2016 NCAA Tournament Preview

To say that the NCAA men’s basketball regular season was unpredictable might be a drastic understatement.  The top ten teams in the country lost a combined 83 games, and the top four seeds have lost a combined 23 games; both of those are the most in history.  Basically, there hasn’t been one major power that has separated itself from the rest.  Conference tournaments saw many teams that underwhelmed during the regular season crash the Dance, and they come in hungry to continue their unlikely run towards a national championship.  The unpredictability will surely make for a very intriguing tournament- here’s how I think it’ll play out:

 

South Region

First Round

#1 Kansas def. #16 Austin Peay

The number one overall seed will not lose in the first round.  Moving on.

 

#9 Connecticut def. #8 Colorado

Colorado has looked like a team on the verge of breaking through to top-tier contender status for the past few years, and this season was no exception- they have a great post player in senior Josh Scott, and the team as a whole is filled with solid defenders and rebounders.  However, the Pac 12 wasn’t really filled with great teams this year, and there were quite a few games when the Buffalos played down to their competition.  UConn is less talented then the Buffs, but they are riding momentum after their win in the American conference tournament.  Kevin Ollie’s Huskies advance.

 

#5 Maryland def. #12 South Carolina State

I’ve thought that Maryland was the frontrunner for the national championship since Day 1, but the end of the season wasn’t good to the Terrapins, and star recruit Diamond Stone did not exactly live up to expectations.  But Stone on an off day can still be a force to be reckoned with, and the presence of veteran guards Melo Trimble and Rasheed Suliamon will stabilize the team and allow them to fend off an upset bid from SCSU.  Mark Turgeon and co. move on.

 

#4 California def. #13 Hawaii

California is an extremely frustrating team- Cuonzo Martin’s skills at recruiting brought in young athletes that are extremely talented, athletes that could eventually be NBA regulars- but because of their youth and inexperience, they have been inconsistent.  Hawaii is a team that seems like it could be a perfect foil to the Golden Bears- they are a cohesive unit that is good enough on defense to limit their opponents’ scoring ability and athletic enough to keep pace with them- but I think that Cal’s talent will just be too much for them to overcome.

 

#6 Arizona def. #11 Wichita State

This was such a difficult game for me to pick- Ron Baker and Fred Van Fleet form one of the best and most experienced guard tandems in the country, and Coach Gregg Marshall is definitely going to have a plan to slow down the Wildcats.  But Sean Miller’s team are dangerous, especially as a team that feels that its talent warrants a higher seed.  This one will be incredibly entertaining, and I think that Miller’s veterans from past teams, along with freshman stud Allonzo Trier, will do enough to push past the Shockers.

 

#3 Miami (Florida) def. #14 Buffalo

The Bulls did well, making it to the tournament for the second straight season despite the departure of Coach Bobby Hurley.  However, they got a bad matchup in Miami- Jim Larranaga’s team is loaded with top-notch talent from top to bottom, as evidenced by their high finish in the extremely competitive ACC, and I just don’t think that anything that Buffalo could throw at the Hurricanes would slow them down enough to pick up an upset.  Miami wins, with ease.

 

#7 Iowa def. #10 Temple

Iowa’s season virtually mirrored the season that its football team had- both teams started the season on fire, contrary to the expectations that many people had for the teams.  Then, as the season drew to a close, both teams fought with dignity, but seemed to slump from their early season high.  Jared Uthoff and his teammates could have been as high as a two seed, but lost a couple of late season games they should have won, including a Big Ten tournament loss to Illinois.  However, now that they’re out of conference play, where their tram didn’t match up well with many of their opponents, Iowa has a chance to find its groove, and they start their quest to make a run through the tournament with a win over a solid, but slightly less talented Temple team.

 

#2 Villanova def. #15 UNC Asheville

I’ll be the first person to admit that I’m not a huge fan of Villanova- they seem to be a far better regular season team than they are a tournament team.  However, I feel like this year’s team has been relatively consistent throughout the season, and that will make all the difference against a UNC Asheville team that will be ready to try and make the Wildcats’ tourney struggles continue.  Jay Wright’s team breezes into the next round.

