#1 Virginia vs #16 UMBC
#8 Creighton vs #9 Kansas State
#5 Kentucky vs #12 Davidson
#4 Arizona vs #13 Buffalo
#6 Miami vs #11 Loyola Chicago
#3 Tennessee vs #14 Wright State
#7 Nevada vs #10 Texas
#2 Cincinnati vs #15 Georgia State
Tournament time is almost here, and we are excited at Sports Media Plus. Filling out some brackets for the office pool and have no idea who to pick? Rather than flip a coin, go by coolest colors or best mascot, read through my breakdowns of each region to help you get an edge and finally beat your boss and bring home some extra cash.
Team by Team Breakdown:
#1 Virginia Cavaliers (31-2)
Probably not the catchiest nickname out there, but don’t let that be your deciding factor. The Cavaliers mean business. Led by Sophomore guard Kyle Guy with 14.1 points per game, they scorched through the regular season with a 31-2 record. With wins in 11 of their past 12 games, along with the ACC Tournament crown, the Cavaliers are rolling. This is a battle tested squad, as Virginia was a perfect 6-0 RPI Top 25 teams, and 12-1 against the Top 50. Virginia gets it done with a lockdown defense that held opponents to an average of just 53.4 points per game, good for tops in the nation. If the other team can’t score, they can’t win. Virgina takes this to a whole different meaning, and if UMBC can break 50 I will be thoroughly impressed.
#2 Cincinnati Bearcats (30-4)
The Bearcats, much like the Cavaliers, swarm opponents on the court. Their 57.1 points allowed per game ranks second in the nation, but unlike Virginia, Cincinatti can score. Their 75 points per game ranks 142nd, and have four players who average in double figures. The Bearcats posted the 2nd highest scoring margin in the country, outscoring their opponents by 17.3 points per game. Finishing 27-4 and the AAC crown, the Bearcats head into the dance riding a 7 game win streak, including 23 out of the last 25. Offensively, Cincinnati is lead by Senior Forward Gary Clark and Junior Guard Jacob Evans, who average 13 and 12.9 points per game. If Cincinnati starts rolling, watch out; they could roll all the way to the final four.
#3 Tennessee Volunteers (25-8)
Another team committed to defense, the Vols play a very aggressive brand of basketball. They hold opponents to 66 points on 41% shooting and 31.9% from deep, all top 50 in the nation. Led by Forwards Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield on offense, the Vols average 74.2 points per game, and pull down 36.2 rebounds per game. This season, the SEC took the college world by storm, having the conference’s best season this decade. Teams like Auburn, Arkansas, and Missouri were competent, and competitive nationally. As the number 2 seed in the SEC, this only bumped Tennessee’s stock up, and maybe a little too high. I’m not sold on the Vols, and wouldn’t be surprised to see a second round exit.
#4 Arizona Wildcats
Easily the best #4 seed in the tournament, the Wildcats do it all. Led by future top-3 NBA draft selection DeAndre Ayton, Arizona is one of the top offensive teams in the country, averaging 80.9 points per game. Ayton and Allonzo Trier form a potent one-two punch, averaging a combined 38.7 points per game. Ayton is not only the most physically dominant player in the country, he is also a threat to score from outside, and shot 36.4% from three. Defensively, the Wildcats struggled this year, allowing 71.2 points per game. That can be mitigated by Ayton’s presence however, as he offers elite rim protection. Winning 8 of their last 9, the Wildcats enter March scorching hot, and I’m excited to see a Sweet Sixteen matchup between Arizona and Virginia…
#5 Kentucky Wildcats
Like any John Calipari team lately, Kentucky is very young. Nine players on this roster average 13.5 minutes or more, and six of them are freshman, and the other three are sophomore’s. Also like any Calipari team, this team gets hot right around March. Kentucky stormed through the SEC tournament, and has won seven of their last eight. Led by the Freshman duo of Kevin Knox and Shai-Gilgeous Alexander, Kentucky averaged 76.7 points per game and allowed 70.2. Kentucky defends the three well, ranking 4th in the nation holding opponents to 29.9% shooting from three. Calipari has a young, athletic team capable of making a deep run. If the Freshman heavy core isn’t phased by the bright lights of March, this team could be dangerous.
