by Jarod Hamilton
It’s March which means it’s that time of year again, the birds are flying back from the South, the temperature is getting warm, and 68 teams are fighting for the ultimate crown of being called the NCAA Men’s Basketball National Champions. We’re going to get into my “sleeper” picks, my top picks, and my pick who is going to win it all! It’s March Madness baby!
UPenn: Every year people predict a 16 seed to upset a one seed despite 16 seeds being 0-132 all time in this matchup. However, out of all the 16 seeds the Quakers can pull off an upset that only the 1998 Harvard Women’s basketball team accomplished, which is upset the number one seed in the first round.
The Quakers boast a 24-8 record and are underrated simply because of their conference. A good team defending the arc, they drew a Kansas team who loves to shoot 3’s and may need to keep shooting them pending the absence of big man Udoka Azubuike who is out with a knee injury. While I don’t believe they will upset the Jayhawks I expect a competitive game. Look for UPenn to try their hardest to be the first Ivy League team since the 2010 Cornell Bears to make the sweet 16 per FiveThirtyEight’s Neil Paine.
Game Prediction: Kansas 68 – UPenn 59
Gonzaga: It’s quite hard to call winners of the last six WCC Conference tournaments underdogs but after drawing a four seed in the West region, I have the bulldogs making their second consecutive Elite 8. The 2017 National Championship runner-ups led by Senior Forward Johnathan Williams who averages 13.5 Points per game and 8 Rebounds per game along with the teams strong three point percentage (38%) look for the kings of the WCC to get to nearby Los Angeles to play in the Elite 8.
Team Prediction: Elite 8
Murray State: A team that’s won 13 straight and is one of the best teams at defending the three pointer at 30% per ESPN.com. They have the reigning Ohio Valley Conference Player of the Year Johnathan Stark who is averaging almost 22 points per game. I feel that this team could make a push toward the Sweet 16 which would mean a win against five seed West Virginia. Almost every year at least one 12 seed beats a 5 seed ( Middle Tennessee upset Minnesota in 2017). This being March Madness anything can happen.
Team Prediction: Sweet 16
Top Tier Teams
North Carolina: As the reigning and defending National Champions the second seed in the West region should run roughshod over the bracket and make it to the Final Four. Led by Senior Guard Joel Berry and Forward Luke Maye who is leading his team leading with 17 points per game and 10 rebounds per game, The Tar Heels should finish off the season among the nation’s best but just short of a repeat of last March’s title win.
Prediction: Final Four Appearance
Virginia: The tournament’s number one overall seed may have gotten a not so serendipitous potential matchup later in their bracket, as they might have to face an underrated team in 4 seed Arizona or 5 seed Kentucky in the tournament’s South region. However, they are also the best defensive team in the country and play a San Antonio Spurs style of offense. They shoot well from three and were undefeated versus teams in the top 25 (6-0) per ESPN.com. They did lose ACC Sixth Man of the Year De’Andre Hunter who is a stout defender, which doesn’t help much for a team that averages under 70 points per game.
Prediction: National Champion Runner-ups
Kansas: ROCK CHALK JAYHAWK! The Midwest number one seed is looking to make its first championship appearance since a lost vs Kentucky in 2012. Kansas is led by Devonte’ Graham who is averaging 17 points per game and a candidate for the Naismith National Player of the Year award (the best college player of the season) and Malik Newton who scored 20+ points in every game of the BIG 12 tournament. Although they may lack size with Azubuike being out for their first round match-up against UPenn I expect him to come back and help the Jayhawks go deep in the tournament.
Prediction: Final Four Appearance
Villanova: A year removed from a disappointing loss in the Round of 32 to Wisconsin, and two years removed from a National Championship victory. The Wildcats led the nation in points per game this year at 87.1 which may prove too difficult for the other teams in the East region to beat. Led by projected top 10 pick Mikal Bridges and Big East Player of the Year Jalen Brunson, the Wildcats are ready to avenge a loss and reclaim the throne at the top of the college basketball world.
Prediction: National Champions
Other Notables: (1) Xavier (Sweet 16), (2) Duke (Sweet 16), (2) Purdue (Elite 8), (2) Cincinnati (Elite 8), (3) Mich St. (Elite 8),