Earlier today, Pro Basketball Talk’s own Kurt Helin hopped on with Kay Adams to discuss how the NCAA tournament will affect the NBA Draft and some of the nation’s top prospects: Andrew Wiggins, Marcus Smart, T.J. Warren.
It’s always an interesting discussion to have, as so many players have catapulted their draft stock by putting together a memorable tournament run.
Who is capable of putting together that kind of a run this season? Over at Rotoworld, Ed Isaacson breaks down the top prospects in each region and what scouts are looking for them to prove over these next three weeks. Here are the links, by region: East, West, Midwest, South.
March Madness is when heroes get made in college basketball. With the eyes of an entire nation descending upon our sport for a month, getting hot on the court as spring begins to thaw out a polar vortex-induced deep freeze is what can turn a good player into an unforgettable memory, into One Shining Moment.
Guys like Harold Arceneaux and C.J. McCollum, Danny Manning and Kemba Walker, Bryce Drew and Ali Farokhmanesh. You might not remember who he beat, but you should remember Stephen Curry carrying Davidson to without a shot of the Final Four, or Carmelo Anthony leading Jim Boeheim to his only national title.
Here are 14 players that can turn this into their tournament:
Doug McDermott, Creighton: Dougie McBuckets. The best player in the country. One of the best scorers that we’ve seen in college basketball history. How good is he? I always use this as an example: McDermott scored 22 points, hitting four threes, and grabbed 12 boards in Creighton’s loss at Georgetown earlier this month, and the overriding sentiment was that he had an off-night. Think about that. He can get 35 a night in the tournament and I wouldn’t be shocked.
Here’s the interesting part: McDermott’s career is incredible, but legends get made in March. A deep run in the tournament is the one thing that he’s missing on his resume. Will he get it this year?
Jabari Parker, Duke: The easy comparison to make for Jabari Parker at the next level is Carmelo Anthony, and, like Anthony in 2003, Parker will enter the tournament on a team with a No. 3 seed. Parker may be the most difficult matchup in the tournament and has already proven himself capable of carrying the weight for the Blue Devils.
Andrew Wiggins, Kansas: Wiggins has been the most over-analyzed player in the country, but we all saw what he is capable of in the loss at West Virginia the overtime win over Oklahoma State in the last two weeks. With Embiid’s status uncertain, if Wiggins can lead Kansas to a Final Four, he’ll be the biggest story in college basketball.
Nik Stauskas, Michigan: Wouldn’t it be something if Michigan can make back-to-back Final Fours despite losing Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Mitch McGary? If they do, it will be because of Stauskas, who has turned into the focal point for that offensive attack.
Russ Smith, Louisville: It feels weird saying this about a guy that is coming off of a Final Four and a National Title in the past two seasons, but with the change in Smith’s role this season, he’s become a much bigger part of this team’s success. He’s capable of carrying the Cardinals to a back-to-back titles.
Shabazz Napier, UConn: Can Bazz get his Kemba on? He’s had that kind of a season for the Huskies this year, hitting big shot after big shot while carrying the Huskies to a No. 7 seed in the Big Dance. He also has a flair for the dramatic. Don’t be surprised if when his game-winners make One Shining Moment.
Bryce Cotton, Providence: I’m glad Cotton has gotten a chance to play on a national stage. He’s thrived in anonymity for the last four years, and now he can showcase his ability nation-wide. An upset over North Carolina would be a good place to start, but …
Marcus Paige, North Carolina: … he’ll be going up against another guard with the ability to take over in Paige. North Carolina has the ability to make a run this year, and Paige is the guy that will carry them. There’s a reason is nickname is “second half Paige”.
T.J. Warren, N.C. State: 30 times this season, T.J. Warren has scored more than 20 points. He’s done it in 18 straight games, including popping off for more than 40 in back-to-back games at the end of the regular season. He was the ACC Player of the Year. N.C. State already won a game in March. If they make a run, he’ll be a star.
Marcus Foster, Kansas State: The freshman no one talked about. Foster is a tough scorer and a big-time athlete at the off-guard spot, but he’ll have a couple of tough matchups with Kentucky and then, in all likelihood, a date with Wichita State.