#6 Miami Hurricanes
The Hurricanes enter their third straight trip to the dance, but the prospects on a deep tourney run are not promising. Sophomore wing Bruce Brown is not cleared yet for the U, and without him they may struggle. Even with Lonnie Walker and Dewan Huell averaging 11.5 and 11.4 points per game, Bruce Brown’s contributions go beyond the statsheet. Miami is 4-4 in their last 8 games, but that does include a win over #9 UNC. They don’t rebound especially well, nor do they shoot well from deep, hauling in 34 rebounds and shooting 36.6% from three. Miami also drew the best #11 seed in Loyola Chicago, who could push a Miami team to the brink.
#7 Nevada Wolfpack
The Wolfpack are representing the Mountain West conference and, if on, can shoot their way into the second and third rounds. Led by Junior do-it-all forward Caleb Martin, Nevada averages 83.1 points per game, and shoots 39.8% from behind the arc. The Wolfpack are a very thin squad however, that has seven players getting at least 20 minutes, but nobody else above 7. Nevada shares the ball well, with 16.4 assists per game, which leads to four players averaging at least 13 points per game. However, the Mountain West conference is one of the weaker conferences in the country, and Nevada lost to both Texas Tech and TCU, the only two power five, RPI top 50 schools they played all season.
#8 Creighton Blue Jays
Creighton is one of the fastest teams in the country, and runs a small lineup with four guards and a center. Led by Marcus Foster and Khyri Thomas, the Blue Jays move the ball and rarely settle for a bad shot. Their 18 assists per game ranks them 6th in the nation, and their 84.3 points per game is 10th nationally and shot 49.7% from the field. The focal point of Creighton is Khyri Thomas and Marcus Foster, and both are capable of going off for 30 on any night. Outside of them, Creighton boasts lots of depth, but only one other player averaging double digits. They come into March losing 6 of their last 10 games, but do get a favorable matchup against a beat up Kansas State team.
#9 Kansas State Wildcats
With both Barry Brown and Dean Wade expected to play Friday, Kansas State’s chances got a whole lot better. How ready to go will they be for Friday? That’s the question worth monitoring before you fill out that final bracket. This Kansas State squad has overachieved all season long, and will look to continue riding their guts and grit to make some noise in March. This is a very bad rebounding team however, hauling down a mere 30.6 rebounds per game. Defensively, the Wildcats allowed 67.9 points per game, and have experience in late game situations this year. However, their fate rests in the hands of Brown and Wade, who both average at least 16 points per game. Look for Kansas State to try to slow this game down. If Kansas State can hold Creighton to below 65 points, Kansas State scrape by. If not, Kansas State does not have the offensive chops to hang with an elite offensive team like Creighton.
#10 Texas Longhorns
Texas is a team that never found a rhythm this past season. They went 8-14 against the RPI top 50 teams, and just 2-8 against the top 25. Led by star Freshman Mohamed Bamba, who paced Texas with 12.9 points, 10.4 rebounds, and a whopping 3.7 blocks per contest, Texas enters the tournament going 5-7 in their last 12 games. Outside of Bamba, athletic guard Kerwin Roach is the Longhorns primary ball handler, and posts 11.9 points a game. Texas however, shoots an abysmal 31.9% from three, and posted a scoring margin of just over 3. Bamba is a matchup nightmare for teams, but against a good three point shooting team like Nevada, Bamba’s presence as a shot blocker can be negated.
#11 Loyola-Chicago Ramblers
Loyola-Chicago may be the hottest upset pick right now, and for good reason. The Ramblers ranked inside the top five in points allowed per possession, and posted a scoring margin of 12.2. Winners of 10 straight, they have shown all year they are up for the big games, posting an 8-1 record against RPI top 100 teams. Their 62.5 points allowed per game ranks 5th, and have five players averaging 10 points or more. Led by Junior guard Clayton Custer, the Ramblers shot 39.8% from three. With five capable scorers, this team has as good a chance as anyone to make a run to the Sweet Sixteen.
