The NCAA Tournament kicked off on Thursday and I’m not sure March Madness has started yet. We have the chalkiest tournament in history so far, no buzzer beaters, and no major upsets. Really, the story of the tournament is the UCF loss to Duke. There were some good games in Round 1 but nothing too exciting. Let’s look at what happened in each region these past four days.
Major Story-line: Duke and Zion Survive
We’re doing a little two for one here so we can feature another game in the next section, but this all about the UCF/Duke game on Sunday which has been the game, and moment of the tournament so far. Zion and Duke are the one major marketing attraction this tournament has to non college basketball fans. If Duke went out early, there’s a lot of talk about how the tournament would have suffered. I for one think it would have been great, but you take out the arguably the most recognizable name and the most touted player, it would have turned a lot of people off.
Regardless Duke survived in the best game of the tournament so far against UCF. I mean you had UCF up 74-70 after what seemed like a shot clock violation, then they miss an alley-op dunk and Duke comes back down to nail a three pointer. UCF gets back up by three to make it 76-73, then Zion gets away with a charge call, fouled. He misses the free throw but the officials miss another call on Duke and they get the put back. UCF then misses two good looks right at the rim and they lose by one. It was an incredible for the players, and an embarrassing one for the officials. The officials have been bad this whole tournament but the ending of this game, my lord. First the shot clock violation on UCF that should have been called, then you have two pretty blatant fouls on Duke at the end of the game that don’t get called. I wouldn’t say the officiating in this game favored Duke the whole way but those two at the end need to be called.
Best Game: #6 Maryland vs. #3 LSU
The runner up for this game was #11 Belmont vs. #6 Maryland where nobody knew what the hell Belmont was thinking on the last possession. They were down and tried to run some gimmick backdoor play with less than 10 seconds left in the game, instead of going quick and extending the game with a miss. Regardless, Maryland moving on gave us this dandy of a game on Saturday afternoon.
LSU and Maryland were trendy picks to be upset, hell I picked Belmont to beat both. LSU without their coach is heading to the Sweet 16 to play Michigan St. And lets just say they got some help from the refs on the final possession. First they did something I loved, in a tie game they went to the rim for win. For some reason, teams love jacking up threes when they are tied or down by one. It makes no sense to me at all, attack the rim and maybe get a fouled called instead of throwing up a shot from 20+ feet away. LSU went at the rim, and after an obvious carry, and travel they won a layup.
The game down the stretch was great, big three after big three for each team, big guys making plays, NBA guys were showing why they were the best on the court, and it came down to the final shot. Besides Duke/UCF, this was the game of the tournament so far.
Best Player: Tremont Waters, G, LSU
Screw Duke and Zion. The best player in this region so far has been Tremont Waters. He had 15 PTS against Yale and 12 points against Maryland including the game winner and is this teams leader. The Sophomore will need to keep playing great basketball if LSU is going to beat Michigan St. He’ll have his hands full with Cassius Winston in the Sweet 16.
Biggest Upset: #12 Liberty vs. #5 Mississippi St.
With no real big upsets this was the only pick. Just like the West region the only other upset here was in the 10/7 game and that wasn’t that big of a deal. I also don’t think Mississippi St. was a heavy favorite to make it into the second round so I this one didn’t screw up too many brackets. It was a good game for Liberty but their luck ran out in the next round against Virginia Tech.
- #4 Virginia Tech over #1 Duke (Friday March 29th, 8:39 PM CDT, CBS)
UCF showed that Duke is beatable with Zion and VT is not going to be afraid of Duke. UCF showed that you can just let Duke shoot, and even when they shoot better than normal they can be beat. Remember, Duke is a pretty shitty 3 point shooting team and their offense is basically lets run around and let Zion or Barrett make some plays. What Duke does well is actually play defense. But I see VT doing what UCF did, try to limit Zion, let Jones or Goldwater jack up as many shots as they want, and make Duke beat you by shooting the basketball. VT already beat Duke this year, albeit without Zion, but VT was also missing their star player in Justin Robinson. I think VT gets it done and knocks out Duke in the Sweet 16.
