March Madness Preview

Written by: William Petersen

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The greatest postseason in sports has finally shown its face as we are right around the corner from the fabled college basketball tournament, March Madness. March Madness is the best time of the year because non-sports fans become fans for a month and a half in a tournament that is fueled by parody and mind boggling upsets. In this article I will address each region, its top two seeds, and a couple games that I will be keeping my eye on as the first two rounds take place from Thursday to Sunday. I like many believe that my bracket and picks seem to be full proof but as we see year in and year out, high seeds are susceptible to a tournament run much shorter than they anticipated. This has happened to Purdue the past two tournaments, who lost to Saint Peter’s last year as a two seed and Fairleigh-Dickinson University as a one seed in 2022. At the end of the day it is easier to win the lottery than to pick a perfect bracket, but hopefully this article can guide you in the right direction to win your office, family, or any bracket pool that you decide to do.

East Region

The East features the number one overall seed in the tournament, the UConn Huskies, who are the defending National Champions and look to be the first program to go back to back since the Florida Gators from 2006-07. UConn has been an absolute wagon all season as they won the Big East tournament and finished the regular season 31-3, with none of those three losses coming at home. The Huskies are led by Alex Karaban who averages 13.9 points per game on 50% shooting from the field and 39.5% from three in his sophomore season. The two seed in the East is the Big 12 Conference tournament champions in the Iowa State Cyclones who have somewhat overperformed this season. The Cyclones rank sixth in the College Basketball Power Index or BPI, and finished the season strong after beating number one Houston by 28 in the Big 12 Conference final. If these two teams make it through their region they will face each other in the Elite 8 for a chance to go to the Final Four.

The game that I have my eyes fixated on in the first round of this East Region is between the 8 seed FAU and 9 seed Northwestern. FAU was the Cinderella of last year's tournament after making the Final Four as a 9 seed. An interesting fact when looking at this matchup is 9 seeds have won 13 out of 20 meetings with 8 seeds in the last five tournaments. This could bode well for the Northwestern team that averages 72 points per game on the season although they struggle to shoot consistently from the arc, averaging a 32% three point percentage. FAU is known to have a hard time defending perimeter shooting, meaning if Northwestern finds a way to get hot from deep, FAU might find themselves with an early exit in this year's tournament.

West Region

The West region is spearheaded by a North Carolina team that fell short last week in the ACC Conference Tournament Final to in-state rival NC State. UNC is highlighted by senior stars RJ Davis and Armando Bacot who reached the National Championship game two years ago, eventually losing to Kansas. RJ Davis is one of if not the best guard in the country, averaging 21.4 points per game on 43.1% shooting and 40.6% from three and is the engine that runs this Tar Heels offense. Armando Bacot is fifth year senior who has been the anchor downlow for the Tar Heels his entire career. Bacot averages a double-double, 14.1 points and 10.2 rebounds per game while shooting at an efficient 54.7% clip. The Tar Heels have one five National Championships in their program’s history, all coming by way of being a 1 seed. The major storyline in the west region does not come from the one seed but rather the two in Arizona who are led by former Tar Heel guard Caleb Love. Love is close behind RJ Davis in the best guard in the country category averaging 18.1 points per game on 42.1% shooting and a less efficient 34.7% from three. Love has never been the best three point shooter, but if he can get hot, Arizona is a force to be reckoned with and have everything they need to make a Final Four run.

This year’s tournament is somewhat of a showcase for the Mountain West Conference as they sent six teams to the Big Dance. The game that I am focused on in the West revolves around the winner of the Mountain West, the 11 seed New Mexico Lobos who look to upset the 6 seed Clemson Tigers. The Lobos are led by son of legendary college basketball head coach Rick Pitino, where Richard has now revitalized a Lobos program since arriving in 2021. The Lobos are led by senior and graduate guards Jamal Mashburn Jr. and Jaelen House who lead potent Lobos offense who average 81.5 points per game and shoot 45.7% from the field and 33.4% from three. When New Mexico’s guards get hot, this Lobos team likes to run in transition and push the pace. Clemson has been a under the radar team all season after they finished sixth in the ACC and got blown out by Boston College in second round of the ACC tournament. I was honestly surprised to see them make the tournament at such a high seed and due to this I believe New Mexico will have their way with the Tigers.