 

Second Round

#1 Kansas def. #8 Connecticut

In the last round, Connecticut will have been able to get by Colorado due to some March Magic, but the magic will run out pretty quickly for the Huskies- Kansas is better and deeper at every position, and it isn’t really all that close, either.  The Jayhawks dominate and make their way to the Sweet 16.

 

#5 Maryland def. #4 California

An intriguing battle between two exceedingly talented teams that may have fallen a little short of expectations.  There aren’t many upperclassmen in this matchup, but the two that could have the biggest impact on this game both happen to play for Maryland.  As with the last game, Melo Trimble and Rasheed Suliamon lead their team on to the next round.

 

#6 Arizona def. #3 Miami (Florida)

As I said before, I think that Sean Miller’s team can be dangerous because of their lower seeding- it relieves pressure and allows them to try to utilize their explosiveness.  Miami is an extremely good team, and I think that if they met anyone else in their region in this game I would pick them to advance, but I can’t shake the fact that Miami has never really been deep in the tournament before, and that Miller, and the other Wildcat vets, have.  Arizona in a shootout.

 

#2 Villanova def. #7 Iowa

This is a toughie.  It would have been a close game in favor of the Hawkeyes if they were in-form, because ‘Nova’s tough guards would be able to counteract the interior presence of Jared Uthoff and his gang well enough to keep it close.  However, the Big Ten team ended the season in a relative slump, and Villanova played well enough to warrant consideration as a number one seed.  The Wildcats advance.

 

Sweet 16

#5 Maryland def. #1 Kansas

My loyalty to Maryland really shines bright in this game- the Terps have been relatively consistent all year, and the Jayhawks have been good enough to survive adversity in the Big 12 and use their amazing streak of conference domination as a springboard to the number one overall seed.  However, I think that they’ve only really been tested in one game this season- their triple-overtime victory over rival Oklahoma- and in that game, they only had to worry about containing one offensive weapon.  Maryland has two formidable threats in Stone and Trimble, and they are the two reasons I see Mark Turgeon’s team eliminating the top team.

 

#2 Villanova def. #6 Arizona

Both of these schools will be playing with chips on their shoulders- they have both underachieved relative to the talent that each team has.  While Arizona has the big play ability to keep this game within reach, I think that ‘Nova just has a little bit more talent, and a little bit more grittiness, than ‘Zona does; that will allow them to inch ever closer to a Final Four bid.

 

Elite 8

#5 Maryland def. #2 Villanova

This is where I think the Wildcats’ valiant run to prove their detractors wrong finally ends.  Yes, Villanova has been far more consistent than the Terps this season, but I think that Maryland had to play a tougher, more competitive schedule than Villanova did, so I feel like they are more battle-tested for this game.  I also feel that Stone will be looking to prove he is the real deal on a national stage, and that Trimble and Suliamon will look to end their college careers at the summit.  The collective force of those three players will be enough to get Maryland into the Final Four.

 

 

West Region

First Round

#1 Oregon def. #16 Holy Cross

Bill Carmody’s Crusaders are absolutely on fire- they come into this game with four straight road wins in their conference tournament, including one over former Cinderella Lehigh, and a victory over Southern in Dayton.  Despite that, there’s a reason that they entered the tournament with the third-worst record in the history of the 64-team bracket, and a reason that the Ducks are a number one seed; Oregon advances.

 

#8 Saint Joseph’s def. #9 Cincinnati

The Bearcats make it to the tournament of every year through their hard work on the boards and on defense.  They also have an exceptional point guard in Troy Caupain, who could have single-handedly led Cincy to the American conference championship if it weren’t for the amazing luck that UConn always seems to get come March.  But Phil Martelli’s crew, led by potential prospect DeAndre Bembry, have an extremely efficient offense, and the team has been playing well as of late, defeating VCU in their own conference championship game.  Saint Joe’s moves on.

