The NCAA Tournament is upon us. Let’s take a look at the West Region. The one seed in the West, Xavier, will look to avoid an upset and make it to the Final Four in San Antonio via Los Angeles. However, there are 16 other teams looking to do the same thing. Here’s what to watch for.
Upset Pick: #10 Providence over #7 Texas A&M
Providence enters the “Big Dance” as one of the hottest teams in the country. The Friars have already enjoyed their fair share of March madness thus far, having played three overtime games at Madison Square Garden at the Big East Tournament. Providence is wildly under-seeded as a ten seed and has proven they can beat the nation’s top competition. The Friars were the only team in the Big East to beat both Xavier and Villanova and took down the Musketeers twice. Rodney Bullock, Alpha Diallo, and Kyron Cartwright are a three-headed monster that will be tough to stop. Led by Tyler Davis, the Texas A&M Aggies will look to avoid an early exit from the Tournament this March. Texas A&M has battled through an up-and-down year to earn a 7-seed, but it will be interesting to see how the Aggies respond to being on the wrong side of Collin Sexton’s (Alabama) buzzer beater in the SEC Tournament. Look for Providence to pull off the upset in Charlotte.
Sleeper: Ohio State Buckeyes
My sleeper pick in the West Region is the Ohio State Buckeyes. As a 5-seed, Ohio State may not seem like a sleeper, but with Gonzaga being the 4-seed in the West Region, some may forget just how good the Buckeyes are. First-year head coach Chris Holtmann has a team, led by Big Ten Player of the Year Keita Bates-Diop, that can upset the Zags on their way to the second weekend.
Pick to Win the West Region: North Carolina Tar Heels
The North Carolina Tar Heels, led by seniors Joel Berry II and Theo Pinson, will look to defend their title. North Carolina has won nine of their last twelve games and are coming off three wins in the ACC Tournament before losing to the number one overall seed Virginia in the championship game in Brooklyn. The senior leadership and the play of All-ACC First-Team selection Luke Maye will be enough lead the Tar Heels past Lipscomb, Providence, Michigan, and Ohio State on their way to the Final Four in San Antonio.
The NCAA Tournament is upon us. Let’s take a look at the South Region. The number one overall seed, Virginia, will look to advance to San Antonio via winning the South Region in Atlanta. However, there are 15 other teams looking to do the same thing. Here’s what to watch for.
Upset Pick: #11 Loyola-Chicago over #6 Miami
Loyola-Chicago, Champions of the Missouri Valley Conference, is 28-5 overall and has won their last ten games entering the NCAA Tournament. The Ramblers already have an upset under their belt this season as they took down Florida in Gainesville in December. Loyola-Chicago has a balanced attack led by Clayton Custer’s 13.4 points and 4.3 assists per game. Miami is 22-9 and prior to losing to North Carolina in the ACC Tournament had won four consecutive games. Lonnie Walker IV will look to lead the Hurricanes past the Ramblers and avoid the upset. The teams play very similar playing styles and Loyola-Chicago is poised to win a game in their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1985.
Sleeper: Texas Longhorns
My sleeper pick in the South Region is the Texas Longhorns. At 19-14, Texas has wins over TCU, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, and West Virginia. With freshman phenom Mohamed Bamba back from injury, the Longhorns could be a double-digit seed that could advance to the second weekend if they get by Nevada and then possibly Cincinnati.
Pick to Win the South Region: Arizona Wildcats
Arizona has struggled to live up to the hype in recent NCAA Tournaments, but this year the Wildcats are fueled by the ongoing FBI investigation and have been one of the best teams entering the “Big Dance.” Arizona has the best player in the country, Deandre Ayton, who scored 32 points and grabbed 18 rebounds in their Pac-12 Championship game win over USC. The Wildcats have won eight of their last nine games and are under-seeded as a four seed. Look for Arizona to upset Virginia in the Sweet Sixteen and then take down Tennessee in the Elite Eight to make their way to the Final Four in San Antonio.
Syracuse lost, 78-59, to North Carolina in the second round of the ACC Tournament Wednesday night.
The Orange used a 12-2 run to cut the Tar Heels’ lead to 66-57 with 4:17 to go on a free throw by Tyus Battle, but Syracuse was unable to get any closer the rest of the way.
The Orange trimmed North Carolina’s lead to 20-19 with 10:19 remaining in the first half on a trey by Oshae Brissett, but the Tar Heels responded with an 11-0 run to take command. North Carolina took a 39-29 lead into the break.
