Tag Archives: March Madness

March Madness – From Pistol Pete to a Magic Carpet Ride

I didn’t begin to grow my hair, longer than the crew cut I sported at the time, because of the influence of rock groups I listened to, like Steppenwolf and Cream, who were popular at the time. It was due to a basketball player who was my idol, “Pistol” Pete Maravich. I loved the way Pistol Pete’s shaggy brown hair flopped as he brought the ball up the court for his team, the LSU Tigers.

Freshmen weren’t allowed to play on the varsity back in 1966, so Pete’s first year as a starter for the Bayou Bengals was the fall of 1967. And there were very few games that were televised back then, but when there was a game on television I was watching. I couldn’t wait for Saturday afternoons and the SEC game of the week.

I was also a sophomore on our high school’s team in ’67 (we didn’t have a varsity and junior varsity). We had an “A” team and a “B” team and I was on the “B” team.

The problem was, we had to cut our hair to play sports at Wilcox County High School in Camden, AL. I began to let mine grow in 1968 which was my second year on the “B” team (that team went 17-0 by the way). But come November and basketball practice, whack, we had to get that hair cut. Mine wasn’t trimmed short enough so I had to go back and get it snipped again. And friends, it wasn’t very long to begin with.

The fall of 1968 was also when I had my first kiss, my first taste of whiskey, and my first cigarette. I’ve since given up the cigarettes.

So those were heady days. And as the lyrics to the Grateful Dead’s Uncle John’s Band go, “Wo, oh, what I want to know, where does the time go?”

It has now been 50 years since Pistol Pete Maravich was in his first varsity season down in Baton Rouge. I was fortunate to witness him play the first game in what became Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum in Auburn on January 11, 1969. The home team Tigers won that game, 90-71. Sorry Pete.

And, it is noteworthy that LSU never made the NCAA Tournament during Maravich’s playing days. They did receive an invitation to the NIT his senior year.

March wasn’t exactly bursting with madness back in those days. In fact, there were only 23 teams in the NCAA Tournament. But, the UCLA Bruins were in the middle of a three-year title run under the tutelage of John Wooden and the leadership of their star center, Lew Alcindor, who was later to become Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

Yes, it’s a long way from those 23 teams, from 50 years ago, to the field of 68 that we grapple with today, and there are 10 of the usual suspects (North Carolina, Princeton, West Virginia, Dayton, Virginia Tech, Kansas, Louisville, New Mexico State, SMU, and UCLA) in both sets of brackets.

But interest is at a fever pitch, in the year 2017, and we are all caught in the throes of what is now termed “March Madness.”

The “Sweet 16” will have begun play by the time you read this, and here is the way I see it shaking down.

In chronological order:

Sweet 16

Michigan over Oregon

Gonzaga over West Virginia

Kansas over Purdue

Arizona over Xavier

North Carolina over Butler

South Carolina (Welcome Cinderella!) over Baylor

UCLA over Kentucky

Wisconsin over Florida

 

Elite Eight

South Carolina over Wisconsin

Gonzaga over Arizona

Kansas over Michigan

UCLA over North Carolina

 

That leaves us with a Final Four of:

South Carolina vs. Gonzaga

Kansas vs. UCLA

 

So let’s fasten our seat belts as we approach the final turn on that magic carpet ride… ”March Madness.”

 

E-mail Bird at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @Autull.

Campus Pressbox 62: What Happened to the ACC?

Campus Pressbox basketball writer Damon Del Rosario (DamoKnowsSports) joins Damien (@damienbowman) to talk about the first week of the NCAA tournament, LaVar Ball, the best coach in Division I right now and who has the best shot at landing Indiana job.

topics:

  • ACC Early Exits
  • Sweet 16 Picks
  • LaVar Ball
  • Best Coaches in Division I
  • Doug Gottleib
  • Indiana’s Coaching Job

links:

send us your feedback!

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Campus Pressbox 61: Busted Brackets and Tournament Officiating

Bird (@Autull) joins Damien (@damienbowman) to talk about their busted brackets, tournament officiating from last week and give their picks for this weekend’s Sweet 16 match-ups.

topics:

  • Opening round bracket busters
  • Tournament Officiating
  • Re-seeding the Sweet 16
  • Sweet 16 predictions

links:

send us your feedback!

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NCAA Tournament Midwest Region Notebook: Sweet 16 Preview

Heading into the tournament, the Midwest appeared to “chalk” heavy, with the top four seeds expected to advance to the Sweet 16.  That held true for the most part, but #7 seed Michigan busted up the heavyweight party.  Kansas and Oregon have an opportunity to restore order by advancing to the Elite Eight as the highest seeds remaining in the region, while Michigan and Purdue could set up a B1G showdown, guaranteeing a conference rep in the Final Four.

