Photo Credit: KATU
With the NCAA Tournament set to tip-off in full swing tomorrow, SeaTown Sports is here to provide you with a comprehensive preview of all the action.
South Region Preview
Kentucky: John Calipari is famous for bringing in talented freshman and trying to win with the most talent instead of the most experience. This season, his experiment has paid off. Freshmen Anthony Davis, Marquis Teague, and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist lead the the two-loss Wildcats in all facets. Davis, the probable national player of the year, can score from anywhere, out rebound anyone, and change any shot with a challenge or a vicious block. His unmatched shot blocking ability makes it nearly impossible to score inside against UK. Throw in three solid players with final four experience in Terrence Jones, Doron Lamb, and Darius Miller, and Coach Cal could very well have his first national title in a few weeks.
Duke: Coach K has four national titles under his belt, and this team might be better than the one that won it all in 2010. With freshman sensation Austin Rivers at the point and great shooters like Seth Curry, Andre Dawkins, and Ryan Kelly around him, Duke has the potential to play in New Orleans. But they do not play good defense, and uncharacteristically lost three games in Cameron Indoor Stadium this season, so they certainly have vulnerabilities. If the Plumlee brothers can play intelligently with consistency, then Duke can go far in the South. If not, Duke could bow out in the round of 32.
Baylor: Scott Drew coaches an uber-talented squad that have redefined inconsistency in college hoops this year. Perry Jones III, a future lottery pick, leads the Bears with his ability to do anything at anytime. He can shoot the outside jumper, post up, lock down a guard or a big man defensively, and drive to the hoop. His versatility is unquestionable, but he also can do none of those things sometimes. Jones has a tendency to disappear and that could cost the Bears, who get help from guards Pierre Jackson and AJ Walton, shooter Brady Heslip, and interior forces Quincy Acy and Quincy Miller. Baylor's length alone could propel them to the Elite Eight and maybe even beyond.
Games to watch:
Connecticut vs. Iowa State: This might be the most intriguing matchup in the entire field in the round of 64. Connecticut was picked preseason top five by most outlets and has seriously underperformed. They have loads of talent though and Jeremy Lamb, Shabazz Napier, and Andre Drummond are all difference makers. They also won the tournament last year, in case people forgot already. Iowa State pretty much comes from the complete opposite end of the spectrum. Transfer Royce White leads the Cyclones who haven't made the tournament since losing in the first round as a two seed to Hampton back in 2001. White not only scores 13 points per game, but also averages nine rebounds and five assists. His versatility, complemented by the sharpshooting of Scott Christopherson, has led the Cyclones to big wins over Baylor and Kansas this season. This game basically is a coin flip, with each team having a great chance to win and to challenge Kentucky in the second round.
Wichita State vs. VCU: Last year's final four darlings, the Rams matchup against the sheik pick to resume their role this season, the wheat shockers of Wichita State. Every analyst seems to have tabbed the Shockers as this year's mid-major to make a run until they saw that VCU would be their first round opponent. Bradford Burgess, the leader of VCU's final four team in 2011, continues to lead the Rams, and coach Shaka Smart won't go down easy in the first round. But Wichita State has Garrett Stutz, a dominating seven footer who can also step out and shoot a jumper. They also have a never say die point guard in Joe Ragland who will not let the Shockers go down easy. I could see this one ending on a last second shot, and the winner could easily get to the Sweet Sixteen.
Players to watch:
Anthony Davis: You can't not watch this guy. He's seven feet tall, seven and a half feet long, and plays everywhere. He'll score on the low block, in the lane, with the mid-range jumper, and even from beyond-the-arc occasionally. He is even better defensively, and will most likely win defensive player of the year nationally, as well as freshman of the year and player of the year. He could even win final four MOP too if UK gets that far. Hands down, Davis has the most potential to influence the NCAA tourney and lead his team to a title.
