It’s that time of year again, the NCAA Tournament has arrived. Fans filing into arenas ready to cheer on their team, others are sitting at home tinkering their brackets to the last possible second; Favorites, Upsets, Cinderella teams, and future NBA superstars, all these things to consider while making the perfect bracket. Here are the most important things you need to look out for in this year’s NCAA tournament:
Every year there are the teams that always seem to be there in the end or at least in the conversation of being National Champions. This year, we have our number one seeds as Kansas, Oregon, Virginia, and North Carolina (UNC). Having all four one seeds reach the Final Four has only happened once, in 2008, and this year it looks like the streak will continue as each one seed has multiple games that could bounce them from the tournament.
Kansas, considered the top team in the Nation, arguably has the toughest road to the finals for a one seed. First round is basically a guaranteed win as a 16 seed has never beaten a one seed in tournament history. After the first round, Kansas has projections to play American Athletic Conference champion UCONN Huskies, Big 10 powerhouse Maryland Terps, and Villanova. All these games could be seen as potential traps for the top seeded Jayhawks.
Oregon is on fire coming into the NCAA tourney winning 8 straight games, capped off with a 31 point victory over Utah in the Pac-12 championship game. The Ducks, however, have a tough second round matchup against the Cincinnati Bearcats or St. Joe’s, both teams I could see upsetting the number one seeded Ducks. The Ducks don’t have any glaring issues on either side of the ball, but their defense is not spectacular and their rebounding is subpar. If they can get by the second round, it only gets harder from there, having possible matchups against Duke and Texas A&M. I don’t expect to see the Ducks making a deep run.
Virginia is a team that has always been a mystery in the NCAA tourney. They have gone into the tournament the last two years as a high seed, only to be bounced by the Michigan State Spartans (MSU). Unfortunately for Virginia, their foes have returned in their side of the bracket again. The Spartans finished the year ranked second in the country in the AP poll, but did not get selected for a number one seed. If Virginia makes it to the Elite Eight and is facing Michigan State, expect the “upset”.
The last, but certainly not least, number one seed are the UNC Tarheels. UNC looks to make it to the Final Four for the first time since 2009 when they won the tournament. This yea, UNC led the NCAA in 2 point field goal percentage at 52.7%, but were a less than spectacular 28.3% from behind the arc. The only bright spot for UNC is they probably have the easiest road to the Final Four having probable matchups against Kentucky, West Virginia, or Xavier. Kentucky is a shell of itself from last year and has found little to no success away from home. West Virginia’s defense is easily one of the best in the country, but their offense is very lacking and if they go cold, they could be in a lot of trouble. Xavier has been near the top in all statistical categories all year, but when it comes to playing defense, they struggle allowing over 70 points per game.
March Madness has always been a time for Cinderella stories, everyone loves a good underdog. This year, like many others, there are quite a few. Each side of the bracket has potential for huge upsets, maybe even our first 16 seed over a 1?
Let’s start with the West. Since the 64 team tournament has started, at least one 12 seed has upset a five seed in all but 5 tournaments. This year it could come from the West. The 12th seeded Yale Bulldogs taking on Baylor, a team which is reeling and has lost 3 of its last 4. Yale playing at the Dunkin Donuts Center in Providence, RI in their first round matchup could almost be a home atmosphere. Yale led by senior forward Justin Sears and sophomore guard Makai Mason have won 17 of their last 18 and are one of the top rebounding teams in the nation.
In the South, there are multiple first round upsets that could shake everyone’s bracket, unless you are doing your homework. Number 13 seed Hawaii, winners of the Big West, come to the tournament for the first time since 2002, led by senior guard Roderick Bobbitt. Bobbitt has been known to show up during big games with his best performance coming in Hawaii’s 3 point loss to Oklahoma where Bobbitt put up 32 points. Hawaii’s first round matchup against Cal could be a huge upset victory for the boys from the Pacific. The West also features another potential upset number 6 Arizona Wildcats and the number 11 Wichita State Shockers. The Shockers are led by senior guards Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker, both of which have tourney experience since their freshman year. This experience poises the Shockers for a run to the sweet sixteen.
In the Midwest, there are no blatant upsets. One might say number 11 Gonzaga versus number 6 Seton Hall, winners of the Big East. But when you look deeper at the numbers, it’s not really a huge upset as Gonzaga is ranked higher in the BPI polls. The other potential upset on this side of the bracket is the 13th seeded Iona and the 4th seeded Iowa State Cyclones. Iona’s defense will be the key to this upset if they are able to shut down the potent Cyclones offense and get solid scoring from one of the nation’s top scorers, A.J. English; then we could see another major upset.
Finally, in the East, the upset everyone has been waiting for since the 64 team tournament’s inception in 1985. A 16th seed over a one seed. Could this be the year? Well, Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU) hopes so. “Dunk City” is returning to March Madness looking to make a splash as a 16 seed. They are playing the UNC Tarheels, one of the most complete teams in this tournament. Led by Marc-Eddy Norelia, the high flying FGCU offense will rely on their inside game to take down the top seeded Tarheels, but will have to beat their season averages in free throws and three pointers made if they want to make history. Disclaimer: It’s highly unlikely that this upset will happen, but we all can dream, right?
This year’s tournament should be as exciting as ever with games starting on St. Patrick’s Day. So grab an adult beverage, sit back on your couch, and enjoy watching the Madness unfold.