Blitzed by Moritz

Michigan pulled off the upset over #2 seed Louisville on Sunday by going with a heavy dose of Moritz Wagner.  Whereas the Cardinals chose to go away from everything that was working in squandering a nine point second half lead, Michigan repeatedly went to Wagner.  Time and time again the Wolverines set up pick and roll opportunities to exploit Louisville’s switching defense, leaving Wagner isolated on smaller defenders.  John Beilein executed on the under used mantra of running the same play until the opponent stops it.  The Cardinals never did, and Michigan is now set up for the Sweet 16 showdown with Oregon.  It’ll be interesting if Beilein will be able to utilize as much of Moritz against the athletic frontcourt of Oregon, or if the three-point barrage which was missing for much of the game against Louisville will be the weapon of choice.

Big Man Boiling Over

It’s no surprise that as Purdue has found its way to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament that Caleb Swanigan has by and large been the driving force behind it.  Swanigan has absolutely gone ballistic, displaying all the prowess which made him a blue-chip recruit; and now has him emerging as an absolute star.  After hitting Vermont with 16 points and 14 rebounds in the Round of 64, he dropped 20 and 12 on Iowa State, along with an astonishing 7 assists.  The Boilermakers are facing a different animal in the Kansas Jayhawks.  Bill Self’s team has been playing at a high level which is expected of a #1 seed.  As I mentioned prior to the tournament, the one possible sore spot for the Jayhawks is in the frontcourt.  Swanigan has enough help in the frontcourt to allow him to continue the tear that he’s on.  Don’t bet against the big man from being the difference maker if Purdue upends Kansas.

Putting the Chalk in Rock Chalk

March is the time of year when it can become en vogue for bracket filler-outers to pick against Kansas.  There have been several occasions where it would make sense to do so; and it appeared that with a Round of 32 draw against Michigan State, that 2017 would be one of those occasions.  The Jayhawks have shown through the first two rounds that was not a good idea.  Not only has Kansas won, but the Jayhawks have won big.  Not that anyone expected UC Davis to give Bill Self’s squad any fits, but many (myself included) thought that Tom Izzo’s Spartans would make the Rock Chalk faithful sweat a bit.  Kansas has an awful lot of experience, particularly in the backcourt, where it matters most come tournament time.  Frank Mason III is the catalyst, and he will be critical for the Jayhawks to continue to march on this March.  Facing a Purdue team that has its legs underneath it, after such disappointment in last year’s tournament, will be no easy task.

No Ugly Ducklings

Dana Altman’s Oregon Ducks are the other remaining team in the Midwest, but that does not make them an afterthought.  Oregon was another team that had some questions coming in to the Big Dance, and seemed susceptible to being bounced early.  The Ducks are another example of experience paying off in large measure.  Tyler Dorsey has been a beast in the first two games, and Dillon Brooks has been a steady star.  Despite being on the ropes against Rhode Island much of the game on Sunday, the veteran Oregon crew found a way back, and wiggled into the Sweet 16.  One of the biggest concerns – the loss of Chris Boucher – has not come back to bite the Ducks to this point.  The players seem to have taken the route of motivation as opposed to desperation regarding their fallen teammate.  The Ducks have the firepower and are more than capable of dispatching Michigan’s team of destiny.

The Elite Eight will be set in the Midwest by the close of business on Thursday night.  The guard play of Kansas will provide enough of an edge to outlast Caleb Swanigan’s heroics, and the Jayhawks will send Purdue with some nice memories, but nothing more.  Michigan on the other hand continues their path to destiny, at least for right now.  Seniors Derrick Walton Jr. and Zak Irvin will provide the steady guidance, and Beilein will blitz the Ducks with more Moritz to shoot down Oregon.  After getting their revenge on Louisville from the 2013 tourney, Michigan will give Kansas a crack at their own form of revenge from that same tournament.  The Jayhawks and Wolverines will battle for a spot in Phoenix.

E-mail Damon at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @DamoKnowsSports.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

2017 NCAA Tournament Notebook: The South – Where Everything is Fine

I’m back. I know it’s been a long time, but let’s get right into it. When Bob assigned me the South region of the 2017 NCAA Tournament, I thought it was a gift and you know what, it was. During the first two rounds (remember, play-in games aren’t part of the tournament), there were virtually no upsets in the South region. The closest call was either No. 12 Middle Tennessee (nee: MTSU) over No. 5 Minnesota or No. 10 Wichita State over No. 7 Dayton, but we all know that’s hogwash.

Any team beating a Big Ten team in this year’s tournament makes complete sense, but because anyone (me) who paid even a middling amount of interest knows the Big Ten was terrible in basketball this year. 1. So, if an undervalued Middle Tenn (we’ll just keep making their name shorter and shorter) beats an overvalued Richard Pitino (how long until he goes by Rick or Dick?) Golden Gopher team, then it isn’t much of an upset. I don’t think Vegas is necessarily the key to knowing exactly how every game will play out, but the sportsbooks said MT was 1.5-point favorite over Minnesota.