 

#12 Yale def. #5 Baylor

Both teams thrive off of offensive rebounding- especially Baylor, who are led by star forward Rico Gathers.  Despite Gathers’s talent, and the quality of the talent around him, Scott Drew’s men have shown a tendency to be streaky, and I think that against a team like Yale, who will look to conference rival Harvard’s blueprint for winning a first-round game in the Big Dance, that Baylor won’t be streaking in the right direction.  Justin Sears and co. pull off the upset.

 

#4 Duke def. #13 UNC Wilmington

The Blue Devils have a lot of holes, and teams better than the one Coach K has this year have lost to lower seeds earlier in the tournament.  Of course, the team does have the divisive Grayson Allen and Justice Winslow-lookalike Brandon Ingram, and despite the relative lack of talent compared to Duke teams of the past, this squad does have a lot of fight in it.  UNC Wilmington is a good team and will put up a good fight, but Duke will move on.

 

#6 Texas def. #11 Northern Iowa

Texas has exceeded expectations in their first year under head coach Shaka Smart, and has played similar to the way that Smart’s VCU played in their heyday- extremely fast paced, and extremely streaky.  The Longhorns have defeated both North Carolina and Oklahoma this season, but they also lost to TCU and were defeated in the first round of the Big 12 tournament.  Northern Iowa, who have been tournament darlings since their upset of Kansas, have been very good of late, winning 12 of their last 13 games, with two wins coming against Gregg Marshall’s Wichita State.  However, Texas guard Isaiah Taylor has the potential to allow the Longhorns to break this game open, and I believe that Smart will give him enough motivation to do so.  Texas advances.

 

#3 Texas A&M def. #14 Green Bay

It stings a little to watch Green Bay do so well after the departure of Brian Wardle, who used to star at my high school, but I have to admit that the Phoenix are a very high-octane, and high-scoring, offense.  However, Billy Kennedy’s Aggies, an experienced squad that gave Kentucky a run for their money in the SEC tournament final, are a good defensive team that should be able to at least somewhat harness the prolific Phoenix, and are also a good passing team that should be able to control the tempo and play the game at their own pace.  The Aggies move on for an in-state matchup.

 

#10 Virginia Commonwealth def. #7 Oregon State

Both teams have two extraordinary players- VCU’s Melvin Johnson is a fantastic shooter, and Oregon State’s Gary Payton II is one of the best two-way players in the country.  Both teams also live and die by the three, and because of that, have had somewhat tumultuous seasons.  I think that the Rams’ defense will do just enough, though, to prevent the Beavers from draining enough shots to beat them.  VCU moves on.

 

#2 Oklahoma def. #15 California State-Bakersfield

In a year that many top teams have bounced up and down the rankings like bouncy balls, Oklahoma has been one of the most consistent teams in the country, and its star, Wooden Award favorite Buddy Hield, has been truly unbelievable this season.  This Cal State-Bakersfield team has a lot to be proud of, though Hield’s talent alone will be enough to boost the Sooners to the next round.

 

Second Round

#1 Oregon def. #8 Saint Joseph’s

The Ducks and the Hawks both have extremely efficient offenses, and both teams come into the tournament on a relative hot streak.  It could come down to who can get the most out of their frontcourt, or even who happens to have more overall ability.  I think that Oregon, with versatile big man Chris Boucher, wins the front court, and I feel the Ducks have a greater variety of scoring options than St. Joe’s does.  The Ducks roll on.

 

#4 Duke def. #12 Yale

Even though Yale is a gritty team who has a major strength- rebounding- that is one of Duke’s major weaknesses, I don’t think that the Bulldogs will have an answer for the two Blue Devil stars.  Duke wins a fairly easy one.

 

#3 Texas A&M def. #6 Texas

As well as Shaka Smart has done with the Longhorns, the Aggies could be the cream of the crop coming from the SEC, and I feel that for all the pressure that Texas will try and put on its in-state counterparts, A&M has enough talent, and enough leadership, to deftly maneuver the press.  The Aggies advance.

