It’s that time of the year again, folks, as everyone stops what they’re doing and fills out an NCAA Tournament Bracket Sheet with the hope of earning a nice payday, or simply the pleasure of owning bragging rights among friends. March Madness has returned to captivate us all, and over the duration of this post we here at Oracle Sports will offer our help to you, our loyal customers, break down this year’s Bracket region by region, covering every participant from the perennial powerhouses to the potential giant-slayers. The invitees have arrived, the Big Dance has begun, now let’s take a look at the field…
Sitting atop the Midwest Region, and the rest of the tourney field, are the top-seeded Kentucky Wildcats (34-0, 18-0 in SEC), who at 34-0 are just six wins away from finishing the campaign with an undefeated resume, becoming the first team to do so since the 1976 Indiana Hoosiers. John Calipari’s latest squad is loaded with NBA-caliber size and athleticism with 7-Footers such as Karl Anthony-Towns and Willey Cauley-Stein roaming the paint. However, the one element his team’s typically lack is experience, but that is not the case this year; the ‘Cats return the nucleus from last year’s National Runner-Up, particularly with the Harrison Twins reputation for httig big shots. So the question now becomes, who in this region (let alone the tournament) can possibly upset Kentucky? The logical choice would be Two-Seed Kansas (26-8, 13-5 in Big Twelve), but there is a great chance that the Jayhawks may not even advance far enough to battle the Wildcats. After all, Bill Self’s team has earned a reputation for premature exits, further fortified with last year’s loss to Stanford in the Round of 32. Add the expected absence of Freshman Forward Cliff Alexander due to eligibility concerns, and a looming date with Wichita State in the next round could spell trouble. Oh, and did we fail to mention that Kentucky hammered Kansas by 32 points back in ?
How about Three-Seed Notre Dame (29-5, 14-4 in ACC)? After missing the tourney for the first time since 2009, the Irish have returned in style, knocking off both Duke and North Carolina en route to thier first ACC Tournament Title. Jerian Grant was ruled academically ineligible for the second semester last season, but has been a stud for one of the most efficient offensive teams in the country. Few teams shoot the three (39.2%) and distribute the ball (15.1) better than Mike Brey’s outfit, making them a very intriguing matchup for the Wildcats if they are to meet in the Elite Eight. And then there is Four-Seed Maryland (27-6, 14-4 in Big Ten), who make their return to the tounrament after a -year hiatus. The Terrapins exceeded expectations finishing second in their maiden voyage into the Big Ten on the strength of star Freshman Guard Melo Trimble and Senior Wingman Dez Wells. Mark Turgeon’s charges defend well and get to the free-throw line a plenty, and have proven adept at competing with big time opponents this season; Maryland defeated both Wisconsin and Iowa State, as well as earning a pair of victories over Michigan State.
If you’re looking for a Cinderella among this group don’t hold your breath, even if Twelve-Seed Buffalo (23-9, 12-6 in MAC) is mighty enticing. Twelves over Fives are some of the most frequent big upsets found in the Round of 64, and this particular matchup with West Virginia will likely get a lot of play. Bobby Hurley’s Bulls played one hell of a non-conference schedule, and take incredible care of the basketball (11.3), while the Mountaineers has been without leading scorer Juwan Staten for the last four outings with a knee injury. Riding an eight-game winning streak, Buffalo is hot, while Bob Huggins’ boys look like a casualty in waiting.
Now this is where things start to get far more interesting, as this region is loaded with quality teams. Wisconsin and Arizona comprise the One and Two Seeds, as both teams spent the majority of the season ranked in the AP Top 5. The Badgers (31-3, 16-2 in Big Ten) are arguably better than they were a year ago when they advanced all the way to the Final Four. Bo Ryan’s outfit is led by Wooden Award candidate Frank Kaminsky, whose versatile game has morphed the Badgers into one of the most efficient offensive units in the country. Ditto for the Wildcats (31-3, 16-2 in Pac 12), who were ousted in a classic Elite Eight matchup with Wisconsin a year ago. Sean Miller has one of the best defensive teams in all the land, and their backcourt boasts both experience and versatility. Arizona could have made a very legitimate case for a One Seed, but instead were the victim of a weak Pac-12 that sent only four teams to the dance.