Seems about right.

The next “upset,” which, again, anyone with a brain knows is complete hogwash, was Wichita State over Dayton. Dayton is a good team, so let’s not knock them, but to even suggest that Wichita State was seeded properly might be as dumb as suggesting that Donald Trump has a chance to become…never mind. The Shockers entered that contest as 6.5 favorite and beat the Flyers by six, so maybe Vegas does know something about how this process should work?

Perhaps it would make more sense to have Vegas setup the brackets?

Round of 32

Chalk.

I mean my bracket doesn’t look anything like I think it should at this point, but the top four seeds all advanced to next weekend in Memphis which I guess is how it’s supposed to be. No. 8 Arkansas gave No. 1 North Carolina all it could handle until the pressure became too intense. The Razorbacks had a good season even if their performance versus Kentucky in the SEC Tournament was childish at best.

We will no longer ignore the elephant in the room, which was Wichita State and No. 2 Kentucky yesterday in Indianapolis. The game was great, in fact it was so good that it should have been played this weekend in Memphis, but again, because the people on the selection committee forgot how good the Shockers are, we watched that game yesterday.

I’m clearly in the corner that Wichita State was under-seeded and yes, they did lose yesterday and probably would have lost to Kentucky next week, but it seems to me that it makes the most sense to have the best teams playing each other later in the tournament so those games are watched by more people.

One very important side note about Wichita State: Lynn Marshall, the wife of Head Coach Gregg Marshall is apparently very animated during games. There’s a report she may have been extremely intoxicated. There is a picture of her (below) standing behind Yahoo! Sports’ Pat Forde yelling at screaming (not at him like all y’all do) but either in celebration or trying to help the refs get through a tough sequence. I don’t know if she was drunk or how animated she is or what exactly is going on, but that this made the national media should be worrisome to the higher-ups at Wichita State.

I understand fans will be fans and that’s perfectly alright, but the wife of the coach shouldn’t have facility security talking to her about her behavior or have media speculating about how sober she is or isn’t.

Can she have one or 10 beverages before the game? Absolutely. Should it be obvious and on display to everyone because she’s in the front row being louder than the cheerleaders? No, not at all.

How Bad Are the Tournament Officials?

Look, I officiate basketball and at one point in my life I thought I may have a chance to do it consistently at a higher level than high school. For several reasons, it didn’t work out and I have very few regrets about that, but I’ll say this: these tournament games and every game in the college ranks are hard games to officiate. Officials will miss calls and some will be very bad misses.

How those three men missed the goaltending in the Gonzaga/Northwestern game I’ll never understand, but I can say the conversation with NCAA Men’s Basketball National Coordinator JD Collins was not pleasant. I also cannot make an excuse for the amount of contact that have been “no-called” by officials this past weekend. It isn’t a good look. It isn’t what Collins wants to see happen in the tournament, because he has bosses too who are probably looking at all the news and reports and are saying how does this continue to happen?

Are there likely solutions that could make this easier or fix a lot of this? Yes. But consider this, and only this, you me and everyone at home has the luxury of HD televisions and we aren’t constantly in motion trying to get an angle on play or trying to officiate 10 men that are significantly faster and stronger than us.

As much as coaches complain about how they want younger officials, they then complain about how bad those younger officials are at communicating or how they don’t trust them. At the same time, the officials who have been around the longest aren’t nearly as good as they were 10, 15 or even 20 years earlier.

I don’t say any of that to make excuses for the number of bad calls we saw this weekend, but for every bad call we saw there were at least five or more that were correct or where people on Twitter had conflicting opinions. Block, charge, traveling…well, sure pick one…or pick nothing and play on. It’s a choice officials must make decisions in a split-second again without the luxury of replay or beer.

South Region Links:

How did he tip that in? Kennedy Meeks basket helps avert upset for UNC [Scott Fowler/Charlotte Observer]

Three-minute crash: Hogs black out with victory in sight [Bob Holt/Whole Hog Sports]

What’s next for Middle Tennessee’s 10 returning players? [Aldo Giovanni Amato/Daily News Journal]

Sweet 16 celebrated far and wide by former Butler coaches, players [David Woods/Indianapolis Star]

Bearcats can’t contain UCLA, out of tourney [Tom Groeschen/Cincinnati Enquirer]

UCLA to head to Sweet 16 after defeating Cincinnati 79-67 [Matt Cummings/Daily Bruin]

Kentucky ends Wichita State’s season with 65-62 second-round win [Paul Sullentrop/The Wichita Eagle]

Wichita State talked, Kentucky listened and the Wildcats advanced [Kyle Tucker/SEC Country]

I think that’s enough for now. Please check out the tournament notebooks from the other three regions as well as all our 2017 March Madness tournament coverage.

