Sadly, I’ll officially graduate from BU without the Terriers making a single NCAA tournament appearance over the four years I spent on Commonwealth Avenue. I desperately held on hope for awhile, but unfortunately I’ll just have to pick from the Weber States and Northern Iowas of the world for this year’s Cinderella team. Here are my Final Four picks and a couple other tidbits sprinkled in.
Spearheaded by the #1 seeded Kansas Jayhawks, the South region also includes #2 Villanova, #4 California, and #9 Uconn. The Huskies had one of the most impressive wins during Championship Week when Jalen Adams hit a 60-foot shot at the end of the third overtime to tie their game against Cincinnati. Connecticut followed up the miracle shot with a dominant performance in the fourth overtime to defeat the Bearcats and eventually move on to win the American Athletic Conference tournament.
Spending the weekend in New York City, a couple friends and I were at a bar across from Port Authority watching the college basketball games on Friday afternoon. At the time I had my back to the TV showing the Uconn game, but as I watched everyone’s reaction after Adams hit that shot I instantly knew March Madness had begun.
I like Jaylen Brown, Ivan Rabb, and the youth in the California team moving through this region and even knocking off Bill Self and the Kansas Jayhawks. However, Villanova and their tough defense are coming out of this region when they defeat Cal in the Elite Eight. I’m also taking #12 South Dakota State over #5 Maryland in the first round.
Every year there is that one player who becomes a household name and single-handedly propels his team to the Final Four and beyond (think Kemba Walker). Buddy Hield is a prime candidate for that position this year. Averaging 25.0 PPG, Hield has the ability to take over a game and get his team a bucket under pressure. He proved a lot in the Sooners’ January loss to the Jayhawks and I’m taking Oklahoma to come out of this region after they knock off #4 Duke in the Elite Eight.
The fifth-seeded Baylor Bears are an interesting pick and I could see them moving past Duke in the second round. The size of Baylor and their stacked front court can be tough for teams that rely heavily on guard play such as the Blue Devils.
In terms of Cinderella teams, I have #14 Green Bay winning two games in the tournament before losing to the Sooners and #11 Northern Iowa upsetting #6 Texas in the first round.
The UNC Tarheels are the best team in this tournament despite their roller coaster of a season. They defeated UVA, another #1 seed in the tournament, in the ACC Championship as forward Brice Johnson dominated the Cavaliers’ guard-heavy lineup. The Tarheels have difficulty shooting from beyond the arc, but Marcus Paige might become the superstar that everyone expected him to be and start nailing three-pointers as the tournament gets underway. Hey, anything can happen in March.
I have the Tarheels coming out of this region. More importantly, #2 Xavier is not making it past the first round. Like I said earlier, BU will not be featured in this year’s tournament (no surprises) so I’m going to vicariously live through the Weber State fans out there and root for Damian Lillard’s alma mater.
Tom Izzo and the month of March are a match made in heaven. Like David Ortiz and October or Andy Dalton and every month except for January. Every year, Izzo has the Michigan State Spartans ready to rock when it comes time for the NCAA tournament despite whatever road blocks they encountered during the regular season. This year’s team is extra special as the Spartans are led by senior Denzel Valentine. Valentine has averaged 19/7/7 so far this season and has been one of the most impressive players in college basketball.
A little fact to impress your friends at the bar this weekend: Behind only the Jayhawks, #12 Arkansas-Little Rock has the second best overall record entering the tournament. I tend to take a liking to teams that are on hot streaks in March. I have the Little Rock Trojans taking down Purdue in the first round of the tournament and then even beating the Iowa State Cyclones in the second round.
The top-seed in the region was awarded to Virginia, but they might run into some problems down the road as the Cavaliers have lost to Michigan State in the past two tournaments. You could make a case for Virginia’s Malcolm Brogdon as one of the best players in the tournament, but if Virginia can’t beat UNC in Tournament Week, I don’t think they are getting past the Spartans.
Pick: Tommy Izzo and Michigan State