This region is an extremely fun one to pick. First of all a big shout out to me, Scott Zolotorow, for correctly predicting a month ago that Virginia would get the final one seed, while everyone else said I was crazy. With that out of the way, lets move on and look at this fun bracket.
While this isn’t the “Group of Death” Midwest, I believe that this is the second toughest region in this year’s tournament with Iowa State and Michigan State being the toughest #3 and #4 seeds respectively. Michigan State is a lot of people’s favorite to come out of this bracket and it is tough to disagree with that. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves and look at the first round matchups:
(5) Cincinnati (27-6) vs (12) Harvard (26-4)
Thursday, March 2oth, 2:10 pm, Spokane, WA; TNT
Background: One of the favorite upset picks early on throughout ESPN and CBS analysts, can Harvard beat the Bearcats like they beat New Mexico a year ago? Harvard teams have made the tournament three times, Harvard had only made it once before Tommy Ammaker’s reign. The Mick Cronin’s Bearcats are good, really good. Sean Kilpatrick will be one of the most fun players to watch and Justin Jackson is a very good big man. Cincinnati in my opinion, like some of the other schools in the AAC, were slightly disrespected and could have been a four seed.
Difference Maker: Sean Kilpatrick. I am not sure that Harvard has anyone quick enough to guard him. I am also very big on Titus Rubles.
Cincinnati wins if: Their defense is as good as its been all year. Allowing the 6th fewest points in the entire NCAA and are 20th in steals and 23rd in blocks.
Harvard wins if: They can slow down Sean Kilpatrick, who averages 20.7 points per game.
(4) Michigan State (26-8) vs. (13) Delaware (25-9)
Thursday, March 20th, 4:40 pm-Spokane, WA; TNT
Background: Tough draw for the Blue Hens, who are playing in their first NCAA Tournament since 1999. They get the hottest team in college basketball in Michigan State, who just beat two of the this year’s two seeds in the Big Ten Tournament, Wisconsin and the Michigan. Any Tom Izzo team has the potential to win the whole thing. But Delaware has a very exciting trio of guards in Davon Usher, Devon Saddler, and Jarvis Threatt.
Difference maker: Tom Izzo and Adreian Payne. Izzo is one of the best coaches in the game and Payne is incredibly tough to guard as he is a big who can hit threes, he shot 42 percent this year.
Michigan State wins if: They play smart and limit their turnovers, Delaware loves to run with their three guards and scores often in transition.
Delaware wins if: If they can somehow stop the combo of Dawson, who is back and playing great, and Payne. They’ll need to outrun the Spartans.
Prediction: Michigan State
(7) UConn (26-8) vs. (10) St. Joseph’s (24-9)
Thursday, March 20th, 6:55 pm-Buffalo, NY; TBS
Background: This is the toughest first round matchup for me to pick of the entire tournament. St. Joe’s is extremely hot after winning the Atlantic 10 Conference Tournament and have a very talented trio of seniors in Langston Galloway, Halil Kanacevic, and Ronald Roberts Jr. But UConn has Shabazz Napier and DeAndre Daniels. This is going to be incredibly fun to watch.
Difference maker: Phil Martelli. He is one of the most passionate coaches and is in his 19th season. He has coached freshman DeAndre’ Bembry into one of the most exciting freshman in the Atlantic 10 Conference. A player worth watching.
UConn wins if: They can out-rebound Kanacevic and Roberts, which will be tough considering their leading rebounder is Napier. If Roberts and Kanacevic have a ton of offensive rebounds, the Huskies are in trouble.
St. Joseph’s wins if: Langston Galloway is as good as he was in the A10 Tournament and they get the ball inside to Roberts and Kanacevic early and often.
Prediction: St. Joseph’s
(2) Villanova (28-4) vs. (15) Milwaukee (21-13)
Thursday March 20, 9:25 pm-Buffalo, NY; TBS
Background: Villanova is extremely upset at their early outting in the Big East Tournament and Milwaukee surprised the country by winning the Horizon League, especially beating Green Bay in the semi-finals. Villanova is great unless they are playing against Creighton. Their only other loss besides Seton Hall was at Syracuse when the Orange were the best team in the country and playing great.
