A guide to March Madness brackets

68 teams enter what is perhaps the most notable sporting event in American collegiate athletics. The NCAA tournament is filled once again with great matchups and intense rivalries. Regardless of who you are rooting for to cut down the nets in Phoenix this year, here are some upset picks which will give you bragging rights amongst your friends if it all goes down (Disclaimer: I do not have a crystal ball sitting in front of me). Here’s my breakdown of all things March Madness.

 

Most Vulnerable Top Seed Teams:

 

Four teams sit atop my list, two of which are perennial powerhouses in college basketball. While it is important to remember there is not a true juggernaut team in the field this year, I believe these teams are the most overhyped.

 

1. Kansas Jayhawks- Sure, they’ve only lost four games all year and are atop the Midwest Regional bracket which features its fair share of hot teams (cough cough, Michigan and Vermont). The reason I have the Jayhawks on the hot seat you may ask? Kansas is one of the worst teams in the country when it comes to 3 pointers allowed and second chance opportunities, both of which are uncharacteristic for a Bill Self coached team. There are plenty of potent three point offenses in the Midwest region that could topple the Jayhawks before even the Elite Eight, tread carefully here.

 

2. Florida State Seminoles- This team comes into the tournament literally limping. After a hot start thanks to standout player Dwayne Bacon, the Noles may have been exposed a bit down the stretch and in the ACC tournament. The road doesn’t get any easier either, as the No.3 seeded Seminoles will have to match up with Florida Gulf Coast in the first round. “Dunk City” made a run as a 15 seed to the Sweet Sixteen just four years ago and a similar style of play is evident in this year’s squad. A big reason I don’t like the Noles, they put opponents on the foul line too often which is a big reason many teams lose in March. Discipline wins championships and this FSU team is lacking it.

 

3. UCLA Bruins- They have been one of the biggest stories in college basketball this year. Freshman phenom Lonzo Ball has completely changed the culture of the arguably the most prestigious program in NCAA hoops. This team gets up and down the court quickly and truly employs a Run and Gun mentality made famous in the 90’s by Loyola Marymount. The reason I don’t feel the Bruins can cut down the nets, once again 3 point defense presents itself as a common theme here and also the fact that if Cincinnati is able to make it past their first round play-in game opponent, their defensive intensity could wreak havoc on such a young lineup. This Bruin’s team has the potential to go all the way, but there will be plenty of roadblocks for them to make it to the Final Four. Can you imagine the antics Lavarr Ball (Lonzo Ball’s) would display if his son’s team would make an early exit? It would be great sports theatre, that I know for a fact.

 

4. Gonzaga Bulldogs- The only one loss team in the country still has its fair share of doubters despite its impressive 32-1 record, one of those doubters happens to be yours truly. Gonzaga is efficient at scoring but what I believe will be their Achilles heel is the fact that they played a

weak non-conference schedule and play in a conference which only boasts one other team who made the Big Dance (St. Mary’s). Many people think this is the best team that Coach Mark Few has ever assembled, yet I still feel other teams in the West Regional bracket have the antidote to beat this squad. Looking for a hot pick? I like Notre Dame to beat the Zag’s in the Sweet Sixteen, it’s tough for me to go against a red hot team who limits second chance points and plays defense extremely well.

 

The Most Likely First Round Upsets

 

1. No. 10 Marquette Over No. 7 South Carolina

 

Marquette doesn’t boast the type of tournament experience other teams in the field do but have built around strong 3 point shooting. If you want to know where they rank field goal percentage wise, they are sixth in the country and rank right behind defending champion and No.1 overall seed Villanova and West Region No.1 Gonzaga. I don’t trust SEC basketball teams outside of Kentucky so this is another added reason to take the Golden Eagles over the Gamecocks in the first round.

 

2. No.9 Michigan State over No.8 Miami

 

DON’T BET AGAINST TOM IZZO IN MARCH. It is that simple. Izzo has a knack for making it to the Final Four against all odds and has done it at least once in every four years in his tenure at MSU. Despite the inexperience and inconsistency which is uncharacteristic of an Izzo team, the Spartans always play their hearts out during this time of year. I do expect the lack of experience to catch up to them quickly as a win would almost certainly pit them against the top seeded Midwest Region Kansas Jayhawks, but believe me this may be one of the safest bets you can take in the first round.

