Sunday, June 26, 2022

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March Madness Preview

March Madness Preview

Sport is best known for producing “Where were you when ______?” moments. Where were you when Christian Laettner hit a game-winning buzzer beater against Kentucky? Where were you when VCU completed an improbable Final Four run? Even recently, where were you when Dayton’s Vee Sanford scored a layup to knock off sixth seed Ohio State? Well, I can answer that last question- sitting in seventh period World History class, sneaking glances at the NCAA March Madness App.

March Madness, with an immense amount of games, provides the opportunity for the impossible to occur. Because of this, predicting the madness can be immensely difficult.

However, I have watched copious amounts of college basketball as a fan and hope to predict the perfect bracket. Hopefully, this dedication will prove beneficial.

First, just a brief overview: March Madness refers to a 68-team NCAA Division I basketball tournament; however, the field includes far from the 68 best teams. From March 3rd to about twenty minutes before the bracket was revealed on Selection Sunday, all of the teams competed in one of 32 conference tournaments, the winners of which received automatic bids into the tournament.

This allows for teams such as Hampton, a 16-17 winner of the prestigious Mid Eastern Athletic Conference, to enter the tournament. Nonetheless, any team at the end of the day theoretically has a shot to win it all.

The tournament consists of four regions of sixteen teams each, with two play-in games deciding sixteen seeds and two deciding eleven seeds. I will analyze each region, providing sleepers, busts, and locks for each.

The Midwest Region

In this region lie the Kentucky Wildcats, winners of 34 games straight and last year’s tournament runner-ups. Simply put, no team has been able to stop the Wildcats all season, and I don’t anticipate any team being able to do so in this region. With the size of seven foot Willie Cauley-Stein and six foot eleven Karl-Anthony Towns, combined with the shooting ability of Devin Booker and the Harrison twins, few teams can match up against Kentucky. I see them advancing to the Final Four from this region. Nevertheless, plenty of upsets can still be found in the Midwest. First off, I see twelve seed Buffalo knocking off five seed West Virginia. The Mountaineers run a flashy and sometimes effective press defense, which successfully forces turnovers but often gets them into foul trouble. The Bulls should be able to take advantage of this weakness, as they make on average five more free throws than their opponents per game, eighth best in the country. Additionally, West Virginia, despite shooting the ball more often than its opponents, is a very inefficient shooting team, unlike Buffalo. Next, I see Texas, an eleven seed, knocking off the sixth seed Butler. Texas is another huge team, with five play-makers who stand six foot eight or taller. This allows the Longhorns to block a ton of shots, the most in the country, and get rebounds often. Although Butler is also a good rebounding team, it doesn’t have the size to stay competitive with Texas on the boards. Another potential first round upset is thirteen seed Valparaiso, led by stud three-point shooter Alec Peters and big man Vashil Fernandez, over four seed Maryland. I could see Kentucky facing off against Texas, Wichita State, or Kansas in the Elite Eight matchup, but I think Kentucky ultimately reigns supreme and wins the entire tournament, getting revenge for last year’s loss to Connecticut.

The West Region

While Kentucky resides in the Midwest, the West Region, in my opinion, is deeper, containing one seed Wisconsin, two seed Arizona, three seed Baylor, and four seed North Carolina. First, though, some upsets. This region features an underrated ten seed, Ohio State, which was ranked in the top 25 not too long ago. The Buckeyes face off against VCU, a team known for forcing turnovers and taking care of the ball. However, few know that the Buckeyes are similar, ranking 32nd in opponent turnover percentage and 46th in turnover percentage. However, Ohio State is a much better shooting team than VCU, ranking 11th in the country, and also has a size advantage over the Rams, a team who’s tallest starter is only six foot six. The eight vs. nine seed matchup is really difficult to predict in this region. While Oregon, the eight seed, boasts seven more wins than Oklahoma State, the Cowboys have outscored their opponents by a greater margin. The game hinges upon the play of Oregon’s workhorse, Joseph Young, and Oklahoma State’s jack of all trades, Le’Bryan Nash. Some popular upsets seem to be twelve seed Wofford over five seed Arkansas and thirteen seed Harvard over four seed North Carolina, but I don’t buy into these picks. Don’t get me wrong; Wofford is a solid team, but it hasn’t proven that it can defeat upper tier competition, let alone lower quality teams, losing to William & Mary, The Citadel, and Chattanooga. The same thing applies to Harvard, who scored only eight points in the first half against Virginia, one of the few strong teams on its schedule. Overall, I see Wisconsin ultimately defeating Arizona to advance to the Final Four.

The East Region

Villanova enters the tournament as the most disrespected one seed, despite earning the title of the second best one seed in the tournament. I can’t say that I disagree with the criticism; the Wildcats perform well in most statistical categories, but the numbers don’t scream one seed, especially the rebounding category. Obviously, the Wildcats should defeat sixteen seed Lafayette, but I don’t see them going any further and am predicting that they will lose to North Carolina State. The Wolfpack, led by big men Beejay Anya and Abdul Malik-Abu, should defeat ‘Nova, controlling the boards and refusing to turn the ball over. I’m also keeping my eye on the five vs. twelve seed game: Northern Iowa vs. Wyoming. Northern Iowa can often rely too much on its shooting, making the team one-dimensional and more susceptible to an upset. Georgia, another underrated ten seed, seeks to knock off seven seed Michigan State, behind the rebounding and scoring abilities of Marcus Thornton and Nemanja Djurisic. The deciding factor in this game is found at the free throw line, where the Bulldogs average greater than three free throws more than their opponents per game, while the Spartans average negative three. I see both Oklahoma and Providence advancing to the Round of 32, but I expect the Friars to knock off the Sooners because of their rebounding advantage. If four seed Louisville can get by seven foot six Mamadou Ndiaye and UC Irvine, then I think the Cardinals have a relatively easy path to the Elite Eight. However, I see them losing to Virginia.

The South Region

Combining a tough group of one through eight seeds, this region has the potential for the most chaos. No upsets in the first round stand out to me, but I foresee pandemonium in the later rounds. First off, I see SMU defeating Iowa State to advance to the Sweet 16. The Mustangs pride themselves in efficient shooting and dominant rebounding; turnovers are their only issue. If they can limit this weakness, I could see the Mustangs taking down the Big 12 Tournament Champs, the Iowa State Cyclones. Along with SMU, Utah finds itself seeded much lower than expected: a five seed. This team features a seven foot big man, Jakob Poeltl, and a shifty guard, Delon Wright. I see the Utes breezing past Georgetown, a team with a poor tournament history, and eventually earning a Final Four bid. Although I believe the Utes are good, they could be aided by an easy path. I’m also going to place Gonzaga on upset alert in the Round of 32. The Zags have blown out their easy conference schedule but have not faced the size of the Iowa Hawkeyes. Led by Aaron White and Jarrod Uthoff, the Hawkeyes have shown flashes of greatness that I expect to return in the tournament. The public has fallen in love with the Davidson Wildcats, but their inability to get to the free throw line and to block shots will be their downfall. Finally, in the eight vs. nine matchup, Chris Obekpa’s absence from St. John’s team will definitely hurt the Red Storm, causing the team to exit the tournament early.

I hope this information helps, but I cannot guarantee success. Giants will inevitably fall, and Cinderellas will rise to the challenge. At the end of the day, forget about your brackets and simply enjoy the madness.