By Josh Naso / @silverfox8008
It's Tuesday. It's St. Patty's Day. And it's time for the Big Dance to finally kick off. Everyone has a few remaining moments to fill out their NCAA Tournament brackets and earn the “College Basketball Expert of the Group” title for the coming year. Most importantly, it’s time to sit back and enjoy a ton of college basketball and all the excitement and drama that come with it.
Here is a little preview to get you ready for all the action that begins tonight with Hampton vs. Manhattan in a clash of 16s followed by BYU and Ole Miss in the 11-seed matchup. It's NCAA Tournament time, and there's simply nothing better on earth.
Easiest Region: Midwest
Not a surprise here, as you would expect the region that contains the overall number 1 seed to be the easiest. Each region obviously has some good teams, but when you look through the Midwest, no team really puts a scare into you other than Kentucky.
Hardest Region: East
Two teams jump out here as being threats to the 1 seed Villanova. First, the 2 seed Virginia, just because when a team plays defense the way Virginia does, it can cause problems for any opponent and can keep itself in the game.
The other is Michigan State, laying low as the 7 seed. We have all seen Tom Izzo’s accomplishments come tourney time, and I don’t think anyone is ever pleased to see Michigan State in their region. The fact the Spartans are a bit under the radar as a 7 makes them all the more dangerous.
Teams Seeded 5 Or Lower To Keep An Eye On
Midwest: 7 seed Wichita State. The Shockers burst onto the scene last year and continued that success this season, compiling a 28-4 record. With some tournament experience under their belt, they could outperform their seeding.
East: 5 seed Northern Iowa and 7 seed Michigan State. In addition to the aforementioned Michigan State points, don’t forget that the Spartans were an Elite 8 team a season ago that has plenty of returning players.
As far Northern Iowa is concerned, the Panthers look to duplicate what their Missouri Valley Conference brethren Wichita State accomplished last year. They went 30-3 on the season, with one of those three losses coming at Wichita State and another at VCU in double overtime. They know they can compete and won’t be scared of anybody.
West: I was tempted to say 8 seed Oregon, but then I remembered I saw the Ducks play in person in Brooklyn and they did not look impressive. They also only have two particularly impressive wins, both coming against Utah. Instead I’ll go with 7 seed VCU. The Rams had a bit of an up and down season, but they have experience and they play disruptive press defense, which when effective gives them a chance against anyone.
I also have to mention VCU’s first-round opponent, Ohio State. The Buckeyes have D’Angelo Russell, and in college basketball anytime you have a Player of the Year candidate, you have a chance to make some noise.
South: 10 seed Davidson. The Wildcats’ résumé lacks a truly signature win, but they shoot the basketball very well, and a hot-shooting team can simply bomb its opponent out of the building. They have a relatively favorable draw, opening against Iowa, and with a win would presumably play Gonzaga.
Potential Victims Of The Perennial 4/13, 5/12 Upsets
In NCAA Tournament, 4 vs. 13 and 5 vs. 12 upsets are becoming yearly occurrences. In the 4/13 matchups, Maryland is on upset alert against Valparaiso. Valpo is solid on the boards and very stout defensively. Combine that with Maryland’s average offense, and it could be a long day for the Terrapins.
As far as the 5/12 matchups go, I’m looking at Stephen F. Austin over Utah. It will be a matter of whether Utah’s solid defense can slow SF Austin’s offense, but SF Austin already has the upset pedigree after knocking off VCU in last season’s tournament. Utah best not look past the Lumberjacks in anticipation of a second-round matchup with Georgetown, or the Utes could find themselves heading home early.
And just for the hell of it, here are my projections …
Elite 8: Kentucky, Notre Dame, Villanova, Virginia, Wisconsin, Arizona, Duke, Iowa State
Final 4: Kentucky, Arizona, Villanova, Iowa State
Championship: Kentucky over Villanova
Because you love TSFJ as a staff, record label, and as a *bleeping* crew!