It’s tourney time! Like all sports websites, we’re mandated to bring the people some expert bracket wisdom at this time of the year.
My bracket is above (click to make it a bit bigger), and I’ll run through the rationale for some of my more important and controversial choices, below.
Kentucky Gets Unlucky:
Las Vegas tells us that Kentucky has about a 50/50 shot of winning the National Title. Most experts have liked the Wildcats from the start of the season and, at 34-0, the debate isn’t about whether they’re great, it’s about whether they’re historically great?
John Calipari has the most talented team, but that doesn’t mean he’ll win the championship. In fact, whether it be to Wisconsin or Arizona in a National Semi-Final, or Virginia in the Title Game, I think a team that locks down defensively will frustrate the (somewhat) inexperienced Cats, and score just enough to beat UK and set off a celebration in Madison, Tuscon, or Charlottesville.
Missouri Valley Punches above Its Weight:
If you take a look at my bracket, what should stick out immediately is the two Missouri Valley Conference teams in the Elite 8. No one in the MVC outside of Northern Iowa and Wichita State could compete against Power Conference opponents, but the two big dogs are every bit as good as the top teams in the Pac-12, Big East, and SEC.
Northern Iowa has a great draw and a star player in Seth Tuttle. A Round of 32 battle with Louisville would pit two great defensive teams against each other, but only one (the Panthers) is offensively blessed. Northern Iowa shoots a high percentage and should be on its way to the Sweet 16.
As for Wichita State, they are battle tested after an undefeated regular season last year, and if they beat a guard-oriented Indiana in their first game, the Shockers will match-up with in-state rival Kansas in the Round of 32. The Jayhawks have made sure to stay off of Gregg Marshall’s schedule. He is one of the best coaches in the country, and has a team that frustrates and makes scoring difficult for 40 minutes.
Don’t Mess with Texas:
Of major conference teams that may be overlooked, Texas finds themselves in a good spot. The Longhorns are much more athletic, bigger, and, quite frankly, more talented than first round foe Butler. If they advance to face Notre Dame, the Irish have had a tendency to exit the Big Dance early (Mike Brey is 6-11 in the NCAA Tournament). Texas is one of the top rebounding teams in the country, and if the Irish aren’t hitting from the outside, there will be no second chances.
Duke Gets Another Good Draw:
No team in the tournament has a more clear path to the Elite 8 than Duke. The Blue Devils aren’t deep but Jahlil Okafor is a nightmare to defend in the post, and if Coach K’s team gets space on the perimeter, they can stroke three-pointers. However, in the Final Four, they do not want to see Virginia.
Cavaliers Cut Down the Nets:
The Cavaliers fell to Duke at home 69-63 in late January. UVA led by double-digits in the second half, but the Blue Devils ended the game on a 16-5 run by hitting three-pointers that Cavalier coach Tony Bennett wasn’t all that upset to see his team allow. In essence, Duke hit well-defended shots down the stretch and won.
Those shots don’t usually fall, at least, not at that rate.
Virginia is the best defensive team in the tournament, and by the time heavy lifting comes around, guard Justin Anderson should be healthy. Before Anderson injured his hand, UVA was one of the two best teams in the NCAA. When he’s back, they will be, again.
A possible meeting between UVA and Kentucky for the National Title would be extremely low scoring. Both teams have experience from last year, though Kentucky had more turnover on its roster (predictably) and now boast several key players who will be making their first tourney appearances.
Virginia’s experienced roster will not get frustrated when long offensive dry spells affect both teams and London Perrantes is a floor general who acts as a coach on the court; he’ll make sure his team performs well in crunch time. For the first time since 1984 Virginia, will go to the Final Four, and they will earn their first National Title.