The Duke picks: March Madness
Members of the crowd cheer and sing during the We Are One. Opening Inaugural Celebration at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, Sunday, Jan. 18, 2009.
Midwest by Chad Houck
This seems to be one of the weaker regions in the tournament, with a fair number of mid-major representatives and many of the weaker teams from the BCS conferences (Purdue, Alabama, Cal/USF). The regulars in the tournament, UNC and Kansas, shouldn't have much of a struggle breaking through, and I won't be surprised if they meet up in the Elite 8.
Player to Watch: Thomas Robinson
The 6-foot-10 junior from Kansas is averaging just a tick under 18 points per game for the Jayhawks and averages 11.8 rebounds per game, good for a double-double in almost every start. He hits 53 percent of his field goals and is a front-runner for the Naismith Player of the Year Award. Kansas has had a mixed bag of success in the tourney the last few years. They'll go as Robinson goes.
Upset Watch: Belmont over Georgetown
This one is stepping out on the ledge a little bit, but that's what you've got to do sometimes come March Madness. I predict 14-seed Belmont will knock off 3-seed Georgetown Friday afternoon. Belmont's a team that you can count on seeing in the tournament nearly every year, and most of the time they make little impact, but this year's high scoring squad (81.5 points per game) is averaging 8.8 3-pointers per contest. Georgetown has a huge front court, but it won't matter if shots beyond the arc are swishing through for the Bruins.
Dark Horse: Belmont
Following that trend, the Bruins have a fair shot to give San Diego State or NC State a battle in round of 32. It's putting a lot on a team that only played two top 25 teams and lost to both, but a 77-76 lost to Duke earlier this season has me believing they can score with the best of them. It's just a matter of whether they can shut down the opponents top scorers.
Prediction: UNC advances
Assuming John Henson's wrist can stay healthy enough to continue playing, I have to go chalk in this region and say UNC knocks off Kansas to represent the Midwest in the Final Four. The Tarheels are just too deep with top-tier talent and are 11-1 in their past 12 games. No reason to pick against a 29-5 squad with this type of talent and Roy Williams at the helm.
South by Addie Smith
The region with the number one overall seed Kentucky is going to be an interesting one to watch this season, with teams like last year's champion UConn and last year's Cinderella story VCU. Also in this region are Duke, Indiana, Baylor, Notre Dame and Wichita State.
Player to watch: Anthony Davis
Kentucky's breakout freshman has had four straight games with a double-double in rebounds and points and can manipulate the court to his advantage. Look for Davis to not only score for the Wildcats, but pull down boards to give Kentucky an advantage on the court. The front-runner for the Naismith Player of the Year award is a big reason coach John Calipari's team is the top seed.
Upset watch: UConn over Iowa State
The defending champions can never be underestimated, so on Saturday March 17, the Huskies may have a chance to take down Kentucky, just as they did on the way to the title in 2011. UConn must first get by 8-seed Iowa State in the round of 64, but if Kentucky and UConn both win on Thursday, be sure to tune into their showdown Saturday.
Dark horse: Indiana
The Hoosiers showed this season that they're a force to be reckoned with, upending conference foes Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State this season and handing Kentucky their first loss Dec. 10 with a buzzer-beating 3 from Christian Watford. After the wins against Ohio State and Michigan came early in the season, their rankings shot up but quickly fell as they endured a three-game losing streak. They have the potential to play UConn or Kentucky in the Sweet Sixteen but first must get by New Mexico State and the winner of the VCU-Wichita State game.
Prediction: Kentucky advances
After losing to Vanderbilt in the SEC Championship, Kentucky is going to be playing with a chip on their shoulders. Second-seeded Duke is always a threat, but could ultimately be upended by Baylor, and I just don't see the stable of first round draft picks at Kentucky losing after falling in the SEC Championship. The advantage and the region will go to Kentucky.
