March Madness South and West Regions preview

Aro Majumder

South

Kansas – Austin Peay

The easiest matchup to predict in the region; Kansas should have no trouble dispatching a weaker Austin Peay team. Not only is Kansas undefeated in its last 12 games, but a one seed has never lost to a 16 seed, making this upset highly improbable. Austin Peay are on a six-game winning streak coming into the tournament, but wins against the likes of UT Martin and Belmont are unlikely to carry over to the number one team in the nation, Kansas.

Look out for Austin Peay’s senior center, Chris Horton, who has averaged 18.9 points for the season as well as 12 rebounds. He’ll need to turn in a big game if Austin Peay is to keep it close, but Perry Ellis, Kansas’ elite big, will look to keep him in check.

Verdict: Kansas

 

Colorado – UConn

The two teams will be coming into the tournament on very different notes. Colorado finished with a tough loss against Arizona in the Pac-12 Men’s Basketball Tournament Quarterfinals. UConn, on the other hand, won the American Athletics Conference Tournament Final against Memphis handily, and it also sits on a four-game winning streak. Colorado can lay claim to a big win against Arizona late in the regular season, but UConn has consistently made life tough for ranked teams and has a win against SMU to its credit.

For UConn, it’s going to take a star performance from Daniel Hamilton to tip the scales in its favor. In a tight matchup such as this one, one big game from a key player could serve as the difference maker. Colorado has a strong front court with big-men Wesley Gordon and Josh Scott, but their success can be largely attributed to their 3-point shooting, which was a Pac-12-best 39.2 percent.

Verdict: UConn

Maryland – South Dakota State

Maryland has had its fair share of time near the top of the rankings but finds itself with a five-seed and a tough first-round matchup. South Dakota State has momentum gained through a Summit League Championship and a six-game winning streak going into the Big Dance. Although without any games against top-25 opponents as of yet, they did finish the season with only seven losses, one less than Maryland. Maryland has also had trouble when dealing with top-25 teams, going only 1-5 against them.

This game offers one of the best chances of a big upset in the South Region. Twelve-seeds have been know to upset five-seeds on numerous occasions, and no bracket is ever complete without one of these. Coupled with the fact that Maryland looked shaky towards the end of the year, this has all the makings of a big underdog win. A big outing from the senior guard pair of George Marshall and Deondre Parks could see South Dakota State into the round of 32.

Verdict: South Dakota State

 

Cal – Hawaii

Another game that could end in an upset, this will feature two stingy defenses and poor free-throw shooting from both squads. Hawaii will be confident, losing only five games on the season as well as picking up the Big West Championship. The team also almost upset Oklahoma early in the season, only to come up short by three points. Cal can also point to big games however, with wins against Oregon, a tournament one-seed, Arizona and Utah.

Expect a close, low-scoring game, which is going to take some big shots down the stretch to close out. With both teams shooting poorly from the charity-stripe, it’ll be interesting to see which players are going to be able to hold their nerves to sink clutch free-throws.

Roderick Bobbitt could be the difference maker in this game, as he was in his 32-point explosion against Oklahoma. Controlling him and Hawaii leading-scorer Stefan Jankovic will be key if Cal are to get past a tough first round.

Verdict: Cal

 

Arizona – Wichita State

Wichita State finished off Vanderbilt, 70-50, in the First Four and will now face a strong Arizona side that has made the Elite Eight the last two years. Wichita State hasn’t quite had the success that saw them go into the tournament undefeated in 2014, but they did finish with a remarkable 16-2 conference record as well as big wins against Utah and Northern Iowa. Arizona on the other hand only managed a 12-6 conference record, but was playing in a much more difficult conference. Arizona has had success shooting the ball with a 48.6 FG% as well as averaging over 80 points-per-game.

However, it’s defence that will be key for Arizona. Wichita State’s losses since Dec. 19 have came when they’ve been slowed down and held to under 60 points. Three-point defense has been solid for Arizona on the season, and will need to continue with guards Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet shooting 35 and 40 percent respectively. With this being their last tournament, expect a big outing from both.

Verdict: Wichita State    

 

Miami – Buffalo

Miami is hoping to cap off a strong season with a deep run into the tournament. They finished the season 25-7, but had huge wins against Duke, Louisville, Utah and Notre Dame, who they beat twice. Their guard play has been exceptional with Angel Rodriguez averaging 11.8 points-per-game and Sheldon McClellan averaging 15.8 points-per-game. Buffalo has not had a great season and has struggled against top-25 teams, finishing 0-3 against them. They were able to finish the season as the Mid-American Conference Tournament Champions which will give them momentum going into the tournament.

It’ll take a herculean effort from Buffalo to pull off this upset, but it is by no means out of the question. With balanced scoring, and four players averaging double-digits, a spark from one player could tilt the balance in their favor. Miami will likely rely on strong and experienced guard play to control the tempo to suit their style.

Verdict: Miami

 

Iowa – Temple

Although a seven versus ten matchup, the BPI and RPI differences between the two teams is striking. Temple finished the season with the same amount of wins as Iowa but the quality of wins is vastly different. Temple’s main claim to fame is a win over SMU who were ranked for the majority of the season and are only missing the tournament due to penalties enforced due to academic infractions. Iowa has beaten Michigan State, who are favorites to win the whole thing, twice, and has also beaten Purdue, a five-seed, twice. However, their late season struggles and an early exit in the Big Ten Tournament could haunt them.

Temple will look to ride their momentum of going 9-3 in their last 12 games. Iowa can expect no easy points as Temple are among the best teams at not committing turnovers. Jarrod Uthoff, Iowa’s star player, will need to have a huge game to reverse their recent luck. He ranked second in the Big Ten in scoring with 18.9 points-per-game and was named a second-team All-American.