Austin Rivers: The Duke freshman hit perhaps the most iconic shot of the season when he sunk UNC on the road back in February. Rivers will need to continue heroics like that if Duke is to make a deep run in the tournament. Rivers needs to play smart and unselfish and attack the rim instead of settling for forced threes. He has plenty of help around him, and he needs to use that help in order for Duke to win on the second weekend.
Mike Moser: UNLV's star player has dazzled since transferring from UCLA. He starred in the Rebels' signature victory against North Carolina earlier this season, and he can be a double-double machine when he is on his game. UNLV has stumbled a bit down the stretch, and so for them to beat Colorado and even Baylor and Duke, Moser will need to score and rebound at a high level.
Three upset possibilities:
VCU over Wichita State
Colorado over UNLV
Baylor over Duke (sweet sixteen)
Can anyone beat Kentucky in this region? Baylor's length could test them, and Duke's three point shooting could do it too. However, betting against Kentucky is a bad plan this year. They have been the best team in basketball since November, and could easily cut down the nets in April. At the least, they should be expected to reach New Orleans. The Wildcats will win the South region and head to New Orleans with a great chance to cut down the nets.
West Region Preview
Michigan State: Behind legendary coach Tom Izzo, the Michigan State Spartans won a share of the Big Ten regular season championship and triumphed in their conference tournament in order to grab the last number one seed. The Spartans, who finished 27-7 and 13-5 in the toughest conference in America, are led by the best senior in the country, forward Draymond Green. Green, the Big Ten POY, gets help from fellow big man Derrick Nix and center Adriean Payne in the post. The guard play for the Spartans has been spotty at times, but sophomore point man Keith Appling and transfer Brandon Wood have done enough lately to secure some resume building victories for Sparty.
Missouri: The Missouri Tigers experienced a renaissance this season under first year coach Frank Haith. After losing top forward Lawrence Bowers to an ACL injury preseason, many experts counted the Tigers out. But behind a dynamic four guard offense, they have showed the ability to play with any opponent all season long, finishing 30-4 and 14-4 in the Big 12. The four guards, Flip Pressey, Kim English, Marcus Denmon, and Michael Dixon, all bring a different strength to the court, and any one of them can lead the Mizzou on a given night. Throw in emerging post presence Ricardo Ratliffe, and the Tigers have a recipe t get to New Orleans in April.
Marquette: Under fourth year coach Buzz Williams, The Golden Eagles of Marquette University set new high marks for performance in the BIG EAST, after finishing 25-7 and 14-4 in conference, good for second place. The Golden Eagles get going because of how much the can push the basketball, and they play small, which helps them accomplish just that. Senior forward Jae Crowder won BIG EAST POY, and is one of the most versatile players in the country. Darius Johnson-Odom possesses tremendous scoring ability at shooting guard, and Junior Cadougan dishes out assists at a high level. Davante Gardner and Jamil Wilson can score inside for the guard heavy Golden Eagles. If they can play good defense and limit turnovers, Marquette can win three or four games.
Games to watch:
Long Beach State vs. New Mexico: In what will be an absolute battle, these unheralded mid-major powerhouses square off in Portland. The 49ers of the Big West get tremendous leadership from senior point guard Casper Ware, who scores 17 points per game will dishing out 3.3 assists. Long Beach played a grueling non-conference schedule, lost only once in conference, and has tons of collegiate experience, plus a great coach in Dan Monson. New Mexico also won their conference tournament, but had to go through much tougher competition to accomplish that. They beat all three of the other tournament teams in their conference this at least once, and beat UNLV and San Diego State twice. Drew Gordon can take over a game, and they boast another great coach in Steve Alford. This matchup has upset potential, and the winner could easily make a run to the elite eight.
Florida vs. Virginia: Seventh-seeded Florida has a lower seed than they earned, after playing Kentucky straight up for forty minutes in the SEC semis. They are tournament-tested after last year's elite eight run, and Billy Donovan has coached two national championship teams. Irving Walker and Kenny Boynton make the Gators go, but Brad Beal and Erik Murphy have been more important as of late. They face off against a Virginia team that took a big step forward this year under former Wazzu coach Tony Bennett. The Cavs are led by senior Mike Scott, who can absolutely carry his team on any given night. However, UVA has struggled down the stretch, most recently losing ton NC State in the ACC quarterfinals. Both team can win this game, and both can give Missouri a challenge in the next round.
