NCAA Picks: A quick breakdown of some 2013 Final Four possibilities

2 Comments

This has been a season of upsets, underdogs, and unpredictability. The conventional wisdom has been that the NCAA tournament will follow suit. But will it? Will we see four No. 1 seeds in Atlanta, or none at all? Check out the tiered preview below:

The Top: These are the teams that, when judging by seed alone, should have the best shot at making the Final Four

Indiana

The Hoosiers began the season as the No. 1 team in the country and are looking to come full circle and win a national title in Atlanta. Yes, they have weapons like Cody Zeller, Victor Oladipo, Christian Watford, and Yogi Ferrell, but the key will be how each of those gets involved. Oladipo will be the do-everything forward, but Zeller needs to be assertive and physical down low. Because of that, beware of a team that can push the Hoosiers around on the interior.

Louisville

The Cardinals pulled off an immaculate comeback to beat Syracuse in the Big East title game, but it will ultimately come down to guard play for Louisville. If Russ Smith and Peyton Siva are clicking offensively and the defense is forcing turnovers, they’re very tough to beat. If those two are off track for a game, though, the Cardinals could be sent home early.

Gonzaga

Gonzaga hasn’t gotten as much national respect as it perhaps should have, even when it reached No. 1 in the national polls. This is their time to prove their worth. Kelly Olynyk is one of the country’s most mobile and versatile big men and will be at the center of everything the Zags do. Expect an early challenge from Pittsburgh in the Round of 32.

Kansas

Kansas powered through the Big 12 on the backs of Ben McLemore and Jeff Withey but turnovers will be the biggest stumbling block for the Jayhawks on the road to the Final Four. Especially if Kansas meets VCU in the Sweet 16, we could have an upset. If they keep that under control, though, coach Bill Self’s team has the firepower to make a Final Four push.

The Non-No. 1s: Just because they’re not No. 1 seeds doesn’t mean they can’t challenge for a Final Four

Ohio State

The Buckeyes won the Big Ten title the same way they have won games all season: defense. Their ability to defend on that end of the floor will never be in question, but we’ll need to see how they work offensively to get a good taste of how far this team can go. Deshaun Thomas cannot be the only scoring option. Lenzelle Smith, Jr., Aaron Craft, Shannon Scott, LaQuinton Ross, Evan Ravenel, and the rest can all find ways to contribute.

New Mexico

The Mountain West has been as brutally competitive as nearly any conference in the country this year and from it emerges a Final Four sleeper pick, New Mexico. How are the Lobos a sleeper pick as a No. 3 seed? Because many know little about them. Keep an eye on Kendall Williams, Tony Snell, and Alex Kirk, all of whom need to be going offensively for the Lobos to shift into gear. The major concern will be shooting percentage. New Mexico has to hit shots consistently to advance.

Miami

At the beginning of the season, Miami was not expected to do what it has done. Point guard Shane Larkin is a big reason for that, but it has also been a matter of team cohesiveness and the ability to play at different paces. Reggie Johnson needs to be a factor on the interior and the Hurricanes have a chance to make life tough for opponents if Kenny Kadji is stretching the defense from the power forward spot.

Georgetown

Otto Porter, defense, and more Otto Porter. That will be Georgetown’s gameplan in the NCAA tournament. Porter does a little bit of everything well, but will need help from Markel Starks and D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera offensively for the Hoyas to make it to the Final Four being in the same regional as Kansas.

The Mid-Majors: These teams are dangerous in March. They might have come from smaller leagues, but watch out.

VCU

Coach Shaka Smart and the Rams live off of turnovers. They force close to 20 per game and it becomes the lifeblood of a transition offense that can put points on the board in a hurry. Against Saint Louis in the Atlantic 10 championship game, VCU erased a 13-point deficit in close to three minutes.

Saint Louis

Saint Louis, the team that beat VCU to win the A-10 title, is efficient, poised, and smart with the basketball. In a region like the Midwest where Louisville is the No. 1 seed, the Billikens match up favorably. If they can control turnovers, it hurts what Louisville can do offensively. Kwamain Mitchell against Peyton Siva would be one to watch.