E-mail Damien at [email protected] or following him on Twitter @damiEnbowman.

  1. Yes, the Big Ten is STILL better in basketball than football. Fight me.

The West: What to Look For in Day Two

The Round of 64 provided quite some excitement in the west region, let’s recap

Number 1 seed Gonzaga let the SDST Jackrabbits stay close before pulling away. The Zags looked just as good as they have all season, solid defense and a balanced attack. The win advances the Zags to the round of thirty-two where they will see Northwestern.

The Wildcats playing in their first ever NCAA tournament beat Bryce Drew’s Vandy team after a mistake foul by Matthew Fisher-Davis with Vandy up one with fourteen seconds left gave Northwestern two four shots and their first NCAA win.

If you are playing in a second chance bracket or a round by round bracket pool take Gonzaga as a lock. Northwestern snuck into the tournament with some upset wins and will be no match for the balanced Bulldog offense.

My Pick Gonzaga

Notre Dame defeated Princeton in the 5-12 match up in Buffalo. It was one of the better games of the day as it came down to a missed Princeton three-pointer with 3.7 seconds left in the game. The Irish will march on to face West Vergina.

Huggy Bear and his team had all they could handle with a resilient Bucknell team that kept it close until the very end. Prevailing 86-80 over the Bison

The Notre Dame -West Virginia game could be the best of the day Saturday and it’s an early 12.10 tip-off from Buffalo.   The former Big East rivals come in each 3-2 over their last five games. Notre Dame is the only team to reach the Elite Eight the last two NCAA tournaments and I expect them to get to the second weekend. Look for them to feed swingman Bonzie Colson. The only way I see the Mountaineers winning this one is if they play better defense than they did vs Bucknell and control how many touches Colson gets.

My Pick Notre Dame

I did not think Xavier could do it, knock out a Melo Trimble Maryland team; at least not the shell of what Xavier is without Edmond Summer. Xavier proved they can take on anyone. Maryland was kept to 40% shooting from the floor and a cold 25.9% from behind the arch. Xavier was powered by their ability to hit shots at right times and the thirty point they had coming off the bench.

Florida State were winners over FGCU in one of the fastest paced basketball games I have ever watched. FSU struggled in stretches to keep up with FGCU but held on for the win. FSU is one of the tallest teams in college basketball and they like to score inside they have to stick to that it has worked all season if they want to compete with Xavier.

For me, though the is something about this Xavier team that I really like they have a spark and that’s why I have to pick them to make it to the sweet 16.

My Pick Xavier

St.Mary’s took out VCU in a battle of Mid-Major Darlings, St.Mary’s was put in the same region as conference rival Gonzaga kind of odd for the committee to do with teams from a non-major confrence. That being said I highly doubt they meet up. St.Mary’s gets to deal with an Arizona team fresh off a 100-82 win over North Dakota. Arizona looks like a team that could win the whole thing. Sean Miller has a team that is built for a deep run. The Pac-12 Regular season and Tournament champions will look to overpower the Gales who to their credit have had a great season. I don’t think the wildcats will have much of a problem with St.Mary’s. Arizona will inch closer to their first final four trip since 2001.

My pick Arizona

E-mail Karic at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @karic_jones.

2017 NCAA Tournament: Midwest Region Notebook

Good fortune finds that the region that I happened to be covering turned out to be the only part of the bracket I predicted 100% correctly after the Round of 64.  No real surprises, as the top seeds took care of things in a business like fashion; and the only higher seeds to advance – #9 Michigan State and #11 Rhode Island – were anticipated.  The Round of 32 presents some intriguing match-ups as the first weekend of the Big Dance commences.

Close but no Cigar

I mentioned in my tournament preview on Thursday that the Midwest felt like a bracket that would not have much in the way of double-digit upsets.  The teams I felt were most likely, if any, to pull off upsets were Vermont and Nevada.  I make the mistake every year of picking a few too many of the 11-13 seeds to advance out of the Round of 64.  In customary fashion, both of these schools played very well, and hung tough for the majority of their respective games, but in the end Purdue and Iowa State were able to outlast the upstarts.  No surprise that Monte Morris led the way for the Cyclones, and B1G player of the year Caleb Swanigan did the most damage for the Boilermakers.  This sets up a 4/5 tilt between two schools recently plagued by early tournament failures, and something’s gotta give.