Players to watch:
Draymond Green: Green won Big Ten POY, and deserved it. He took a Spartans team that didn't make the preseason top 25, and turned them into a number one seed. The 6-7 interior beast averaged a double-double with 16 points and 10 rebounds per game and can change a game in a myriad of ways. He needs good guard play to get him the ball sometimes, but if Appling and Wood help him, MSU can win a title.
Peyton Siva: The Seattle product but Louisville on his back in the BIG EAST tourney, and led the to four wins in four days at MSG for the championship. Now he faces a bigger challenge on a stage where he choked last year. Siva failed to contribute at all against Morehead State last season, as heavily favored Louisville fell short in the first round. If Siva is blasting away at full speed and make smart passes, Louisville could make the final four. If he doesn't do those things, they could lose to Davidson in their first game.
Isaiah Canaan: First of all, what a biblical name this guy has. Second of all, Canaan is arguably the best point guard in the country. Murray State didn't get much national attention after the lost their only game of the season, but when bracket busters came calling, Canaan led the Racers to a rout of Saint Mary's. He should be a first team all-American, and even if he isn't, he has the opportunity to take Murray State deep into the second weekend.
Three upset possibilities:
Long Beach State over New Mexico
Louisville over Michigan State (sweet sixteen)
Florida over Missouri (Round of 32)
When it's all said and done, Michigan State will be too much for any team in this region. Tom Izzo has coached six final four teams, and this MSU squad could easily be his seventh. They are the safest bet of any team in this region, but not necessarily a lock to play in New Orleans. However, Draymond Green is the region's best player, and the Spartans are the region's best team, and Tom Izzo is the region's best coach. MSU wins the West.
East Region Preview
Syracuse: The #1 seed out of the East may not be the favorite to get to New Orleans after all. Their star center, Fab Melo, was ruled ineligible by the NCAA and will not participate in the tournament. This is a serious detriment to the Orange’s chances this March. The onus will now turn to Kris Joseph and Scoop Jardine to lead the Orange to the Final Four. Jim Boeheim has the experience to battle through this adversity. But with all the issues the program has had this year, can one really expect them to represent the East in the Final Four?
Ohio State: After a tough stretch in the middle of the Big Ten season, the Buckeyes have gone largely under the radar in the past few weeks. With Syracuse in trouble however, Ohio State has to become the favorite in this region. Their depth is unmatched with Jared Sullinger, Aaron Craft and William Buford leading the way. They have struggled from three-point range as of late, but if the Buckeyes can improve on that, watch out.
Florida State: The Seminoles are on fire, having beaten Duke and North Carolina en route to the ACC Championship. Coach Leonard Hamilton has his team poised to make a deep tournament run, but the committee did them no favors. Atlantic 10 tournament champion St. Bonaventure is not a typical 14 seed, so the Seminoles need to be wary of this. Michael Snaer and Luke Loucks are the keys for Florida State.
Games to watch:
Gonzaga vs. West Virginia: The Bulldogs are forced to head out east once again for their first game this year. Robert Sacre should be the key for the ‘Zags as the Mountaineers should have problems matching his size inside. Kevin Jones also poses some matchup problems on the other end for West Virginia. Bob Huggins praises his ability to be a dynamic scorer, while playing solid defense on the other end. Whoever can win this battle should pull out a victory for their team.
Cincinnati vs. Texas: After their tussle with Xavier early on this season, the Bearcats have been a different team under coach Mick Cronin, going all the way to the Big East Championship game last weekend. Yancy Gates is the key for Cincy, while Texas counters with J’Covan Brown, a big time scorer for Rick Barnes and company.
Players to watch:
John Jenkins: The three-point specialist for Vanderbilt has the quickest release in the collegiate game, and if he gets hot during the tournament, the Commodores have a solid chance of making it to New Orleans, especially with the Fab Melo news today.