Taylor Braun, North Dakota State: I really like Braun and I’ve loved this North Dakota State team all season, but they drew a tough matchup for them against Oklahoma. Still, Braun is their best player and a guy that can takeover in crunch time.
Elfrid Payton, Louisiana-Lafayette: Payton is a beast. He played with Team USA in the U-19 championships this summer and started. He’s an athletic, penetrating guard that’s a terror defensively, and he’ll be tough for Creighton to matchup with. People notice if you knock out the National Player of the Year.
Langston Hall, Mercer: Hall is as tough of a point guard as you are going to find and, like C.J. McCollum and Eric Maynor before him, he’ll have a chance to etch his name into history by leading his team to an upset of Duke in the NCAA tournament.
David Brown, Western Michigan: I’ve got Western Michigan beating Syracuse in the Round of 64. Brown is their leading scorer at 19.7 points. You can do the math there.
While the greatest day in the history of sports — the first Thursday of the NCAA tournament — is still two days away, the Big Dance actually kicks off tonight with the first two games of the First Four.
Here is a quick look at the four games that will be played in Dayton over the course of the next two days:
Tue. 6:40 p.m.: No. 16 Albany vs. No. 16 Mount St. Mary’s:
Playing for the right to face Florida on Thursday, two of the NCAA tournament’s most unexpected participants will square off the the first of 67 glorious games.
Albany was the No. 4 seed in the America East tournament, upsetting league champ Vermont in the semifinals on their home court before heading to Long Island to beat Stony Brook on the road. The Great Danes are led by Peter Hooley and Sam Rowley. Hooley has been playing great of late, as he scored 71 points in the three America East tournament games.
Mount St. Mary’s is led by a member of Shaka Smart’s coaching tree. Jamion Christian runs a similar system to what Shaka Smart does at VCU, only his is called Mayhem instead of Havoc. They press, they try to force turnovers and they shoot a lot of threes. The name to know on the Mountaineers is Julian Norfleet.
Tue. 9:10 p.m.: No. 12 N.C. State vs. No. 12 Xavier
N.C. State was the surprise of Selection Sunday, as they snuck into the dance over SMU, who had spent much of the final month of the regular season in the top 25. Xavier had a bit more room to spare, as most experts considered them as close to a lock as a bubble team can get, but they still found themselves on the wrong end of a play-in game.
This has the potential to be quite an entertaining game. N.C. State is led by T.J. Warren, who is one of the nation’s most talented scorers. He went for more than 40 points in back-to-back games at the end of the regular season and beat out Jabari Parker for ACC Player of the Year.
Xavier has a talented scorer in their own right in Semaj Christon, a 6-foot-3 sophomore point guard that has had the offense built around him this season. The good news for Xavier is that they also have Matt Stainbrook back from a knee injury that cost him a game at the end of the regular season.
Wed. 6:40 p.m.: No. 16 Cal Poly vs. No. 16 Texas Southern
Cal Poly is the lowest seeded team in this field after losing nine of their last 11 games and sneaking into the dance with a regular season record of just 12-19. Poly is led by Chris Eversley and Dave Nwaba, their two leading scorers and rebounders, but it was a three from Ridge Shipley, a freshman point guard that comes off the bench, that gave them the win over Cal St. Northridge.
Texas Southern is loaded with guys that you’ve heard of before. Their coach is Mike Davis, who once led Indiana to a Final Four. Their best player is Aaric Murray, a former top 100 recruit that played at La Salle and West Virginia. Former Marshall scorer D.D. Scarver is their second-leading scorer while Oklahoma State transfer Ray Penn comes off the bench.
Wed. 9:10 p.m.: No. 11 Tennessee vs. No. 11 Iowa
This will be one of the most interesting matchups of the first week of the tournament. Tennessee is a team with a great computer profile, a dominating win over Virginia in December and a talented roster playing their best basketball down the stretch of the season. The problem? The Vols lost too many head-scratchers and got a pair of bad breaks on game-winning threes from Texas A&M’s Antwan Space in their two losses to the Aggies this season.
