NCAA Tournament predictions

The road to Indianapolis


Who will be crowned?

Jeremy Johnson, Sports Writer

The NCAA Tournament is now down to 16 teams. A plethora of upsets have occurred through the first weekend of the dance. The Round of 64 was headlined by UAB and Georgia State each knocking off two giants in Iowa State and Baylor respectively. Teams who survived a huge scare include North Carolina, Louisville, and Maryland.

They were all safe however and were able to advance to the Round of 32. In this round, some more favorites fell. Wichita State lived up to their name by shocking in-state foe Kansas. Michigan State sent ACC regular-season champion Virginia home with a 60-54 victory. Now it’s time to stop with all the chit-chat and get to what’s next.

Midwest Region
#1 overall seed Kentucky had no problem advancing to the Sweet 16. They breezed past Hampton and then prevailed over an inspired Cincinnati squad. They’ll face off with #5 seed West Virginia who were picked by some to lose their first game.

The Mountaineers’ suffocating defense is forcing 20 turnovers a game in the tourney. Kentucky will have a little bit of trouble early, but they will adjust in the second half and pull away.

#3 seed Notre Dame has continued to stay hot, winning 10 of their last 11 games including the ACC Tournament. They play in the toughest conference and have also faced stiff competition through their first two matchups of the dance; the Fighting Irish are surely battle tested.

They’ll do battle with #7 seed Wichita State who are looking to go to their second Final Four in the last three years. Notre Dame simply has too many weapons for the Shockers to keep up with.

That puts Kentucky against Notre Dame in the Regional Final.

This game could get real interesting if Zach Auguste is able to hold his own in the paint. The Irish backcourt can matchup with the Wildcats’ backcourt solely due to Jerian Grant. They have a slight advantage over Kentucky in shooting. The only problem will be Kentucky’s length and their impact on the glass.

Their dominance on the boards will be the difference which will ultimately send them to the Final Four.

East Region
The East Region has been blown wide open due to the top two seeds (Villanova and Virginia) going down in defeat.

Oklahoma, the 3-seed, is the lowest remaining seed. Led by Buddy Hield, they were able to slide past Albany and Dayton in their first two games. It gets much harder for the Sooners as they’ll square off against #7 seed Michigan State.

Nobody wants to face the Spartans right now due to them finding their rhythm on both ends of the floor. Ever since the team’s performance in the Big Ten Tournament, they’ve been a different team. They’ve been poised down the stretch of games and have had multiple players step up. I expect the Spartans to slow down Hield and march on to the regional final.

On the top half of the region, #8 seed N.C. State is riding high after two emotional victories. In their second round match-up against LSU, they erased a 16 point deficit in the second half and made a last second shot to win a 66-65 thriller. In their next match-up against #1 seed Villanova, they controlled the pace for 40 minutes and attacked the Wildcats en-route to a 71-68 upset win.

They go up against #4 seed Louisville after the Cardinals escaped UC Irvine and shut down favored Northern Iowa 66-53. This isn’t the most talented bunch Rick Pitino has coached but they’re certainly one of his toughest. Potential first round pick Montrezl Harrell is key in this contest. If Louisville is going to win, Harrell needs to control the paint by being the usual Energizer bunny he is. The Wolfpack have out-rebounded their opponents 84-73 through their first two contests. My guess is they’ll hold their own on the glass against Harrell and company; Anthony Barber, Ralston Turner, and Trevor Lacey will each score enough to give N.C. State another upset victory.

That gives us the highly anticipated (not really) showdown between Michigan State and N.C. State.

Each team is capable of making big plays when it matters most. The difference in this matchup will be the Spartans’ ability to defend the Wolfpack backcourt. If Barber and his crew have their way, then they simply won’t be stopped. If Tom Izzo can draw up a game plan to bottle them up, then it should be Sparty’s game to lose.

My money’s on Izzo and the Spartans.

South Region
Top-seeded Duke is playing their best ball of the season. They thrashed both Robert Morris and San Diego State during their first set of games. Their offense has always been consistent, but their defense has picked up as well. Combine that with poor shooting and you have two blowouts on your hands. Next up for the Blue Devils is #5 seed Utah who is finally starting to show signs of consistency.

