The Madness is upon us! The field is bigger this year with 68 teams in the tournament instead of the 65 we’re used to. This year in college basketball can be summed up in one word: parody. There are no clear-cut favourite teams to win this year; all in all, there are about 10 legitimate contenders for the national title. We could easily see another George Mason or Butler-esque run again by another team— maybe the Richmond Spiders? Maybe Utah State?
The selection committee for this year’s tournament had their work cut out for them and somehow they managed to select four #1 seeds for this year’s tournament. Let’s look at these teams a little more in-depth and try to find something that might spark a final four run.
Ohio State: The #1 overall seed in this year’s tournament. Player of the Year candidate Jared Sullinger leads the Buckeyes this year, along with point guard Aaron Craft, in hopes of winning the title. The Buckeyes are coached by Thad Matta, a man who has an abundance of experience in the big dance recently, and who posts the #1 winning percentage among coaches since 2001. The Buckeyes went 32-2 this year and won the Big Ten Tournament. Sullinger, a freshman, is the key to Ohio State winning this tournament. Ohio State only runs a seven-man rotation. Don’t get me wrong; the seven players they have are good, really good, including the likes of senior David Lighty, a good swingman who can do it all on the floor, and their guard combination of Craft, William Buford, and Jon Diebler prevent Sullinger from being double- and triple-teamed in the post. Because the Buckeyes are only seven deep, they can’t afford to have Sullinger or any of their important guards get into foul trouble. Backup centre Dallas Lauerdale, despite being a defensive stud, cannot handle the load that Sullinger can handle on the offensive end. If the Buckeyes play smart, disciplined basketball, they have the pieces to take them to a championship.
Kansas Jayhawks: A team and program associated with consistency, the Jayhawks are once again poised to make another deep run in the Madness. This is the 10th time the Jayhawks are holding a #1 seed since 1979. Last year was an upset in the second round to Northern Iowa. This year’s Jayhawks do not have an experienced leader, but they do have Bill Self, another one of the steadiest coaches in all of college sports. Lead by the Morris brothers Marcus and Markieff, who average around 6’10” and 240 pounds between them, are a nuisance for defenders down low. Senior guards Brady Morningstar and Tyrel Reed are the vocal guys who have been here before. Morningstar, better known for his defensive game, has gotten better and better at the offensive side of the ball and Reed averaged 10 points per game in the Big 12 tournament. Kansas leads the nation in field goal percentage, and this consistency should help them easily get through the first two rounds. Kansas’ only weakness in the tournament might be the play of their guards, but the Morris brothers can clean up the garbage underneath the rim and take pressure off their guards. The Jayhawks are my favourites to win the tourney because of their offensive consistency and the matchup problems the Morris brothers give to their opponents. The Jayhawks are just hoping not to run into another Ali Farokmanesh.
Pittsburgh Panthers: The #1 seed of the Southeast bracket, the Pittsburgh Panthers were looking to claim their first tournament since 1930, right about the time Brett Favre started playing. This is now moot, because the Butler Bulldogs (a #8 seed) defeated them by a single point and knocked them out of the tournament.
The Panthers had been in this seat before, but they’d only made one final four ever and carry the stigma of not being able to win the big game. Brad Wanamaker and Ashton Gibbs are two of the most dynamic guards in the NCAA and would have to carry the load in order for Pitt to make a long run. They lost three of their last six games, including an early exit in the Big East tournament to Connecticut; however, before their little slide, Pitt was expected to carry the #1 overall seed. Pitt had a sound defence, which made nothing easy, and they are one of the top rebounding teams in the nation. But it was absolutely necessary for Pitt to be able to rebound the ball on the defensive end and not give up too many second-opportunity points. The Panthers are a solid team with no real weakness, so although there was no game plan guaranteed to beat Pitt, Butler managed to win on a narrow shot—essentially because they had the ball last.
Duke Blue Devils: The Dukies are back to defend their crown and seemed poised to be the first team to go back-to-back since Florida did it in 2007. Nolan Smith, Seth Curry, Kyle Singler, and Mason Plumlee will lead the Blue Devils into the tournament, and with the possible return of freshman superstar Kyrie Irving, the Dukies are once again scaring the rest of the pack. Mike Krzyzewski, or Coach K, is going to go down as probably the second-best college basketball coach of all time after John Wooden—it’s never smart to bet against this guy. Duke won the ACC tournament this year after they dominated current #2 seed North Carolina in the final, making a statement to the field. Duke is a sound team with no real weaknesses; sometimes their free throw shooting is below par, but with the super talent they have, they might never need to rely on their free throws. This year, like last year’s championship winning team, Coach K has gone with a bigger line-up and it’s shown to be of great advantage, especially on the defensive side of the court. Sophomore forward Ryan Kelly may be the X-Factor for the Dukies, who might play a significant role if Singler struggles at all or gets into foul trouble. Kelly has improved his game significantly during the year, raising his points per game from 6 to 10 at the end of the year. Look out for Duke, NCAA.
Will the remaining three #1 seeds make it into the final four? They all show a lot of upside and provide numerous hurdles for their opposition. Good luck with your brackets, everyone!