Photo: MVC Basketball player Michael Connor runs the court in a basketball game last year. (Photo by Brent Kalwei)
Sports Commentary by Brent Kalwei
Every year March Madness seems to bring a number of great moments from astonishing buzzer beaters to shocking upsets. This year I expect it to be no different with the parity of teams in this year’s college basketball tournament.
I think perhaps the best part of March Madness is to fill out a bracket and see how far your Cinderella picks go in the tournament. This year, there are a number teams I believe can be a dark horse and make a deep run.
(Upsets and Dark Horses)
Stephen F. Austin-12 seed/South Region: (Prediction-Sweet 16)
This year I am picking Stephen F. Austin to surprise the country by winning two NCAA Tournament games over Virginia Commonwealth and UCLA. I am picking SF Austin for the simple fact that they are 31-2 and have won 28 games in a row. The SF Austin team was given a low seed at 12 because of the belief that they didn’t play a tough schedule. I don’t care who they played during that stretch, a 28-game win streak is impressive regardless. I also believe VCU and UCLA are vulnerable opponents that didn’t stand out to me during the season. I think SF Austin gets to the Sweet 16.
North Carolina Central-14 seed/East Region: (Prediction-Round of 32)
This is my most shocking pick of the tournament. North Carolina Central is a team not a lot of people know anything about, including myself. With that being said, I did research on NC Central and came to be impressed with their body of work. The Eagles comes into the tournament with a 20-game streak. They have also defeated NC State earlier this year by 10 points. NC State is in the tournament field. Senior guard Jeremy Ingram is almost unstoppable as he averages 20.6 points per game. What perhaps impresses me most about this team is their stifling defense that only gives up 58.5 points per game. The Eagles also played a competitive game only losing to undefeated Wichita State by 11. Lastly NC Central’s 1st round opponent Iowa State is coming off a Big XII Tournament Championship. Yes, it’s a great thing, but I think Iowa State may be riding a little too high and overlooking NC Central. Therefore, I believe NC Central gets to the round of 32.
North Carolina-6 seed/East Region: (Prediction-Elite Eight)
The Tar Heels are led by guard Marcus Paige, who scores 17.4 points per game. I really like UNC to advance far in the tournament because the potential the team has, athough the Tar Heels have had some let-down games, including a poor showing in the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament. With that being said, they have also shown they can play with the best teams in the country. They come into the field with wins over tournament teams such as 2 seed-Duke, 4 seed-Louisville, 4 seed-Michigan State and 8 seed-Kentucky. In fact, many people including me believe Louisville and Michigan State can win the whole tournament. A major reason I believe UNC will win three tournament games and make it to the Elite Eight is because I think they have some of the weakest teams in their bracket. I’m not sold that teams like Villanova and Connecticut are as talented to knock them off.
Harvard-12 seed/East Region: (Prediction-Round of 32)
This Ivy-League school isn’t just about brains anymore. Their basketball program has made a splash the past few years. In fact, Harvard upset New Mexico in last year’s tournament as a 14 seed. This year Harvard comes into the tournament with a first round match-up against Cincinnati. Cincinnati won the American Athletic Conference regular season title which is very impressive considering Louisville, Memphis and Connecticut are in the conference. I still believe the Crimson pull the upset behind great free-throw shooting (73%) and solid three-point shooting (39%). Harvard also seems to always play good defense and they spread the ball around really well.
Baylor-6 seed/West Region: (Prediction-Elite Eight)
Baylor’s season is a tale of two sides. At times the Bears looked like one of the worst teams in their conference and other times they played like they could beat almost anyone in the country. Baylor is playing its best basketball at the right time. They finished as the runner-up in the Big XII Tournament and have won 10 of their last 12 games coming into the NCAA Tournament. The Bears have good inside-out play with center Cory Jefferson and an explosive three-point shooter in senior guard Brady Heslip. I don’t even have to look at Heslip’s stats to know he is one of the best three-point shooters in the country. Every time I’ve seen him play, he has lit it up from long range. Heslip is Baylor’s x-factor. I have Baylor advancing to the Elite Eight because I’m not sold on the play of teams like Nebraska, Creighton and Wisconsin who are in their side of the bracket.
Every team’s goal is to get to the Final Four in Arlington, Texas, and cut the nets down as National Champions. These are the teams that I believe will ultimately reach their destination.
Florida-1 seed/South Region
The Gators come into the tournament off a thrilling victory over Kentucky in the Southeastern Conference title game. With the win, Florida completed a perfect 21-0 record in conference play. The Gators have also won 26 games in a row, making them the tournament’s overall number one team. I don’t see too many threats in the way of Florida before the Final Four other than Kansas. Florida already beat Kansas earlier this year and I see the Gators getting by the Jayhawks again in route to the Final Four. They are the most complete team in the field in my eyes.
Michigan State-4 seed/East Region
The Spartans have been plagued with a number of injuries this year to star players such as forward Branden Dawson and guard Gary Harris. Therefore, throughout most of the season, people haven’t got the chance to see how good this team actually is. Michigan State’s 26-8 record and low seed is highly because of the team not being at full strength. As early March rolled around, the Spartans began playing games with their main starters. Michigan State has proved to be playing their best at the right time by taking the Big Ten title, knocking off the likes of highly ranked Michigan and Wisconsin. In fact, almost every expert on ESPN picked them in their bracket to win it all this year. With Head Coach Tom Izzo at the helm, anything is possible. He seems to get the best out of his team come tournament time.
San Diego State-4 seed/West Region
To me, the West Region is the weakest of all regions in this year’s tournament. The top seed in the West is Arizona and they have been inconsistent at times. I feel like they aren’t quite good enough to make it all the way to the Final Four. I like San Diego State to win this region because their defense is one of the best in the field, only giving up 56.6 points per game. The Aztecs’ most impressive win to me was when they defeated Kansas in Allen Fieldhouse (Lawrence, Kansas). It was KU’s only loss at home all season. With a weak region and experience of Coach Steve Fisher, I have San Diego State as a sleeper Final Four team.
Louisville-4 seed/Midwest Region
The Midwest Region is the toughest in the tournament in my opinion. It includes Wichita State who went undefeated alongside Duke and Michigan who are both playing well. Although Wichita State is very talented and has yet to lose a game, I have been high on Louisville for months now. In fact, I think they are the second best team in the country behind Florida. I like Louisville’s inside-and-out play with experienced guard Russ Smith and monster forward Montrezl Harrell who is a human highlight film. I have been impressed with Harrell ever since I’ve seen some of his powerful dunks a few months ago against American Athletic Conference opponents. Louisville is a deep team who scores in many different ways and looks like an unstoppable machine right now. They just completed a run through their conference tournament, winning every game by double digits, which included a 61-point victory over Rutgers.
Florida over Louisville:
I have the Florida Gators cutting down the nets and taking the National Championship by defeating Louisville. The Gators are coached by Billy Donovan who is one of the best in the business. They are also very consistent, beating tough opponents over the entire season. They haven’t lost a game since December 2 and I don’t see them losing another this season. Louisville is one of the most complete teams in the country but I believe Florida is more complete. They have arguably the best guard in Scottie Wilbekin who won SEC Player of the Year because of great all-around play. They also have Patrick Young who I believe can slow down Harrell just enough to beat Louisville. I think Florida has consistently been the best team in the country this year and will continue their dominance with a 74-70 victory over Louisville in the title game.