March Madness is officially upon us, having technically kicked off Tuesday and Wednesday night with some unbelievable opening games. 11th seeded Dayton held on to beat Boise State and Ole Miss had a dramatic comeback over BYU. However, the main portion of this tournament will get started in just a few hours and it is time to take an in-depth look at the tournament as a whole. This post will take a look at a few interesting topics, including a potential double digit seed to make a deep run, a low seed who will lose early, who has the best shot at beating Kentucky, and who are some of the players to watch for in the tournament.
Double Digit Seed to Make a Deep Run: Davidson
I do not believe the double digit seeds are very strong this year, given the particularly weak bubble, but Davidson is a team I have identified as a double digit seed who could potentially make a run to the Elite Eight. For starters, Davidson has an unbelievable ability to score the basketball, averaging 79.9 points per game which is 6th in the country. They share the basketball very well, averaging the 3rd most assists in the country at 17.2. The team also possesses one of the things I look for in tournament teams in that they have a great ability to shoot free throws, with a team rate of 71.1%. They have four double digit scorers, who are a senior, a sophomore, and two juniors respectively and don’t have anyone who will go through the nerves of being a freshman. The team doesn’t turn the ball over but doesn’t force a ton of turnovers either. The one weakness Davidson has is their lack of shot blocking and defense as a whole, although they don’t particularly care about defense much. However, the main reason I think Davidson can make a run is due to the draw they received. Their opening round game against Iowa will be a tough challenge given Iowa’s ability to rebound the basketball, but I do not believe that Iowa has the ability to score the ball enough to keep them in the game. After that, they will likely play 2nd seeded Gonzaga, a team who has a history of losing early in the tournament. Neither team plays any defense and it is sure to be an exciting game. I think Davidson has the ability to steal that game in a tight, high scoring battle. And then in the sweet sixteen, they have potential matchups with either 3rd seeded Iowa State, 6th seeded SMU, or 11th seeded UCLA. I think they face Iowa State and that is another matchup that will give Davidson the ability to pull an upset. Yet again, it is a team that plays very little defense and a team that doesn’t have a ton of quality bigs. Davidson will be able to score the basketball and get into a shootout with Iowa State, and they have the ability, yet again to steal the game late. While I do not think it is likely for Davidson to make a run like this, it is certainly a strong possibility.
Low Seed to Lose Early: Virginia
This was an easy call for me as when I look at Virginia, I simply do not see an ability for them to score the basketball since the Justin Anderson injury. The decision was made even easier when I realized that their third round matchup is likely to be with perennial final four contender Michigan State, a team who is playing their best basketball of the year right now. I see Virginia squeaking by 15th seeded Belmont in round one and then getting steamrolled by Michigan State in the second round. Virginia scores a dreadful 65.3 points per game, which is just 225th in the country. During their past three games, in which they are 1 and 2, they have scored just 57, 58, and 67 points. They don’t have any player who can create their own offense and with Justin Anderson struggling, they are easy to guard. Michigan State, on the other hand, has won four of their last five and eight of their last 11, playing their best basketball at the right time. This is also a program that perennially overachieves in the tournament, with one of the best tournament coaches in the country in Tom Izzo. There three headed monster in Branden Dawson, Denzel Valentine, and Travis Trice are all upperclassmen and they are all playing very well as of late. They are efficient offensively, rebound the ball well, and share the basketball well also. This is just a terrible matchup for Virginia and I think there is a good shot they go down.
Team Most Likely to Beat Kentucky Before the Final Four: Notre Dame
I don’t think anyone is going to beat Kentucky, as I have them winning it all, but I think the team with the best chance at beating them is Notre Dame. Kentucky has simply not faced a team with the offensive talent and efficiency of Notre Dame and they are yet to be tested against an elite three point shooting team. I am not positive that Notre Dame makes the Elite Eight to face Kentucky, but if they do they have the ingredients to beat Kentucky. They shoot the ball at an incredible rate, 2nd in the country at 51%. They score 78.8 points per game and shoot 39.2% from three and 74% from the free throw line. Kentucky has gotten off to a few slow starts this season and if they get off to a sluggish start vs. Notre Dame they will exploit it. Another thing I love about Notre Dame is that there two best players, Jerian Grant and Pat Connaughton, are seniors. They also have a couple of big men who can battle in the post with Kentucky’s bigs in the uber-athletic Zach Auguste and the phsyical Bonzie Colson. I don’t think Notre Dame will beat the Wildcats, but I think they have the best shot of anyone.
Players to Watch: Kris Dunn (Providence), Nic Moore (SMU), R.J. Hunter (Georgia State), Stefan Moody (Ole Miss), Dez Wells (Maryland)
These are not meant to be the five best players in the tournament, but rather, five players for teams that could potentially make runs in the tournament led by these people. They are all players who have some name recognition but won’t get recognized like a Jahlil Okafor or Karl Anthony-Towns. Kris Dunn is an absolute phenom and a potential triple-double machine at the next level. If Providence is going to make a run (and I have them in the Sweet 16), it is going to come from a couple huge performances out of Dunn. He has the potential to see his NBA Draft stock explode with a couple good games. Nic Moore is one of the most underrated floor generals in the country, quietly leading SMU all year to a very good season. I think SMU has final four potential and Moore is going to have to lead the way. He is not like Dunn in that he lacks elite athleticism, but he has the heart of a warrior and the ability to hit huge shots, despite being just 5’9″. R.J. Hunter is one of the nation’s leading scorers at 19.8 points per game, and if Georgia State is going to upset Baylor, he is going to need to have a huge game. Should they get by Butler, they may be able to make a Sweet 16 run with Hunter as the star. With Ryan Harrow battling injuries, the stage is set for Hunter to have his stock explode. Stefan Moody has already had one huge tournament game, scoring 26 points on 10 of 18 shooting in Ole Miss’ comeback vs. BYU in the opening round. He has the potential to go off on any given night, and if Ole Miss is going to make a run, he will have to average 25+ points per game. And finally, Dez Wells is one of them most exciting and explosive players in the country, with tremendous athleticism, great defensive ability, and improving scoring ability. He is a human highlight reel and could enjoy a very big tournament. He also has the ability to make awesome posters, like the one below