With the Bearkats’ failure to make the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, many Sam Houston State fans are searching for a new team to support throughout March Madness and luckily, there are still many compelling stories within the various college basketball programs.
Baylor, a No. 11-seed in the West Region and frequent doormat of the Big XII, has overcome impossible odds in its unlikely ascent to the tournament. Many schools have dealt with basketball failures and successes, including a few recruiting violations, within their programs, but only Baylor and the Waco community have been forced to experience the aftermath of a murder investigation involving two of its players.
This year’s Cinderella story has to be the No. 5-seeded Drake Bulldogs with Missouri Valley Conference Coach and Player of the Year in Keno Davis and Adam Emmenecker, respectively. The Bulldogs lost four starters and were picked to finish ninth in the conference, including sixth by their own head coach. Emmenecker was not recruited out of high school, which is understandable since his highest scoring game at that level was 12 points even though he is averaging 8.5 points per game this year in college. This May, he will graduate with four major degrees and just one B on his lifetime transcript.
Another great story is derived from No. 13-seeded Winthrop, who lost a teammate from last year in a car accident and dedicated this season to his memory. Georgia was a team that was 4-12 during their SEC regular season schedule and somehow discovered a way to garner four wins in four days in the conferences’ year-end tournament. Stories like this cover the college basketball landscape and provide more reason to have a rooting interest in every game.
Although these anecdotes have endlessly fascinating subplots, the real reason for my insight is to view my perspectives and predictions on the 64 teams vying for the National Championship. Here are my predictions for the NCAA Tournament.
Five teams have a legitimate shot at upsetting North Carolina and winning this region. Washington State could be the most disciplined team in the country, meaning that they know who they are and do not attempt to be anything different. They consistently frustrate their opponents by slowing the game down, which should provide for a memorable game in the Sweet Sixteen against North Carolina.
Louisville has a coach in Rick Pitino who knows how to navigate March like few others and a big man, David Padgett, who makes everyone around him better through his massive skills set.
Tennessee has a good inside-out combination in Tyler Smith and Chris Lofton to go along with fiery coach Bruce Pearl. Both Tennessee and Louisville might have trouble getting past No. 7-seeded Butler with sharpshooters Mike Green and A.J. Graves leading a senior-laden team with only three losses on the season.
Ultimately, the East Regional will be held in Raleigh, a huge advantage with North Carolina effectively playing at home. The Tar Heels have the most talented team in the region with Ty Lawson, Danny Green, Wayne Ellington and others accompanying possible Naismith Player of the Year Tyler Hansborough and Hall of Fame coach Roy Williams.
Prediction: North Carolina Tar Heels
Another disciplined team is Wisconsin, a No. 3-seed out of the Big Ten who play excellent defense and continue to figure out ways to win with players like Michael Flowers and Brian Butch, among others, doing the dirty work whenever it is necessary. Yet their lack of athleticism might be exposed in the second round by the extremely talented USC Trojans with O.J. Mayo, Taj Gibson, Davon Jefferson and Daniel Hackett leading the way. The No. 1-seeded Kansas Jayhawks should face a tough test in the Sweet Sixteen against an athletic Clemson Tigers squad ripe with confidence after finally beating Duke in the ACC Tournament. Ultimately, this hotly contested game may starve the Jayhawks of the energy needed to overtake the young Trojans.
Prediction: USC Trojans
The Memphis Tigers could and probably will be undone by their poor free throw shooting when they play a close game against Pittsburgh in the Sweet Sixteen. Either way, the tremendous advantage for Texas playing in close proximity to their campus in Houston has to aid them through to the Final Four.
Prediction: Texas Longhorns
The easiest road to the Final Four for any No. 1-seed belongs to UCLA, who not only play in Anaheim and Phoenix in the regional, but also have the weakest No. 2 and No. 3 seeds (Duke and Xavier) in their bracket. Their toughest game will probably come against Drake in the Sweet Sixteen, who is my sleeper mid-major pick along with Butler and who could shock the world and make it to the Final Four because of their great outside shooting. Overall, UCLA has the great inside-out combination of Kevin Love and Darren Collison, among others, along with an unrelenting defense that will not allow them to lose.
Prediction: UCLA Bruins
East vs. Midwest
North Carolina has too much experience and depth for the young Trojans, though the tremendous offensive players on both sides should make this a monumentally entertaining game.
Prediction: North Carolina over USC
South vs. West
Although Texas did defeat UCLA earlier in the season, the Bruins did not have Collison, one of the best point guards in the country, which allowed D.J. Augustine’s speed to dictate the pace of the game. With Collison fully healthy, Augustine’s effectiveness will be diminished, making the Bruins defense the focal point of this contest.
Prediction: UCLA over Texas
UCLA’s third straight trip to the Final Four should be the charm as the inconsistency of North Carolina’s defense will come back to bite them. The Bruins will swarm Hansborough and harass Lawson and Ellington enough to bring a National Championship back to Pauley Pavilion for the first time since 1995.
Prediction: UCLA over North Carolina
Tune in to see if the madness of March proves my predictions wrong.