Wolverines continue their tear; have a shot at Revenge

The #4 seed Michigan Wolverines kept on rolling, outlasting Oklahoma State 92-91 in one of the more entertaining opening round games.  Senior Derrick Walton Jr. led the way with 26 points and 11 assists, setting up a Sunday afternoon showdown with Louisville.  The Cardinals once again got off to a shaky start, allowing themselves to fall into a 10-2 hole, before taking the lead permanently with just under seven minutes left in the first half.  The Cards got surprisingly strong contributions from big men Mangok Mathiang and Ray Spalding in order to outlast Jacksonville State.  Michigan has an opportunity to grab a little revenge, as John Beilien’s Wolverines fell in the 2013 National Championship game to Rick Pitino’s Cardinals.

Ram Tough

Dan Hurley’s Rhode Island team handily dispatched #6 Creighton, lining up one of the match-ups I was most looking forward to in this tournament, a date with the #3 seed Oregon Ducks.  All five starters scored in double figures, led by freshman Jeff Dowtin, who along with E.C. Matthews, went 10-10 from the free throw line.  The Rams will need every bit of toughness they have in them, as Oregon handled their business the way the tops seeds should, running up 55 points in the first half, and cruising to victory.  When Dana Altman’s team exerts all of their talent, the Ducks are elite.  This will be a fun game on Sunday.

This is Sparta!

The 2016-17 instillation of the Michigan State Spartans isn’t the typical powerhouse that Tom usually has at his disposal.  Coach Izzo knows how to pull the right strings at the right times, and now is presented with a golden opportunity to knock out top-seeded Kansas.  The Spartans thumped the Miami Hurricanes, and now await the Jayhawks, who, as expected, destroyed UC Davis to move into the Round of 32.  What was expected was the performance of Michigan State’s powerful freshman Miles Bridges and Nick Ward.  The keys on Sunday will be how Izzo’s club deals with the Kansas backcourt, particularly Frank Mason III, and whether the Jayhawks have enough support for senior Landen Lucas on the interior, in order to keep him on the floor.  I like Bill Self’s team to get through, but it may be a battle of attrition.

The Midwest Region is set up to have an outstanding Sweet 16.  Purdue or Iowa State will grab the first slot as that game caps off the action on Saturday night; then everyone else will fill in the gaps on Sunday.  Here’s hoping I can keep one clean region, and have each of my picks roll through, including #11 seed Rhode Island, there to upset the apple cart, and close out the opening weekend of the 2017 NCAA Tournament.

E-mail Damon at  or follow him on Twitter @DamoKnowsSports.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

NCAA Tournament: The Sun Rises In The East

The East is a beast featuring last year’s champion Villanova, the team everyone loves to hate in Duke and four teams which aren’t getting enough respect heading into the tourney (SMU, Wisconsin, Virginia & Florida).

There’s an argument to be made (rightfully so) for the South being the hardest region (UNC, UCLA, Kentucky, Cincinnati), but the East gives us three teams that were ranked 1st in the nation at some point this season, another that is arguably the best in the B1G in Wisconsin and a team in Virginia that can shut down any offense at any time.

If Villanova can get past Wisconsin and Virginia, and Duke doesn’t stumble against Baylor or SMU we may end up with a Villanova vs Duke matchup in Madison Square Garden for a trip to the Final Four on the line.

Even if you don’t care about the basketball you can spend your time waiting to see if Grayson Allen has another meltdown, what custom suit Jay Wright is wearing, what fun things Wisconsin senior’s Bronson Koenig and Nigel Hayes will say and if Frank Martin has a complete meltdown on the South Carolina bench.

On the court your attention should be focused on Duke, who after winning four straight games against big time competition in the ACC Tournament comes into the NCAA Tournament finally looking like the team most national media members picked to win it all preseason. Harry Giles is starting to look like Harry Giles again, Jayson Tatum looks like the guy who’s the safest bet to succeed in the NBA in all of college basketball and Luke Kennard can get his shot off from any spot on the court at any time.

Even if the basketball turns out to be a bust there’s three letters that make this region better than any of the others…MSG. Anytime high level basketball leads to The Garden it automatically brings a level of excitement unrivaled by any other venue…hey, if the Mecca can prop up the overrated Big East Tournament it can surely do the same for some of the premier programs in college basketball.

(KenPom ranking in parenthesis)

(2) Villanova vs (212) Mouth St. Mary’s

Nova survived losing Arcidiacono and Ochefu from their national championship team and ran the Big East sweeping both the regular season and conference tournament on their way to a 31-3 record head into the NCAA Tournament. Josh Hart has been that dude while Jalen Brunson has blossomed into the floor leader during his sophomore campaign.

The NEC happens to be headquartered in my hometown so I’ll be pulling hard for MSM (to little or no avail). The Mountaineers won the regular season, going 14-4 before taking down the conference tournament. A 1 point win over New Orleans in the First Four earned them a date with Villanova, quite the reward. Three of their players score in double digits per game, led by sophomore Elijah Long at 15.1 (14.9 in conference). They don’t do anything particularly well that would make you think they have a shot in this one.