Difference Maker: Big game experience. The Wildcats played a much tougher schedule and only loss three regular season games. The only team Milwaukee played this year that is dancing is Wisconsin and they lost by 26.
Villanova wins if: They forget about the loss to Seton Hall and just get back to the basics. They pass the ball extremely well, averaging 16 assists per game.
Milwaukee wins if: Villanova becomes panicky after the loss to Seton Hall and tries to do too much.
(8) Memphis (23-9) vs. (9) George Washington (24-8)Friday, March 21, 6:55 pm-Raleigh, NC; TBS
Background: Memphis is another one of those AAC teams that is better than their 8th seeding in my opinion. With the exception of the Houston loss, they only loss to teams in the top 50 RPI. They get OK St when they were number 5, they beat Gonzaga and they beat Louisville this year. George Washington can beat anyone, but play very inconsistent and turn the ball over way too many times.
Difference Maker: Rebounding. Both teams average 37 rebounds per game, but George Washington isn’t used to the big body of Shaq Goodwin, who averages close to three offensive rebounds per game!
Memphis wins if: They produce turnovers, GW averages 13 turnovers a game and they had 15 in their A10 Semifinal loss to VCU
George Washington wins if: They play smart by limiting turnovers and makes free throws. They shot just 65 percent from the line. They averaged 26 attempts per game!
(6) North Carolina (23-9) vs. (11) Providence (23-11)
Friday, March 21, 7:20 pm-San Antonio; TNT
Background: Providence just won the dummied-down Big East and didn’t have to beat Villanova along the way. But they still shut down Creighton, and I mean shut down; 17 points in the first half and their second lowest points for the year at 58. North Carolina won 12 consecutive games towards the end of the ACC before losing to Duke and then Pittsburgh in the ACC Tournament. They aren’t playing in the state of North Carolina like they have done in the past. But Marcus Paige is playing great and is a great distributer.
Difference Maker: Roy Williams has done this once or twice before. I like him over the Friars when it comes to the big dance. They have lost two straight, but had a horrible early season and turned things around. So Roy can help them do that again.
North Carolina wins if: The Tar Heels get a solid game out of James Michael McAdoo who has averaged 14 points and 4.5 rebounds over the last four games. They need him to do that again.
Providence wins if: someone other than Bryce Cotton can carry the load. They seem to live and die by Cotton, who averages 21 points, but UNC is going to guard him very tightly. They’ll need LaDontae Henton and Kadeem Batts to be big on the boards and scoring in the paint.
Prediction: North Carolina
(1) Virginia (28-6) vs. (16) Coastal Carolina (21-12)
Friday, March 21, 9:15pm-Raleigh, NC; TBS
Background: Virginia had their year since the 80s and Ralph Sampson. They are the best defensive team in college basketball and Joe Harris just played a great ACC Tournament. Coastal lost all three of their games against Power Conference teams, Clemson, Ole Miss, and Minnesota. Those three teams didn’t make the tournament.
Difference Maker: Conference play. ACC vs. Big South
Virginia wins if: They play anything but their absolute worst.
Coastal Carolina Wins if: Virginia plays sloppy like they did early in the year and Coastal finds a way to score on the toughest defensive team in the country.
(3) Iowa State (26-7) vs. (14) North Carolina Central (28-5)
Friday March, 21, 9:50pm- San Antonio; TNT
Background: Iowa State has two of the top players in the Big 12 in Melvin Ejim and DeAndre Kane but North Carolina Central is on a 20 game winning streak. Coach Fred Hoiberg said they are a great 14 seed, and he is right. But his fans are great and will pack San Antonio.
Difference Maker: Melvin Ejim and DeAndre Kane. Two great players with a lot of experience.
Iowa State wins if: they can shut down Jeremy Ingram, who averages 20 points per game. He is a great player and can score from anywhere on the floor. They pass the ball better than anyone else in the country and score the sixth most points.
North Carolina Central wins if: Jay Copeland can shut down Ejim and they create Cyclone turnovers.
Prediction: Iowa State