- #3 LSU over #2 Michigan St. (Friday March 29th, 6:09 PM CDT, CBS)
Michigan St. looked pretty bad against Bradley, they looked tired and worn down. I think they got a break playing a Minnesota team that is average at best and they already played this year being Big 10 opponents. Michigan St. will not get that lucky in the Sweet 16 against LSU. To me, LSU is a more talented team while Michigan St. will have the best player on the court in Cassius Winston. The coaching advantage here is obviously with Michigan St. but I like what we’ve seen from LSU so far. Even after losing their opening round game in the SEC tournament they have battled through two tough games and come out on top. I like them to keep this streak alive and take out Michigan St.
- #3 LSU over #4 Virginia Tech
I just want this to happen for the NCAA. LSU whose coach is out because he paid recruits through various means, makes the Final 4 and the NCAA has to “celebrate” and market them being in the Final 4 which makes the NCAA millions, and millions of dollars. Nothing would make me happier.
Major Story-line: Virginia Makes it to the Second Weekend
For the 1st half against Gardner-Webb, the Cavaliers had twitter buzzing. They were down going into the second half and there was no possible way they could lose to a 16 seed again, right?? Well they cruised in the second half and beat Oklahoma in the second round pretty handily. They go the first weekend monkey off their back and now its time for this team to actually make a Final 4. They have a favorable match-up against 12 seed Oregon in the Sweet 16, and then they’ll get either a streaky Tennessee or Purdue team in the Elite 8. This region is Virginia’s too lose. Hopefully for Cavalier fans, next Monday would be writing how Tony Bennett is making his first Final 4.
Best Game: #10 Iowa vs. #2 Tennessee
Ahh.. Tennessee was up by 25 FUCKING POINTS and let Iowa came back to bring this game into OT. This was almost an unheard of collapse by a team in the tournament. Iowa had no business being in this game at all, and yet they somehow almost won.
Also talk about bad officiating. The “foul” called on Tennessee during a three point shot attempt by Iowa was fucking outrageous. It was thee worst call of the tournament and I can’t imagine we will see a worse one. To come back from 25 down you need some help and Iowa got it from Tennessee turnovers and that outrageous call. We got some more Fran McCaffery shouting and whining, we got Rick Barnes looking like sad puppy that just shit in the house not knowing what the hell is going on while Iowa was coming back, and was a great way to start Sunday morning and get rid of the scaries. Tennessee moves on but man, they have not looked good in doing so.
Best Player: Carson Edwards, G, Purdue
I said this in my preview that I’m not a fan of Purdue but they do have this Carson Edwards guy, and he’s the only guy on Purdue that should scare you. Well he decided to drop a casual 42 points on Villanova in the second round. He also put up 26 against Old Dominion and has also added 2 STL, 5 AST, and 13 REB in those games. He is Purdue. If you hold him under 20 the rest of the way, you will win. I think Tennessee will do it on Thursday but if anytime is going to ride one player to the Final 4 it’s going to be Purdue.
Biggest Upset: #10 Iowa over #7 Cincinnati
We could have went with UC-Irvine over Kansas St. or Oregon over Wisconsin but those two games were picked much more than this one. Iowa came into this tournament looking like trash, this game was being played in Columbus, OH which was basically a home game for Cincinnati, Cincinnati had just won the AAC tournament and beat a very good Houston team. Cincinnati was a hot pick to not only win this game, but to beat Tennessee in the next round as well. Combine all those things, and then you watch the first five minutes of this game and it looked like Cincinnati was going to run away with it. Instead, Iowa fought through being down pretty much the whole game and came back to win 79-72.
- #1 Virginia over #12 Oregon (Thursday March 28th, 8:59 PM CDT, TBS)
I like this Virginia team too much to pick against them. Oregon has had a nice run but they’ve beaten the likes of Wisconsin and UC-Irvine – Virginia is a whole other beast. Oregon hasn’t seen a defense like Virginia’s all year and that will show. I like Virginia to come out on top in a close game but they pull away late to win by 5-10 points.
- #2 Tennessee over #3 Purdue (Thursday March 28th, 6:29 PM CDT, TBS)
Tennessee has been streaky, and Purdue is just Carson Edwards to me. So it’s hard to pick this game and I think it’ll be a good one but I like Tennessee to come out on top. They are just the better team, and have the better players. Tennessee will do enough to slow up Edwards and Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield will lead Tennessee to the Elite 8. Rick Barnes will still look like a sad puppy during the final minutes of this game.