 

#2 Oklahoma def. #10 Virginia Commonwealth

VCU has used its Havoc defense and exceptional shooting to upset some big-name schools in past tournament runs, and they’ll be looking to do the same against the Sooners.  However, Buddy Hield and his teammates have had a couple of very solid games against West Virginia, a team that, while not as aggressive as the Rams, have far more talent than them.  Oklahoma should be able to ease to victory.

 

Sweet 16

#1 Oregon def. #4 Duke

Duke has played in a lot more competitive games than Oregon has this season, and I feel that they are a lot more scrappy for it.  In order to knock off the Ducks, they’ll have to be-whereas the Blue Devils primarily revolve around two players, there are multiple guys that Dana Altman can count on to step up on any given night.  As tough as Coach K’s team is, I don’t think they have enough in them to contain all of Oregon’s weapons; the Ducks live to quack another day.

 

#2 Oklahoma def. #3 Texas A&M

A battle of former Big 12 foes will make for a very interesting game- they seem to be relatively equal to each other in every facet of the game, from passing to rebounding to transition defense.  The difference in this one, I believe, will be what has carried the Sooners to the heights that they have reached this year- Buddy Hield.  The superstar guard will allow his school to sneak by their rivals to the south and into the Elite Eight.

 

Elite 8

#2 Oklahoma def. #1 Oregon

Both teams are exceptional offensive teams that have multiple players who can be the focal point of their respective game plans.  Oregon has a frontcourt that can stretch the Sooners out a little bit, and Lon Kruger’s crew has a more explosive backcourt that can open up a big lead very quickly.  In the end, I think it will come down to toughness, and I think that the Sooners, who come from the ultra-competitive Big 12, will have more fight in them than the Ducks, which will allow them to prevail in a tightly-contested game.

 

 

East Region

First Round

#1 North Carolina def. #16 Florida Gulf Coast

Florida Gulf Coast managed a couple of giant killings in their last tournament appearances, but the teams that they defeated were nowhere near as solid as the team that Roy Williams is running out this season.  North Carolina wins with ease.

 

#9 Providence def. #8 Southern California

This is a game between teams with contrasting styles- Andy Enfield’s USC, a balanced squad that has six players who average double figures, and Providence, whose success has typically been determined by the type of game that Kris Dunn and Ben Bentil turn out each night.  In tournament play, when gameplay slows down and efficient teams typically take the cake, a team like USC would seem like a straightforward pick; that’s probably why they have a higher seed in this game.  However, in what could be his last game as a Friar, I think Dunn steps up, and that Bentil provides a great foil, allowing Providence to squeak by into the next round.

 

#12 Chattanooga def. #5 Indiana

I love Indiana- I think that Tom Crean is a fantastic coach, and that Yogi Ferrell is one of the three best point guards in the country.  However, I think that Chattanooga, one of the few mid-major teams that won their conference tournament as a number one seed, have enough cohesiveness to limit Ferrell’s effectiveness and prevent his up-and-down teammates from getting going.  The senior won’t go down without a fight, but I think Chattanooga advances.

 

#4 Kentucky def. #13 Stony Brook

Kentucky started the season slow and had a tough time coming together as a unit, but the team found their rhythm as the season went on, culminating in their recent victory in the SEC tournament.  Tyler Ulis and Jamal Murray form one of the most dynamic backcourts in the game, and even though this Kentucky team isn’t as loaded as its been in past years, they are still good enough to make a decent run in the tournament.  The Wildcats will move on.

 

#6 Notre Dame def. #11 Michigan

I must admit that I’m a little bit biased towards the Fighting Irish- I’ve been a fan of theirs for as long as I can remember.  However, Mike Brey’s squad has proven that they are capable of a deep run in the tournament- they came thisclose to knocking off a loaded Kentucky squad last season, and have an extremely efficient offense.  North Carolina showed the way to dominate the Irish- defend the perimeter and work from the inside-out on offense- and while Michigan has extremely talented perimeter players, I don’t think that the underrated duo of Zach Auguste and Bonzie Colson are strong enough inside to eke out a victory over the Wolverines.