#12 Davidson Wildcats
Davidson comes into March winning 10 of their last 12, including the A-10 crown. Led by the trio of Peyton Aldridge, Kellan Grady, and Jon Axel Gudmundsson, the Wildcats shot 39.3% from deep, averaged 77 points per game, and allowed 67. The bulk of what this team does is done by that trio. They all average greater than 35 minutes per game, and combine to score 52 points per game. Davidson is a team that shoots the ball well, plays solid defense, and rarely turns the ball over. That combination makes them a dangerous matchup for Kentucky, and this game may be closer than people think.
#13 Buffalo Bulls
Buffalo is another team that lives and dies by the three, launching 26 triples per game and hitting them at 37.1% a clip. Buffalo also boasts four players averaging above 14.6 points per game, led by CJ Massinburg with 16.9 points per game. The Bulls rank 7th in points, 23rd in rebounds, and 15th in assists as well. Defensively, the Bulls allow 75.9 points per game. A team that averages four 14+ point scores and can light it up from deep is always a potential upset. However, Buffalo hasn’t faced anyone like DeAndre Ayton, and they may struggle to contain him.
#14 Wright State Raiders
Wright State has a solid duo in freshman forward Louden Love and senior guard Grant Benzinger. The Raiders are not spectacular on offense, but do hold opponents to a respectable 65.7 points per game. Offensively, they shoot 34.2% from behind the arc, but do struggle to score, ranking 224th in the country averaging 72.1 points per game. Louden Love can cause problems inside, and has 13 double-doubles on the season. Against Tennessee however, they will find a strong defensive squad may be too much for them offensively, and if they can’t force Tennessee into some turnovers and don’t shoot well from outside, this game could get ugly quick.
#15 Georgia State Panthers
The Panthers are back dancing for the first time since 2015, when they upset #2 Baylor in the first round of the tournament. This years squad is very similar to the 2015 squad, where Georgia State relies on one player for a majority of their offense. This year, that job falls on Sophomore guard D’marcus Simonds, who is averaging 21.1 points, 4.5 assists, and 5.8 rebounds per game. He is followed by sharpshooter Devin Mitchell, who knocked down 45.1% of his triples on the year. As a team, they hit 38.6% of their threes, on their way to averaging 75.4 points per game. In order to get past Cincinnati, the Panthers will need to shoot the lights out.
#16 UMBC Retrievers
The Retrievers come into the dance winning 10 of their past 12, and have four players averaging 10 or more points. This team also shoots 38.7% from behind the arc; both recipes for an upset. Led by guard Jairus Lyles with 20.2 points per game, UMBC averaged 73.9 points per game, and allowed 69.5 on the defensive end. Not to be blunt, but the only thing this team needs to retrieve is their bags to catch their flight back to Baltimore. They have yet to face a team like Virginia, and if they score 55 I will be impressed.
Teams on Upset Alert:
Miami: This is a bad time for Miami and a bad matchup. Without Bruce Brown, Miami’s offense could sputter out down the stretch, and playing the best #11 seed in the bracket doesn’t help either.
Kentucky: Do I think Kentucky will lose? No. But it is more likely Kentucky loses than Arizona or Tennessee. With such a young core, you never know how they will respond to the lights of March. Drawing Davidson, a team that checks off all the boxes as a potential upset candidate doesn’t help either.
Loyola Chicago has the chops to run to the sweet sixteen, and possibly the elite eight. They drew a banged up Miami squad who hasn’t looked all that impressive, and then draw an overseeded Tennessee team. A sweet sixteen date with the Bearcats could be in play here, and Cincinnati may have trouble with their depth and scoring chops.
And the Final Four Representative from the South Bracket is…
Two words. DeAndre. Ayton. I don’t see a team capable of stopping him on the inside, and what he is able to do is open up the entire floor. Arizona has been playing its best basketball as of late, and there is room to get better. The Wildcats look to finally get over the hump in March, and with Villanova’s streak ending two years ago, and Gonzaga’s ending last year, I think it’s time Arizona ends their streak.