Outlook: A rough and tumble region for sure. All of the top 5 seeds are serious contenders to come out of the East. Boasting a slew of basketball blue bloods, UNC, Kentucky, and Indiana joined by Big East Beast Xavier and the chaotic “Press Virginia” Mountaineers the East has the makings of a stacked regional.
Intriguing Potential Matchup: (4) Kentucky vs (5) Indiana
A potential clash between historical titans Kentucky and Indiana looms in round two. Beyond the nostalgia factor, pitting the Big Ten and SEC Conference Champions against each other with the Sweet 16 on the line would be a juicy contest.
Upset Special: (11)Michigan over (6)Notre Dame
Final 4 pick: UNC Even with a tough slate ahead I’m taking 1 seed UNC to win the East Region. They’ve got shooting, size, and experience. Sophomore Guard Joel Berry has been a revelation this season. He’s paired in the back court with veteran point guard Marcus Paige. Senior Brice Johnson cleans the glass and is a double-double machine. He’s notched 20 this season. Kennedy Meeks, Justin Jackson, and Isiah Hicks round out a deep front court. Key stat, UNC’s 82 points per game is their highest scoring average since the 2008-2009 Tar Heels won the National Championship.
Outlook: The Big Bad Wolf of the tourney resides in the South Region. Kansas blasted their way to a 12th consecutive Big 12 Title and the number 1 overall seed in the tournament. The region also claims Villanova and Miami as viable threats up top. In addition, the South claims talented enigma Maryland plus a couple of teams, UConn and Wichita State, who are no strangers to making deep runs as lower seeds.
Intriguing Potential Matchup: (1)Kansas vs (11) Wichita State
It a long shot that the potential meeting will come to fruition, but I couldn’t help myself. A winner take all in state Kansas grudge match pitting David vs Goliath both figuratively and literally. Wichita State, a small school from a mid-major conference squeaked into the tournament field through a play-in game. Imagine them grappling with historic power house, Big 12 overlord, and number 1 overall seed Kansas for a Final Four berth. Did I mention Wichita State knocked Kansas out of last year’s NCAA Tournament? I’m all for this matchup. Hopefully the Shockers remember where they kept that sling shot.
Upset Special: (11)Wichita State over (6) Arizona and (3) Miami on their way to the Sweet 16
Final 4 Pick: Kansas We really should have known better. Three January setbacks had people wondering if this was the year Kansas finally fell off. After a mid-season scuffle the Jayhawks righted the ship, capturing another Big 12 crown and ripping off 14 straight wins to end the season. Guards Devonte’ Graham, Frank Mason, and Wayne Selden set the pace and provide some attitude. Senior big man Perry Ellis leads the way down low. The Jayhawks submitted their 7th 30 win season in the 13 years of Coach Bill Self’s tenure, just ridiculous.
Outlook: The West bracket has what could be viewed as the least imposing number one seed in the tournament, Oregon. That perception is due to a general lack of faith in the competition level of the Pac 12. The Ducks mettle will be tested by a slew of Big 12 clubs, Oklahoma, Baylor, and Texas, along with Duke and Texas A&M.
Intriguing Potential Matchup: (2)Oklahoma vs (3)Texas A&M
Texas A&M has owned the Big 12 this season. They’ve already knocked off Iowa State, Baylor, and Texas, all highly seeded tournament teams. Oklahoma would be a much tougher task for the Aggies to assert their Big 12 dominance on.
Upset Special: (11)Northern Iowa vs (6)Texas
Final 4 Pick: Oklahoma
There’s a lot to like about the Sooners. All objective facts and stats aside, Buddy Hield is a stud. You could say having a transcendent talent averaging 25 points a game boosts your squad’s tournament chances a bit. Beyond Hield, Isiah Cousins is another excellent guard capable of creating an offensive spark. Khadeem Latin is a defensive anchor and solid paint protector averaging over 2 blocks per game. This crew is battle tested from playing in the rugged Big 12 conference. Oklahoma is also deadly from deep, knocking down 42.6 percent of their 3 point attempts, good for third best in the country.
Outlook: The Midwest has a sneaky good blend. Vaunted Virginia and Michigan State have star power and can clamp down defensively. Take some west coast flavor with Utah and Gonzaga. Add the run and gun Iowa State Cyclones and the conflicting slow it down methodical Purdue Boilermakers. Sprinkle in the surprising Seton Hall Pirates who just dispatched number 2 seeds Xavier AND Villanova on their way to the Big East Tournament Title. Mix it all up you’ve got quite a zesty Midwest region.
Intriguing Potential Matchup: (1)Virginia vs (2)Michigan State
Please let this happen. We need Virginia vs Michigan State Part III in the elite 8. The Spartans have bounced Virginia from the NCAA Tournament the past two years. Another heavy weight slugfest between these two solid, fundamentally sound teams would be must see. For added fun, there is an outside chance of Tony Bennett actually strangling Tom Izzo post game if Sparty sends Virginia packing for the third year in a row. We can’t rule it out!
Upset Special: (11)Gonzaga over (6)Seton Hall and (3)Utah to the Sweet 16.
Final 4 Pick: Michigan State Michigan State never disappoint in March Madness. I’m a big fan of Denzel Valentine’s game and leadership ability. I think this squad has all the makings of previous iterations that had elongated stays in the big dance. Their five losses this year are the least for a Michigan State team since the 2000-2001 Season. I’m also following some sage advice, “Keep It Simple Stupid”. NEVER BET AGAINST TOM IZZO IN THE NCAA TOURNAMENT!