The bracket is out! Bubbles have been burst. Cinderella stories are trying on their slippers. The blue bloods are abundant and the stars are shining brighter than ever. Hoops guru and Big Dance aficionado Matty D is coming at you with his 6 quick hits on the NCAA Tournament Bracket for both fans and gamblers.
- The ACC sends three, THREE, teams to the top line as Duke, Virginia, and North Carolina all receive #1 seeds. It was the right choice as the only other teams that had real chances were Tennessee and Michigan State. The Volunteers may very well have gotten there but they fell to the Kentucky Wildcats in the SEC Championship game. Michigan State simply hasn’t been as impressive as the Blue Devils, Cavaliers, or Tar Heels throughout the season even with 3 wins over fellow #2 seed Michigan. If you think there is ACC bias, then you are correct! Watch the games and see just how great these three squads are. Duke is the highlight real and the team everyone knows thanks to this guy named Zion but Carolina is a veteran bunch with some gritty big men and Virginia plays the best defense in the country along with a big chip on its shoulder after last season. Fascinating to see who falls first.
- So then who is the best non-#1 & #2 seeds? There are a bevy of choices but I am siding with the Florida State Seminoles a 4-seed that looked like the real deal until meeting the buzzsaw that is Zion in the ACC championship game. This long, athletic squad is not new to the elites of college basketball, but they have taken their play to a new level this year with wins over Florida, LSU, Louisville, Purdue, Virginia Tech, and Virginia. The Seminoles defend like hell and have the ability to overtake teams with their athleticism. (This pick would have been LSU if it wasn’t for the scandal involving their head coach.
- Who isn’t dancing? More people care about who got left out as compared to who made it. It was a tough year as a number of squads received at-large bids with near .500 records. The two biggest snubs for me are UNC-Greensboro and Indiana. Two very different schools in terms of history but both had great resumes. I think that UNC-Greensboro should have edged out Arizona State for an at-large bid due mostly to who the Sun Devils lost to throughout the year including glaring defeats to Princeton, Washington State, and Vanderbilt (which went 0-19 in SEC play). But here’s the thing, UNC-Greensboro has no signature wins. The Spartans had chances against LSU, Kentucky, and Wofford three times. Without that signature win, they simply can’t compete with Arizona State’s wins over Utah State and Kansas. So no true snubs this year.
- What is the best opening weekend game? I believe this is a slam dunk with the 5-12 matchup in the West bracket as the Marquette Golden Eagles square up against the Murray State Racers. This game features two of the game’s best scorers as Markus Howard (25.1 PPG) looks to disappoint mid-major supports, degenerate gamblers, and pro scouts by knocking out Ja Morant (24.6 PPG, 10.0 APG). Morant is must-see TV and currently rests at the #3 spot in NBA mock drafts. The Racers haven’t lost since January 31st but Morant must be incredible if he wants to take down Howard and a Golden State-like Marquette team who can rain from 3. Storylines abound and I will be glued into this Hollywood matchup.
- Let’s talk Cinderella. With Loyola-Chicago not dancing this year, someone else must take over the role of upsetter. Has to be a double-digit seed (sorry Wofford) and can’t be a big name team on a disappointing season (not sorry Ohio State). There are some great candidates – St. Mary after unseating the Zags, UC-Irvine and their massive backline, and New Mexico State who bring along their balanced, long-range offense. But the 11th seeded Belmont Bruins are my pick. This is an at-large team after losing to the aforementioned Ja Morant. At 26-5 this team is very good led by their two high-scoring senior guards, Dylan Windler (21.4 PPG) and Kevin McClain (16.3 PPG), creating the perfect concoction to dazzle, upset, and advance. They start off with a tough play-in game against the Temple Owls which leads to a battle against an overrated 6th seed Maryland team. If they move on they will most likely find themselves up against a LSU program in turmoil. Belmont has the horses to win and then take on the likes of Louisville/Michigan State. Great teams but beatable. I won’t say they have a chance against the Zion Blue Devils but you never quite know. Their third guard Grayson Murphy can dish it (6.6 APG) and Nick Muszynski can score (14.9 PPG) and defend (2.2 BPG). Both are freshman primed to rise to the occasion with the senior guards and create the Madness.
- So who is the winner? Who dances all the way to cut down the nets and enjoy a solo during One Shining Moment? Plenty of teams fit the mold but one rises above. The Tennessee Volunteers blew their chance at a 1-seed but have all the makings of the best team in the tourney. They come in at 27-4 with their only loses to Kansas, Kentucky, Auburn, and LSU. The Volunteers also boast a 19 game win streak which included a thriller against #1 Gonzaga. Tennessee is loaded with just the right kind of talent headed by Grant Williams, a future first round draft pick. This junior 6-7 stretch forward can score all over the court and rebound with the best in college basketball. He has also made big shots throughout his career including a few huge threes against Kentucky a few days ago. Williams is joined by senior guard Admiral Schofield. Beyond just having the best name in the sport, Schofield is a tenacious baller shooting 41% beyond the arc and anchoring this deep, 8-man Volunteer unit. Junior guard Jordan Bone is also prickly and paces the SEC’s #1 offensive team with just over 6 assists per contest. Rick Barnes is an experienced coach and has guided the Vols to not only the #1 offense in the SEC but the #2 defense. Tennessee is finally ready to hoist the trophy and end the Madness.