A few reasons why I have been completely quiet on the College Basketball front this season:
- The NBA has been 10x better than the college game this year, even if you absolutely hate the NBA and are a die-hard college basketball fan, it’s hard to argue otherwise.
- I’m testing out the theory of watching less of college basketball in the hopes of having a better bracket come time to make my picks. (The theory is already ruined, I’ve watched more than I should have)
- On another note, there is a pretty good chance the NCAA takes a long hard look at changing some rules (They already have, all NIT Games will be played under a 30 second shot clock) most of all, the shot clock. Teams like Wisconsin and Virginia among many others, are taking advantage of all 35 seconds in a way that is hurting the overall product of College Basketball. Wisconsin is 346th in possessions per game and Virginia is 348, and they are two of the best teams in the country.
- Overall, only 4 power conference teams are in the Top 20 for possessions per game, the majority of the teams in the tournament this March will be playing at some of the slowest rates in College Basketball history. To put it in perspective, VA Military leads the country with 80.1 possessions per game. In 1990 Loyola Marymount averaged 103.6 possessions per game and 122.4 PPG. Basketball is an entertaining and enjoyable game, not something that puts me to sleep, Golf and Jim Nantz own that category.
And for a quick sum-up of everything else wrong with College Athletics, HBO’s John Oliver from Last Week Tonight provides the most validating argument against I’ve heard from anyone so far. If you have 20 minutes, I highly suggest you watch this.
That’s enough bagging on College Basketball. In the end, it still owns the greatest tournament and postseason set-up in all of sports, no matter how down or up of a year it has been, March Madness delivers.
The past two seasons alone have been outstanding as far as everything you want in The Big Dance. The Cinderella’s (Florida Gulf Coast, Wichita State in ’13 and Uconn, Dayton in ’14) memorable games, ( Kentucky vs. Wisconsin, Michigan State vs. Virginia in ’14 were some of the best) and of course title clashes that lived up to the billing.
So let’s cross our fingers and hope that once again March Madness saves an otherwise less-than-interesting College Basketball regular season. Here’s our annual March Madness Preview.
FYI: What I consider a Cinderella is a double-digit seed team or a team with a difficult possible second round match-up (7,8,9,10 seeds)
Also a side note: I enjoy all going through all the ESPN and CBS Sports Analysts brackets, so far it’s obvious that everyone is going with Kentucky, the safest and smartest bet you can make at this point. But each bracket seems to be more chalky than usual this year, but when you think about it, UK, Wisconsin, Villanova, Duke, Virginia, Arizona have dominated everyone else all season long. Are we already “chalking” 2015 Madness as a forgone conclusion?
Top 4 seeds: (1) Kentucky (2) Kansas (3) Notre Dame (4) Maryland
You know them by now, whether you’re a college basketball connoisseur or a mother who got sucked into a family friendly tournament pool, everyone will be watching and picking Kentucky. They aren’t your typical #1 overall seed. They are gunning for best team ever at this point. Karl-Anthony Towns, Willie Cauley-Stein, the Harrison Twins and Co. have dominated all season and each win means increased pressure to win the next. The real question is, do you have more gain to by picking against them in the hopes of a monumental upset, which most likely guarantees you winning your pool if you had the minerals to do it. Don’t fool yourself too much, this is as sure-fire as it will ever be.
Best 1st round Match-up: (6) Butler vs. (11) Texas
Don’t be misguided by Texas’ 20-13 record. They had a grind of a season with injuries and tough strength of schedule in the unforgiving Big-12 this season. They have talent to surprise a few with PG Isaiah Taylor and the front court of Jonathan Holmes and Myles Turner. On the other hand Butler has a strikingly similar squad to the teams of the Championship runs during the Brad Stevens era. They play tough defense and rebound well and rely on Roosevelt Jones and Kellen Dunham offensively.