Creighton

When your team features one of the country’s best players, you’ll always in a position to be dangerous in the NCAA tournament. Doug McDermott will be the centerpiece of this team, but Grant Gibbs, Gregory Echenique, and Austing Chatman aren’t to be discounted, either. We all should be rooting for a Creighton-Duke matchup in the Round of 32, if for no other reason than to see Ryan Kelly go head-to-head with McDermott.

Bucknell

If you don’t know Mike Muscala’s name yet, you likely will when this NCAA tournament tips off. The Bucknell big man anchors the paint for the Bison and is part of a defensive team that likes to grind teams down to a halt. It’s not always an easy way to win, but Muscala will be the engine behind a push.

Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at JohnnyJungle.com, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_

Dominant first half pushes No. 4 Virginia Tech into second round

AP Photo/Jeff Chiu
Leave a comment

East Region No. 4 Virginia Tech earned the program’s first NCAA tournament victory in 12 years Friday night, as it rode a dominant first half to a 66-52 win over No. 13 Saint Louis.

Buzz Williams’ team limited the Billikens to 18 first half points, taking a 22-point lead into the half as a result. The Hokies weren’t at their best offensively in the second half, but the work done in the first half was more than enough as Saint Louis could get no closer than nine points.

Nickeil Alexander-Walker led the way for Virginia Tech with a game-high 20 points to go along with six rebounds and three steals, with Kerry Blackshear adding 15 points and Ahmed Hill ten. The Hokies shot just 41.7 percent from the field, but a 22-for-27 night from the foul line and a 12-point edge in points from the charity stripe made up for that.

Defensively the Hokies were outstanding in the first half, and would limit the Billikens to 37.3 percent shooting from the field and 4-for-23 from three. Travis Ford’s team, which erased halftime deficits in three of its four wins at last week’s Atlantic 10 tournament, outscored Virginia Tech 34-26 in the second half.

Javon Bess, who sparked the second half rally with some big shots, led three SLU players in double figures with 14 points, with D.J. Foreman adding 12 points and Tramaine Isabell Jr. 11.

Friday’s game also marked the return of Virginia Tech point guard Justin Robinson, who had not played since late January due to a foot injury. The senior finished the game with nine points, three rebounds, two assists and two steals, and while he didn’t shoot the ball particularly well (2-for-7 from the field) Robinson’s presence will only help the Hokies as they look to play deep into the tournament.

Next up for Virginia Tech will be No. 12 Liberty, which upset No. 5 Mississippi State in the first game of the evening session in San Jose.

No. 11 Ohio State advances after landing upset of No. 6 Iowa State

AP Photo/Charlie Riedel
Leave a comment

Chris Holtmann has been to five straight NCAA tournaments since he took over as the interim head coach at Butler during the 2014-15 season.

And after his No. 11-seed Ohio State Buckeyes outlasted No. 6-seed Iowa State, Holtmann can say that his streak remains intact: He has still never lost a game in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

Kaleb Wesson scored 21 points and grabbed 11 boards, overpowering a smaller Iowa State team in the paint and carrying the Buckeyes back to the second round of the dance for the second straight season with a 62-59 win over the Cyclones. Wesson missed a front end of a one-and-one with 10 seconds left in the game, but Nick Weiler-Babb missed a wide-open three from about 23 feet that would have tied the game.

And with that, the Buckeyes will advance to take on No. 3-seed Houston for the right to play in the Sweet 16.

But the talking point coming out of this game isn’t going to be Ohio State vs. Houston, it’s going to about the future of the Iowa State head coaching position. Avery Johnson is negotiating a buyout with Alabama. Steve Prohm grew up in Georgia and is an Alabama alum. There is more than a little smoke surrounding his potential move to Tuscaloosa, and if that does happen, it opens the door for what was almost unthinkable a couple of months ago: A return to Ames for former Iowa State head coach Fred Hoiberg.

And that, in turn, has repercussions that will reverberate throughout the college coaching world. Because Hoiberg was fired by the Chicago Bulls earlier and has been heavily linked with a move to Nebraska to replace Tim Miles, who has not been fired or seen his season come to an end.

This will be fascinating to see get put into motion and where these coaches will land.

But what’s clear is that this process couldn’t start until Iowa State’s season came to an end.

Here we are.

