It’s that time of year again, Nation!
Time for office pools and side bets a-plenty as the NCAA Tournament rolls out March Madness. Our own Logan Crosland has checked in with his thoughts and predictions.
Most Intriguing First Round Matchup: Texas A&M vs. Providence—This is probably the most intriguing matchup of the entire first round. I’ve been able to watch both of these teams a lot this season and both have impressed me. If Kyron Cartwright plays the way he did in the Big East Championship game, Providence will not only win this game, but could make a deep run overall. On the other hand, if the two big guys for A&M, Tyler Davis and Robert Williams, can dominate the paint and the guards can make some outside shots, they will control the game. I believe Providence will win this game because I trust they’ll come to play more so than A&M.
Most Likely First Round Upset: South Dakota State over Ohio State—South Dakota State has one of the best scorers in the country in Mike Daum. Anytime you have an elite scorer on your team that can take over a game, you have a chance to win not only your first round game, but maybe make a bit of a run. If they can somehow figure out a way to match the size and athleticism of Ohio State, Daum can lead them to the second round.
Sleeper Team: Michigan—Michigan has been one of the hottest teams over the last month of the season. The Wolverines’ run through Big 10 tournament was incredibly impressive and quite dominant. This team has been very good on defense all season, but their offense really has started to run like a well-oiled machine as of late. This team will be incredibly dangerous for whoever plays them and I wouldn’t be shocked if they make a run to San Antonio.
Elite Eight Prediction: North Carolina over Gonzaga—North Carolina is a team that I always trust when tournament time comes around, and though this year’s team isn’t as consistently good as previous teams have been, it’s March Madness and I always trust Roy Williams this time of year. I think they will face off in a rematch of last year’s national championship against Gonzaga in the Elite Eight. Gonzaga will have the size advantage down low, but I fully expect Joel Berry and Luke Maye to lead this team to the Final Four for the third year in a row.
Most Intriguing First Round Matchup: Rhode Island vs Oklahoma—This matchup is intriguing because of one player, and that player is Trae Young. Oklahoma shouldn’t even be in this tournament according to most people. This game will prove if they are really worthy or not and if Trae Young can make himself a March legend by carrying this team far into the tournament. A second round matchup with Duke would be very intriguing as well.
Most Likely First Round Upset: Winner of Syracuse/Arizona State over TCU—I believe whoever comes out of this play-in game will beat TCU. The Horned Frogs were one of those teams that started the season very hot and looked like they may be able to put together a magical season. Then they got into conference play and struggled mightily. Syracuse I trust because of the tournament experience of their coach and their size. Arizona State I trust because of their guard play. Either way, TCU will fall in this game.
Sleeper Team: Auburn—Auburn is team that has impressed me all year. They have two great guards in Bryce Brown and Jared Harper that can shoot lights-out. They are a bit undersized as they lost one of their bigs, Anfernee McLemore, late in the season. We have seen in the past what a team that has a couple of shooters can do, and I believe it could make for a nice run in the tourney for the Tigers.
Elite Eight Prediction: Michigan State over Kansas—This game comes down to the fact that the Jayhawks have not played anyone with the size that Michigan State is going to throw at them in this matchup. Devontae Graham is a great player and leader, which is a reason that it wouldn’t shock me at all if Kansas wins this game. Like I’ve said a few times already though, it’s all about who you trust in this level of the tournament, and Kansas seems to fade around this time every year, while Michigan State thrives. That coupled with the size advantage they have, I’ll take the Spartans to go the Final Four.
Most Intriguing First Round Matchup: Butler vs Arkansas—Butler is always a perennial tough out in the tournament, as the Bulldogs always seem to pull off at least an upset or two in the tournament. Arkansas has a very impressive trio of senior guards in Jaylen Barford, Daryl Macon, and Anton Beard. They also have a freshman big guy in Daniel Gafford that can change any game he is in.
Most Likely First Round Upset: St. Bonaventure over Florida—The Gators may be one of the coldest teams coming into the tournament this year. They didn’t finish the regular season well and lost their first game in the SEC tournament. On the other hand, the Bonnies have already played a play-in game, so they are tournament-tested and I just don’t trust the Gators if Chris Chiozza doesn’t take over the game.
Sleeper Team: Arkansas—As I said above, the Razorbacks can be very dangerous because they have a trio of senior guards that can shoot really well. They also have a big guy in Gafford and if he is on, there might not be anyone who can stop him. Those two things could make them incredibly dangerous as the tournament goes on.
Elite Eight Prediction: Villanova over Purdue—Villanova is always a perennial favorite in the tournament ever year and I believe that the Wildcats have what it takes to go all the way this year as well. The Boilermakers have a size advantage over pretty much anybody they face and I think it will get them to this point. I believe the play of Jalen Brunson will prove to be the difference for Villanova and they will be moving on to the Final Four.
Most Intriguing First Round Matchup: Kentucky vs Davidson—This is a matchup of perhaps the two hottest teams in the country coming in. Kentucky comes in having won seven of its last eight and winning all three of its SEC tournament games in fairly dominant fashion. Davidson is a bid stealing team that made its way through a very difficult A-10 Conference tournament, beating favorite Rhode Island in the final to secure a bid. The Wildcats are playing the best they’ve played all season, but Davidson’s elite score Peyton Aldridge is going to make sure he does everything he can to put an early end to Kentucky’s tourney run.
Most Likely First Round Upset: Loyola-Chicago over Miami—Loyola-Chicago is the trendy upset pick in this year’s tournament, and with good reason. The Ramblers play a slow style that allows them to control pretty much any game. They also shoot the ball from deep at a very high percentage and defend at a very efficient rate. I fully expect the Ramblers to take care of the Canes in this matchup.
Sleeper Team: Tennessee—Tennessee is a team that overachieved all season and the Vols were able to take that all the way to being regular season co-champions of the SEC. They have one of the most dominant front lines in the country with Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield. Williams, the SEC Player of the Year, has the ability to take over games and really just dominate whoever he is matched up with for the night on both sides of the floor. Schofield dominates the paint in every game that he is in, offensively and defensively, and I think I would pick him against any big man in the country at this moment.
Elite Eight Prediction: Virginia over Tennessee—As described above, I am a big believer in Tennessee. I believe they will make it all the way to the Elite Eight and match up against the best defensive team in the country in Virginia. I believe the dominant defense of Virginia will prove to be the difference and the Cavaliers will not only advance to the Final Four, but the championship game.
Final Four: Virginia over North Carolina, Villanova over Michigan State
National Championship: Villanova over Virginia—Villanova always seems to get here year-in-and-year-out. The Wildcats just always seem to be playing their best basketball coming into the tourney and I really believe this year is no different. Virginia’s defense is elite and I feel that will propel the Cavs all the way to the finals, but Villanova has won a title fairly recently and I think they have the big-game experience edge.
March Madness has been known to throw us some shockers in the past, so anything can happen in the next month. That’s why they call it MARCH MADNESS!