Best possible Region Match-up: (1) Kentucky vs. (3) Notre Dame
Kentucky boasts one of the best defenses in history with length and size everywhere on the floor it almost seems unfair. Meanwhile Notre Dame are peaking at the right time and look like a force to be reckoned with offensively as Jerian Grant (16.8 ppg. 6.6 apg.) leads the way for a team that averages 78.8 ppg. overall. Many believe Duke is well equipped to beat Kentucky, and ND just handled them in the ACC tournament. If you’re picking against Kentucky, this is the game.
Possible Cinderella: (12) Buffalo
Led by former Duke star Point Guard, coach Bobby Hurley and the Buffalo Bulls have that 12-seed swagger rolling into the dance. They love to play up-and-down basketball and have a go-to man in PF Justin Moss who is almost averaging a double-double. Throw in some injury issues to starters with West Virginia and an upset is already brewing.
Player to Watch: PG Fred Van Fleet, (7) Wichita State
Other than the players mentioned above, Wichita State is once again lurking in the background. The year after going undefeated through the regular season before falling to Kentucky in the Round of 32, the Shockers have proven they are a threat every year with a solid season in 2015. They got shafted with their high #7-seed (They handled #5-seed in the East Northern Iowa) but with Fred Van Fleet who is one of those guys who seems like he has been around forever, Wichita State could make a deeper run than expected behind their savvy point guard who has drawn comparisons to Hall of Famer John Stockton.
Like I said, I applaud you for having the minerals to go against Kentucky, but ND or anyone else has to play the game of their lifetime to beat the Wildcats who look to be a lock for the Final Four.
Top 4 seeds: (1) Villanova (2) Virginia (3) Oklahoma (4) Louisville
They’re plenty of stories that weren’t covered enough during the regular season because, you know, Kentucky. Villanova is one of them. I didn’t see this coming after last season’s early exit to Shabazz Napier (or Uconn) in the Round of 32, but ‘Nova is the real deal. Forget the fact the Big East isn’t what used to be, they smashed EVERYBODY like they were suppose to. They are the most balanced team in the country, six guys scoring a formidable 9 ppg. or better. Whether it’s Darrun Hillard II, Dylan Ennis or JayVaughn Pinkston, you have to account for everyone on this team or you will get burned. The only team that can conquer that feat is on a quest for 40-0.
Best 1st round Match-up: (4) Louisville vs. (13) UC Irvine
Under Rick Pitino, the Cardinals have always been a threat to make a Final Four run regardless of seed and with the stonewall defense that they front this season allowing 59.5 ppg. and are also 11th in the country in blocks and 17th in steals. They go as star power forward Montrezl Harrell goes (15.7 ppg. 9.5 rpg.) but they have met their first round match in UC Irvine. The Anteaters play strong defense and are loaded with a plethora of 3-point shooters that can change a game in a Cinderella’s favor very quickly in the tournament. I’m not saying the Cards should be on upset alert, but don’t be surprised if they are either.
Best possible Region Match-up: (7) Michigan State vs. (2) Virginia
Last season’s encounter turned out to be one of the best games of the 2014 tournament and if they meet again, expect nothing less. Virginia is well-known for how slow and efficient they play (Which as said before, is killing college basketball) and rely on Justin Anderson to lead them offensively. What makes Sparty a great match-up is they can adapt to the grind-it-out pace as well as have SF Brandon Dawson who can not only handle Anderson but create problems for the Virginia stout defense as well. Plus, I never bet against Izzo and MSU in March.
Also, the farther Virginia goes, the more boring the tournament becomes. Someone agrees with me.
Possible Cinderella: (5) UNI or (6) Providence
The East has the two middle-seeded teams that can truly catch fire and surprise everyone this season. Northern Iowa has consistently been one of the best shooting teams in the country, shooting nearly 40% as a team from three. And they have Seth Tuttle, get to know Tuttle. As for Providence, they have this season’s “Shabazz Napier” type break-out talent in Kris Dunn who can carry the Friars far.
Player to Watch: PG Kris Dunn, Providence
As I just mentioned, I like the Friars to make some noise in the East behind their playmaker who averaged a solid 15.8 ppg. and 7.6 apg. on the season. He is one of the smoothest players in all the land and the could become a household name if Providence busts some brackets. Still not convinced? Vine don’t lie:
I love Villanova. Six guys shoot 37% or better from behind the arc. They have four guys who can take over a game on any given night and in a tournament where depth is key, ‘Nova can field a starting give that has plenty of shooting and doesn’t give up anything defensively or on the glass. I’m on the Big East bandwagon.