Time/TV: 7:10pm ET Thursday, CBS

Prediction: Villanova by 27

 

(23) Wisconsin vs (44) Virginia Tech

Wisconsin was my favorite to win the B1G before they hit a skid, losing 5 of 6 between February 12th and March 2nd. They have three players averaging double digit points, led by Bronson Koenig at 14.1 per game. Expect Koenig and Hayes to turn it up for the NCAA Tournament, both seniors have big time tournament experience. I not only like them to win this one but to also defeat Villanova in the round of 32. If anything, their soft seed hurt Villanova, who as a 1 will have to face such a good team in their second game of the tournament. The Badgers enter the tournament with the 8th best defensive efficiency in the country.

Va Tech finished the ACC regular season 10-8 with some nice wins over Duke, Virginia (2OT), Miami and a sweep of Clemson. They failed to beat up on any of the other ACC heavyweights and got their three largest wins (Duke, VA, Miami) at home. They have a shot at the upset due in part to their ability to knock down the outside shot (40.3% as a team), but in the end Wisconsin should end up being too much for them. The LeDay’s lead them in scoring (Zach 16.3 PPG, Seth 14.0 PPG) while four other Hokies also average double digit point totals per game. Their offense is legit, I just don’t think their defense makes enough stops to win.

Time/TV: 9:40pm ET Thursday, CBS

Prediction: Wisconsin by 9

 

(7) Virginia vs (59) UNC-Wilmington

Virginia enters the tournament touting the nation’s best defensive efficiency, and boy can they be boring to watch if you don’t appreciate grind it out basketball. Their adjusted tempo of 58.5 is dead last in the country, making them the slowest team in the nation. The Cavaliers are led in scoring by senior London Perrantes at 12.5 point per game and he’s the only Virginia player to have a double digit scoring average. Wilkins availability is up in the air for the UNCW game as of this writing.

UNC-Wilmington likes to play faster and touts the nation’s 18th best offense when it comes to efficiency.  They excel taking care of the ball and at shooting a high percentage from two-point range, but have had issues on the defensive end. The Seahawks are led in scoring by C.J. Bryce (entertaining dude to watch) who comes into the tournament averaging 17.6 points per game. Four total UNC-W players score in double digits per game, with three averaging at least 14.5 points per game. Kevin Keatts is a hot name in coaching circles right now, but in the end the Virginia defense will be too much for them to overcome.

Time/TV: 12:40pm ET Thursday, truTV

Prediction: Virginia by 12

 

(9) Florida vs (64) East Tennessee St.

Florida enters the NCAA Tournament coming off back to back losses to Vanderbilt. Prior to those losses, they had won 10 of their last 11 with the only loss coming on the road at Rupp. It’ll be interesting to see if they find their groove again, while they’ll get past ETSU, Virginia awaits in the round of 32. They do a nice job protecting the three-point line and enter the tourney with the nation’s 4th best defense based on efficiency. The Gators are led in scoring by KeVaughn Allen at 13.9 points per game, while Canyon Berry (12.1) and Devin Robinson (10.9) are also in double figures.

ETSU will rep the Southern Conference after winning both the league’s regular season and conference tournament. They shoot a healthy percentage (38.2%) as a team from deep, but expect Florida’s defense to negate their outside scoring. The Buccaneers will have to get to the line and do some damage inside to have any shot at the upset. The good news for anyone looking for the upset is their roster is experienced, boasting 13 upperclassmen. They’re led in scoring by T.J. Cromer at 19.1 points per game, while Desonta Bradford (10.6) is the only other ETSU player in double figures.

Time/TV: 3:10pm ET Thursday, truTV

Prediction: Florida by 9

 

(11) SMU vs (59) USC

The NCAA decided SMU couldn’t play in the NCAA Tournament last year so one would expect they’d come in hungry and on a mission. Their offense is legit and they boast two wins over a Cincinnati team with a stifling defense, including a 15-point victory in the AAC championship game. Their offense is balanced and they come into the tourney hitting 40.6% of their threes, good for 5th best in the nation. The Mustangs are led in scoring by Duke transfer Semi Ojeleye at 18.8 points per game, while three other players averaged double digits this season. SMU finished AAC play at 17-1 before running through the conference tournament, their only stumble a two-point loss at Cincinnati on January 12th. They sport length on the perimeter but lack it inside and will go small every occasionally, with Ojeleye at 6’7’’ their tallest player on the court.

