Welcome back to Hoop Nation, all you happy people! In this installment, Hoops Master General Logan Crosland checks out March Madness with first round previews, potential sleepers, and of course, predictions galore.
So, settle in, print out a dozen or so brackets and read on,
*Ed. note: Yeah, I know the Ides of March is the 15th, and many/most of you will read this on the 16th. Sorry there’s no snappy wordplay for two days after Pi Day, one day after the Ides, and the day before most of you get super-drunk and stop reading halfway through this senten….Hey!
West (San Jose)
Most Intriguing First Round Matchup: Notre Dame vs. Princeton — The Ivy League Champion has sprung a first-round upset in three out of the last four years. Adding more drama to this contest is the fact that Princeton has won 19 consecutive games. Both of these teams are incredibly efficient on offense, as neither turns the ball over very much and both hit a lot of 3-pointers.
Most Likely First Round Upset: VCU Over St Mary’s — VCU has a habit of using defense to really throw opponents off of their game. I fully expect VCU to use that defense to make a very good St Mary’s uncomfortable from the start and come away with victory.
Sleeper Team: Notre Dame — Notre Dame has an incredibly talented team and could definitely make a run in this tournament. The Fighting Irish simply don’t turn the ball over, ranking first in the country in turnover rate. They also are a very good shooting team, making them dangerous on both sides of the ball. Expect them to make some noise.
Elite Eight Prediction: Arizona over Gonzaga — These teams faced each other earlier in the year, with the Zags winning, 69-62. The big difference in that game–and if they match up again in the tournament–is that Arizona will have Allonzo Trier, who was out during the first game due to a suspension. Trier, along with Lauri Markkanen, will do enough against the Zags to get Arizona to the Final Four.
The West region final will take place on Saturday, March 25.
Midwest (Kansas City)
Most Intriguing First Round Matchup: Oklahoma State vs. Michigan — The Wolverines’ dream run to the Big 10 Tournament Championship was one of the best stories of the conference tournament schedule. This is a great matchup from the standpoint of seeing if Michigan can keep its hot streak going. Both teams are great offenses and neither play much defense, so if you like offensive showdowns, you should watch this one.
Most Likely First Round Upset: Rhode Island over Creighton — Despite the fact that Creighton had a good showing in the Big East tournament, I like the Rams in this game. One reason is because Rhode Island had an incredibly hot run through the A10 tournament. Another reason is because ever since Creighton lost star point guard Maurice Watson, the Blue Jays haven’t been the same great team that started the season.
Sleeper Team: Iowa State — Iowa State is another team that caught fire in its conference tournament and looks poised to have the ability to make a run at the Big Dance, too. The Cyclones have proven that they can beat the No. 1 seed in this region, Kansas, so if they matchup in the Sweet 16, you won’t be able to count out the Cyclones.
Elite Eight Prediction: Kansas over Louisville — The Jayhawks are by far the most talented team in this region. I fully expect Kansas to get out of this region pretty easily, barring the possible matchup with Iowa State, mentioned above. Louisville is an incredibly good defensive team, which I believe will get them to this point, but Frank Mason and the Jayhawks will end the Cardinals’ run here and Kansas will be in the Final Four.
The Midwest region final will take place on Saturday, March 25.
East (New York)
Most Intriguing First Round Matchup: Virginia vs. UNC Wilmington — This game is quite interesting, as it matches up one team that is a very good defense (the Cavaliers) against a team that is incredibly good on offense (the Seahawks). Wilmington doesn’t turn the ball over very much, but hasn’t faced the best defense in the country yet. This game will truly come down to whether Virginia can score consistently, something they have struggled to do at points in this season.
Most Likely First Round Upset: Marquette over South Carolina — South Carolina is a team whose defense and star player, Sindarious Thornwell, can carry them through a lot of games. Despite this, they went 3-6 down the stretch, losing to Alabama in the SEC quarterfinals. Marquette has an extremely high-powered offense and I see that giving the Gamecocks fits. Marquette moves on.
Sleeper Team: SMU — SMU is another incredibly hot team coming into the tournament. The Mustangs are a team that has only lost once since 2017 started–a narrow two-point loss to Cincinnati. They would go on to beat that same Cincinnati team twice handily, winning the American Conference Regular Season and Tournament Championships. I believe that they will not only beat whoever they play in the first round, but also likely second-round opponent Baylor. This scenario would most likely set up an extremely fun matchup with Duke.
Elite Eight Prediction: Villanova over Duke — This one may be a surprise to some, but I believe that Villanova has the talent and the big game experience that cannot be matched. I expect Nova to pull out all the stops and get past the Blue Devils on their way to the Final Four again.
The East region final will take place on Sunday, March 26.
Most Intriguing First Round Matchup: Dayton vs. Wichita State- These are two incredibly talented mid major teams that can make a run and upset some people along the way. The winner of this game is going to give Kentucky a big challenge and could possibly spring the upset if Kentucky doesn’t bring it that day.
Most Likely First Round Upset: Middle Tennessee State over Minnesota — The Blue Raiders broke a lot of brackets a year ago after defeating No. 2 seed Michigan State in the first round. Needless to say this team isn’t going to fly under the radar this year. They have their two best players from last year’s team, Reggie Upshaw and Giddy Potts, and adding a year of experience only makes them more dangerous to not only upset Minnesota but possibly go further in the tourney.
Sleeper Team: Wichita State — Like I said before in the discussion of the Wichita State vs Dayton game, whoever wins that is going to give Kentucky a hard-fought game in the second round. I believe the winner of that first round game will be Wichita State. They will be looking for revenge on Kentucky from their matchup in the 2014 NCAA Tournament, when Wichita was an undefeated No. 1 seed.
Elite Eight Prediction: North Carolina over UCLA — North Carolina is my favorite to win it all, as I feel the Tar Heels are the most complete team in the entire tournament. UCLA is an elite offense that can outscore most of the teams throughout the country on any given night, and Lonzo Ball has the makings of a player that could become a March Madness Legend. I’ll take the Tar Heels to make it to the Final Four from this region, beating UCLA.
The South region final will take place on Sunday, March 26. The Final Four will take place on Saturday, April 1, with the Championship game on Monday, April 3.
Final Four: UNC over Kansas, Villanova over Arizona
National Championship: UNC over Villanova — I expect a rematch of last year’s national championship game, but with the opposite result. I truly think that North Carolina is the most talented team in the country and will take home the title this year. March Madness has been known to throw us some curveballs in the past, so anything can happen in the next month. That’s why they call it MARCH MADNESS!