 

#3 West Virginia def. #14 Stephen F. Austin

West Virginia, along with Texas, is a big team that plays with the mentality of a little team.  They play outstanding defense and count on the depth of their team to keep the tempo up all game and wear out opponents.  That means bad news for the Lumberjacks, who might have been hoping for a team that was a little bit more susceptible to a giant-killing.  The Mountaineers will advance easily.

 

#7 Wisconsin def. #10 Pittsburgh

Early on in the year, it looked like both of these teams would struggle all season- Wisconsin under the burden of defending their Big Ten championship, and Pitt with the reality of playing in a conference with as much talent as the SEC.  However, both teams have managed to find their footing, and come into the tournament capable of winning a couple of games.  This match-up will be a tight one, but the sidekick to last year’s Frank Kaminsky show, Nigel Hayes, will carry his Badgers on to the next round.

 

#2 Xavier def. #15 Weber State

Weber State has a couple qualities that could allow them to topple the Musketeers- a star to rally around, Joel Bolomboy, and a lot of grit.  However, Xavier is capable of being tough when it needs to be and explosive when it senses weakness in its opponent.  This game might be closer than some expect, but eventually, I think Xavier will pull this one out.

 

Second Round

#1 North Carolina def. #9 Providence

There’s always a possibility that Kris Dunn puts up 40 points, Ben Bentil turns in a double-double, and the rest of Ed Cooley’s Friars pick up enough of the slack to squeak out a win against the Tar Heels.  That’s the only way that I can really see Providence moving on from this game, and despite my fondness for Dunn, I just can’t see it happening; North Carolina advances.

 

#4 Kentucky def. #12 Chattanooga

Yogi Ferrell is good, but he alone can’t hold a candle to Tyler Ulis and Jamal Murray; Chattanooga won’t be able to contain both of the Wildcats’ elite guards, and Kentucky should breeze through to the Sweet 16.

 

#6 Notre Dame def. #3 West Virginia

West Virginia has an absolutely ferocious defense; Notre Dame has one of the country’s most efficient offenses.  West Virginia’s offense is either really good or really bad; Notre Dame’s defense is lackluster at best, but has been good enough to limit some good offensive teams.  So…  something has to give, right?  I think that the Mountaineer defense will try its very hardest to crack veteran guard Demetrius Jackson; if he plays well, the Irish win, and if he plays poor, Bob Huggins and company will win.  I think Jackson rises to the occasion.

 

#2 Xavier def. #7 Wisconsin

Both of these teams were among the top performers as the season came to a close, and are relatively similar in the fact that they don’t really stand out in the front or backcourt.  However, I feel that Xavier has been consistent for longer than the Badgers due to their superior talent, and that talent will propel the Musketeers to the Sweet 16.

 

Sweet 16

#1 North Carolina def. #4 Kentucky

This might be the dream Sweet 16 match-up, a game between two of the biggest powerhouses in men’s basketball history.  Ulis and Murray are superior to what the Tar Heels will run out at guard, but Brice Johnson and North Carolina’s frontcourt is arguably the tops in the country, as well.  I feel that the experience that UNC has in relation to the Wildcats will see Roy Williams’ squad move on to the Elite Eight.

 

#6 Notre Dame def. #2 Xavier

This will be a game between two teams with extremely efficient offenses and extremely inconsistent defenses.  I think that Xavier is slightly better in the paint, but Notre Dame is superior on the perimeter, and has had more experience making forays this deep into the tournament than Xavier’s core has.  This will be an exciting one that I think the Irish will pull out.

