It’s that time of year again. Welcome to the best, most exciting playoff tournament that exist. From the upsets to the inspirational tributes, there are no shortage of stories. We all wait to cheer on the new Cinderella. Millions of brackets are filled out in hopes of finding that perfect one. This is why we love March Madness. Here’s my preview by region.
Favorite– Gonzaga Bulldogs
The Bulldogs have all the pieces to make it back to the final game. The frontcourt is solid with Rui Hachimura, Killian Tillie and Jonathan Williams. The unheralded backcourt trio of Silas Melson, Zach Norvell and Josh Perkins can make things difficult on both ends for opponents.
Dark horse– Houston Cougars
If we’ve learned anything about unexpected teams making a deep run in March, the guards are the catalyst. The Cougars have a collection of talented guards who can absolutely carry them with Rob Gray, Corey Davis Jr. and Armoni Brooks. Also, you can throw in 6’6” forward Devin Davis with that group, who can face up against bigger defenders and post up smaller ones.
Best possible second round game– Michigan Wolverines vs. Houston Cougars
A tale of tempo. Houston wants a track meet and Michigan wants a walk-a-thon. Interesting to see who imposes their will in this matchup.
Player to watch- Michael Porter Jr, Forward; Missouri Tigers
People have been waiting all season to see him play. After a brief underwhelming showing in the SEC tournament, he’ll have a chance to showcase his vast potential. With more practiced under his belt and better conditioning, we should get a true barometer of his impact or at least we hope.
Upset special– South Dakota State Jackrabbits over Ohio State Buckeyes
South Dakota State can score the ball, averaging 84.9 points per game (top ten in Division I). They have played five power conference schools this season, so the stage won’t be too big for them. The Jackrabbits also have one of the better players in the region in guard Mike Baum, who can flat out score (23.8 points per game). He’s capable of a Wally Szczerbiak (Miami-OH) type tournament performance.
Favorite– Arizona Wildcats
Let’s start with center Deandre Ayton, he’s the hardest player to defend in the tournament. Then they have another player capable of taking over games, guard Alonzo Trier. Together they form the best inside-outside duo in the tournament. And to add the athletes coach Sean Miller can surround them with, you have a very dangerous team.
Dark horse– Kentucky Wildcats
Seems like Kentucky has found a groove lately. Winning the SEC title as evidence. They are the only team that can match up against any style of play. The Wildcats also have the players on the perimeter to get it done. The trio that can lead them far is guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, forward Kevin Knox and Jarred Vanderbilt with a supporting cast with vast potential.
Best possible second round game- Kentucky Wildcats vs Arizona Wildcats
Kentucky is the only team that can match up with Arizona big Deandre Ayton. They’re also are just as athletic. The Wildcat team that hits its outside shot will win.
Player To watch– Gary Clark, Forward; Cincinnati Bearcats
The 6’7” forward has been brilliant lately, averaging a double-double throughout the AAC tournament. He plays both ends with equal effort and intensity and his versatility makes him a matchup problem for defenses.
Upset special– Loyola-Chicago Ramblers over Miami (FL) Hurricanes
College basketball is a game of momentum and no team may have more than the 28-5 Loyola-Chicago crew. The Ramblers come into March Madness on a 10-game winning streak. They share the ball with five players scoring in double digits, so Miami (FL) can’t key on one player. The Ramblers play defense, giving up just 62 points per game. In a close game, the Hurricanes shoot just 66% from the free throw line as a team.
Favorite– Michigan State Spartans
This is head coach Tom Izzo’s time of year. With all the controversy (sexual misconduct and alleged cover up) surrounding the entire school, getting away from campus should do wonders for this team. They have two bonafide studs in Miles Bridges and Jaren Jackson. Michigan State also has some bruisers up front to protect the paint. The Spartans have a floor general in point guard Cassius Winston who runs the show.
Dark horse– Rhode Island Rams
Rhode Island is motivated after losing in the Atlantic 10 Final to Davidson. The Rams felt they let one get away and now they have a chance to erase that memory with a deep run in the Big Dance. They will lean heavily on guards E.C. Matthews, Jared Terrell and Jeff Dowtin. Not a bad thing at all.
Best possible second round matchup– Kansas Jayhawks vs Seton Hall Pirates
This is not your typical Kansas team with quality depth, which makes them vulnerable to foul trouble. Seton Hall can come at you at all three levels (perimeter, mid-range and post). We’ve seen both teams look really good and really bad. Which team shows up will determine the outcome.
Player to watch– Trae Young, Point Guard; Oklahoma Sooners
He had a blistering start to the season, bursting into the national spotlight but that light fizzled as the season progressed. Young did become the first player to lead Division I in scoring and assists in the same season. Many people questioned their inclusion in this tournament. Not only is there pressure to play well but also to justify the committee choosing them.
Upset special– New Mexico State Aggies over Clemson Tigers
The 28-5 Aggies, a confident bunch, come into the tournament enjoying a six-game winning streak looking for some respect. What better way than taking down an ACC opponent. New Mexico State guard Zach Lofton (19.8 points per game) is a flat out scorer and is not afraid of the big moment. Aggie forward Jemerrio Jones averages a double double (11.1 points and 13.1 rebounds) to compliment Lofton perimeter prowess. If they get the pace sped up, they have a great chance to win.
Favorite– Villanova Wildcats
Villanova has all the ingredients to be the last team standing. Leadership with point guard Jalen Brunson, shooter in guard Donte DiVincenzo, lockdown defender in forward Mikal Bridges and toughness in the paint with Eric Pascall and Omari Spellman all will be hard to beat when mixed all together. The Wildcats also have multiple clutch performers to win games.
Dark horse– West Virginia Mountaineers
West Virginia plays a style of defense that can disrupt any offense when on. It’s especially tough when you’ve never seen it live before. You just can’t duplicate their press. The Mountaineer offense is just as capable when they are knocking down three pointers. Point guard Jevon Carter is the engine that drives this team. He has plenty of help with forward Esa Ahmed, guard Daxter Miles and big Sagaba Konate.
Best possible second round game– West Virginia Mountaineers vs Wichita State Shockers
This game will come down to how the Shockers handle the Mountaineers press. Poise and execution are synonymous with Wichita State. West Virginia will certainly put that to the test.
Player to watch– Colin Sexton, Guard, Alabama Crimson Tide
The Alabama guard has been sizzling lately. He’s led the Crimson Tide down the stretch to some key wins, including the SEC tournament. All of his skills have been on full display in which we knew he could score but his playmaking ability and defense has been eye opening. With teammates feeding off his energy and following his lead, Sexton can steer them a long way.
Upset special– St. Bonaventure Bonnies over Florida Gators
The Bonnies have one of the best backcourts in the country you’ve never heard of in Jaylen Adams and Matt Mobley. The other double digit scorer is forward Courtney Stockard, a heady player who plays to his strengths. The x-factor for this team is 6’6” forward LaDarien Griffin, a very athletic and talented player with untapped potential. When he’s playing well, it completely changes the dynamic of this team. They can spread Florida out and attack the rim or kick out for three pointers.