Iowa is similar in that their computer numbers look really good, but their overall profile is suspect. They blew too many close games early in the season and they have completely lost the ability to play defense over the course of the last month.
The matchup that will be interesting will be between Jordan McRae and Roy Devyn Marble, two of the nation’s most underrated stars, but the x-factor is going to be Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery. His son is having surgery to remove a tumor from his thyroid on the day of the game, and McCaffery will fly into Dayton before tip-off after being by his son’s side during the procedure. Will Iowa rally around their head coach and his family.
1. Wichita State Shockers: After running the table, Wichita State was rewarded for its 34-0 record with the top spot in the bracket’s most difficult region. How difficult? The Shockers could end up playing Kentucky, which appears to be putting it all together, in the Round of 32. I think the Shockers have the experience and toughness to get to the Sweet 16, but then there is a potential matchup with defending national champion Louisville, which is playing its best basketball. I’d love the Shockers to get back to the Final Four because this team is talented — better than last year’s, in fact — and it would quiet some season-long doubters, but I would not like to face the Cardinals right now.
2. Duke Blue Devils: Another member of the Midwest Region, the Blue Devils enter the tournament coming off a ACC Tournament championship loss to Virginia. Duke should get to the Sweet 16, where it could play a familiar opponent. The Blue Devils defeated Michigan back on Dec. 3. But this Wolverines team is much improved. Derrick Walton has grown up. Caris LeVert has been great, which is big because it takes pressure off Nik Stauskas, who was limited to four points in that meeting in Durham. Let’s say Duke does get by Michigan. The trendy pick to reach the Elite 8 at the top of the bracket is Louisville, which has Montrezl Harrell inside, who will be tough for Duke to stop.
3. Virginia Cavaliers: The ACC regular season and tournament champion came on late this season, winning 16 of its last 17 games. But, the Cavaliers weren’t stellar in the non-conference. Virginia’s best win before ACC play was against NCAA tournament snub SMU, while losing back-to-back games against Wisconsin and Green Bay, another NCAA tournament caliber team, and to VCU — a No. 5 seed in the South. It’s clear the selection committee placed a lot of weight on the ACC Tournament and Virginia’s success in conference play. Many think the last No. 1 seed didn’t belong to Virginia, but that could be answered in the Sweet 16 with a potential clash against surging Michigan State.
4. Villanova Wildcats: In the Big East Tournament quarterfinals, a buzzer-beater from Sterling Gibbs’ sent Villanova back to Philadelphia. The Wildcats got a generous seeding from the committee, especially when you consider that Creighton dominated them, twice. My personal thinking is that Saint Joseph’s gets by UConn. The Hawks were throttled by Villanova earlier this season, but Phil Martelli’s club is rolling after its Atlantic 10 Tournament run. St. Joe’s has good guard play, led by Langston Galloway and Halil Kanacevic is grabbing 13.8 rebounds per game in his last five contests.
5. Wisconsin Badgers: Bo Ryan has yet to reach a Final Four. This is likely his best chance to do so, with the Badgers ability to score. However, Oregon is playing well as of late. If the Ducks get by BYU, they can pose as a problem for the Badgers. Wisconsin has been up-and-down, going from No. 3 in the nation to a dreadful January to eight straight Big Ten wins. A deeper tournament run than in years past is dependent on the Badgers making shots.
6. Kansas Jayhawks: It’s not typically wise to bet against Bill Self in March, but Kansas is without freshman center Joel Embiid. If New Mexico advances past Stanford Round of 64, the Jayhawks will have to deal with Cameron Bairstow and Alex Kirk in the frontcourt. I’d love to see Kansas get a rematch against Florida in the South Regional final, but without Embiid that may not happen.
