Seems like Tournament time silently crept up on us this year, but we're always ready and on point when it comes to March Madness!
So today, the TSL All Stars got together to give you our expert picks and things to watch in this year's NCAA Tournament. So without further delay, it's time to drop the knowledge:
The South Region of the 2015 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament might be the most upset-iness region of them all thanks to the selection committee assigning both high seeds to several teams that might not deserve their placement and low-balling and some pretty tough teams in their seeding as well.
For example, San Diego State is certainly better than an 8 seed. Yeah, they may have lost to Wyoming in the Mountain West tournament and Boise State during the regular season, but they also defeated a ranked Utah team early in the season, as well as a tough BYU squad. They fought third-ranked Arizona down to the wire and pretty much dominated their conference during the regular season. Meanwhile, Georgetown University earned a 4 seed. Yes, they compete mightily in the Big East Conference, with wins against Villanova, Butler and Creighton, but their inability to score the ball consistently was glaringly apparent in the Big East Tournament. They seem prime for an upset versus Eastern Washington.
Though Gonzaga was able to earn a 2 seed after pretty much dominating the West Coast Conference, they seem to be highly vulnerable to athleticism. However, their center-forward tandem center-forward tandem of Domantas Sabonis and Kyle Wiltjer is not to be trifled with. How Stephen F. Austin was able to get a 12 seed is truly beyond me. Duke University got themselves a 1 seed despite falling to Notre Dame in the ACC Tournament; for me, that doesn’t bode well for their ability to get it done throughout the Tournament. Despite all the paper tigers that exist throughout this region, I see Duke and Gonzaga meeting in in the Elite Eight with Gonzaga advancing to the Final Four. They have size, and the three point shooting necessary to stretch the Blue Devils’ defense.
Once at the Final Four, I have Kansas, amped up after beating Kentucky, matching up against a lanky and athletic Baylor team out of the West. In the South vs. East final Four bracket, I have Nova taking out Gonzaga, who will then move on to face Kansas in the Championship game.
And when the dust from March Madness has settled, the Villanova Wildcats will be the 2014 - 2015 NCAA Men's Basketball Champions.
This year, the NCAA Tournament should be re-named the Kentucky Invitational. The excitement surrounding March Madness is even more pronounced now that the Wildcats have a chance to be the first college team since the 1975-1976 Indiana Hoosiers to win a national championship while going undefeated.
In the Midwest Region, I think Notre Dame could give John Calipari's crew a run for their money. Jerian Grant has the star wattage and overall floor game to give Kentucky fits, sophomore point guard Demetrius Jackson dazzles while playing with grit and the Fighting Irish offense, when operating on all cylinders, is one of the most efficient in the country.
Out West, Wisconsin and Arizona will duke it out for the right to go to the Final Four in Indianapolis. The Badgers are even better than they were last year, when they lost a heart breaker to Kentucky in the National Semi-Finals. Arizona has the size, versatility, explosiveness and point guard play that makes them a dangerous threat to win the whole tournament.
In the South Region, if you're looking for sleeper teams to make a dent in some brackets, Utah and SMU could fit the bill. Duke and Gonzaga are very formidable and will fight for the right to go to the Final Four.
In the East Region, do not sleep on Tom Izzo and his Michigan State Spartans. They might have struggled at times throughout the regular season, but they showed what they can do in the Big Ten Tournament, when they nearly beat Wisconsin in the championship game. Virginia, without a fully healthy Justin Anderson, is merely very good. If Anderson was 100%, they'd be a serious threat. Oklahoma could do some damage as well. Villanova is fantastic, but I worry about their lack of a dominant interior presence, and the fact that they are so reliant on the deep ball.
Everybody's picking Kentucky, and I'm leaning in that direction as well. But to add a little spice to the prognostication, I'll go out on a limb and say that they'll falter in the Final Four and that Arizona will beat Duke in the national championship game.
In sports, I hate cliches and safe picks.
And at no other time is it better to root for the underdog than during March Madness, when we all want to see Cinderella bust brackets and slip her foot into basketball’s glass slipper. At least that’s the case every year but this year, unless you’re some kind of Communist, you’ve got no reason to root or pick against John Calipari’s Kentucky Wildcats to win it all. Kentucky is playing not against any opponent but history, trying to finish a truly dominant season with an 0 at the end of their record as they cut down the nets. The only thing that makes me not want to witness that kind of sports history would be the unthinkable: that Hampton somehow knocks the Wildcats out in the first round.
A 16-seed who played in the infuriatingly-unfair #FirstFourFarce beating the #1 ranked team in the tournament is the only thing that would make more history than Kentucky winning it all. But we all know that’s not happening, even as much as my HBCU-heart desires it. So grab your brackets and your popcorn, get ready to cheer for the two or three darlings that will make it past the round of 32, and get your head right to see some sports history.
A 40-0 Kentucky Wildcats National Championship team.
The hardest thing about tournament predictions, like fantasy football, is not going with your heart. I want to call the upsets and pick the schools that I really want to see make some noise during the Tournament, but then common sense and reality prevails, and I have to hide my feelings for the underdogs and call it like I need to (not want to).
Starting in the South region, my sleeper pick is Iowa State. Although they're not a real sleeper as they're a #3 seed, I see them taking out Gonzaga and facing Duke in the Elite Eight. I really want to pick Jameel McKay, Georges Niang and company, but I think the whistles will be flowing the Blue Devils way that day, putting them into the Final Four.
The West will feature a show down between Wisconsin and Arizona, and I think you'll see the Badgers move into the Final Four after a tough battle against the Wildcats. Moving over to the Midwest, the question isn't Kentucky, but rather who will they be playing for the right to get into the Final Four. I like Notre Dame. The Tournament, like the NFL playoffs, is prime for teams on a roll, and after winning the ACC tournament by beating both Duke and then UNC, I like the Irish to give the Wildcats all they can handle before bowing out in a close game in the Elite Eight.
The East is kind of strange to me, because this is where I'm not confident about any of the teams. I feel it will be Villanvoa against UVA in the Elite Eight, and yet Louisville keeps popping up in my head as the team that will take down 'Nova. And I want to pick UVA, mostly because I always chose them in Coach K Basketball on the Sega Genesis when they had Harold Deane, Cory Alexander and Curtis Staples, and caught wreck with that squad. But I'm going to go with 'Nova to head to the Final Four because they look good and it's the 30th anniversary of their 1985 Championship over the mighty Georgetown Hoyas, so fate might be their 6th man.
And fate looks to push them into the Championship game because I'm going with 'Nova over Duke in the Final Four, and they'll be facing a Kentucky-upsetting Wisconsin team who many have picked to win it all. But against the Badgers, look for Jay Wright to channel his inner Rollie Massimino and lead the Wildcats to their second NCAA Tournament Championship and another Dove For Men commercial. So Villanova fans, get ready for your second "One Shining Moment".