscore teams. The Cyclones do have 6'8 forward Georges Niang and 6'9 forward Jameel McKay to contain SMU's bigs. The Cyclones recent trend has been to get down big early and then produce furious comebacks in the second half. Against a team as accomplished defensively as the Mustangs, that may not work though.

Lowest Seed to Make It Through the Weekend: #12 Stephen F. Austin

The Lumberjacks broke the hearts of VCU last year when they miraculously came back from down 4 with seconds to go. They look to continue that string of success when they face sliding Utah in the Second Round. I foresee a battle of Cinderellas in Round Three, as I expect Georgetown to have their annual Tournament loss to a double digit seed, which would give us a Lumberjacks/Eastern Washington matchup. The Lumberjacks return most of last year's tournament tested team, including F Jacob Parker and G Thomas Walkup. That experience will serve them well this year.


First Round

#16 Robert Morris over #16 North Florida

Second Round

#1 Duke over #16 Robert Morris

#8 San Diego State over #9 St. John's

#12 Stephen F. Austin over #5 Utah

#13 Eastern Washington over #4 Georgetown

#6 SMU over #11 UCLA

#3 Iowa State over #14 UAB

#10 Davidson over #7 Iowa

#2 Gonzaga over #15 North Dakota State

Third Round

#1 Duke over #8 San Diego State

#12 Stephen F. Austin over #13 Eastern Washington

#3 Iowa State over #6 SMU

#2 Gonzaga over #10 Davidson

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

2015 March Madness - West Region (First Weekend)

Best Game: #7 VCU vs. #10 Ohio State

This matchup will come down to how well the Rams Havoc can contain the Buckeyes do everything guard D'Angelo Russell. Russell lead Ohio State in scoring, rebounding and was second on the team in assists. It's a shame that Briante Weber is lost for the season for VCU because watching him guard Russell would have been a lot of fun. When you look at statistics the Buckeyes outrank VCU in most major categories and it isn't even close. Ohio State shot close to 50% this year while VCU shot 42%. Treveon Graham is the Rams go to player offensively and also leads the Rams in rebounding. The Rams have the momentum of winning the A-10 Tournament on their side, but I am skeptical about their ability to handle Russell, even with their Havoc defense. 

Player to Watch: Wisconsin forward Frank Kaminsky

Kaminsky plays like a guard trapped in a large man's body. He averaged 8 rebounds per game and shot a spectacular 55% from the field. That high field goal percentage isn't just the 7-footer hanging out in the lane and taking easy shots. He also shot almost 40% from three point range this year. He is the favorite to win the Wooden award as the best player in the country, and is the reason why I believe that Wisconsin is one of the few teams with a real chance to take down Kentucky in this tournament.

Best Potential Game: #4 North Carolina vs. #5 Arkansas

If you like track meet type games, then you should be hoping that both of these teams win in the Second Round and set up this game in the final 32. Both teams averaged almost 80 points per game this season, and because of their frenetic pace, each team gives up about 70 points per game. Where Carolina would have a massive advantage is their size and rebounding ability. Carolina is also battle tested, having played 20 of their 35 games against Tournament teams this year, while Arkansas played just 10 games against Tournament teams this year, compounded by the fact that they play in the significantly weaker SEC. F Bobby Portis and G Michael Qualls are the Razorbacks two best players, while Carolina features a more balanced offensive attack. Qualls and Portis are the only Razorbacks that average double figures in scoring, while Carolina has four players in double figures, G Marcus Paige, F Brice Johnson, F Kennedy Meeks, and G-F Justin Jackson. J.P. Tokoto is another threat to score the ball for Carolina. There are a lot of complaints about the level of play in college basketball right now, but if these two teams match up, it will showcase college basketball at its finest.

Lowest Seed to Make It Through the Weekend: #14 Georgia State

If my prediction comes true then Georgia State coach Ron Hunter might tear both his Achilles. Hunter injured his Achilles celebrating the Panthers win last Sunday, earning them an NCAA Tournament berth. The Panthers have excellent guard play behind Ryan Harrow and Hunter's son, R.J. Hunter. The Panthers will need those two to hit outside shots to mitigate the size advantage Baylor will have over them. If the Panthers beat Baylor, they could then possibly face Xavier in Round Three, a team that wouldn't present the size troubles that Baylor will.