7. Cincinnati Bearcats: The committee did not do the American Athletic Conference any favors. The conference’s co-regular season champion drew Harvard in the Round of 64. Last season, three No. 12 seeds knocked off No. 5 seeds. This one is a common upset pick in many brackets as the Crimson are coming off last year’s shocking win over No. 3 New Mexico. Harvard has the tournament experience, which was only added to with the return of Kyle Casey and Brandyn Curry. The Crimson could pull off another tourney win if they catch the Bearcats in a drought. If Cincy does advance, it’ll likely face one of the hottest teams in the nation in Michigan State
8. Syracuse Orange: They didn’t lose until Feb. 19, but the Orange were playing with fire for weeks leading up. The previously 25-0 Orange went 2-5 in their last seven games. The length of the zone, freshman point guard Tyler Ennis and the seasoned C.J. Fair can all help turn it around in March. But if Syracuse plays like it had in the past six weeks, it could be an early exit for Cuse.
The time of year where every single eyeball of every single sports fan across the country falls upon our underappreciated sport for three glorious weeks in March.
Now, most of the people that read this site religiously (Hi, Grandma!) will already know a thing or two about college basketball this year. If you don’t, we got you covered. Click here. Read every word. You’ll be good to go.
But knowing teams and names and stats isn’t what’s going to win you your Bracket Pool. We’ve all been in a pool where the girlfriend of the dude that hates sports and was only involved in the first place because he got a pity invite ends up taking home the jackpot. You know that pain. I certainly do.
That’s why we’re here, to give you all the tidbits and insider knowledge you can handle while trying to pick 67 winners. Here are 16 things you need to know while filling out your bracket, and if you win Warren Buffet’s billion dollars, my cut is 3%.
1. Always stick to a single bracket even if you’re in more than one pool. If you feel the need to fill out multiple brackets, just walk away from the computer for five minutes. Everyone knows that Sports Karma is at its strongest when you’re all-in pulling for one team. We don’t hedge our bets around here.
2. Never fill out your bracket with permanent ink on the first go-round. You will change your mind. And then change it back. And then change it back again.
3. A No. 16 seed has never beaten a No. 1 seed. It’s not going to happen, so don’t even bother.
4. That said, it’s OK to be reckless. No one likes the guy that has all chalk in the Sweet 16. Can’t stand the thought of No. 3 Duke winning a game? Pick No. 14 Mercer! Does your Marquette fandom preclude you from ever rooting for No. 2 Wisconsin? Well, three No. 2 seeds have lost to No. 15 in the last two years. Gamble away …
5. … but be smart the further you get. Only four times since 1979, when the tournament was first seeded, as someone lower than a No. 3 won the National Title: No. 4 Arizona (1997), No. 6 Kansas (1988), No. 6 N.C. State (1983), No. 8 Villanova (1985). …
6. … and only 10 times in those 35 years has someone lower than a No. 8 seed made the Final Four.
7. … but it has happened three times in the last three season, and that doesn’t include No. 5 Butler or No. 5 Michigan State making the Final Four in 2010. So if you fall in love with a sleeper, go ahead and roll the dice. You’ll have endless bragging rights if you’re right.
8. There are no locks for a Round of 64 upset … this year. Georgetown is in the NIT.
9. Kansas will do one of two things: They’ll make a run to the Final Four, or they’ll get dropped by a mid-major at some point in the first weekend of the tournament. Guess right (ahem, New Mexico anyone?) and your bracket will be thankful.
10. You should always trust in Tom Izzo and Michigan State.
11. But you should also always trust in Billy Donovan. He not only won two titles back-to-back with Florida, but he made three straight Elite 8s with Kenny Boynton. Hall. Of. Fame.
12. If you’re stuck, never, EVER flip a coin. There has to be logic. Any kind of logic. Which mascot would win in a fight. Which school’s colors would better match the shirt you’re wearing. Which coach’s wife is the hottest. Find a system, and always trust the system.
13. If you’ve reached your limit and you can’t make a decision, put the bracket down for a few hours. Leave your office (like you’re actually going to be working this week) and go hit Happy Hour. Three ice cold brewskis and a dozen wings later, your decision won’t be any easier, but you might have realized it’s stupid to work yourself into a tizzy worrying about who would win an 8-9 game when you have the No. 1 seed in that region winning the National Title
Point being, have fun with it. We stress ourselves out enough with Fantasy Football — I’ll seriously never forgive Matt Stafford for last year’s collapse until August when I draft him again because I hate myself — filling out a bracket should be enjoyable.
