March Madness is just a couple of hours away, the excitement is reaching its peak. As everyone furiously fills out brackets, rips them up, and proceeds to fill out more brackets, here is a preview of what to watch for during the second and third rounds of the NCAA tournament.
Number one overall seed and SEC champion Florida comes into the tournament on a 26 game winning streak as they look to advance to the second weekend for the third straight year. Billy Donovan’s squad, led by Scottie Wilbeken, Casey Prather, and Michael Frazier, are certainly one of the favorites to cut down the nets in North Texas.
A potential upset alert in this region could come at the hands of Stephen F. Austin in the 12-5 matchup with VCU. The Lumberjacks went 18-0 in conference and are riding a 28 game winning streak, outscoring opponents by 14 points per game. They have a balanced attack on offense with four double-digit scorers and a stingy half court defense. This is a team that might not only make it out of the second round, but advance to the Sweet 16 as well.
A potential Ohio State-Syracuse matchup in the third round is intriguing for me. These are two teams that have both made deep tournament runs in recent years, started out the season on a long winning streak, having veteran coaches and experienced players, but both faltered down the stretch towards the end of the season. Both teams have the capability of making a run to the Final Four, but their inconsistency may be their downfall.
Finally, there are the Kansas Jayhawks. If freshman 7 foot center Joel Embiid’s health was not a problem a this point, Kansas would easily be one of the favorites to win it all. However, with Embiid out at least the first two tournament games, a third round matchup with New Mexico could pose problems for Kansas in the front court. Nevertheless, Kansas, led by star freshman Andrew Wiggins, has enough depth and talent to make it to the Sweet 16, where they hope they will be rejoined by Joel Embiid.
The Virginia Cavaliers have been one of the surprise teams of the season this year. After winning the ACC regular season and tournament titles, Virginia took home the one seed for the East region. Many people are still not showing the Cavaliers respect in this bracket, so they will have to earn it by winning games with their play on the court.
A popular upset pick in this region is Harvard over Cincinnati in the 12-5 matchup. Harvard returns to the tournament for a third straight year, coming off an upset of New Mexico as a 14 seed in last year’s tournament. Cincinnati is a very good defensive team, but doesn’t have much on the offensive end aside from Sean Kilpatrick.
Number 3 seed Iowa State is a Final Four contender in this bracket. The cyclones went 8-2 against top 25 opponents, including a win over top seeded Kansas on their way to the Big 12 tournament title. Led by Deandre Kane, Melvin Ejim, and Georges Niang, Iowa State has one of the best offenses in the country. However, their defense may be their Achilles heel. A matchup with North Carolina in the third round could be troublesome, since the Tar Heels have the talent to make a deep run in this region.
The Arizona Wildcats are the top seed in the West Region. Paced by Nick Johnson and star freshman Aaron Gordon, Arizona held the number one overall ranking for a good chunk of the season. A potential third round matchup against Marcus Smart’s Oklahoma State Cowboys could be an interesting matchup. Oklahoma State is battle tested from playing in the Big 12, and overcame Smart’s suspension to start playing a lot better. Arizona has only played one game against a top 25 team, and is without forward Brandon Ashley for the remainder of the tournament.
The Baylor Bears are ranked sixth in this region, and may be a team to keep an eye on. After a 12-1 start, Baylor endured a stretch of losing 8 out of 10, before finishing 10-2 and advancing to the Big 12 tournament final. Sharpshooter Brady Heslip can catch fire at any time, and Baylor is certainly riding the momentum right now. However, their second round matchup against Nebraska should not be overlooked.
The number 3 team in the West Region has one of my favorite players to watch in all of college basketball. Doug McDermott, the nation’s leading scorer and a career 3000+ points, returns for his third shot at playing in the NCAA tournament. Having improved both personally and as a team each of the last three years, Creighton looks to finally break through and make a deep run in the bracket. A potential third round matchup against Baylor is an interesting matchup to keep an eye on.
By now everybody knows the story of Wichita State. A Cinderella run to the Final Four last year has translated into an undefeated 34-0 season and a number one seed in the Midwest region this year. Apparently that wasn’t good enough for the selection committee, since the Shockers got stuck in a region where defending champion Louisville is the number 4 seed. A potential third round matchup against John Calipari’s Kentucky Wildcats is a very intriguing one. Kentucky has been inconsistent all season but certainly has the talent to win with Julius Randle and the Harrison twins.
The biggest controversy in the seeding this year was Louisville, who many thought could be the fourth number 1 seed, dropping all the way to the four seed. The defending champions, led by Russ Smith, have as good a chance as any to make it to the Final Four and should be able to get to the Sweet 16 relatively easily.
Umass makes their return to the tournament for the first time in over a decade as the 6 seed in this region. After a strong start that vaulted them as high as #13 in the national rankings, the Minutemen have slipped a little since then but are led by veterans Chaz Williamns and Raphael Putney, and are eager to prove themselves in the tournament.
Finally, a potential sweet 16 matchup between 3 seed Duke and 2 seed Michigan would certainly be a fun one to watch. Jabari Parker leads the Blue Devils while the Wolverines have improved over last year’s national finalist team, despite the loss of Trey Burke to the NBA and Mitch McGary to injury. Both of these teams are capable of a Final Four run.
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