 

Elite 8

#1 North Carolina def. #6 Notre Dame

              These two teams have already squared off twice this season.  In their first matchup, back on February 6, the Fighting Irish upset the then-second ranked Tar Heels in South Bend, winning by 4.  In their most recent match-up, in the semifinal of the ACC tournament (on a neutral court, I might add), North Carolina shellacked the Irish, winning by 31, neutralizing the interior presence of Zach Auguste and playing tight perimeter defense to limit the Irish’s shooting effectiveness.  While I expect this game to be a little bit closer than the blowout UNC laid on Notre Dame a week ago, I still expect the Roy Williams’s team to win easily.

 

 

Midwest Region

First Round

#1 Virginia def. #16 Hampton

Hampton might be the best 16 seed in the tournament, but Virginia is a giant killer’s nightmare due to their ability to control possession.  Tony Bennett’s crew wins with ease.

 

#8 Texas Tech def. #9 Butler

Butler hasn’t been as impressive as it was when Gordon Heyward, Shelvin Mack, and Brad Stevens were hanging around campus, but they are still a very formidable team- led by Kelan Martin, the Bulldogs can put the ball in the hoop when they’re on their game; however, they seem to be nothing special on defense.  Texas Tech, which held its own in the always treacherous Big 12 thanks to Coach Tubby Smith’s patented defensive approach, has the ability to cause Butler to lose its rhythm, but aren’t overly talented with the ball.  As is the case in most postseason tournaments, the team with better defense will win out; the Red Raiders will go on.

 

#5 Purdue def. #12 Arkansas- Little Rock

Purdue wasn’t overly flashy this season- and they probably never will be under coach Matt Painter- but the Boilermakers impressed many as the season drew on, and they came into greater national prominence after their run to the final of the Big 10 tournament.  Boilermaker senior AJ Hammons leads a very large, and very strong, frontcourt; while Little Rock is a very good defensive team, and seems to have the toughness required to pull off a giant-killing, Purdue’s size will just be too much to overcome.  The Big Ten team advances.

 

#4 Iowa State def. #13 Iona

Both of these teams are fast paced, transition oriented squads with legit stars- Iona’s AJ English is an absolute baller; his ability to score would cause even the best defenses headaches, and his ability to pass keeps the amount of double teams he sees to a minimum, or else his teammates would be constantly left open for easy buckets.  ISU’s Georges Niang is coming to the conclusion of a career that will see him remembered as one of the best two-way players in the history of Cyclones basketball.  While English may be a slightly better players, Niang’s supporting cast is far superior to English’s, and will allow the Cyclones to grind out a tough win.

 

#6 Seton Hall def. #11 Gonzaga

Seton Hall really came on at the end of the season, winning the Big East tournament and showcasing the shifty star that is Isaiah Whitehead.  Even though Gonzaga has two unbelievable players in Kyle Wiltjer and Domantas Sabonis and come into the tourney on a little run, the ‘Zags haven’t really been consistent all year, struggling in a West Coast Conference that only had one other true contender.  I feel like they fail to find a rhythm, and the Pirates capitalize on that to pull out a victory.

 

#3 Utah def. #14 Fresno State

The Bulldogs have shown that they can handle some relentless defensive match-ups, and they also have Marvelle Harris, a proven scorer they can turn to if all else fails.  But Fresno hasn’t play a team that was as effective from top to bottom as the Utes have been this season (they played Oregon before the Ducks caught fire), and they haven’t seen a player as talented as Utah bruiser Jakob Poetl.  Utah prevails in a tight one.

 

#7 Dayton def. #10 Syracuse

Both of these teams have underwhelmed this season- Archie Miller’s Flyers struggled as the season drew to a close, and the Orange have hit some weird rough patches throughout the entire season.  While Dayton’s offense isn’t all that great, Syracuse comes close to being a team that lives and dies by the 3, and I think the Flyers are good enough to prevent the ‘Cuse shooters from getting going.  Dayton wins.

