Editors Note: With the greatest tournament in sports finally upon us, Armchair Sports NCAA experts Mike Diplock and Michael Gray finally decided to write a co-written article analyzing the NCAA bracket that came out on Sunday night by predicting possible Cinderella choices who are ready to shock the word, bracket flames/lames as well as their very own Final Four selections. Hope you enjoy.
Gray: So Mike, I know you’ve been watching every possible game you can just like I have over the last 5 months, but it’s finally time for the craziness everyone calls ‘March Madness’ to unfold. I know we talk constantly about who we feel are good teams that could make a strong tournament run or scrubbish teams that are overrated by everyone in the media; but I truly feel there are a dozen possible teams that could easily make a final four run which has been unheard of in year past. With a parody stricken NCAA with which seems to contain NO elite teams, who are some of your bracket flames/lames for the upcoming weeks.
Diplock: Alright, so after looking at this year’s bracket, an already unpredictable year got even more so. This year’s field is full of enigmas who still haven’t meshed (UNLV), to teams who have overachieved in rebuilding years (Marquette). Throughout the year I have loved Michigan, Kansas and Indiana. All of which have multiple weapons on the offensive end. To me, Indiana has the easiest path to the final four. However, since I know Mike is the biggest Kansas homer around, I’m going to go all in on Michigan. Michigan is loaded with talent on the offensive end with POY candidate Trey Burke leading the charge. His back court mate is no slouch either in Tim Hardaway Jr., who can light it up as well. One knock on the Wolverines has been their youth who rely heavily on the freshman trio of: Nik Stauskas, Glen Robinson III, and Mitch McGary. To me, this is a non issue. Nik is a sharp-shooter who isn’t afraid of big time moments, Robinson III is a smart player who doesn’t take bad shots, and McGary is a relentless player whose energy is never in question. Michigan will face South Dakota State and their potential pro player Nate Wolters. It will be no walk in the park but with Trey Burke’s strong on ball defense; they should be able to contain him and advance. The road only gets harder from there as their likely opponent will be VCU. One should never take Shaka Smart’s team lightly. The Rams win by forcing turnovers and shooting three’s, as does Michigan. Trey Burke and Hardaway Jr should be able to handle the pressure and advance. In the sweet sixteen their likely opponent are the Kansas Jayhawks. It’s not as if the Jayhawks are unbeatable (suffered a 3 game losing streak) but they are very talented with Ben McLemore on the perimeter and Jeff Withey inside. One knock on them is their ability to contain point guards so Trey Burke will have the opportunity to have a big game. The Jayhawks also do not force many turnovers which will give the Michigan play-makers opportunities to be aggressive. Michigan isn’t the safest bet but I like their talent and trust Trey Burke to carry them deep.
Gray: God damn, after I’ve been giving Michigan the hardest time for the last 3 months for their horrendous conference season in which they didn’t win ONE impressive game in my opinion in a totally overrated Big 10; this guy over here pretty much predicts them to knock off Bill Self and the Kansas Jayhawks. I do think Michigan will make the Sweet 16 as they’ll knock off Shaka’s Rams, but Trey Burke will be a non-factor with the Jayhawks’ stifling interior defense and you can BOOK THAT! Alright, on to my flame of the bracket and I’ll probably sound like a homer with this pick (mind you; I did have Kentucky beating Kansas in my final last year which did indeed make me boat loads of money with my KU buddies last year), but I truly like the Kansas Jayhawks to make a deep run in this tournament. With four seniors and one freshman stud who Bill Self has suggested is the most talented player he has ever coached in the starting lineup, the Jayhawks are poised and seem to know how to win close games when it counts. Coming off a 29-5 record, a ninth consecutive conference championship (which is absolutely unheard of for a traditional conference team in this day of age) and yet another conference tournament championship under Bill Self, the Jayhawks have peaked their performance at the perfect time heading into the NCAA tournament. Going into the NCAA tournament, the Jayhawks are one of the best defensive teams in the country anchored by seniors Jeff Withey and Travis Releford. Going into the tournament, KU holds an NCAA low 41.5 EFG% while also blocking 18% of opponents shots which ranks third in the country behind Syracuse and St. Johns. The Jayhawks essentially are able to induce turnovers through the use of Withey’s shot-blocking ability which then creates easy transition baskets for a team that struggles scoring in the half-court at times. Look for PG Elijah Johnson to limit his turnovers and be more assertive offensively which obviously can be done after watching him go for 40 points against Iowa State three weeks ago as the Jayhawks dance to Atlanta to the Final Four. Alright, we got our bracket flames out of the way Mike. Who do you think was over-seeded by the committee and looks like they’ll be bounced by the conclusion of the first weekend of the tournament?