With that said, Baylor and North Carolina bring some spice to this region, and could both be very worthy adversaries to the Badgers and Wildcats. Scott Drew’s Bears (24-9, 11-7 in Big Twelve) have a huge frontline that makes things incredibly difficult for opponents in the paint, particularly when employing one of the most unique Zone Defenses this side of Syracuse. Baylor leads the country in Offensive Rebound Percentage (37.5%), and Rico Geathers is a big reason why, leading the nation in rebounding (11.6). Meanwhile, the Tar Heels (24-11, 11-7 in ACC) have played well coming into the tourney, but make no mistake, this is a very flawed North Carolina squad. Like all of Roy Williams’ teams in Chapel Hill have, these kids run and crash the glass, but they have been downright dreadful from beyond the arc (34.5%), with Marcus Paige representing the only threat from distance. NCAA Tournament success typically coincides with great Guard Play (ask UConn), and the Tar Heels have lived and died with the performance of theirs. While both teams could pose a very real threat to the upper seeds in this region, they could also be taken out well before the Round of 16 even comes into play.
You want upsets? Well this could be the place to find them as each of the latter two teams we discussed have far from easy outs in the Round of 64. Thirteen and Fourteen Seeds Harvard (22-7, 12-3 in Ivy League) and Georgia State (24-9, 15-5 in Sun Belt) could make some noise early, with the former making their fourth consecutive trip to the tourney, while the latter is loaded with transfers from perenial powerhouses. In fact, The Crimson have won their opening game in each of the past two tourneys. But it doesn’t stop there as BYU (25-9, 13-5 in WCC) ended up making their way off the dreaded bubble courtesy of a sensational month of March in which they upset Gonzaga in Spokane. The Cougars are as formidable offensively as anyone, and are under-seeded at this point. Finally, don’t discount Shaka Smart’s VCU Rams (26-9, 12-6 in Atlantic 10) either, for thier relentless, pressing defense has proven to give the field fits in the past.
Over on the opposite side of the bracket is the East Region, which is probably the easiest group to navigate through. But don’t tell that to Mike Krzyzewski who is still trying to wash the bad taste of losing to Mercer in last year’s Round of 64. Here, the Blue Devils (29-4, 15-3 in ACC) have the top seed and look to have clear path to the Sweet Sixteen, if not the Final Four. Wooden Award front-runner Jahlil Okafor looks to have a vice grip on the top pick in the NBA Draft, and a stellar showing in the tournament would only further solidify his status. This is one of Coach K’s youngest teams to be seeded this high, and while supremely talented depth remains a major concern; Duke only goes about six players deep and fatigue could be a very real issue with a quick turnaround, which was the case in their early exit from the ACC Tournament. Gonzaga (32-2, 17-1 in WCC) checks in at Two here, and they too have something to prove after failing to make it out of the first weekend in each of the last four years. Mark Few has had some really strong teams in his time leading the Bulldogs, and this one ranks up their with his best, but it remains to be seen if they’re time in the WCC has tested them enough for the tourney’s elite. Fortunately for the Zags, most of the elite teams are located elsewhere.
However, that’s no dig at Three-Seed Iowa State (25-8, 12-6 in Big Twelve), who has progressed deeper into the dance with each passing year. Last season they managed to advance as far as the Sweet Sixteen, and that was without versatile Forward Georges Niang, who injured his leg in the team’s opening round victory. This time around, Fred Hoiberg has a healthy Niang along with arguably the deepest roster since he arrived in Ames. With their ability to spread the floor with a wealth of shooters and pick teams apart in the half court, the Cyclones could be poised for an even deeper run. And don’t look now, but Larry Brown has SMU (27-6, 15-3 in AAC) back in the tournament for he first time in twenty-three years. After being snubbed from the dance last year, the Mustangs are looking like the best of the Six Seeds.