USC overcame a double-digit deficit to defeat Providence in Dayton during the First Four. Their last win over a top 50 program came on January 25th as they took down UCLA at home. All year they’ve looked to be a couple of pieces short, and that should be the case again in this one. Not much stands out for them statistically on either side of the ball, just ball security where they only turn it over 15.6% of their possessions, good for 16th best in the nation. The Trojans are led in scoring by sophomores Bennie Boatwright (14.6 PPG) and Chimezie Metu (14.5 PPG). It’s interesting that the Trojans top two scorers are listed at 6’10’’ and up yet they only get 49% of their points from two-point range.

Time/TV: 3:10pm ET Friday, truTV

Prediction: SMU by 11

 

(12) Baylor vs (87) New Mexico St.

Baylor has mastered being more talented than most of their opponents and outplaying them for 35 minutes. They should have enough to get into the round of 32, but they have a lot of toughness questions to answer if they plan on advancing beyond their expected opponent of SMU. As usual, they excel on the offensive glass and do most of their scoring on the inside. They play at a slow pace and do an awful job taking care of the ball, but their talent alone should carry them in this one after a quick exit last year in the NCAA Tournament. Motley who hurt his finger in their last contest is probable for their first tourney game.

NMSU enters the tourney representing the WAC (which had a down year) after finishing in second during the regular season and defeating Cal St. Bakersfield (regular season champion) by 10 in the title game. The Aggies get a large percentage of their points from the free throw line and will have to get there a ton to have any shot against Baylor. The Aggies are led in scoring by Ian Baker (16.6 PPG). It’ll be tough for them to take down Baylor without Sidy N’dir who they’ve been missing for all but 9 games this season.

Time/TV: 12:40pm ET Friday, truTV

Prediction: Baylor by 7

 

(32) South Carolina vs (29) Marquette

South Carolina comes into the tourney riding a two-game losing streak, a loss at Ole Miss and a first-round SEC tournament loss to Alabama. Senior Sindarius Thornwell leads them at scoring with 21 points per game, while two other Gamecocks averaged double digits this season. They make their living on the defensive end, as they enter tourney play with the 3rd most efficient defense in the nation. Their issues have been on the offensive end as they’ve shot poor percentages from both three point and two-point range.

Marquette enters the tournament with some nice wins (vs Vanderbilt, at Xavier, at Creighton, vs Villanova) and some head scratching losses (at St. John’s by 14, at Georgetown by 18). The Golden Eagles shot a nation best 43% from deep this season, and are top 50 in two-point field goal percentage, but have allowed their opponents to shoot high percentages from both as well. They’re led in scoring by freshman Markus Howard (13.2 PPG) and sport a balanced offense as 4 other Golden Eagles averaged double digits this season. Their offense is the 8th most efficient in the nation, it remains to be seen if they’ll get enough from it to carry their defense against South Carolina. Center Luke Fischer is listed as probable for the South Carolina matchup.

Time/TV: 9:50pm ET Friday, TBS

Prediction: South Carolina by 2

 

(13) Duke vs (136) Troy

Duke comes in as hot as can be having won four straight (including wins over Louisville, UNC and Notre Dame) to win the ACC Tournament. Harry Giles is close to returning to the player everyone touted pre-injury and Jayson Tatum seems to have finally realized how good he is. Their offense has been fine, it’s the defensive end where they tend to slip up, especially against athletic guards who can drive. Luke Kennard (20.1 PPG) led them in scoring while 4 other Blue Devils averaged double figures. I have them going to the championship game, but it’ll depend largely on Tatum and Giles and whether Grayson Allen has re-found his stroke.

Troy won the Sun Belt tourney after only finishing 10-8 in conference play during the regular season. They avoided UT Arlington in the conference tourney, but did defeat 2 seed Georgia St. on their way to the championship. Keep an eye on sophomore Jordon Varnado (16.5 PPG) and junior Wesley Person (14.8 PPG) for the Trojans. They don’t do anything extraordinarily well, and should have a tough time with all the weapons the Blue Devils possess.

Time/TV: 7:20pm ET Friday, TBS

Prediction: Duke by 28

 

Overall Predictions:

Round of 64

Villanova over Mount Saint Mary’s

Wisconsin over Virginia Tech

Virginia over UNC-Wilmington

Florida over East Tennessee St.

SMU over USC

Baylor over New Mexico St.

South Carolina over Marquette

Duke over Troy

 

Round of 32

Wisconsin over Villanova

Virginia over Florida

SMU over Baylor

Duke over South Carolina

 

Sweet 16

Wisconsin over Virginia

Duke over SMU

 

Elite 8

Duke over Wisconsin

 

Champion

Duke

 

Campus Pressbox 60: I’m Feeling a Little Catholic about My Bracket

We’re back from our extended hiatus to talk about the NCAA Tournament. Bird (@Autull) joins Damien (@damienbowman) to talk about some of the differences in their brackets and to break down how much AAU is hurting basketball. Please note: neither Damien nor Bird watch basketball…so this episode is a complete free-for-all.

topics:

  • Brackets
  • AAU
  • LaVar and Lonzo Ball
  • Breakaway Rims

links:

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NCAA Tournament: Midwest Region Preview

At first blush, the Midwest Region seems to be destined to have the top seeds represented in the Sweet 16 and Elite 8; but questions abound for Kansas, Louisville, and Oregon as the opening rounds approach.  Although most of the double-digit seeds in this region don’t appear to pose a serious threat, there’s at least one that may knock heads with the big boys.

