Unlike past tournaments I’ve got no real complaints this year the 65 teams selected for this year’s tournament. Some minor issues with the seedings, but we’ll get into that as we go along. For once the selection committee got it pretty much right, so if you are a fan of Virginia Tech or Mississippi State, life’s rough…
Last year was the first time that all four Number One’s made it to the Final Four since they’ve been seeding. While I do believe that the four top seeds deserve, because of the nature of some of the brackets there are at least two brackets where the top seed will not have a very easy time getting out of. So don’t count on all four top seeds making it out this year.
I know, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again until I’m blue in the face: In one-and-done tournaments like this there are three things a team must do well in order to go far: (1) you have to make your free throws; (2) you have to hit a high percentage of your treys, and (3) you absolutely, positively, unequivocally have to crash the boards (for reasons we won’t get into shooting goes way down at tourney time, so second-chance shots mean the world). To this list I am going to add a fourth from now on, because I have noticed that the one common denominator that has characterized upsets early in the tournament have been turnovers. Teams that turn the ball over 20+ times while creating less than 20 turnovers are generally prone to upsets.
Anyway, enough of the egghead stuff. Let’s get to it.
I’ll bet Kansas is not real thankful that they are the #1 overall seed, because if this is what the reward is for it – arguably the toughest path to Indianapolis – then I’m sure they’d rather be seeded lower. That said they clearly earned it; there’s nothing the Jayhawks don’t have. Slashers. Shooters. Experience. Depth. A strong inside game. Fearlessness. This team is salty as hell, and in Bill Self they have the most underrated coach in college basketball. The road to the Sweet 16 looks pretty easy but it gets dicey after that.
Northern Iowa are balanced and don’t beat themselves, giving up only 10 turnovers and just 16 fouls, and they play a smothering defense. Disciplined teams like this I like. Plus they have depth going 10 deep. UNLV, on the other hand, rely on two stars in the backcourt but they are good at creating turnovers. That said the Runnin’ Rebels don’t have any size and they are lousy shooters from outside. If UNI were anywhere else in this subregion I’d have them going to the Elite 8, but they run into a Kansas side in the Round of 32 that is hitting on all cylinders right now.
Michigan State doesn’t have a true center this year, but still manage to play Tom Izzo’s physical style of play that relies heavily on rebounds and second-chance points. Injuries, suspensions and inconsistency have been anathema to the Spartans this year. New Mexico State is on the smallish side so they rely on ball pressure to create opportunities. Still, the Aggies go predictably could even with their pressure defense when they aren’t shooting the ball well, and at tournament time that matters. Michigan State in a walk here.
Maryland got hot at the right time, plus they do the things you want to do at tourney time well; up-tempo high-scoring offense that can push the ball while holding teams to really low shooting percentages both inside the 3-point arc and out. Glad that Houston finally made it back to the tourney but let’s not kid ourselves; they won four games in four days to win their conference tournament, so outside of that this is basically a .500 team. The Cougars get outrebounded by more than 8 per game and allow teams to shoot better than 46%. Maryland in a walk here for an interesting matchup with Michigan State in the next round.
UPSET SPECIAL #1: I know Tennessee beat both Kansas and Kentucky this year but there is just too much turmoil on Bruce Pearl’s team: 4 players arrested, one suspended. Still, they do hold teams to 40% shooting from the field and 29% from three-point range. That said, Steve Fisher has turned San Diego State into a program to be reckoned with annually. Inside muscle makes the Aztecs one of the best teams in the country in rebounding margin, and they shoot 47% from the field, so they clearly know what to do when the fireworks go out. That is a combination I like. Take the Aztecs in this one. (I will make one caveat, however: If Tennessee wins this then they will take out Georgetown in the next round and get to the Sweet 16. Otherwise they die on the vine here)
Georgetown should play much better than they do. They are inconsistent as hell, relying heavily on just two players. Plus, there is no depth, so the starting five must stay healthy and out of foul trouble. That said, there is probably no better preparation for the tourney than the Big East, and they did shoot 46% from the field. While I like Ohio – 74 ppg, 38 rpg, 7+ 3pg – they’ve lost way too many players to suspension, aren’t deep, didn’t beat anybody, and got here only by crashing their way through their tournament – which makes them another Houston. Georgetown gets to the Sweet 16.
Oklahoma State-Georgia Tech represents the most interesting matchup in this region. Neither do anything especially well but both had big multiple wins against Top 10 opponents. The Cowboys get a large part of their offense from behind the 3-point arc, and their guards can create matchup problems. The Yellow Jackets can also shoot from 3-point range but what separates them from the Cowboys is that they can at least hit the boards with a little consistency. Hard to gauge this one but I’m going to guess that because they’ve been here more recently OSU gets to the next round…
…Where Ohio State will be waiting. One elite player taking you far has not been idiosyncratic of this tournament in over 30 years, but that is what the Buckeye’s have in Evan Turner, whose refuse-to-lose play drove them to the Big Ten championship. Still, OSU plays with a certain nastiness I love at tourney time. I think UC-Santa Barbara actually matches up well with the Buckeyes – they move the ball well and create assists on offense while creating turnovers on defense – but I’m not seeing the Gauchos being able to contain Turner for very long. No surprised here; Ohio State in the Sweet 16.