March Madness is here! It truly is madness folks. We see time and time again major upsets in this tournament and that is what makes is so much fun.
My personal strategy is to pick a couple upsets here and there, targeting higher seeds (3,4,5,6) that I don’t see getting out of the next round. For example, in the West Region. I have no doubt in my mind that Notre Dame would beat West Virginia in the Round of 32. Therefore, it would be okay for me to take a calculated risk on choosing Bucknell to upset the Mountaineers. I do run the risk, however, of being completely wrong and missing all of the points my bracket could have earned when WVU possibly makes an Elite 8 run.
Any piece of information given in this article could be rendered completely useless with the result of just one game. Which is why a word you will find scattered throughout this article is “theoretically”. Because that is all anyone can say about March Madness. It is that time of the year where we all try to be the smartest basketball brain in the room, and are swiftly reminded that we all know absolutely nothing. That’s why it’s fun.
NCAA Tournament 2017 South Region Preview
There is no region with bluer blood than the South Region. The combined twenty-four national titles between the top three seeds speaks for itself. Fortunately for the other thirteen teams, that means absolutely nothing once the games tip off. The bracket is still blank and up for grabs.
From top to bottom, the South is one of the more formidable regions. It is full of perennial powers with UNC, Kentucky, UCLA, and Butler. They also boast arguably the best compliment of double digit seeds of any region, not to mention the controversially low-seeded Wichita State Shockers.
I have been over this region’s bracket many times, and see it working out like most regions in the past have. There very may well be monumental upsets early on, but as it usually does, the cream will rise to the top. If you are looking to win a pool or contest of some kind, it would be wise not to go crazy with the upsets.
Top Four Teams Preview
No. 1 North Carolina Tar Heels
The Tar Heels find themselves back in a familiar spot: penciled in as a 1-seed and a favorite to cut down the nets. UNC has it all. They have a special talent in Justin Jackson, they have big men that can dominate the paint in Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks, a point guard that can shoot the lights out in Joel Berry II, and not to mention the experience gained from a deep tournament run. The only thing this group is missing? A championship.
No. 2 Kentucky Wildcats
When Kentucky basketball is brought up this season, the topic of conversation is probably freshman sensation, Malik Monk. Monk averages 20.4 PPG and is the kind of player made for this tournament. The Wildcats were class of the SEC once again, breezing through the conference. With a win against UNC already under their belt, will Kentucky lock up with the Tar Heels once more with a trip to Phoenix on the line?
No. 3 UCLA Bruins
Bill Walton loves to refer to the PAC 12 as the “Conference of Champions”. Ironically, the conference hasn’t seen a national title in basketball in twenty years. UCLA is looking to change that this season, and they just might. Led by eventual top-5 pick and scorer-distributor extraordinaire, Lonzo Ball, the Bruins boast the nation’s top offense. UCLA has already bested Kentucky this year, and could very well see them again in the Elite 8.
No. 4 Butler Bulldogs
Lost in the headlines of Carolina, Kentucky, and UCLA, are the Butler Bulldogs. You know, the team that beat the number one overall seed in the nation by 8 points. Twice.
Butler has a decent path to the Sweet 16, all things considered. A game they should win against a good Winthrop team, and then the winner of a 5-12 match up that Vegas currently has as a pick ’em. Then things get fuzzy. Butler then, theoretically, runs into North Carolina.
We have seen teams successfully slow down the pace of the game and have success against the Tar Heels. Virginia and Miami both made it work at one point this season, and Butler will try to do the same. Hey, it worked agaisnt Villanova… Twice.
Phoenix, AZ Bound
North Carolina Tar Heels
The South has been designated as the toughest region on the bracket by some experts. It is hard to argue that point with the likes of UNC, Kentucky, UCLA and a 10 seed Wichita State in the mix. But i ask, tough for whom? How many of those powerhouse programs will UNC have to face en route to the Final Four? One.
Kentucky and Wichita State would play in the Round of 32, theoretically, with UCLA playing a tough Cincy team. Then you’ll see the winners of those games try off one another with the prize being a showdown with a UNC team that really only had to worry about Butler. Butler is good, but come on, Gordon Hayward ain’t stepping out of that tunnel.
I picked North Carolina in the preseason and never really thought bad of that pick throughout the entire regular season. They came out of the gauntlet that is the ACC looking better than any of the other powerhouse in the conference. This team’s key contributors are almost all juniors and seniors, which is not all too common in blue chip college basketball anymore. This team was a historic shot away from cutting down the nets last year, and has had a year to think about it.
As for potential Elite 8 match ups, I like the Heels in any outcome. Realistically we are looking at a UCLA-Kentucky or UCLA-Wichita St winner here. UNC will out-talent the Shockers, in my opinon. I think the young bunch from Kentucky is a talented team, but they are no UNC just yet. The Tar Heels should best the sometimes inconsistent Wildcats, despite the best efforts of star, Malik Monk.