The Tar Heels shot 43.9% from the field and held Syracuse to just 31.7% from the floor. North Carolina also forced the Orange into 12 turnovers and outrebounded Syracuse, 42-37.
Kenny Williams led the Tar Heels with 17 points and 3 steals. Theo Pinson was a thorn in the side of the Orange once again, as he produced a double-double with 16 points and 11 rebounds. The senior swing-man also dished out 6 assists.
Syracuse was led by Brissett who recorded a double-double with 20 points and 10 rebounds. Battle added 15 points on only 4-of-21 shooting.
Frank Howard did not play well enough for the Orange to win. Howard finished with 12 points on just 4-of-18 from the floor. The point guard distributed 4 assists, but turned the ball over 7 times against North Carolina’s stout defense. Howard came away with 3 steals of his own in the losing effort.
Jim Boeheim commented on his team’s performance in his postgame press conference. “I thought their [North Carolina] defense was really good, half-court,” Boeheim said. “We just couldn’t get any penetration against them. This team has fought as hard as any team I’ve ever coached. We’re limited. I’m very proud of what they’ve done. They’ve really worked hard through it. We got it to nine, we just didn’t capitalize.”
With the loss, Syracuse fell to 20-13, while the Tar Heels improved to 23-9.
Syracuse will wait anxiously to hear whether or not their name is called on Selection Sunday. The Orange have only three quadrant one wins. Syracuse, in total, is 6-11 versus quadrant one and quadrant two and has two quadrant three losses. The Orange will need to root for the rest of the bubble teams to lose in the various conference tournaments this weekend.
SEC Tournament: March 7-March 11, Scottrade Center, St. Louis, MO
The SEC will host their 2018 men’s basketball conference tournament at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis. The Tourney will feature seven teams destined for a run in the NCAA Tournament and three teams fighting to build their resume for an at-large bid or to secure an automatic bid.
Auburn (25-6,13-5) will be hungry to take home both the SEC Regular Season and Tournament Championships after not having a single player in the SEC First Team. Bryce Brown and Jared Harper were both relegated to the All-SEC Second Team. Auburn will look to hang onto a three seed in the NCAA Tournament with a strong showing in St. Louis. Auburn will begin its quest for an SEC postseason championship when the play the winner of the eight seed Texas A&M and the nine seed Alabama Friday at 1pm.
My pick to win the SEC Tournament is the Tennessee Volunteers. Tennessee (23-7, 13-5) has been the most consistent team in the SEC all year. Led by SEC Player of the Year, Grant Williams, and All-SEC Second Team performer Admiral Schofield, the Volunteers will look to hold onto a top four seed in the NCAA Tournament and the chance to play their first weekend games in Nashville. As the second seed in the SEC Tournament, Rick Barnes’ team will be hungry to claim a conference postseason title. Tennessee will begin its run in March with the winner of the game between 7-seeded Mississippi State and 10-seeded LSU on Friday at 7pm.
Florida (20-11, 11-7) looked to be a team destined for the Final Four early on this season, but found their way closer to the bubble in late February. After winning at home against Kentucky in the regular season finale, the Gators look to be headed to the NCAA Tournament thanks to the leadership of All-SEC First Teamer Chris Chiozza. Florida will open against the winner of the 6-seed Arkansas and the 11-seed South Carolina on Friday at 9pm.
Kentucky (21-10, 10-8) struggled at times during the regular season, but as Coach Calipari’s team’s usually do, the Wildcats are peaking at the right time headed into March Madness. Co-SEC Rookie of the Year Kevin Knox will look to lead the Wildcats to a deep run in the “Big Dance” and that starts with continuing their momentum in the conference tournament. Kentucky will face the winner of the 5-seed Missouri and the 12-seed Georgia on Friday at 3pm.
Missouri (20-11, 10-8) is the most intriguing story of the SEC Tournament. Michael Porter Jr., the top recruit in the Class of 2017, will return to action Thursday for the first time after injuring his back two minutes into his college career. It will be interesting to see how he fits in with his teammates, including All-SEC First Team selection, Canisius transfer Kassius Robertson, who earned the five seed in the SEC Tourney and are destined for a bid in the NCAA Tournament. The goal for Porter Jr. is to be productive and stay healthy as he is touted to be a top five pick in this year’s NBA Draft. Missouri will take on the 12-seed Georgia, who defeated Vanderbilt in a play-in game on Wednesday night, on Thursday at 3pm.
Arkansas, led by All-SEC First Team member Jaylen Barford, will look to improve their NCAA Tournament seeding with a strong showing at the Scottrade Center. The Razorbacks are 21-10 overall, 10-8 in the SEC and will open against the 11-seed South Carolina, who defeated Ole Miss in a play-in game Wednesday night, on Thursday at 9pm.
