Who will reach the Final Four this March?
Who to watch for:
Louisville is too strong for any of the teams in this region. They gave their supporters a scare in last weekend’s Big East championship game, at one point trailing by double digits to Syracuse, but this team is scary good. They are one team that can coast through their region, ranking in the top 50 in most offensive categories. Though their defense can be suspect at times, they can overpower teams with their shooting tandem of Russ Smith and Gorgui Dieng.
The experts keep talking about how the Oregon Ducks are jaded and out to prove they are better than the 12 seed they were given. An opening round matchup against a proven Oklahoma State team doesn’t make their mission any easier. Don’t expect Oregon to make it through the first round. They have never looked cohesive as a team, suffering losses at the hands of lesser teams throughout the season, but especially as of late. Not saying the Cowboys will make it to the Final Four or even Sweet 16, but this will be an easy win over the Ducks.
Everyone has been clamoring for a Duke upset for the second straight year after 2012’s Lehigh fiasco, but don’t expect that facing the Albany Great Danes. I honestly don’t really see an upset in the first round, unless you consider ninth seeded Missouri beating eighth seeded Colorado, which we don’t.
I could see Creighton upsetting Duke in the third round though. Duke is no longer that impenetrable fortress this year after losing the ACC regular season and postseason crown to Miami. That will be a matchup to watch as Creighton ranks first in college in field goal percentage and they are both in the top-50 in points per game.
Who to watch for:
Kansas is one of the favorites to reach the Final Four this year, unfortunately the selection committee stuck them with a third round game against UNC if both should advance in the second round. UNC may not be the team of previous years, but they do have a hot shooter in P.J. Hairston, who scorched Miami for 28 points on Sunday.
Do not expect UNC to make it any further than that round, but you can expect Georgetown’s grind-it-out low-scoring defense to make it through to the Sweet 16. Shutting down teams with their overbearing pressure, it reminds me of VCU’s defense with media darling Shaka Smart. A matchup between Kansas and Georgetown can be expected in this region, but both have tough roads to get there with some tight games in between.
Akron versus VCU seems to be one that is going to come down to who can conquer the other persons’ defense faster. Both coaches were assistants together on the Akron staff, and Smart was once the assistant of the current Akron head coach. They know each other’s playing styles and can expect to use that against each other, but as St. Louis University showed last weekend, VCU is a team that can be figured out. The Zips are an all-around balanced team with VCU being strong in its defense, and while they can score, their rankings in the NCAA are not eye-popping.
Minnesota is another possible upset bid against an injured UCLA lineup. Missing Jordan Adams had an effect in the PAC-12 Championships, and will in the NCAA’s; a bad injury at the wrong time. The Golden Gophers are on a three game losing streak but hope to turn that around with lockdown defense against a high-scoring Bruin offense.
Kansas will reach the Final Four.
Who to watch for:
Top-seeded Gonzaga won’t fall anytime soon. Armed with the NCAA’s 12th best offense (77.6 points per game) on over 50 percent shooting (good for third best in the nation), look for the Bulldogs to roll over the competition in the first few rounds. The power forward/center combination of Kelly Olynyk and Elias Harris has proven to be too much for teams to handle as the duo combines for around 30 points and 15 rebounds per night.
Though they will have a tough road ahead of them — one that most likely has them going through a powerhouse trio of Pittsburgh, Kansas State and Ohio State barring any upsets — Gonzaga has only lost twice this season. Sure, they may not have faced the stiffest competition around, but all of their wins were what they should have been: blowout victories. This team is ready to face bigger, better teams and show they can persevere.
Their guard play may be weak, but Gonzaga’s bigs will lead them to the Final Four.
Iowa State versus Notre Dame seems to have upset written all over it. The Cyclones’ three-point-heavy roster — which has proven to be immensely effective as shown by their comeback victory against Oklahoma on March 14 — shoots a blazing 37 percent from beyond the arc. Iowa State took 325 three-pointers throughout the regular season, and the team’s sixth man, Tyrus McGee, connects on 2.7 treys per game, shooting them at a clip of over 45 percent.
Look for the Cyclones to bury the Fighting Irish in the first round using the three ball.
Who to watch for:
Miami (FL), with a record of 15-3 in the ACC, will secure a spot in the Final Four behind its combination of guards Shane Larkin and Durand Scott, and big man Kenny Kadji.
Kadji, a 6’11” center from Cameroon, is averaging 13 points, seven rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game. More notably, however, is his unusual prowess from beyond the arc — he’s shooting an incredible 35.7 percent from downtown, hitting 1.4 treys per game.
The Hurricanes biggest challenges — Marquette and Indiana — have proven they are unreliable at scoring points. Indiana lost twice to Wisconsin at home (and six times overall, which is somewhat unusual for a first seed team), giving up their No. 1 seed at the time during the first loss. The Golden Eagles are fresh off a loss against Notre Dame after barely edging out a mediocre St. John’s team, by two points on the road.
Expect to see the Hurricanes in the Final Four with momentum on their side.
The Bucknell Bison, led by bruising center Mike Muscala and savvy guard Cameron Ayers, will pull off the upset against the Butler Bulldogs, who missed the finals last year after two consecutive years of reaching the championship game.
Muscala, who’s averaging 19.2 points, 11.4 rebounds and 2.4 blocks a game has brought his team to an overall 28-5 record, and he’ll look to impose his will upon the Bulldogs, who are a guard-heavy team devoid of a star big man and strong rebounder.