Diplock: One team that a lot of people including myself are down on is UCLA. This group likes to get up and down, very unusual for a Ben Howland team. UCLA will be without their leading scorer and strong wing defender Jordan Adams, who broke his foot against Arizona. The Bruins are also terrible on the glass (worst rebounding team in the Pac-12) because of their soft defensive effort and small front line. The Bruins will face the enigmatic but talented Minnesota team who thrive on second chance points. Look for Trevor Mbakwe and Rodney Williams to have their way with the Bruins front court. I’m not saying its a lock that UCLA will be one and done because they still have an explosive scorer in Shabazz Muhammad and versatile play-maker in Kyle Anderson. However, with the injury to Jordan Adams UCLA’s chances have been dashed considerably. Throw in the mismatch presented by Minnesota and you have the makings of an upset. Who ya got for a bracket lame?
Gray: I’ll stay in the PAC 12 as there is one team I legitimately can’t envision making the Sweet 16 let alone their very first game is Sean Miller’s Arizona Wildcats. Arizona has a 25-7 record with their best wins over Florida, Miami FL, and San Diego St. Lead by senior transfer from Xavier in Mark Lyons, the Wildcats had a rather disappointing PAC 12 season(after starting the non-conference season 14-0) finishing the season 12-6 in a mediocre basketball conference. Arizona drew a real tough first round opponent with a poised Rick Byrd Belmont team. Arizona truly struggles at guarding the 3-point line which is predominately how the Bruins score more of their points (33% of total points are on 3’s ranking 48th in the country). Look for Ian Clark to torch the Wildcat perimeter guards as Arizona will yet again have another disappointing NCAA tournament appearance. Alright Mike, now that we’ve gotten our bracket flames and lames out of the way, who’s your potential Cinderella team that could hopefully make the second weekend of the tournament.
Diplock: As much as I’ve hated on UNLV during the year they’re still my pick. They have had an up and down year highlighted by two losses to bottom dwelling Fresno State of the Mountain West Conference. When I look for a Cinderella, I try to find a roster filled with talent and UNLV has it. Their roster boasts MWC freshman of the year Anthony Bennett, Former McDonalds All-American and MWC defensive player of the year Khem Birch; top that with an experienced rebound machine in Mike Moser and you have a formidable front court. My main concern all year has been their guard play. They start two explosive yet extremely streaky guards in Bryce Dejean-Jones and Katin Reinhardt. At point guard the Rebels turn to Anthony Marshall, a converted shooting guard. Marshall is a strong physical player who can get into the paint and score. Now as we know in March, match-ups are definitely key to determining a likely winner. In the first round UNLV will take on California which is a team they already beat, albeit in the final seconds. I like UNLV to advance with ease (as long as they slow Cal’s leading scoring Allen Crabbe). In the round of 32, the Rebels should take on Syracuse, also a very talented team that didn’t come together as some expected. Based on the statistics, UNLV is a poor shooting team that should struggle against a zone. However, the stats are misleading as UNLV’s good shooters often take bad shots. So UNLV needs to do three things to get into the sweet sixteen: 1. Score in transition. In the half-court, the Rebs’ offense gets stagnant with little ball movement. In transition it’s a different story, Bennett will rip down the rim and their guards will drain threes. 2. Get hot from three. Fast break points won’t be enough to get by Cuse, Kaitin will have to snap out of his funk, while Bennett and Bryce will have to continue with their hot shooting. 3. Shut down James Southerland. UNLV is a tough defensive team who has the length and athleticism to do so. It will have to be a team effort though and will require Senior sub Justin Hawkins to provide energy on the defensive end. From there, UNLV has as much talent as anyone and have the potential to make a deep run. Who you liking for a potential Cinderalla that is looking to make a name for themselves and shock the world?
Gray: Well, this is always a tough call for me as I will ALWAYS go with the percentages in my brackets or even betting on an individual sports game but if you’re looking for a potential Cinderella that will bust brackets; look no further than the Creighton Blue Jays out of the Missouri Valley Conference. Regarding advanced metrics, Creighton is ranked 15 in KenPom and 21 in the Sagarin Ratings; so it seems as though Creighton was heavily under-ranked by the committee last Sunday. I won’t put it in my particular bracket (as I am trying to actually make some money), but don’t be surprised if one of the best players in the NCAA in Doug McDermott knock off Cincinnati and shock Duke to get into the second weekend of the tournament. Mind you, Duke does have their best back in Ryan Kelly, but they’re definitely subject to a potential upset from an inferior opponent based on their style of play (high-pace with a shit ton of three pointers being chucked which showed last year when a 15 seed in Lehigh knocked them off). This potential match-up is probably the most intriguing and my personal favorite when it comes to the first weekend of games as I really want to see the Kelly vs. McDermott matchup. If Creighton gets hot from the floor which is highly likely considering they lead the country in EFG%, 2P% and 3P%, look for a potential Elite 8 run.