Expect a number of upsets in this region too, for outside of the top three seeds, every other “favorite” looks very susceptible to defeat. Five Seed Utah lacks any sense of momentum, losing four of their last seven, and could be ousted by Stephen F. Austin (29-4, 17-1 in Southland), who have rarely lost over the past two seasons. Anyone expressing confidence in Four-Seed Georgetown (21-10, 12-6 in Big East) is clearly smoking dope, for the Hoyas have been the poster-boys for premature exits of late, being upset in the Round of 64 in each of their last two appearances. Their opponent, Eastern Washington (26-8, 14-4 in Big Sky), can really shoot from the perimeter and spreads the wealth with their small-ball style of play. John Thompson has a veteran group of players, but none have experienced success in the tournament. Lastly, don’t discount Davidson (24-7, 14-4 in Atlantic 10), who won their Conference Tournament, and is about as dangerous offensively as any other team in the field. Bob McKillop has had some great teams, and this one stands out for a variety of reasons, yet we’ll have to see if that will parlay into a victory over Seven-Seed Iowa (21-11, 12-6 in Big Ten).
The final region to be accounted for is the East, which could very well feature the most turnover of any group in the Tournament. Top-seeded Villanova (32-2, 16-2 in Big East) is arguably the most experienced team in the field, but after getting bounced last year as a Two Seed by eventual champions Connecticut, Jay Wright’s charges are far from a sure thing. And then there is Virginia (29-3, 16-2 in ACC), who played like a One Seed for the majority of the campaign, but struggled down the stretch due to injuries to star Guard Justin Anderson, who suffered a broken hand followed by an appendectomy late in the year. The Cavaliers play hellacious defense, but if Anderson can’t shake off the rust then their looming matchup in the Round of 32 with Michigan State (23-11, 12-6 in Big Ten), could be their ticket out of the dance. Few coaches do a better job of preparing their teams in a tournament setting than Tom Izzo, and even though this is far from his best Spartan squad, they’ve won four out of five down the stretch, and were a possession away from defeating One Seed Wisconsin in overtime of the Big Ten Tournament Final. If these teams are indeed to meet over the weekend, you can bet it will be a gritty, grueling slugfest.
Meanwhile, after being shocked by North Dakota State last year in the opening round, Oklahoma (22-10, 12-6 in Big Twelve) looks poised to make a run after Lon Kruger’s kids improved immensely on the defensive end. The Three Seed got a favorable draw and are a virtual lock to make it to the second weekend, where they could upend either the Cavaliers or Spartans. Four Seed Louisville (24-8, 12-6 in ACC) has made plenty of noise over the last three years in March, even cutting down the nets just two short years ago, but Rick Pitino’s crew labor to get easy baskets, particularly with Chris Jones kicked off the roster. Their defensive pressure is still nerve-wracking for opponents, but due to their limitations on the offensive end, are unlikely to make another lengthy run. At Five, Northern Iowa (30-3, 16-2 in MVC) has reached heights never before seen in the history of the program, and after hovering around the AP Top Ten throughout the campaign could very well be the surprise team to make it to the Elite Eight. As for a true Cinderella, North Carolina State (20-3, 10-8 in ACC) may fit the bill, for they possess the requisite talent to knock off the Wildcats in the Round of 32, but haven’t exhibited the necessary consistency to inspire confidence in. Mark Gottfried’s club is littered with potential, but as they say in the coaching business, “potential will get you fired”.
So with the NCAA Tournament set to kick off Thursday, what craziness will ensue? Who will rise? Who will fall? Who will get upset? Who will be the new darlings of the tourney? We here at Oracle Sports always value the opinion of you, our revered customers, and would to hear your thoughts here on the eve of March Madness. Leave your comments below in the Comments Section, and remember to check out any of our lucrative packages!!!
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