- #1 Virginia over #2 Tennessee
This is Virginia’s year. They get the big ole money off their back, and off Tony Bennett’s. I like Virginia’s defense better than Tennessee, and I trust Tony Bennett more as a coach than Rick Barnes. Virginia has just enough offense to come out with the win here. Virginia onto the Final 4.
Major Story-line: UNC & Kentucky on Collision Course, Supposedly.
This bracket has the most exciting Sweet 16 match-ups. Auburn/UNC should be an up and down high scoring game, and Houston/Kentucky should be a great game as well. Houston is one of the best teams in the country that nobody talks about, they 100% have a legitimate chance to beat Kentucky and UNC or Auburn in the Elite 8. However, everybody will be looking at a Kentucky/UNC match-up in the Elite 8 as the game of the tournament if it happens. UNC has rolled through their first two games while Kentucky won after an off shooting night by Wofford’s Fletcher Magee. Kentucky might be without P.J. Washington for the rest of the tournament, so we’ll see if they can overcome that and get the NCAA’s dream match-up in the Elite 8 against UNC.
Best Game: #12 New Mexico St. vs. #5 Auburn
This game was a fucking mess at the end and I loved it. Auburn should have won this game handily but kept screwing up towards the end, including fouling a three point shooter when they were up by two with less than 10 seconds left, then they knock the missed throw out of bound to give New Mexico St. another chance, and then leave a good three point shooter wide open for the game winner. On New Mexico St. side of things, their player passed up a open layup to tie the game and kicked it out to the three point attempt I just mentioned, and then the guy went 1 for 3 at the. If you like good, sound, fundamental basketball this was awful to watch. If you wanted chaos, this was wonderful.
Best Player: Nassir Little, F, UNC
Little is a freshman from Florida who averaged just 10 PTS per game during the regular season for the TarHeels. During the tournament, Little has come off the bench and put up 20 against Iona, and 19 against Washington. If UNC gets that kind of scoring from him the rest of the way, they’re going to be a very tough out.
Biggest Upset: #11 Ohio State over #6 Iowa State
Ohio State squeaked into the tournament after winning a game in the Big Ten Tournament and they proved they belong. They played a very good game against a solid Iowa State who I don’t think anybody thought would do much. Again in this tournament, I don’t think this was a “big” upset but this was the only one in this region and luckily it was a good game. Anyway, Ohio State got beat by Houston on Sunday so the Cinderella story was over.
- #1 UNC over #5 Auburn (Friday March 29th, 6:09 PM CDT, TBS)
UNC is just too much for Auburn. Auburn will not shoot like they did against Kansas again but this should be a very fun up and down game. I think with the emergence of Little off the bench and how well UNC has gelled, they are going to win this game by pulling away late.
- #3 Houston over #2 Kentucky (Friday March 29th, 8:39 PM CDT, TBS)
I really love this Houston team. They play great defense and have an efficient offense, they have guys on this team who feel like they should have been here last year after losing on the buzzer beater to Michigan. Combine that motivation with Kentucky probably not having PJ Washington, I’ll take Houston to win a very close game.
- #1 UNC over #3 Houston
Again, UNC is just too much. They have too many guys that can beat you, they have young studs in guys like Little and White, and then seasoned players like Luke Maye. I think UNC beats Houston comfortably and makes it back to the Final 4 with a matchup against Virginia.
Major Story-line: Three of Four Teams The Exact Same as Last Year and Their Dominance
Last year in the West Region? #8 Florida St. beat #4 Gonzaga in the Sweet 16. #3 Michigan beat #7 Texas A&M.
This year? #1 Gonzaga plays #4 Florida St. and #2 Michigan plays #3 Texas Tech. In our preview we mentioned how this years region was the same as last year, and here we are with three of the same four teams back out West. This year thought both games are huge toss ups. Last year I would say Michigan was a clear favorite over Texas A&M. This year, they get the Big 12 Champs in Texas Tech. Florida St. and Gonzaga should be a great game as well, this year Gonzaga will have Killian Tillie who didn’t play in last years game.