Texas A&M battled through injuries and suspensions to key players to finish eighth in the league and in position to earn an at-large bid to the “Big Dance.” The Aggies, led by All-SEC First Team performer Tyler Davis, are talented enough to make noise in both the SEC and NCAA Tournaments. Texas A&M is 20-11 overall, 9-9 in league play and will open against Alabama on Thursday at 1pm.
On the Bubble: Alabama, Mississippi State, Georgia
Alabama, led by co-SEC Rookie of the Year Collin Sexton, is on the wrong side of the bubble as of the inception of the SEC Tournament. The Crimson Tide will likely need to make a run to the semifinals of the conference tournament and pick up wins over the eight seed Texas A&M (Thursday at 1pm.) and top seeded Auburn to earn an at-large bid. Any slip-ups before that and Alabama will be destined for the NIT.
Mississippi State has the 212th ranked non-conference strength of schedule and did not do enough in conference play to be in the conversation for an at-large bid. The Bulldogs will likely need to win the SEC Tournament to play their way into the field of 68. The journey begins against LSU Thursday at 7pm.
The same is true for Georgia, who is led by All-SEC First Teamer Yante Maten. The Bulldogs will look to win five games in five days to make their way to the NCAA Tournament after struggling throughout the majority of the conference schedule. Georgia picked up a win over Vanderbilt in a play-in game Wednesday night.
Big 12 Tournament: March 7-March 10, Sprint Center, Kansas City, MO
The Big 12 will host their 2018 men’s basketball conference tournament at the Sprint Center in Kansas City. The Tourney will feature six teams destined for a run in the NCAA Tournament and three teams fighting to build their resume for an at-large bid or to secure an automatic bid.
Kansas (24-7, 13-5) enters the Big 12 Tournament as the one seed after securing their 14th consecutive Big 12 Regular Season title. A loss in the regular season finale at Oklahoma State has the Jayhawks’ hopes of being on the top seed line in the NCAA Tournament in jeopardy. Kansas may need to cut down the nets in Kansas City to hang on to a one seed depending on what happens in the rest of the conference tournaments. Led by Big 12 Player of the Year Devonte’ Graham, All-Big 12 Second Team selection Svi Mykhailiuk, and All-Big 12 Third Team performer Udoka Azubuike, the Jayhawks will look to assert their dominance over the rest of the conference. Kansas will open on Thursday against the winner of the eight-seed Oklahoma State and the nine-seed Oklahoma at 2:30pm.
Texas Tech (23-8, 11-7) proved that, though they were a surprise in the non-conference, they are here to stay. The Red Raiders gave Kansas a run for their Regular Season title this year, but came up just short. Texas Tech, led by All-Big 12 First Team member, Keenan Evans, will look to hold onto a top four seed in the “Big Dance,” and a chance to play their opening weekend games in Dallas. The Red Raiders may be looking at a chance at revenge in the championship game on Saturday. Texas Tech will open on Thursday against the winner of 7-seeded Texas and 10-seeded Iowa State at 7pm.
West Virginia continues to be a perennial face at the top of the conference. The Mountaineers are 22-9, 11-7 in the Big 12, and have been in one of the nation’s best teams all year. Led by Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Jevon Carter and co-Big 12 Defensive Team mate Sagaba Konate, West Virginia attacks its opponents on defense and allows nothing easy. The Mountaineers have struggled offensively when they fall behind late in games, but their defense always gives them a chance. West Virginia is a legitimate contender to win the Big 12 Tournament. The Mountaineers will open against the six seed Baylor on Thursday at 9pm.
TCU is 21-10, 9-9 in conference play, and well on their way to the program’s first NCAA Tournament bid since 1998. The Horned Frogs will look to improve their seeding with a win over Kansas State at the Sprint Center. Jamie Dixon has his alma mater rising to prominence in basketball behind the play of his senior leaders Kenrich Williams and Vladimir Brodziansky, who represent TCU on the Big 12’s Second and Third teams, respectively. The Horned Frogs will open against the four seed Kansas State on Thursday at 12:30pm.
Baylor looked lost and completely off the bubble following a loss to Florida in the Big 12/SEC Challenge. The Bears responded with wins over Kansas, Texas Tech, and Oklahoma down the stretch and seem to now be a lock for the Dance at 18-13 overall, 8-10 in the Big 12. A win over West Virginia would certainly cement Baylor’s chance for an at-large bid. All-Big 12 Second teamer Manu Lacomte and All-Big 12 Third Team selection Jo Lual-Acuil, Jr. will look to do exactly that against the third seeded Mountaineers on Thursday at 9pm.