Seven must-watch NCAA tournament Round of 64 games
The selection committee didn’t show much love for the newly-formed American Athletic Conference, however, it did give this Round of 64 a great storyline as Steve Masiello, who has led Manhattan into the tournament for the first time in a decade, faces his former coach Rick Pitino.
Masiello certainly has familiarity with Louisville, serving as an assistant to Pitino for six seasons and recruiting guys like Russ Smith and Wayne Blackshear.
But he also has a pretty good team as well. The Jaspers have the perimeter talent in George Beamon and Mike Alvarado while reigning MAAC Defensive Player of the Year Rhamel Brown manning the frontline. I’d would have considered going with Manhattan as an upset pick in most games, but Louisville is playing at a high-level at the moment. The Jaspers are still dangerous, though.
No. 6 Ohio State vs. No. 11 Dayton — South — Thursday, 12:15 p.m.
The selection committed made another intriguing matchup, pitting in-state opponents Dayton and Ohio State together in the Round of 64. The Flyers and Buckeyes don’t meet in the regular season, but they will in the South Region. Ohio State has had its well-documented offensive struggles, but Archie Miller’s guys can light it up from beyond the arc. The Flyers are led by Ohio State transfer Jordan Sibert and Devin Oliver, both scoring better than a dozen a game.
No. 4 Michigan State vs. No. 13 Delaware — East — Thursday, 4:40 p.m.
When the Spartans are healthy, they are a national contender, and they sure look that part lately. The four-seed is penciled in by many as the team advancing out of the East Region. But in its first game of the tournament Michigan State will go up against a high-scoring perimeter attack as Devon Saddler (19.7 ppg), Davon Usher (19.4 ppg) and Jarvis Threatt (18.1 ppg) can put up points in a hurry. The Fighting Blue Hens can certainly make this interesting on Thursday evening.
No. 5 VCU vs. No. 12 Stephen F. Austin — South — Friday, 7:27 p.m.
The Rams had a six-game winning streak ended in the Atlantic 10 Tournament Championship game at the hands of Saint Joseph’s. Stephen F. Austin hasn’t lost since Nov. 23, winners of 28 in a row.
Like Havoc, the Lumberjacks can really defend. Both force a highest percentage of turnovers. VCU has had trouble shooting the ball from beyond the arc, especially with Melvin Johnson out on Sunday. This could be the 12 over 5 upset.
No. 6 North Carolina vs. No. 11 Providence — East — Friday, 7:20 p.m.
Marcus Paige vs. Bryce Cotton? Yes, please.
The Tar Heels have lost two straight, including one to Pittsburgh in the ACC quarterfinals. Providence ended up winning the Big East Tournament over Creighton. The Friars are back in the Big Dance for the first time since 2004, and they have an All-American talent in Cotton.
Providence has a lot of momentum heading into the tournament and we’ve seen how up-and-down North Carolina can be this season. This could be an upset in San Antonio.
No. 5 Oklahoma vs. No. 12 North Dakota State — West — Thursday, 7:27 p.m.
This could shape up to be an early round matchup that goes down to the final possession. The Bison are no joke. They defeated Notre Dame in South Bend, when the Irish still had Jerian Grant. They have a nice one-two punch with Taylor Braun and Marshall Bjorklund. North Dakota State gets some of the best looks on offense in the country with a 55 percent effective field goal percentage, according to kenpom.com
No. 6 Baylor vs. No. 11 Nebraska — West — Friday, 12:40 p.m.
Two power conference teams in a Round of 64 matchup will always be one to look out for. The Bears finished the season strong after digging themselves in the Big 12 basement, winning six of their last seven.
Nebraska has been a fun team to watch, back in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1998. How will Cornhuskers handle this stage? They ended the Big 12 Tournament, blowing a double-digit lead to Ohio State, but this is also the same team that defeated Michigan State on the road and Wisconsin nine days ago.