South Region

The South Region is headlined by a team that many people believe can win it all in Houston who finished the year at number 1 in the BPI rankings. Houston has been a steady team all season, and continues to run behind L.J. Cryer who leads the team in scoring, 15.3 points per game. The Cougars also lead the country in opponents points per game, only allowing 57. Thanks to Houston’s senior leadership and stifling defense, the Cougars are considered by many to be one of the top teams to win the tournament on April 8th. Marquette is the 2 seed in this region and are led by renowned March Madness coach Shaka Smart who led the fabled VCU Rams to a Final Four run in 2011. Marquette has been the second fiddle to UConn in the Big East, but senior guard Tyler Kolek will look to change this narrative by leading the Golden Eagles to their first Final Four since 2003.

Besides focusing on the top two seeds in the South, the matchup between 3 seed Kentucky and 14 seed Oakland could greatly affect how this region shakes out into the Final Four. Kentucky has been one of the best offensive teams in the country all season thanks to freshman guards Rob Dillingham and Reed Sheppard. Dillingham averaged 15.4 points per game on 48% field goal shooting and 47% from the three-point line. Reed Sheppard has averaged 12.8 points per game on 54% shooting and a staggering 50% from beyond the arc. If Kentucky can find an early rhythm offensively the Wildcats could very well make a deep run in this year's tournament

Midwest Region

The fourth and final region of this year's tournament is led by the Purdue Boilermakers and the AP Player of the Year in Zach Edey who averages 24.4 points and 11.7 rebounds per game on 62% shooting. It feels like Edey along with Bacot of UNC have been the anchors for these programs for eternity and Edey will get one more chance to avenge Purdue’s horrendous track record of losing in the first round of the tournament as a two seed or higher. Edey is dominant with his 7’4” 300 lbs frame but seems to lack the clutch gene when the Big Dance rolls into town. Purdue is heavily dependent on Edey and if he is contained I'm not the most confident in the Purdue backcourt to carry this team. Many experts are predicting Purdue to finally break through to the Final Four but the monkey on their back will do everything it can to not make that happen. The two seed in this region is the Tennessee Volunteers who are led by senior guard Dalton Knecht who is averaging 21.1 points per game on 46% shooting and an impressive 39.7% from three. Tennessee has been the best team in the SEC all season and averaged 79.5 points per game from a team that shoots efficiently. The Volunteers offense will continue to be fueled from Knecht’s shot making abilities and should not have much of a problem on their path to the Final Four unless they meet Purdue in the Elite 8.

In the last three tournaments, a team that won in the First Four has gone on to the Sweet 16. The game that I will be paying attention to in the Midwest Region will be that of 7 seed Texas v. 10 seed Colorado State who blew out Virginia in their First Four game on Tuesday night. Colorado State has been a solid team in the Mountain West all season with loads of experience throughout their roster, but the gem in this Rams squad is senior guard Isaiah Stevens. Stevens averages 16.2 points per game on 48% shooting and 44% from beyond the three-point line. Texas has had an up and down season in a tough Big 12 conference but found their groove late in the season to make another tournament appearance. The Longhorns are lead by former Oral Roberts star Max Abmas who lead Oral Roberts to beat 2 seed Ohio State as a 15 seed in 2021. Abmas is a star who can really dictate the pace of play and score in bunches when he has the hot hand. It will be interesting to see if Colorado State can continue their momentum after their big First Four win, or will Abmas and Texas find a way to keep the Rams at bay and move on to the second round.