Oklahoma, behind the brilliance of All-Big 12 First Team selection, Trae Young, solidified their NCAA Tournament standing early in the conference schedule. Despite Young’s (and the team’s) struggles down the stretch, the Sooners should still feel good about their chances to hear their name called on selection Sunday. Oklahoma will look to take down their in-state rival eighth seeded Oklahoma State when they tip-off the Big 12 Tournament against each other on Wednesday at 7pm.
On the Bubble: Kansas State, Texas, Oklahoma State
Kansas State is on the good side of the bubble, sitting among the last four byes on most early projections of the NCAA Tournament field. A win over TCU would solidify their chance to be one of the 68 teams vying for a National Championship. Led by All-Big 12 First Team selection Dean Wade and All-Big 12 Second Teamer Barry Brown, Jr., the Wildcats may have their chance to upset the rival Jayhawks in the semis which could catapult their seeding come Selection Sunday. But first, K-State will have their hand full with the fifth seeded Horned Frogs on Thursday at 12:30pm.
Texas, despite losing their second leading scorer, Andrew Jones, for the rest of the season as he battles leukemia, is squarely on the bubble as one of the last four in as they enter Kansas City. With freshman phenom and All-Big 12 Second Team selection, Mohamed Bamba, uncertain for opening round tilt with Iowa State, the Longhorns will need to avoid a bad loss that could pop their bubble. Texas will look to follow up their big win over West Virginia in the last game of the regular season with a win over Texas Tech if they can get by the Cyclones on Wednesday at 9pm.
Oklahoma State has the most work to do of the three bubble teams that will take to the Sprint Center this week. After beating Kansas in the regular season finale, the Cowboys will look to follow that up with a deep run in this week’s Big 12 Tournament. All-Big-12 Third Team member Jeffrey Carroll will look to lead his team to an at-large bid to the Dance. As one of the first four teams out, Oklahoma State has a chance to beat Kansas for the second time in a week if they can defeat Oklahoma in Bedlam in Kansas City on Wednesday at 7pm.
Here’s a look at the 2018 Big 12 Tournament Bracket:
Semis: Kansas def. Kansas State, West Virginia def. Texas Tech
Final: Kansas defeats West Virginia in the title game.
ACC Tournament: March 6-March 10, Barclays Center, Brooklyn, NY
The Atlantic Coast Conference will host their men’s basketball conference tournament at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn for the second consecutive year. The Tourney will feature eight teams destined for a run in the NCAA Tournament and teams fighting to build their resume for an at-large bid or to secure an automatic bid.
NCAA Tournament Locks: Virginia, Duke, Miami, Clemson, NC State, North Carolina, Virginia Tech, Florida State
Virginia is playing for pride in Brooklyn. As regular season ACC Champions, the Cavaliers are a lock for a one seed in the NCAA Tournament at 28-2 overall, 17-1 in conference play. Virginia has a chance to claim both the regular season and ACC Tournament title for the first time since 2014, but the main goal for this week is to stay healthy and prime themselves for a deep run in March. ACC First Team performer Kyle Guy left Saturday’s game with a knee injury, but returned in the second half. Virginia Will open at noon on Thursday against the winner of the match-up between the eight seed Florida State and the nine seed Louisville.
Pending any slip-ups in the rest of the conference tournaments, a strong showing at the Barclays Center could land Duke a one seed. The Blue Devils have won six of their last seven, including a big comeback victory over arch rival North Carolina Saturday night. At 25-6 on the season, 13-5 in the ACC, Duke has improved defensively, led by ACC Player and Rookie of the Year Marvin Bagley III, All-ACC Second Team performer Wendell Carter, Jr., and All-ACC Third Team player Grayson Allen. They have the talent to win the ACC Tournament and make a deep run in the “Big Dance.” Duke will open on Thursday against either 10 Notre Dame/15 Pittsburgh or the seven seed Virginia Tech at 7pm.
Miami (22-8, 11-7) looked like they were headed for the bubble after three straight losses to Boston College, Virginia, and Syracuse, but responded with four wins in a row down the stretch. The Hurricanes are a lock for the NCAA Tournament and will look to improve their seed at the ACC Tournament. ACC All-Rookie Team member Lonnie Walker IV has proven to be a go to scorer and a clutch performer. Miami will open against 11 Syracuse/14 Wake Forest or the six seed North Carolina on Thursday at 9:30pm.