No. 9 UCF beats No. 8 VCU, earns first-ever NCAA tournament win

AP Photo/Sean Rayford
Leave a comment

East Region No. 9 UCF made history Friday night, picking up the program’s first-ever NCAA tournament victory as it beat No. 8 VCU by a 73-58 final score. The reward for the Knights is a shot at top overall seed Duke Sunday night, with head coach Johnny Dawkins facing his mentor for the second time in his coaching career.

UCF grabbed control of Friday’s matchup with a 19-0 run that began in the first half, with VCU going nearly eight minutes without scoring a point. Mike Rhoades’ team rallied in the second half but could get no closer than nine points before the Knights put the game away.

B.J. Taylor led three double-digit scorers with 15 points, and 7-foot-6 center Tacko Fall was the difference-maker in the front court. In addition to scoring 13 points the senior big man also accounted for 18 rebounds and five blocked shots. In addition to the blocks there were shots that Fall altered, and even a couple forced turnovers in which VCU paid the price for making rushed decisions around the basket.

Aubrey Dawkins added 14 points, with Terrell Allen and Frank Bertz scoring nine apiece. With UCF’s win the 9-seeds were 4-0 in first round matchups in this year’s tournament, and three of the wins (UCF, Washington and Oklahoma) were by 15 points or more.

Malik Crowfield led the way for the Atlantic 10 regular season champions with 11 points and De’Riante Jenkins added ten, but VCU shot just 31.1 percent from the field and 6-for-26 from three on the night. UCF used multiple defenses throughout the night, going to a zone when Fall was on the floor and man-to-man when the center was on the bench. The Knights will use a similar formula Sunday in hopes that it will slow down Duke’s talented freshman scorers.

2019 NCAA Tournament: Sunday second round tip times, announcers

Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
Leave a comment

All times Eastern

12:10 p.m.: South No. 10 Iowa vs. No. 2 Tennessee (Columbus; CBS); Brian Anderson/Chris Webber/Allie LaForce

Approx. 2:40 p.m.: Midwest No. 9 Washington vs. No. 1 North Carolina (Columbus; CBS); Anderson/Webber/LaForce

5:15 p.m.: East No. 9 UCF vs. No. 1 Duke (Columbia; CBS); Jim Nantz/Bill Raftery/Grant Hill/Tracy Wolfson

6:10 p.m.: West No. 6 Buffalo vs. No. 3 Texas Tech (Tulsa; TNT); Brad Nessler/Steve Lavin/Jim Jackson/Evan Washburn

7:10 p.m.: East No. 12 Liberty vs. No. 4 Virginia Tech (San Jose; TBS); Spero Dedes/Steve Smith/Len Elmore/Ros Gold-Onwude

Approx.: 7:45 p.m.: South No. 9 Oklahoma vs. No. 1 Virginia (Columbia; truTV); Nantz/Raftery/Hill/Wolfson

Approx. 8:40 p.m.: Midwest No. 11 Ohio State vs. No. 3 Houston (Tulsa; TNT); Nessler/Lavin/Jackson/Washburn

Approx.: 9:40 p.m.: South No. 13 UC Irvine vs. No. 12 Oregon (San Jose; TBS); Dedes/Smith/Elmore/Gold-Onwude

North Carolina shakes off slow start, runs over Iona

Grant Halverson/Getty Images
Leave a comment

The ACC sent three No. 1 seeds to the NCAA tournament, and all three of them decided that they didn’t need to show up for the first half.

Virginia trailed Gardner-Webb by as many at 14 points before going on to win by 15. Duke trailed North Dakota State deep into the first half before taking a 31-27 lead into the break, but they went on to win by 23 points.

North Carolina completed the trifecta, digging themselves a 38-31 hole and taking a five-point deficit into the break before they finally found their rhythm, running No. 16-seed Iona off the floor, 88-73.

Cam Johnson led the way with 21 points, seven boards and four assists for UNC while Nassir Little chipped in with 19 points on 9-for-13 shooting from the field. As a team, the Tar Heels grabbed 19 offensive boards.

That said, the final box score doesn’t tell the whole story.

North Carolina was bad in the first half. They couldn’t get out in transition. They gave up 10 Iona three-pointers. It was the furthest thing from a quintessential North Carolina performance, the kind of showing that will get the Tar Heels on a plane back to Chapel Hill if they play this way against Washington in the next round.

It should be easier to be ready to play when the Pac-12 champs are on the other end of the floor.