Top 4 seeds: (1) Wisconsin (2) Arizona (3) Baylor (4) North Carolina
As far as college players go, the Badgers may have the most complete player in Frank Kaminsky, averaging 18.2 ppg. and 8.0 rpg. No team is more efficient offensively, they rarely turn the ball over and shoot a Top-25 percentage from the floor at 48%. Wisco’ also returns plenty of experience from the Final Four team a year ago that came one Aaron Harrison clutch shot away from advancing to the National Championship game. They are better this year, and they know it.
Best 1st round Match-up: (7) VCU vs. (10) Ohio State
Even with out steals specialist PG Briante Weber, who they lost to an ACL injury in January, they still sit 3rd in the country in steals and have gotten their swagger back after a mid-season malaise from losing Weber. It will be Shaka Smart’s “Havoc” Defense vs. Ohio State freshman sensation PG D’Angelo Russell who has proven himself as a lottery pick come June. We’ve seen players like Steph Curry, Shabazz Napier and Kemba Walker turn the tournament on its head with an incredible string of individual performances, is Russell next?
Best possible Region Match-up: (2) Arizona vs. (1) Wisconsin
A potential rematch of last year’s West Region Elite Eight match-up that ended with Wisconsin making a two defensive stops to go to the Final Four, this game needs to happen again. Both have extremely similar teams from the year before, with the edge to Arizona because Stanley Johnson is an upgrade from Aaron Gordon. Arizona looks like a team on a mission, Sean Miller is looking to get his team to the Elite Eight for the 3rd time since ’09 and hopefully to the Final Four. In their way is one of the most complete teams in the country. Behind Frank Kaminsky (18.2 ppg. 8.0 rpg.) and Sam Dekker, Wisconsin is the most efficient offensive team in the field and shoots a healthy 48% shooting percentage and don’t turn the ball over. X-Factor: Brandon Ashley was hurt for the U of A last March, he’s back in full force in 2015.
Possible Cinderella: (12) Wofford
The West has the least sexiest of Cinderella candidates of any region, but if I have to pick one, I’m going with the Terriers. Winners of 15 of their last 16, they hardly turn the ball over and have “Heat Check” worthy team 3-point shooting. Even though they are undersized, you can never count out the 12-seeds in the tournament.
Player to Watch: PG Marcus Paige, North Carolina
As mentioned before, Carolina is peaking at the right time. If the ACC tournament was a foreshadow of what is to come in the tournament then count me in on the Tar Heals and Marcus Paige bandwagon. Paige, (13.9 ppg. 4.6 apg.) commands a UNC team that has options all over floor which will keep opposing defense honest, opening up space for Paige to create.
There is a certain family member out there of mine who is going to look at his son and scoff at him. Oh well, it’s in my blood. Sean Miller and Arizona are healthy, talented and balanced on both ends of the floor. Stanley Johnson is a Top-5 lottery pick who can take over this tournament. Senior T.J. McConnell leads an experienced team that is playing their best basketball right now and are out for revenge after falling short to Wisconsin in 2014. On behalf of the Domask family, Bear @#%&-ing Down.
Top 4 seeds: (1) Duke (2) Gonzaga (3) Iowa State (4) Georgetown
Duke got lucky, boy did they get lucky. Not only did they grab a #1 seed, they stayed away from Kentucky’s half and got Gonzaga as their two seed counterpart. That’s a trifecta. Their region is relatively easy compared to the other three, but that still doesn’t mean that Duke is upset immune. With C Jahlil Okafor and backcourt combo Tyus Jones and Quinn Cook, the Blue Devils can certainly make it all the way to the Championship Game, but lack of depth could come back to hurt them. Regardless, the committee did a bad job trying to hide their lust for a Duke-Kentucky title game.