Verdict: Iowa

 

Villanova – UNCA

While the other UNC earned a one-seed and faces FGCU in the opposite side of the bracket, UNC Asheville will have to play against a formidable Villanova team. Villanova finished the season 29-5, but four of those five losses came at the hands of top-25 teams. UNC Asheville, on the other hand, had only one game against a top-25 opponent, which they lost. They did make the tournament on the backs of winning the Big South Tournament Championship over Winthrop however, which will give them confidence.

UNC Asheville’s best chance at pulling off a seemingly improbable upset will come if they are able to continue forcing turnovers as they have throughout the season. Villanova has looked strong on both sides of the ball however, and feature five double-digit scorers. Recent years have not shined brightly on Nova in these tournaments though, and that could serve as the mental block that could give UNCA the chance to pull off the upset.
Verdict: Villanova

 

West

Oregon – Holy Cross

An easy pick, Oregon should be able to roll over Holy Cross, who have had a Cinderella run just to get into the tournament. Oregon are riding an eight-game win streak and although regarded as one of the weaker one-seeds in recent history, their offensive efficiency in scoring should enable them to have a deep run.

Holy Cross will need to play a perfect game if they are to win this David and Goliath matchup, and need to continue the defensive prowess they showed in the Patriot League Tournament.

Verdict: Oregon

 

Saint Joe’s – Cincinnati

Cincinnati finished their post-season with a loss against UConn and will be looking to bounce back in order to make a run in the tournament. Neither team can boast any huge wins during the season, but Saint Joe’s was able to finish 2-1 against top-25 opponents, while Cincinnati finished 1-3.

It’ll be a battle between the defensive-minded Cincinnati Bearcats and the offensive prowess of Saint Joe’s. The Bearcats forced the most turnovers in the AAC while Saint Joe’s was one of the best in the country at protecting the ball and not turning it over. DeAndre Bembry, who averaged 17.3 points-per-game as well as 7.7 rebounds-per-game, will be a key player to look out for on the side of Saint Joe’s, and he could very well be the difference-maker in a tight contest.

Verdict: Saint Joe’s

 

Baylor – Yale

Not the easiest matchup for Baylor in the first round, Yale will be looking to pull a big upset and could have the tools to achieve it. Both teams struggled against top-25 teams, with Yale not pulling off a win against them and Baylor only managing to do so twice in eleven attempts. Yale is coming into the tournament on a hot-streak however, whereas Baylor has lost seven out of their last twelve.

Yale’s rebounding could serve to give them a shot at staying in the game even if they aren’t able to convert every offensive possession. Baylor will need to control the boards and be offensively efficient if they’re going to be able to get past the first round.

Verdict: Yale

 

Duke – UNC Wilmington

The defending champions come into the tournament after having a sub-par season by their standards, and they could be looking at yet another first-round exit. UNC Wilmington cannot be under-estimated, losing only seven games in the season. Duke had its struggles including losses to the likes of UNC and Miami, and they were also upset early in the ACC tournament by Notre Dame.

Brandon Ingram and Grayson Allen will need to step-it-up if Duke is to avoid another early exit from the tournament. Ingram has been hyped as one of the best players in the country right now, and will need to prove it.

Verdict: Duke

 

Texas – Northern Iowa

Longhorns fans won’t want to hear it after a solid season for their team, but this could be the end of the road. Although UT has held their own against top-25 teams, going 6-7 with one of the hardest schedules in the country, Northern Iowa features an undefeated, 2-0 record against top-25 teams and an 8-3 record against top-100 teams.

With the loss of Seth Tuttle, Northern Iowa wasn’t sure how they would be able to respond at the start of the season, but they’ve come on strong and end up with a 11-seed and a favorable matchup. Both teams will like to play slow, and Northern Iowa has one of the strongest defenses, giving up only 62.9 points-per-game. Texas will need to find a way to break this strong defence in order to advance.

Verdict: Northern Iowa

 

Texas A&M – Green Bay

Another upset possibility, Green Bay comes into the tournament on a four-game winning streak and a 10-4 record as an underdog. Texas A&M did have a strong season however and play with a strong and stingy defence. They also finished second in the SEC with the same conference record as Kentucky.

Green Bay will look to push the tempo, and if Texas A&M isn’t able to control it, they are highly likely to get upset. They have not been able to play up-tempo, but their strong defence has been able to cope with it by controlling the flow of the game. Carrington Love, averaging 17.7 PPG, needs to make his scoring presence felt if Green Bay are going to look for an upset.

Verdict: Texas A&M

 

Oregon State – VCU

Oregon State managed a seven-seed with a seventh place finish in a strong Pac-12 conference and could be looking at a favorable matchup. Oregon State has struggled against taller teams, and with VCU not being one of those teams, an upset might be hard to come by. Both teams have looked shaky towards the end of the season and will need to turn that around. Oregon State has had big wins against the likes of Oregon and Utah which could lend them confidence going into this game.

VCU has been good at creating steals and turnovers during the season, but will be hard-pressed to do that against a team as good at taking care of the ball as Oregon State. Melvin Johnson, averaging 17.4 PPG, will be one to watch out for on the side of VCU.

Verdict: Oregon State

 

Oklahoma – CSU Bakersfield

Tough to see an upset in this one. Oklahoma just happens to have the best player in the country, Buddy Hield, as well as averaging about 42 percent from the three-point line. It’ll take an impressive effort from CSU to pull off this upset, but Oklahoma could play into the trap of thinking too far ahead.

Although CSU has been good on the defensive side of the ball, Oklahoma, with their shot-making ability, should be able to come out ahead. Look for another huge showing from Buddy Hield, who will be looking to cement his place amongst the college-basketball greats with a strong tournament.

Verdict: Oklahoma