Clemson has proved to be one of the best surprises of college basketball this season. Despite losing their second leading scorer, Donte Grantham, to a torn ACL in early January, the Tigers ended the season at 22-8 overall, 11-7 in conference—good for fourth place. All-ACC Second Team selection Marcquise Reed will look to lead Clemson to an ACC Tournament Championship and a possible top four seed in the “Big Dance” that could lead them to a chance to play their first weekend games in either Charlotte or Nashville. Clemson will open against either 12 Boston College/13 Georgia Tech or the five seed NC State on Thursday at 2:30pm.
NC State was once a bubble team, but as the season progressed, the Wolfpack have proven themselves to be a giant killer. At 21-10 on the season, 11-7 in the ACC, NC State has beaten Arizona, Duke, Clemson, North Carolina, and Florida State. Led by All-ACC Third Team player, Omer Yurtseven, the Wolfpack will be a tough out for the top teams in both the ACC and NCAA Tournaments. NC State will open against the winner of 12-seed Boston College and 13-seed Georgia Tech on Wednesday at 2:30pm.
North Carolina is the six seed in the ACC Tournament. Losing to Duke in the last game of the regular season pushed the Tar Heels into a four-way tie for third place, in which they lost all tiebreakers. North Carolina will look to use the ACC Tournament as an opportunity to get back to their winning ways prior to the “Big Dance.” Prior to the last week of the regular season, the Tar Heels were winners of six consecutive games and were one of the hottest teams in the country. Losses to Miami and Duke to close the regular season make it imperative for North Carolina to win at least one game in Brooklyn to hang onto a two or three seed in the NCAA Tournament. Joel Berry II, Theo Pinson, and Luke Maye will look to have the team primed and ready for the Tar Heels to leave their mark on March Madness once again. North Carolina will open against the winner of the 11-seed Syracuse and the 14-seed Wake Forest on Wednesday at 9:30pm.
Virginia Tech entered ACC play as one of the top offensive teams in the country, but struggled to play any semblance of defense. Over their last eight games of the regular season, the Hokies finished 5-3, including wins over Virginia, Clemson, and Duke. Over that same stretch, Virginia Tech held opponents to 66.3 points per game—five below their season average. As the saying goes, defense wins championships. The Hokies, led by All-ACC Second Team selection, Justin Robinson, will look to prove that true at the Barclays Center this week. Virginia Tech will open against the winner of the 10-seed Notre Dame and the 15-seed Pittsburgh on Wednesday at 7pm.
Florida State travels to Brooklyn as the 8-seed at 20-10 overall, and 9-9 in the ACC. The Seminoles have been in and out of the top 25 all season and closed the regular season with a 5-5 record in their last 10 games. Florida State should still be in the NCAA Tournament, even if they were to lose to Louisville in their first game of the ACC Tournament on Wednesday at noon. Terance Mann will look to lead the Seminoles to ensure a bid come Selection Sunday.
On the Bubble: Louisville, Notre Dame, Syracuse
Despite all of the off the court issues this season, Louisville finds themselves squarely on the bubble as they head to the Barclays Center. If the Cardinals can get a win over Florida State and revenge against De’Andre Hunter and Virginia, they should feel good about their chances of securing an at-large bid. All-ACC Defensive Team member Anas Mahmoud will look to lead Louisville to a bid this week, beginning Wednesday at noon against Florida State.
Notre Dame is one of the selection committee’s greatest sources of conclusion this season. After playing a majority of their ACC schedule without Preseason ACC Player of the Year, Bonzie Colson, All-ACC Third Team performer Matt Farrell kept the ship afloat for the Fighting Irish. Now, with Colson back in the lineup, the committee may elect to view Notre Dame’s resume based on how they played with their star on the floor. The Fighting Irish need to avoid losing to winless Pittsburgh in the first round at 2:30pm on Tuesday, and may need wins over Virginia Tech and Duke to solidify a berth to the “Big Dance.”
America’s favorite bubble team, the Syracuse Orange, have managed to find themselves in need of wins in the ACC Tournament to hear their names called on Selection Sunday yet again. The Orange will look for their first win in the conference tournament since joining the ACC in the 2013-14 season. Second Team All-ACC player Tyus Battle, All-ACC Rookie Team member Oshae Brissett, and runner-up for the title of the ACC’s Most Improved Player, Frank Howard, would shoulder most of the responsibility for earning the at-large bid if they are able to. Syracuse likely needs two wins this week to feel good about their chances to do so. The Orange will open against Wake Forest on Tuesday at 7pm.