Jayhawks are going to Kansas City, Kansas City here they come!

There’s no reason to suspect that the Kansas Jayhawks shouldn’t find their way to KC, but will they be able to go any further?  Bill Self’s team had another incredible season, scattering four losses throughout the year, including bookends in the season opener, and to close the season in the Big 12 semifinals.   Despite their immensely talented backcourt led by Frank Mason III, Devonte Graham, and Josh Jackson, the Jayhawks frontcourt is a bit thin.  Could a potential matchup with Michigan State and the Spartan’s tough frontcourt combo of Miles Bridges and Nick Ward be too much for Landen Lucas to handle on his own?  This is the time of year that Tom Izzo starts working his magic, but if he can’t, top seeded Kansas should be bound for Kansas City, and a shot to advance out of the Midwest Regional Final.

Cardinals need more Dr. Jekyll, less Mr. Hyde

Louisville may be the one of deepest and most talented teams in the Midwest region, and perhaps the country.  However, the biggest issue this team has shown has been its wild personality swings.  Particularly glaring during late season losses to Wake Forest and Duke, the Cards have displayed a propensity to squander big leads.  UofL can dominate the vast majority of a game, only to completely go away from everything that is working.  Those lapses are what terrify and infuriate the Louisville fan base.  What is most shocking is that this tendency manifested early in the season during Louisville’s first loss of the year to Baylor.  The Cardinals let a 22 point lead slip before falling to the Bears in the Bahamas.  That may just be the identity of this year’s version of the Louisville Cardinals.  I suspect that Rick Pitino will tighten up the rotation, which should provide more cohesiveness; and Donovan “Spida” Mitchell is the type of player that can carry a team into early April.  If the Cards are Dr. Jekyll, they could win it all; if they’re Mr. Hyde, it could be a very early exit.

Rough Rhode ahead for the Ducks

Oregon has spent the entire 2016-17 season among the nation’s elite teams, and still has a loaded roster, and excellent coach in Dana Altman to lead them deep into this tournament.  Much will depend on the way the Ducks respond to the loss of versatile 6-10 senior Chris Boucher.  While Boucher was important, this team goes as junior Dillon Brooks goes.  However, the injury essentially cost Oregon a seed line, which is ridiculous since seeding should be based on a team’s body of work.  Will the Duck’s be ultra-motivated by the injury and a little bit of a slight by the committee, or will these late season factors lead to a bit of a malaise?  I’m leaning toward the latter.  Assuming Oregon survives the Round of 64 against Iona, the Ducks may be in for a rude awakening in the Round of 32 against Rhode Island.

Rams are a dark horse?

Don’t sleep on Rhode Island.  As mentioned above, URI could be a serious stumbling block for Oregon should they run into each other in the Round of 32.  The Rams were sitting squarely on the bubble, and then ripped off eight wins in a row, and took the Atlantic 10 Tournament title to ensure a spot in the field.  Dan Hurley’s squad has solid inside-outside balance with E.C. Matthews and Hassan Martin; and has shown a ton of grit down the stretch.  In a region that appears to be set up for the chalk to advance, Rhode Island is poised to make a run.  Certainly the opener against the Creighton Blue Jays will be no cakewalk, but if the Rams escape, there’s no reason that Hurley’s club can’t bounce the 3 seed Oregon, and find themselves in the Sweet 16.

Perfect storm for the Cyclones

Over the last few seasons, Iowa State has been a huge disappointment (I know they’ve killed my bracket), but the path the Cyclones face may be tailor-made to make amends.   I loved the Steve Prohm hire when Fred Hoiberg bolted for the NBA; and although it took some time to come together, ISU has the pieces in place to do some damage this year.  A rare senior-laden team in college basketball, the Cyclones are in great hands, particularly with Naz Long and Monte Morris.  After several bitter tournament showings, look for Iowa State to get past #4 seed Purdue, to set up another Big 12 showdown with rival Kansas in the Sweet 16.

North Carolina Central and UC Davis will square off on Wednesday for the right to be the first roadblock for the Jayhawks on their way to a cozy spot in Kansas City.  There should be a lot of answers about the Midwest Region when the Round of 32 wraps up on Friday evening, but don’t be surprised if there are even more questions.

E-mail Damon at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @DamoKnowsSports.

Photo via Flickr/Brett Hurd