East by Wes Crosby
College basketball's best will come to Pittsburgh and Albuquerque Thursday and Saturday as some of college basketball's national powers will invade the two cities as part of the NCAA Tournament's East bracket. The most stacked bracket in this year's tournament contains four of the power conferences' regular season or conference tournament champions. The Big East regular season champs, the Big Ten regular season co-champs, the ACC Tournament champs and the SEC Tournament champs will have to battle with each other on their way to the Final Four in New Orleans.
Player to watch: Jared Sullinger
Ohio State's forward has been a terror in the Big Ten this year, almost averaging a double-double. The sophomore sensation averages 18 points and nine rebounds per game, and with his 6-foot-9, 265 pound frame, he could prove unstoppable this week in Pittsburgh. With Sullinger's ability to grab every bounce off the basket, Ohio State will have no problem getting past Loyola-Maryland and the Gonzaga/West Virginia winner to earn a spot in the Sweet 16.
Upset to watch: Montana over Wisconsin
Montana hasn't lost since Jan. 14 and along the way they have accrued the Big Sky's top scoring defense. The Grizzlies beat Weber State by 19 in the Big Sky Championship and Will Cherry's 16 points per game could prove deadly for a Wisconsin team that ranks 263rd in points per game, averaging only 64.
Dark horse: Vanderbilt
The Commodores slayed Goliath in the SEC Championship when they took down the seemingly unstoppable Kentucky Wildcats, who had won 24 consecutive games, to earn Vandy's first SEC title since 1951. Vanderbilt has a tough matchup against a hard-nosed Harvard team in the round of 64, but as long as they can get past that dreaded 5-12 matchup, they could give top-seeded Syracuse a scare in the Sweet 16.
Prediction: Florida State advances
It won't be Syracuse, and it won't be Ohio State dancing their way out of the East. Instead, the forgotten ACC Champs will continue to roll when Florida State beats both the Orange and Buckeyes on its road to the Final Four. The Seminoles beat both North Carolina and Duke twice this season, something that hadn't been done since Wake Forest in 1995-96, proving they have what it takes to play against, and beat, the best. The 'Noles have a good balance between offense and defense, averaging 70 points per game with just 63 points surrendered, which will prove helpful in the defense heavy-East bracket.
West by SaÃºl BerrÃos-Thomas
The West region instantly stands out as the region to watch. The common thread in this region is an up-tempo offensive style. There is almost no weak team even among the double-digit seeds.
Player to Watch: Draymond Green
A player that makes his team go is Draymond Green of Michigan State. He is not only one of the nation's best forwards, but he is also versatile. Green averages 16.1 points per game and 10.4 rebounds per game, both team highs. Like many players who wear the glorious 23, he is a coach on the floor. He facilitates the offense and sets up the defense. He is a true leader and a joy to watch.
Upset Watch: Davidson over Louisville
One big upset to watch for is Davidson over Louisville. Louisville remained quiet in a Big East that was begging for someone to challenge Syracuse. Davidson has had a strong season that has improved more as it progressed. Davidson features Pittsburgh's own Tom Droney, a sophomore who played his high school ball at Sewickley Academy.
Dark Horse: BYU
A team to look out for is BYU. Coming into the tournament after winning their play-in game, on March 13, against Iona, they have a lot of momentum and have the attitude that they are "playing with house money." So-called experts were turning blue in the face screaming "Iona all the way," but BYU reminded everyone that you have to focus on the team in front of you in March. BYU also has a clear path, facing a beatable Marquette team in the first round and then they would likely see Murray State in the second round, a team they could shock in an upset.
Prediction: Florida advances
After a tough game against Murray State, Florida challenges Michigan State in the elite eight. Michigan State is coming off of a war against New Mexico. Michigan State dominates the first few rounds because of the skilled coaching of Tom Izzo. Florida gets to Michigan State by hitting threes from everywhere, but opens the game with a different style of offense run through Patrick Young and freshman stud Bradley Beal. Florida wins a nail-biter and advances to the Final Four, giving Coach Billy Donovan his first appearance there since they went back-to-back in the 05-06 and 06-07 national championships.
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