If UCLA and North Carolina get together, we might be playing a game scored in the 90’s. UCLA has arguably the best offense in the country, but does not seem all that interested in defense. We saw that bite them in the PAC 12 Championship vs a defensive Arizona, and I think we will see it against against UNC. The Heels will score right with Lonzo Ball and the Bruins, and will separate themselves with defense.
No. 6 Cincinnati Bearcats
Odds are, you may not have watched much Bearcat basketball this season. Now is the time to start. Coach Mick Cronin led his team to a 29-5 overall record, and a 16-2 American conference record, good enough for second place. The Bearcats didn’t get a lot of talk this season, probably due to the weakness of their conference, but finished the season ranked 18th in the country. Cincy has wins vs Iowa State, Xavier, and a very underrated SMU team.
The Bearcats are a threat for a couple of reasons. They play defense right up there with the best in the country. They lead the nation in steal rate, and play a physical brand of basketball a lot of teams are not comfortable with. On the offensive end, Cincy spreads it out with four players averaging double figures. They are led by sophomore guard, Jacob Evans (13.7 PPG), who topped twenty points twice on the way to a runner up finish in their conference tournament.
I see Cincinnati most likely getting bounced by UCLA in the round of 32. I could also see this team slowing them down and making them play a style of basketball they didn’t get to see in the PAC 12. If Cincinnati remembers to pack their offense, they could ride their physical style to a Sweet 16 appearance, if not just giving one of the top teams in their region hell for forty minutes.
Players to Watch
Joel Berry II, North Carolina
Justin Jackson was the ACC Player of the Year, but Joel Berry II is the straw that stirs the drink for the Tar Heels. That has been a gift and a curse for North Carolina this season, as Berry has lit it up from behind the arc and facilitated offense to the many talented players UNC has to offer. We have also seen Berry go out of games with foul trouble for an extended period of time. I said earlier that the Heels have it all. Well, that may have been an exaggeration, as point guard depth is not something they possess. Berry needs to be good, and available, if Carolina is to make a run.
Lonzo Ball, UCLA
One day I hope to have a son. I hope to have a son so good at something, that I can live out my life’s dreams through him. He will achieve not his dreams, but our dreams… Until then I will just watch LaVar Ball do it. According to him, his son Lonzo is already better than NBA MVP Steph Curry. Lonzo Ball also invented the game of basketball and sliced bread. Oh yeah and apparently Lavar himself is better than MJ. Anyways…
Despite his overbearing and over involved father, Lonzo Ball has been one of the premiere players in college basketball this season. He is the maestro behind the nations most electrifying offense, and can hit the three with the best of them, despite sporting an unorthodox shot. They say guard play wins in March, and if that is true, this is the guard I am hitching my wagon to. This guy is good enough to lead this team very far into the tourney.
Best Game in First Round
No. 5 Minnesota vs No. 12 Middle Tennessee
Who doesn’t love a good 5-12 upset? If you want to summarize what March Madness is all about, just talk about 5-12 games. I have never filled out a bracket void of a 5-12 upset, and I never will. The public affection of this specific seed match up has undoubtedly fueled the more and more frequent upsets that they produce. The 5-seed doesn’t want to be “that 5-seed” that blows it, and the 12-seed says, “Why not us?”
This particular pairing is intriguing because Minnesota is perceived by the public as the weakest 5-seed in the tournament. You might remember this 12-seed from last years tournament. Walk with me down memory lane for a moment… Remember last year when you tore up your bracket and cursed the name of Sparty because your national title pick, Michigan State, was knocked out by a 15 seed? Middle Tennessee was that 15 seed. They have brought almost everyone back and are looking to duplicate last season’s magic.
Just How Under-Seeded was Wichita State?
In my opinion, the Selection Committee had the easiest job they have had in picking the field in recent memory. There was more argument about Duke being a 1-seed than there was about bubble team resumes. The field pretty much picked itself, and all they had to do was seed the teams reasonably well. While they did a decent job of that, there were a few head-scratchers.
The most controversial seeding of all was that of the Wichita State Shockers. There was much debate before the tournament about the placement of the Shockers. They sport a 30-4 record and finished the season ranked 19th nationally. The thing about Wichita State’s resume is that they didn’t really have one. They amassed thirty wins, but one could argue that the four losses came from the only four real teams on their schedule.
If you go by metrics, analytic ratings (KenPom.com has them 8th), the eye test, and national rankings, Wichita State was criminally under-seeded. If you go by strength of schedule, quality wins, and a lot of other things the committee actually cares about they might be closer to right than a lot of people think.
The bad news really comes to the Dayton Flyers, who after earning a 7 -seed, get to play a so called 10-seed that everyone thinks is going to run you out of the gym. The good news is, it will all be decided on the court, and Dayton will have a chance to stick it to everyone already looking ahead to the Wichita-Kentucky Round of 32 match up, and we will finally see how good the Shockers really are.