Best 1st round Match-up: (12) Stephen F. Austin vs. (5) Utah
The ‘Jacks are back and return plenty of talent from the team that knocked off VCU a season ago. The have very little weaknesses on the offensive end, even with their lack of height, they still can dominate the offensive glass. SFA averaged 79.5 ppg. while the Utes only gave up 56.9 ppg. offering a classic strength vs. strength match-up that has all the ingredients to be a wild game that could end in another upset for SFA.
Best possible Region Match-up: (2) Gonzaga vs. (3) Iowa State
Barring a possible Davidson upset ( I think Davidson has a better shot than people are giving them) this could be the one game in the tournament where both teams score more than 80 points. Remember when college basketball teams didn’t focus on putting us spectators to sleep in the hopes of efficiency and less turnovers? I do. God Bless Iowa State and Gonzaga, I pray this game comes into fruition, the game itself needs it, more importantly I need it. This game features a multitude of scorers, run-n’-gun style of play and a potential head-to-head between ISU Georges Niang and Zags Kyle Wiltjer. Please March Madness gods, let this happen.
Possible Cinderella: (13) Eastern Washington vs. (4) Georgetown
Different year, same deal for Georgetown. Time to add EWU onto the list of teams that convincingly upset Georgetown in the first weekend. Remember Dunk City? The Hoyas do. Ohio? Pretty sure they are still celebrating when they took down Georgetown in 2010. Eastern Washington can shoot the lights out of the gym and love letting them loose from downtown, led by the nation’s leading scorer in Tyler Harvey at 22.9 ppg. Hoyas are in some first round trouble again, the gift that keeps on giving.
Player to Watch: C Jahlil Okafor, Duke
Shocker, right? ‘Jah’ is putting up 17.7 ppg. in an extremely impressive freshman season. Virtually nobody has been able to stop his tactical post moves that he was only been improving on since my 8th grade travel team and his clashed in an epic tournament Championship game (We lost by more than 50 I think.) Karl-Anthony Towns may have a higher ceiling (This is turning into the Wiggins or Parker debate from a year ago) but Okafor is an old school center than can dominate in the post any given day. If Duke makes a deep run, make no mistake, Okafor is the reason why.
This bracket is loaded with potential Cinderella’s (Eastern Washington and Stephen F. Austin) but I don’t have the minerals and never will, to select a 10-seed or higher to get into the Final Four even though it has happened. Duke and Gonzaga have a wonderful recent track record of losing in the first weekend and even though they have been Top-10 all season long. With all that being said, I’m going with Iowa State. ISU could have packed it in the Big-12 Championship game, they were getting a 3-seed regardless of the outcome.
Fred Hoiberg’s team had played three games in three nights and were 17 down and still didn’t look to have an ounce of panic in them. In the 2nd half they scored 47 points and shot 51% from the field and picked apart Kansas for a somewhat meaningless title game in the grand scheme of things. But it’s the fact that they just decided too that convinced me. I was skeptical about their 3-seed a season ago, I’m not this season, plus Hoiberg could be the Chicago Bulls next head coach, but that’s a different story.
Full Tournament predictions:
Midwest and East Regions
West and South Regions
Final Four Predictions
Am I aware that Kentucky is possibility one of the best collegiate basketball teams ever? Yes. So if I’m entering a bracket into a pool where I know that everyone is going to pick Kentucky and Duke and so on, I gain more by selecting someone else. Arizona is equipped to take UK head on. They have the experienced court general in McConnell, athleticism with Jefferson and Johnson, shooting in Gabe York and team defensive quality to give everything Calipari’s team can handle. Ultimately, if you’re going to beat Kentucky, you have to out-coach them. Sean Miller can do it and I’m betting on it. And if I’m wrong? Oh well, Kentucky was supposed to rampage through everyone. Why not be the one guy who said, “Told you so.”
Still, It’s Kentucky, you look like a fool if you don’t pick them. Call me a greater fool then.
So instead of taking the traditional route of Kentucky, as well as having an opposing opinion of my father, I’m choosing a different Wildcat, because it’s March, and you should know what that entails.