First Round

#11 BYU over #11 Mississippi 

Second Round

#1 Wisconsin over #16 Coastal Carolina

#8 Oregon over #9 Oklahoma State

#5 Arkansas over #12 Wofford

#4 North Carolina over #13 Harvard

#6 Xavier over #11 BYU

#14 Georgia State over #3 Baylor

#10 Ohio State over #7 VCU

#2 Arizona over #15 Texas Southern

Third Round

#1 Wisconsin over #8 Oregon

#4 North Carolina over #5 Arkansas

#14 Georgia State over #6 Xavier

#2 Arizona over #10 Ohio State

2015 March Madness - Midwest Region (First Weekend)

Best Game: #5 West Virginia vs. #12 Buffalo

Buffalo, led by former Duke guard Bobby Hurley, is making their first ever NCAA Tournament appearance. They come into the NCAA's on a roll, having won eight games in a row. The Bulls inside out combo of guard Shannon Evans and forward Justin Moss lead the team in scoring. The Bulls are one of the highest scoring teams in the NCAAs, averaging 75 points a contest. West Virginia is led by guard Juwan Staten. Staten saw his scoring dip this season but that was because he received more help from his teammates than last season in what was a lost year for the Mountaineers. Normally you would think that a power conference team would have the size and rebounding advantage over a mid major. However, that is not the case in this game as the Bulls were one of the better rebounding teams in the country. They hung tough with Kentucky and Wisconsin earlier this season and so while seed wise West Virginia is the favorite, they will have their work cut out for them.

Player to Watch: Notre Dame guard Jerian Grant

The Midwest region is loaded with talented players but to me the most exciting player is Notre Dame guard Jerian Grant. As he does, so goes Notre Dame. In recent years the Irish have struggled in the NCAA Tournament, but they haven't had a player as dynamic as Grant leading them. After winning the ACC Tournament, the Irish have made themselves a dark horse Final Four team and one that could potentially give Kentucky some trouble if they were to face each other.

Best Potential Game: #11 Texas vs. #3 Notre Dame

Some might prefer the battle of Indiana between Butler and Notre Dame, but I think Texas and the Irish would be more fun to watch. As is often the characteristic of Rick Barnes led teams, the Longhorns have been inconsistent this season, but they don't lack talent. Isaiah Taylor versus Grant would be an intriguing guard battle, and the Irish would have to find a way to contend with the size of freshman Myles Turner. Where Texas would have problems is trying to keep up with the torrid pace that the Irish have offensively, as they were the second best shooting team in the country.

Lowest Seed to Make It Through the Weekend: #4 Maryland

I expect a couple of upsets in the Second Round but then for things to sort themselves out in Round Three. Some people seem to like Wichita State over Kansas, but I think people are thinking of last year's Shockers team and not this year's version which isn't as talented. The Terps are back in the NCAA Tournament after a lengthy absence but rather than be happy, all their fans did was whine about their seeding. Perhaps Maryland would have had a better seed if they hadn't blown a sixteen point lead against Michigan State, or not been blown out on the road by mediocre teams. Either way, Terps fans should be happy at the end of the week when Maryland makes it to the Sweet Sixteen.


First Round

#16 Manhattan over #16 Hampton

Second Round

#1 Kentucky over #16 Manhattan

#9 Purdue over #8 Cincinnati

#12 Buffalo over #5 West Virginia

#4 Maryland over #13 Valparaiso

#11 Texas over #6 Butler

#3 Notre Dame over #14 Northeastern

#7 Wichita State over #10 Indiana

#2 Kansas over #15 New Mexico State

Third Round

#1 Kentucky over #9 Purdue

#4 Maryland over #12 Buffalo

#3 Notre Dame over #11 Texas

#2 Kansas over #7 Wichita State