All of these teams got here with little to no adversary either. Florida St. had a tough game against Vermont, but other than that each team in the Sweet 16 won their games by double digits. Gonzaga won by 38 and 12, Florida St. won by 7 and 28, Texas Tech won by 15 and 20, and Michigan won by 19 and 15.
If I had to bet on which region will have the two best games, I’d put my money here. Thursday Night should be fun.
Best Game: #13 Vermont vs. #4 Florida St.
This was the only game to pick? The other candidate was Syracuse/Baylor but I’ll go with the almost upset pick. Vermont played Florida St. very well and looked to be the first big upset of the tournament.
Best Player: Ja Morant, G, Murray St.
I tried to pick guys here who are still playing but it’s hard to not pick Ja Morant in this bracket. In two games he had 45 PTS, 20 AST, and 16 REB and shot very well from three point range. It’s a shame we won’t be able to him during the second weekend but Murray St. just wasn’t good enough around Morant to advance. Morant showed everybody why he’ll be a top 3 pick in the NBA draft this year.
Biggest Upset: #12 Murray State over #5 Marquette
Again, this was the biggest “upset” although Murray St. was a popular pick to beat Marquette. The only other lower seed to win was #10 Florida over #7 Nevada and I’m not sure you can call that one a real big upset. I like Murray St. in this game but I’m not sure anyone saw a almost 20 point beat down.
Ja Morant screwed around and put up a triple-double and looked like the best player in the tournament. He had 17 PTS, 16 AST, and 11 REB. Dude was a BEAST. Marquette on the other hand looked like hell and struggled in this game just like they did at the end of year. It was a good first half but Murray St. just blew it open in the second half.
- #1 Gonzaga over #4 Florida St. (Thursday March 28th, 6:09 PM CDT, CBS)
This should be a great game. Gonzaga has revenge on its mind from last year, and this year they’ll have Killian Tillie. Florida St. is an extremely deep team but Brandon Clarke, Rui Hachimura, and Tillie will just be too much this year for the Seminoles.
- #2 Michigan over #3 Texas Tech (Thursday March 28th, 8:39 PM CDT, CBS)
Two pretty identical teams here. Both play great defense, but can have offenses that disappear at the worst of times. Both of these teams have experience, NBA guys, and good coaches. This could be the best boring game ever in the tournament. I expect a very low scoring game, first to 62 wins. I’ll take Michigan to move on.
- #1 Gonzaga over #2 Michigan
Gonzaga is absolutely loaded and I don’t think people notice it yet. I love Michigan and their defense but I’m not sure Michigan has enough fire power to keep up with Gonzaga. I’ll take the Zags to move onto the Final 4 to take on LSU.
- How about some Blue Bloods getting blown the hell out. Kansas and Villanova both got run out of the gym in the second round. Kansas played a very hot Auburn team, but Kansas was trash outside of their home court all year. Villanova was a little more surprising, they still had guys like Phil Booth and Eric Paschall but let Carson Edwards score 42 points.
- Wisconsin and Kansas St. both had awful showing in the 1st round. Wisconsin struggled to score all year and they looked abysmal against Oregon. Kansas St. on the other hand played well but everyone knew without Dean Wade they would struggle to win, and they did.
- I mentioned this multiple times but my god is the reffing just awful in some of these games. Sometimes I don’t even know why they decide to call fouls and let other stuff go. I mean a guy goes to the rim and gets bumped three different times, no call. Then he’s dribble out beyond the arc and gets a fingertip put on him and all the sudden the whistle blows. The refs at the end of the UCF/Duke game shouldn’t be able to ref till they past some type of test. The refs in the Tennessee/Iowa game were awful as well. It’s sad when the refs become more or just as much story as the game. All we can hope for is that the refs don’t try to “take over” games and try to make it about them.
- Although the first weekend wasn’t the best, this Sweet 16 is pretty loaded and one of the best in a long time. We love the upsets but its inevitable we get bad match-ups, boring match-ups, and just straight up bad games. Now I’m not saying we won’t get those this year, but it seems like every Sweet 16 match-up should be a good game.