By Andrew Wittry
Andrew Wittry is a senior at St. Xavier High School who literally eats and sleeps sports. He is looking forward to college and avidly pursuing a career in sports journalism. Andrew has an already well- established blog called Sports.Eat.Sleep.Repeat., where he posts new content regarding both professional and collegiate sports a few times each week.
Which month would you give up to have more March? While Buffalo Wild Wings jokingly uses this phrase in their recent March Madness advertising campaign, in all seriousness, I would willingly give up a few days of each month to be able to have more of the NCAA Tournament.
After coming home on from practice the other night and looking at the bracket, I could not have been more pleased with the field. When the biggest complaint about a team being left out is Drexel, a team out of the Colonial Athletic Association, who did win nineteen of its final twenty games, but did not have a single quality win out of conference, the committee did an excellent job. Though Drexel’s amazing late season surge in which they reeled off 19 wins in their last 20 games was highly impressive. I was very excited about how well the local teams fared as Xavier’s run in the A-10 Tournament earned the team a 10 seed and Cincinnati claimed a six spot. UC’s six was due in large part to giving #2 Syracuse its second loss of the season.
Here are my initial reactions from Selection Sunday:
Is Kentucky’s road to the Final Four too tough?
One of the biggest complaints I have heard in the past few days is that Kentucky has a more difficult road than usual for the number one overall seed. The Wildcats may potentially face the defending champions UConn, a team with eleven returning players and one of the greatest coaches in college basketball during the first weekend. The rest of UK’s half of the South Region is very weak, considering the Indiana Hoosiers will be without one of their senior leaders in Verdell Jones III. Wichita State would not give Kentucky any trouble if they were to play in the fourth round. Though, it should be noted that the Wildcats will likely have to beat an elite team such as Baylor or Duke if they want to make it to New Orleans.
Was Murray State given the proper seed as a #6 and how dangerous are they?
The Murray State Racers posted the best record in the nation this year, going 30 and 1. While they dealt with little competition within conference play, the Racers beat #20 Memphis, #16 Saint Mary’s, and another tournament qualifying team in Southern Mississippi. If a team from the “Power Six” were to fall only once all season as Murray State did, the team would be a lock for a number one seed. However, mid-majors provide a challenge for the selection committee and the Racers were no exception. They do not have a an impressive strength of schedule (158), or a lengthy list of wins against the RPI Top 50 deserving of a two, three, or four seed. Being a #6 is perfectly fine given the resume of Murray State, and it does not put too much pressure on them in March. They are favored in their first matchup against Colorado State and then will be tested by facing #3 Marquette, the runner-up in the Big East behind Syracuse. Led by junior guard Isaiah Canaan, who averages nearly twenty points per game, the Racers have a legitimate chance to upset the Marquette Golden Eagles and advance to the Sweet Sixteen.
In a year with extreme parity in college basketball and very small margins between the different tiers of teams, there are surprisingly few potential upsets that jump off the page at me when I look at the bracket. In the second round, I can find seven potential upsets, but I cannot imagine any of them advancing to the Sweet Sixteen. Even though VCU has an entirely new cast of players this year after shocking the sports world by making it to the Final Four last season, the Rams could challenge Wichita State. If they manage to win their first game, they could sneak by into the Sweet Sixteen against a vulnerable Indiana team.
The 5/12 matchups are always a great place to look for upsets, and I found a second upset brewing in the West region with Long Beach State and New Mexico. Long Beach State had a very good record, but similar to Murray State, they find themselves with a higher seed because they play in a weak conference. In the Midwest Region, Robbie Hummel is taking on St. Mary’s in his final NCAA Tournament appearance. I cannot see the Boilermakers going home after their first game. In the same region, #11 North Carolina State plays #6 San Diego State. The Wolfpack have played Duke and North Carolina tough this season, and these experiences of playing elite teams in their own conference gives them the edge over the Aztecs. South Florida had a remarkable season and finished in the top half of the Big East for the first time in recent memory. They pride themselves on slowing the game down and being tough down low. If the Bulls can beat California in the play-in game, I like their chances to play #5 Temple very tough in the second round. Even though West Virginia is a ten seed, they are by no means an easy out. The Mountaineers had only two quality wins in conference against Cincinnati and Georgetown, but played all of the teams ahead of them very close. West Virginia lost to Baylor by two in overtime, UConn by seven, Syracuse by two, Notre Dame by four…I think you get the picture. Kevin Jones is a going to be a first-round draft pick in the NBA and averages a double-double, with twenty points and eleven rebounds per game.
The final potential upset is #5 Vanderbilt against #12 Harvard. This is probably the least likely because of Vandy’s championship run in the SEC tournament, but Harvard was ranked for a good portion of the season, only losing twice in the past two months. Plus, aren’t the biggest upsets the ones that no one sees coming? The majority of knowledgeable fans that filled out brackets probably put the Commodores in the Sweet Sixteen, completely overlooking Vandy’s first game. It is definitely a stretch, but I think Harvard has the potential to be a sleeper team and pull off an upset.
