The NCAA tournament is finally upon us, and here is everything that you need to know while filling out your brackets:
Five Players to Watch:
(tournament seeds in parenthesis)
(3) Brigham Young University: G Jimmer Fredette
Jimmer has been a spark-plug for this BYU squad, and even with the loss of Brandon Davies, BYU is expected to make a deep run in the tournament. If this is to happen, Fredette has to continue his scoring binge (28.5 ppg this season, 35.4 over the last five games).
(1) Duke University: G Nolan Smith
Smith has been the heart and soul for this Duke team, leading the team in both points and assists per game (21.3 ppg, 5.2 apg). His defense has improved over the years, but he is still smaller than a lot of guards. His shooting percentage has improved every year that he has started in college, topping out at 46.1% this year.
(1) Ohio State University: F Jared Sullinger
In his first year in college, Sullinger has dominated the NCAA field with his brute strength and athleticism. Though his defensive game needs a bit of work, he can mask that by pushing his opponent around the paint. Sullinger averaged 17.2 points and 10.1 rebounds per game this year, but look for those numbers to jump in the tournament.
(3) University of Connecticut: G Kemba Walker
Walker has been quite the offensive stalwart this year, averaging 23.5 ppg this year while hitting several game-winning shots and clutch three-pointers along the way. Walker has gotten stronger as the season has gone on, so don’t look for him to quiet down in the tournament.
(1) Kansas University: F Markieff Morris and F Marcus Morris
The Morris brothers have been in complete control of the paint this season, averaging a combined 30.9 ppg and 15.4 rpg this season. Together they also average 1.8 blocks per game, even though many teams refuse to send their players into the paint against Kansas. Guards win games in the tournament, but I have not forgotten how the Lopez brothers guided Stanford into the sweet sixteen in 2008 by simply dominating the paint against smaller teams.
Four Upsets to watch for:
(5) Vanderbilt vs. (12) Richmond
Every year there are several big upsets in the first round, and this match-up is a juicy one. Richmond has been strong in the last few tournaments, and has shown the ability to out shoot the opponent on any given night. Vanderbilt is limping into the tournament, with three losses of their last five games. Look for another 12 seed upset in round one.
(1) Pittsburgh vs (9) Old Dominion
I am simply riding the hot hand with this pick. Old Dominion has won nine games in a row, while Pittsburgh has lost three of their last six. While Old Dominion has not beaten very many quality opponents this year, I just have a feeling.
(2) Florida vs (10) Michigan State
Michigan State has been underachieving all year, but they have the players to make a short run in the tournament this year. Florida, meanwhile, is quite possibly the worst two seed in years. This adds up to an upset special.
(2) South Dakota State University vs. (10) Penn State University
SDSU has had a strong season, but they are still seeded far too high given their strength of schedule. Penn State, though many believe Penn State should not even be in the tournament, has beaten several ranked teams recently and is coming out of a much harder conference in the Big-Ten.
My Final Four:
(1) Ohio State University:
OSU is the top seeded team in the tournament, and I can’t see them disappointing despite their tough region. OSU has the youth necessary to compete in the tournament, as well as veteran leadership, and a top head coach in Thad Matta.
(4) University of Texas:
UT was once ranked number one in the country, but has since fallen from that perch. UT still has the players necessary to make a run in the tournament, and I believe that they can come out of the weak West region.
(1) Kansas University:
As mentioned earlier, they have the size necessary to control any smaller team. They also have quick guards that can slash into the lanes at any point in the game, so this inside-outside combo makes me confident that they can run through their region with fairly little opposition.
This is a dark-horse pick. If Davies were still playing, this would be a common pick, but with Davies out BYU has fallen off the grid. I still believe that Fredette can lead this team to any platform, even without a serious inside presence.
Ohio State University over Kansas University 69-63.