 

3. No.14 New Mexico St. over No. 3 Baylor

 

I really like the NMSU this year due to the fact they protect the rim as well as any other team in this tournament. They also boast a top 5 mark in blocks per game and are top 20 in offensive rebounds per game, an important statistic due to the fact this team has plenty of recent tournament experience (5th tourney appearance in 6 years) and has senior leadership to boot. On the other side, Baylor enters the tournament losing six of their last 11 contests and appears to be very vulnerable as the defense continues to be exploited. They do have the pieces to make a deep run, but their star player Johnathan Motely dislocated his finger in the Big 12 tournament, something that could severely affect the Bear’s chances.

 

4. No. 13 Vermont over No.4 Purdue

 

The Vermont Catamounts enter the big dance undefeated in conference play and a win streak dated back to just before Christmas! The Catamounts are led by the freshman phenom Anthony Lamb while they employ a deliberate and efficient style of basketball which will give the Boilermakers absolute fits. However, the Boilermakers have arguably the best frontcourt in America as the big men can muscle it up inside the paint and score in bunches, which could cause some trouble for Vermont as well. Oh did I mention, Purdue is very disciplined and if you make it to the line against this team, you better hope to convert.

 

5. No.10 Wichita State over No.7 Dayton

 

I know I’m going to get a lot of fire for this pick (My mother is a UD grad) but the Shockers enter the big dance on a roll, winning their last 15 contests and boasts great depth and balance on both offense and defense. They can shoot the 3 pointer as well as any other team in the field and will present a slew of matchup problems for Archie Miller’s Flyers. Yet Dayton has a senior led group of athletes which could help them make an extended run. Experience is often just enough to win in March.

 

Cinderella Picks

 

1. No. 12 Mid Tennessee State

 

After being 15 seed in the tournament last year and busting practically everyone’s bracket against a hot Michigan State team, the Blue Raiders return to the tournament this time with a higher seed and once again facing another Big Ten foe presented in the form of Rick Pitino’s Minnesota Golden Gophers. A trio of Blue Raiders combine for 47 points per game and could cause fits for one of the stingiest defenses in the country. Not to mention this Blue Raiders group takes exceptional care of the basketball and award few second chance opportunities on the offensive side, two key ingredients to concoct a recipe for a Cinderella run.

 

2. No.6 SMU Mustangs

 

While they are missing legendary and controversial coach Larry Brown after his departure last year amidst NCAA allegations, the ponies have found their way back into the dance despite all the distractions. They have a favorable first round matchup as it will be either Providence or USC (depending on the Play-In game winner) and would play host to either a struggling Baylor or an undersized and unproven New Mexico State team. The Mustangs lack depth but all five starters can put up points in bunches and all of them are outstanding rebounders, not to mention they are very efficient on both sides of the ball. This team has the ability to make a run and if the dominos fall their way, they could cruise to the Sweet Sixteen. All aboard the Pony Express!

 

3. No. 12 UNC Wilmington

 

A slew of key guys return from a squad which is a year removed from giving Duke a close call, which is truly a feat in itself. Four of the five starts average double digits in points, make nearly 10 3-pointers per game and are sound defensively as well as at the free-throw line. Their first round opponent is Virginia, a team which prides itself on its exceptional half court style defense as well as a good 3 point attack, but the defense will only take them as far as they let it, I feel they lack the killer instinct to step on the jugular leading to an early exit for the Cavaliers. A second round foe for UNC Wilmington would pit them against the winner of the Florida Eastern Tennessee Game. Florida lacks perimeter defense which is why if this matchup persist, I like Wilmington. On the other side Eastern Tennessee has won 13 of their last 15, but this team is overly dependent on forcing turnovers, something that Wilmington doesn’t do very much. I look for Wilmington to make a run to at least the Sweet Sixteen.

 

Tournament Dark Horse

 

It may be considered sacrilege for what myself as a Columbus Native is about to do, you guessed I like the No.7 Michigan Wolverines as a Dark Horse this year. This team ran through the Big Ten tournament with relative ease and was rewarded with a decent first round matchup to accompany its endeavors. This team is opportunistic yet doesn’t force the issue and take a ton of bad shots on offense and can defend the 3 point line as well and if not better than anyone in the Midwest Regional bracket. A second round matchup would most likely have the Wolverines playing Louisville in a rematch of the 2013 National Championship game. While the Cardinals have a deep team and rebound the ball at an alarming and efficient rate, they struggle at the foul line, which is why I like Michigan to slip past them.