While I do not see any team above a seven seed making the Sweet Sixteen, there are some second-tier teams who have the potential to be bracket killers later in March. Every bracket that I have seen thus far on ESPN or at school has Michigan State or Missouri representing the West region in the Final Four. I don’t deny that they are the clear favorites, but Louisville is capable of knocking off Michigan State, and even making it to the Final Four. Peyton Siva is an electric point guard with a relentless motor. Gorgui Dieng is a major presence down low in terms of both rebounding and the ability to alter his opponents’ shots. The best part for the Cardinals is that they have six players who average at least nine points per game. Even though no one on the team averages more than thirteen per game, Louisville has a well-balanced offense and can still win if one of its key players has an off night shooting.
The East region is probably the second most difficult to predict who will make it past the second round. Even though Syracuse has lost only twice this season, they are not as much of a favorite as I expected them to be. Vanderbilt has momentum on their side. Cincinnati has shown great potential coming out of the Big East. And Florida State might be the hottest team in college basketball after beating Duke and North Carolina twice this season, including victories over both in the ACC Tournament.
Vanderbilt has played nearly all of their opponents’ tough this season, excluding two out of conference losses early in the season. The Commodores have generally only lost to top 15 teams by small margins. They showed what they are a capable of by defeating Kentucky in the SEC Championship and if they catch Syracuse on an off day, Vandy could find its way in the Elite Eight.
The Cincinnati Bearcats are a very intriguing team. They are just as likely to lose in their first game to Texas as they are to advance to the Final Four. When Yancy Gates plays well down low and Cashmere Wright, Sean Kilpatrick, and Dion Dixon shoot well from the outside, UC is very tough to beat. My only concern is how much Cincy has in the tank to be able to play at a high level in both the frontcourt and backcourt in multiple postseason games. That being said, I expect Florida State to beat Cincinnati in the third round and go on to defeat Ohio State. Then the Seminoles would go on to likely face Syracuse or Vandy. Florida State has a few good three-point shooters, including the team’s leading scorer Michael Snaer, who shoots over 42% from behind the arc, which is critical to beating the Orange’s 2-3 zone defense. Florida State has only one bad loss all season, which is overshadowed by four victories over Duke and North Carolina combined. The Seminoles know how to be a giant killer and I think Florida State has a very good shot at representing the East region in New Orleans.
First off, I realize that I did not follow all of the potential upsets that I pointed out. Some of them, such as VCU beating Wichita State and Cincinnati beating Florida State, I would place in the “not likely but don’t be surprised if it happens” category.
In the South, I like Kentucky beating UConn in a close game in the third round, as well as Wichita State upsetting a fading Indiana team. Baylor will beat UNLV easily and go on to beat Duke in a competitive game. Baylor can match up well with the Blue Devils’ talented young guards and the Bears have the advantage down low with Perry Jones III and Quincy Acy. Kentucky will advance to the Final Four over Baylor.
The East was very difficult to predict. Vandy’s momentum heading into the tournament will carry them over Wisconsin, but Syracuse will beat the Commodores in the Sweet Sixteen. I favor Florida State over Cincinnati because there is no guarantee that the Bearcats will shoot well and Yancy Gates will show up on the same night. Ohio State has been inconsistent this season and Florida State will be riding its win streak into the Final Four.
Only two teams have a legitimate shot to make it out of the Midwest—North Carolina and Kansas. I think Temple will upset Michigan, proving that they are worthy of admittance to the Big East, and Georgetown will fall to Kansas. Henry Sims is easily the Hoyas’ best player, but Kansas can match Sims with Thomas Robinson, who averages seventeen points per game, hauls in eleven boards per game, and shoots over 46% from downtown. The Kansas vs. North Carolina matchup is a toss-up, but I give UNC a slight advantage because of how long their frontcourt is and Kendall Marshall’s ability to distribute the ball.
The West is a very competitive region and at least four teams have legitimate chances to advance to the Final Four. I like Louisville beating Long Beach State and then Michigan State. In the bottom half, I think Missouri will defeat three tough teams in a row in Florida, Marquette, and Louisville to play Kentucky in the Final Four.
In the Final Four, I think Missouri will be overmatched against Kentucky. The Wildcats will advance to the National Championship to play the North Carolina Tar Heels. UK wins in a pretty close game to give John Calipari his first title at Kentucky.
Once again, I am very grateful of the TheSportsKraze for letting me share my writing with his followers. If you enjoyed this article, make sure to check out my blog for more of my thoughts on the latest sports topics. Hopefully I’ll have the chance to guest post again sometime in the future and I wish all of you good luck in creating your March Madness brackets.
Stay tuned for the next edition of TheSportsKraze.