Final Four Selections
South: I’ve already stated that I’m high on Michigan, while they aren’t a safe bet I wanted to stir things up with Mike. Trey Burke is going to lead this offensive juggernaut into the semis getting past the Jayhawks.
West: I like the Zags to come out of the west. Kelly Olynyck is one the nations most efficient and versatile big-men in the nation and I don’t see anyone slowing him down. The Zags guards can make shots and have a strong perimeter defender in Garry Bell. Despite all their strengths the Zags struggle with ball pressure and I see them falling to Louisville.
Midwest: Louisville Cardinals. The Cards are lead by veteran guards Peyton Siva and Russ Smith. Both are lightening quick and create turnovers with their full-court pressure. Their offense can be slowed because they can struggle from deep but their solid defense and transition offense should be enough to take them to the title game.
East: The Hoosiers have been consistent on both sides of the ball this year and I like them to come out of the south over Miami. Indiana relies on two POY candidates in an inside-outside tandem of Cody Zeller and Victor Oladipo
National Title Game: Louisville over Indiana. Ville has the defense to stay close in games when their offense slows. On top of that Gorgui Dieng has the size and speed to stay with Zeller in the post. I think the cardinals will be able to force turnovers and grind out a win.
South: I am a little scared about the greatness of Otto Porter and his Hoyas and the Florida Gators ridiculously good advanced metrics, but I’m all in on the Jayhawks this year. Look for Elijah Johnson to make big shots when it counts (as he’s done his whole career in Lawrence), Jeff Withey to play himself into this year’s draft lottery with his defensive ability, and Ben McLemore to become the assertive and aggressive star all NBA scouts have been hoping for.
West: Big Mountain West Conference guy here so it’s no surprise that I’m taking the Lobo’s to make it to Atlanta. Not sold by Gonzaga as they definitely have some tough tests before they even make it to a potential Elite 8 in Pittsburgh in the 3rd round and Wisconsin in the Sweet 16. I like the Lobos side of the bracket for the most part as Kendall Williams will no doubt in my mind put Aaron Craft to shame in a potential Sweet 16 contest (that’s if Ohio St. can hold on against a confident and hot shooting Iowa St. team that can win on any given day). Look for the combo of Snell and Williams to emerge as tournament stars with a little sprinkle of Alex Kirk who can spread you out while also being able to bang down low.
Midwest: At least I agree with Mike on something when it comes to this bracket, but the safe choice in the Midwest has to be the Cardinals of Louisville. Siva and Smith have the necessary experience needed after last year’s Final Four run to make another potential run to Atlanta but these guys are going to need to hit some shots to advance throughout the tournament. If they don’t contain a guy like Marcus Smart out of Oklahoma St., look for a potential early exit for the #1 overall team in the country.
East: Finally, don’t want to do it, but the Indiana Hoosiers definitely have the easiest bracket out of any #1 seed in this tournament and I expect them to take advantage of it by sleep-walking their way through to Atlanta. Look out for Oladipo and Zeller as Mike mentioned as they both have the capability to go off at any given game. Crean definitely needs to make an effort to go to Zeller though in their potential Sweet 16 match-up against Syracuse or else Indiana could face some problems in advancing.
National Title Game: Kansas over Louisville. Give me my Jayhawks in a 65-63 win as Ben McClemore hits a game winning three pointer off the Mario Chalmers play from a hedge screen from Jeff Withey. Sorta looking a little like this. A MAN CAN DREAM RIGHT!?
About the Authors, Mike Diplock & Michael Gray:
Diplock: I eat, sleep and love basketball. I’m a crazed basketball fan who lives in a house full of hockey fans and ball haters. So most of my nights are spent glued to my computer screen watching college ball via firstrowsports.com (much love to them!) The focus of my blogs will be on college basketball and on the up and coming talent in Canada.
Gray: Baseball and basketball enthusiast as well as a former baseball blogger for my beloved Toronto Blue Jays. Expect some Midwest bias in most of my writing as I’m currently a Junior at The University of Kansas. Rock Chalk Jayhawk! You can follow him on twitter at @Jays_Fan2.