 

#2 Michigan State def. #15 Middle Tennessee State

MTSU played VCU tough earlier this season…  And that’s the only thing they really have going in their favor.  They performed very well within their conference tournament and certainly deserve to be here, but Denzel Valentine and the rest of his Spartans are just too big and too fast to handle.  Michigan State wins in a rout.

 

Second Round

#1 Virginia def. #8 Texas Tech

Both teams are capable of playing some real lockdown defense, so I think that this one will be a low scoring affair.  The difference will be Malcolm Brogdon- he is creative enough to find enough cracks in the Red Raider defense to give his team some breathing room here.  The Wahoos advance.

 

#5 Purdue def. #4 Iowa State

The Cyclones are true to their nickname- they play at a fairly fast pace- but that doesn’t translate very well to tournament play, when the game typically slows down.  It also doesn’t translate very well to a game against Purdue, who can easily dictate any game’s tempo with their impressive array of bigs.  Purdue will dominate the paint and walk away with an easy victory.

 

#6 Seton Hall def. #3 Utah

I think that talent wise, these teams are about even, but Utah came into the tournament off a beat down from Pac 12 rivals Oregon while the Hall come in to the tourney after knocking off a good Villanova team in the Big East championship.  The Pirates pull the upset.

 

#2 Michigan State def. #7 Dayton

This one might not be all that close- Michigan State’s patented tough defense is tough to crack, even for good teams, much less a mediocre offense like the one Dayton has, and as good as the Flyers are on the other side of the ball, the Spartans are good enough at passing and shooting to give Archie Miller’s team fits.  Sparty is Sweet.

 

Sweet 16

#1 Virginia def. #5 Purdue

The Boilermakers will be an interesting test for the Wahoos, because Purdue is superior in the paint and has the ability to frustrate any team’s attempt to control possession.  However, I think that Virginia is seasoned enough, and gritty enough, to impose their will on the game and grind out a win over Matt Painter’s team.

 

#2 Michigan State def. #6 Seton Hall

Both of these teams are fairly balanced from top to bottom and come in to the Dance on hot streaks.  The thing that the Spartans have that Seton Hall doesn’t, though, is veteran know-how- Denzel Valentine and co. have been here before, and their experience will be the deciding factor that allows them to topple the Pirates.

 

Elite 8

#2 Michigan State def. #1 Virginia

This is a game that coaches can watch for a clinic on solid defense and possession-oriented basketball.  This was also a match-up that we saw last year, one that the Spartans were able to win because of their superior offensive ability.  I don’t see the result of last year’s game changing- Sparty moves on to the Final Four.

 

 

Final Four

#2 Oklahoma def. #5 Maryland

              Watching Buddy Hield and Melo Trimble go at it will be a dream to watch for any aspiring guard- seeing two guys square off, at the top of their game, on a national platform.  I feel that the Sooners are more consistent and cohesive as a unit than the Terps are, and that will allow them to frustrate Stone and put too much of the burden on the Maryland backcourt.  Oklahoma moves on to the title game.

 

#1 North Carolina def. #2 Michigan State

              This game is sure to be the match-up of the tournament- two balanced teams, starring two fundamentally sound players and coached by two of the game’s legends.  I think that Roy Williams’s squad is better on offense and that Tom Izzo’s crew are stronger on defense; however, I feel like the ACC tournament showed that Carolina can bamboozle teams that play a variety of different defensive systems, and that their defense has largely improved since the season began.  The Tar Heels move on in a thriller.

 

 

National Championship

#1 North Carolina def. #2 Oklahoma

              With all due respect to Maryland and Oklahoma- they are both very talented teams with phenomenal athletes led by exceptional coaches- as soon as I saw the bracket, I knew that North Carolina would meet Michigan State in the Final Four, and that that match-up would be the de facto championship game.  As good as Buddy Hield is, and as underrated as Isaiah Cousins and Jordan Woodard, the Tar Heels have an efficient offense, know how to buckle down defensively when they need to, and have the veteran know-how to get them out of tight spots.  North Carolina wins to give North Carolina another championship under Roy Williams.

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