By Jay Ingles
The brackets have been unveiled, and its time for college basketball fans to pick their upsets, cinderellas, and national champion. Let’s take a look as what this year’s tournament offers.
Favorite: Kansas. The Jayhawks are the most complete team in college basketball. Sherron Collins is one of the best leaders in the game, and he has the supporting cast to make a national title run. Cole Aldrich is a solid post presence and, along with the Morris twins, gives Kansas a legitimate frontcourt. Xavier Henry is arguably the most skilled freshman in the country. Kansas is not only the favorite in this bracket, but probably the favorite to win the entire tournament.
Sleeper: Michigan State. Last year’s national runner-up has underachieved all year and is not receiving much attention heading into the tournament. But Michigan State is experienced, and Tom Izzo knows how to get it done in the tournament. The Spartans shouldn’t have much trouble getting to the Sweet 16, and they could give Kansas a run for their money if they meet. Kalin Lucas is an elite point guard, and Raymar Morgan, Durrell Summers, and Draymond Green are all dangerous players.
Upset Special: San Diego State over Tennessee. Most people don’t know much about San Diego State, but they might learn quickly. The Aztecs are fresh off a Mountain West Tournament title, while Tennessee’s last game was an embarrassing 29-point loss to Kentucky in the SEC Tournament semifinals. Tennessee managed to do well in the SEC after losing star swingman Tyler Smith earlier this year, but their lack of depth could be an issue in the tournament. Furthermore, San Diego State’s top three scorers reside in the post, where Tennessee can’t match up.
Favorite: Syracuse. The Orange lost their first game in the Big East Tournament, but they still have all the pieces to make a run at the national title. Iowa State transfer Wesley Johnson has been incredible in his first season of eligibility, and Andy Rautins is perhaps the best shooter in the nation. Sophomore Kris Joseph is a solid contributor, and Rick Jackson and Arinze Onuako have the size and ability inside to give other teams problems.
Sleeper: UTEP. The Miners got jobbed with a No. 12 seed. This team is good enough to make a Sweet 16 run. Louisville transfer Derrick Caracter has been a force in the paint this year and could be a tough task for Butler’s Matt Howard or Vanderbilt’s A.J. Ogilvy. Randy Culpepper is one of the best scoring guards in the country, and UTEP’s potential opponents don’t have have a defender capable of containing him.
Upset Special: Murray State over Vanderbilt. Murray State quietly posted 30 wins this year, and Vanderbilt has a history of losing to 13-seeds (see 2008). The Racers have the most balanced offense in the tournament field, sporting six players that average around ten points per game. In other words, there is no player that a defense can key on, which makes Murray State a tough matchup and thus a tough out. Vanderbilt is good, but they got a bad draw and I can see Murray State pulling the upset.
Favorite: West Virginia. Kentucky is the No. 1 seed and has plenty of talent, but the lack of experience of their core will catch up to them eventually. West Virginia has both the talent and the experience to make it to the Final Four. Both teams are coming off conference tournament championships, but the Mountaineers effort was much more impressive. Desean Butler is a stud who performs in the clutch, and Devin Ebanks is a matchup nightmare. I expect these teams to meet in the Elite Eight and West Virginia to come away with the victory.
Sleeper: Marquette. The Golden Eagles flew under the radar in the Big East this season, but they are good enough to make a run in the tournament. Marquette lacks size, but they make up for it with skill. Lazar Hayward and Jimmy Butler are small for post players, but they combine for 33 points and 14 rebounds a game. Darius Johnson-Odom is an underrated guard who can score. Marquette has a pretty good draw, facing a streaky Washington team and potentially a New Mexico team with whom they match up well.
Upset Special: Cornell over Temple. This is an interesting matchup because both of these teams are good enough to make the Sweet 16. Cornell is undervalued as a No. 12 seed and has a big-time scorer in Ryan Wittman. Temple is a good team, but they may have trouble with a well-schooled Cornell squad. I like the winner of this game beating Wisconsin in the second round.
Favorite: Villanova. Duke is not as good as their seed indicates, and Villanova will beat them in the Elite Eight if the Blue Devils get there. The Wildcats have struggled recently, winning just four of their last ten games, but they have enough talent to make their second straight Final Four. Scottie Reynolds may be the best point guard in the nation and has plenty of quality players around him. Coach Jay Wright has won in the tournament in the past, so expect him to do the same this year.
Sleeper: Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish have really turned it on lately. They played well without star big man Luke Harangody, and now he has worked himself back into an effective role with the team. Mike Brey has his team firing on all cylinders and primed for an NCAA tournament run. Tim Abromaitis is a player to watch out for, and Tory Jackson and Ben Hansbrough make up a very good backcourt. I see Notre Dame making it to at least the Sweet 16.
Upset Special: Siena over Purdue. Purdue hasn’t been the same since it lost Robbie Hummel. Siena is a senior laden team that has won a game in the past two NCAA Tournaments. The Saints had three players on the All-MAAC first team, and have four players averaging over 13 points per game. Fran McCaffrey is a great coach, and he has got a group of players that are capable of winning games in the tournament.