They won a gritty battle against trendy upset pick Stephen F. Austin and used a second half surge to down Georgetown. They’re led by senior guard Delon Wright who presents match-up problems for many. His length at 6’5 allows him to finish over the top of defenders and he also has a nice jump shot. He’ll likely be guarded by freshman Justise Winslow from Duke. If Winslow is able to have his way with Wright, then the Blue Devils should be able to have their way with the Utes. On the other hand, if Wright is able to use his smarts to get Winslow in foul trouble, then that can change the whole complexion of the game. Jahlil Okafor should be able to have his way inside with his great touch and footwork. If Utah can contain everyone else, then they have a great shot to pull off the upset. Shotmakers Brandon Taylor and Jordan Loveridge will cause headaches for the Blue Devils’ shaky perimeter defense.

The Utes will pull off the upset.

In the bottom half of the region, #11 seed UCLA who according to many weren’t supposed to make the tournament at all, got past SMU and UAB. They’re led by Coach Steve Alford’s son, Bryce Alford. The Bruins slipped past SMU thanks to a controversial goal tending call. They had a much easier time against UAB.

They match up with #2 seed Gonzaga who got to the Sweet 16 with victories over North Dakota State and Iowa. The Bulldogs are led by Kentucky transfer Kyle Wiltjer. Their balance and efficiency will give UCLA fits. Expect to see the ‘Zags in the Elite Eight.

That leaves Utah and Gonzaga in the Regional Final. I think this is the year the under-performing Bulldogs get to the Final Four.

Their experience and ability to consistently put points on the board will be the difference.

West Region
The Wisconsin Badgers are looked at as potentially the only team that can beat undefeated Kentucky. Before that rematch from last year’s national semifinal occurs, they have to get through their region.

They got past Coastal Carolina and Oregon to make it to the Sweet 16. They’ll tangle with #4 seed North Carolina who may be as talented as any team in the country.

They match up well with Wisconsin.

They’re athletic, they can rebound, and they can also spread you out. Their problem is not taking care of the ball. The Badgers will feast off of the Tar Heels’ mistakes which will ultimately cost them the game.

The #6 seed Xavier is a mild surprise having won two tournament games.

They ousted Ole Miss in their first game and then defeated Cinderella Georgia State. They’re led by big man Matt Stainbrook and guard Dee Davis.

Waiting for them is #2 seed Arizona who has an impressive record of 33-3. They have a well-balanced team including freshman sensation Stanley Johnson.

The Wildcats are simply too motivated to be stopped by the Musketeers. Xavier might stick around for a while, but in the end it’ll get ugly.

The showdown between Wisconsin and Arizona poses a great matchup.

Wisconsin’s execution vs. Arizona’s athleticism will decide the game. If the Wildcats can slow down Frank Kaminsky and contain their shooters, they can pull out the game.

Brandon Ashley and Kaleb Tarczewski will hold their old down low and point guard T.J. McConnell will make the right plays down the stretch sparking the Wildcats to the Final Four.

Final Four
The Final Four will consist of Kentucky out of the Midwest, Arizona out of the West, Michigan State out of the East, and Gonzaga out of the South.

The Spartans will face off with the Bulldogs and Kentucky will do battle with Arizona.

In the first matchup, Michigan State’s ability to make plays when it matters most will be the difference. Tom Izzo will make the necessary adjustments to give his team an edge which will lead them to the championship game.

In the second matchup, there’ll be athletes all over the court. Karl-Anthony Towns should have his way against Tarczewski and Willie Cauley-Stein will lock down the paint. Arizona will not be able to stay with Kentucky for a complete 40 minutes which will result in Big Blue Nation in the championship game.

Michigan State has gotten hot at the right time.

They’ve found their identity on both ends of the court, and no moment is ever too big for them.

 Sadly enough for them, Kentucky is pretty hot too.

They’re a complete team with no glaring weaknesses. The Wildcats have too many bodies to throw at the Spartans.

Michigan State’s hot streak will come to an end.

The Kentucky Wildcats will make history by completing a perfect season at 40-0.