Jared Sullinger: Hampered by injuries all season, the Ohio State big man is finally showing signs of regaining full strength, and that is bad news for the East region. He is relentless on the boards and can score at will in the low post. If he is right, look out for Ohio State.
Andrew Nicholson: This versatile forward single handedly lead the Bonnies to the A-10 Championship over the weekend. Without him, St. Bonaventure would be playing in the NIT right now. They have a shot at upsetting Florida State, but he better play well for them to do so.
Three upset possibilities:
(9) Southern Miss over (8) Kansas State
(12) Harvard over (5) Vanderbilt
(14) St. Bonaventure over (3) Florida State
Syracuse was already vulnerable as it is, but the Fab Melo suspension makes it that much more difficult for them to win the region. As a result, Ohio State is the prohibitive favorite, and with only a streaky Florida State team in their way until the Elite 8, they have to be the pick here. Sullinger, Craft and Buford will be too much and the Buckeyes will be headed to New Orleans.
Midwest Region Preview
North Carolina: The Tar Heels were ranked #1 in the preseason and had high expectations for this year. They had some tough losses along the way, but overall, Roy Williams has his team primed for a deep run in the tournament. If John Henson can return to full health, him along with Tyler Zeller and Harrison Barnes will be a tough trio to defend for any opponent. Add a dynamic point guard in Kendall Marshall, and North Carolina is no easy out.
Kansas: This region is set for a rematch between the Tar Heels and Roy Williams’ former team. The Jayhawks have had their moments of brilliance this season, including a big win over Missouri to close out the regular season. But if Thomas Robinson struggles, that affects the entire roster. Do they have enough depth to compete?
Georgetown: The Hoyas somehow were able to sneak their way once again into a favorable three seed in this year’s tournament. An early exit in the Big East Tournament apparently did not matter to the committee, as Georgetown is in a good spot once again. Jason Clark and Hollis Thompson are a two-headed monster and will be tough to contain.
Games to watch:
Saint Mary’s vs. Purdue: After two years of rehabilitation, Robbie Hummel is finally back in the NCAA Tournament with the Boilermakers. He’ll be looking to finish off his career strong, starting with a game against the Gaels. Matthew Dellavedova has been around forever for St. Mary’s and he will not go down without a fight either. Two rugged teams should make for a fun game here.
San Diego St vs. NC State: The Wolfpack made a strong run in the ACC Tournament and that allowed them to sneak into the field of 68. C.J. Leslie is the key to this team and he must be on his game if Mark Gottfried’s team looks to pull the upset. Aztecs coach Steve Fisher has exceeded expectations this season. After losing his main contributors from last year, he had managed to keep this squad, led by Chase Tapley, in the top 25 for much of the season.
Players to watch:
John Henson: His health is the key to the Tar Heels chances of making a run to the Final Four. After injuring his wrist in the semifinal of the ACC Tournament, Henson sat out the title game in hopes of making it back for this weekend. Without him, North Carolina is in trouble.
Doug McDermott: The coach’s son for Creighton has led their high octane offense all season long, and if they can get past Alabama in their first game, they will pose some problems for North Carolina. The Blue Jays like to run and he is the key to their success.
Trey Burke: The standout freshman for Michigan has been as advertised for Wolverine fans this season. He is poised for his age and is able to takeover a game at any moment. Burke, along with Zack Novak, will need to perform if Michigan hopes to surprise in the tournament.
Three upset possibilities:
(11) NC State over (6) San Diego St.
(14) Belmont over (3) Georgetown
(10) Purdue over (7) St. Mary’s
The Tar Heels were picked as the preseason #1 team for a reason. Their frontline starters are unstoppable when at their best, and one has to believe Roy Williams will have his team ready to go after a disappointing finish last year. Barnes, Zeller, Henson and Marshall will be too much for any other team in the Midwest, and North Carolina will be headed to the Final Four.
-Patrick Leary (@PTLeary21)
-Alex Gallant (@seatownsports)