By: Mike Rifkin
TOP 5 SEEDS
- ALABAMA – The overall number one seed is seventh in the nation in scoring, leading the nation in rebounding. They are led by Freshman Brandon Miller (we can talk about if he should be playing later), who averaged 19.6 points per game and 8.3 rebounds per game.
- ARIZONA – The Pac-12 Tournament champions score fourth in the country, averaging 82.7 points per game. They are third in field goal percentage shooting 49.6 % from the field. Only a few teams can match up with their bigs, Oumar Ballo and Azuolas Tubellis.
- Baylor – The Bears lost four of their final six games to end the season. The Bears arguably have the best three-guard set in the country with Keyonte George, Adam Flagler, and LJ Cryer. The return of Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua could be a key factor for the Bears.
- Virginia – The Cavaliers were ninth in the country in scoring defense. Armann Franklin and Jayden Gardener average 12 points per game. But you know what you’re getting with the Cavs: excellent defense and low-scoring affairs.
- San Diego ST. – Balance is the key for the Aztecs. They have a lot of balance, and they rarely beat themselves. Guard Matt Bradley is the only player that averages double figures in scoring.
MOST INTERESTING MATCHUP : (8) MARYLAND VS (9) WEST VIRGINIA – All eight vs. nine matchups are fantastic. The most significant factor is Maryland has only won four games on the road/ neutral sites. Can they turn this around against the Mountaineers?
Team to come out: Arizona
TOP 5 SEEDS
- PURDUE – The Big Ten regular season and tournament champs have one massive advantage over everyone else in Zach Edey. The 7″ 4″ Canadian averaged 22.3 points per game, 12.8 rebounds, and 2.1 blocks per game. Edey is a matchup nightmare for opponents. Braden Smith and Fletcher Loyer are outstanding backcourt as well.
- Marquette – The Big East Champs are led by point guard Tyler Kolek, the Big East Player of The Year, who averages 13.3 points per game and 7.7 assists per game. The Golden Eagles are dangerous from behind the arc, and they have six players who shoot over 30% from three.
- Kansas St- Keyotae Johnson, the Florida transfer, led the team in scoring and rebounding, averaging 17.7 points and 7.0 rebounds per game. Johnson and backcourt mate Markquis Nowell were both First Team Big 12.
- Tennessee – Rick Barnes’s team is third in the country in points allowed, giving up 58.0 points per game. They will be without point guard Zakai Zeigler, who tore his ACL two weeks ago. Ziegler led the team in assists and steals and was second in scoring. The biggest question is, can the Vols score enough?
- Duke – The Blue Devils found their footing down the stretch, including winning the ACC Tournament in the first season under Jon Scheyer. This team will go as far as Kyle Filipowski and Jeremy Roach take them. Derek Lively on the inside can be a massive factor on the defensive side.
MOST INTERESTING FIRST RD MATCHUP : (6) KENTUCKY VS (11) PROVIDENCE: Kentucky was up and down all season. Their main constant was big man Oscar Tshiebwe, who averaged 16.5 points per game and a nation high 13.1 rebounds per game—Bryce Hopkins, who led Providence in scoring and rebounding, transferred from Kentucky to Providence.
Team to come out: Purdue
- HOUSTON – The Cougars were second in the country in points allowed, allowing 56.5 points per game. Guard Marcus Sasser, who was injured during the AAC Tournament, status is unknown. The Cougars must rely on their stellar defense if he can’t go.
- Texas – How about the job Rodney Terry has done since Chris Beard was let go. This team has a lot of experience and is playing well right now; they beat Kansas by double digits in their last two meetings. Marcus Carr leads the way averaging 15.5 points per game.
- Xavier – The Musketeers average 81.4 points per game. They are led by Souley Bourn, who averages 16.5 points per game and 4.4 assists. Sean Miller’s team averages 19 assists per game.
- Indiana – Trayce Jackson – Davis and Race Thompson are excellent in the front court. If Miller Kopp and Trey Galloway hit their threes, the Hoosiers can make some noise in the tournament.
- Miami – Don’t be surprised if the Hurricanes make a deep run in the tournament after going to the Elite Eight last season. Isaiah Wong leads the team in scoring and assists per game.
MOST INTERESTING FIRST RD MATCHUP TEXAS A&M (7) VS PENN ST (10): I’m still trying to understand why A&M is a seven-seed after finishing second in the SEC and losing in the Championship game of the conference tournament Penn St also lost in the Big Ten championship. If Penn St hits their threes, they can win this game. Wade Taylor vs. Jalen Pickett should be a fun matchup.
Team to come out: Texas
- Kansas – Jalen Wilson is a player-of-the-year candidate averaging 20 points and eight rebounds per game. Dajuan Harris is one of the best point guards in the country, and I still feel he’s underrated. Don’t be surprised if the reigning National Champs go on a long run.
- UCLA – Jaime Jaquez and Tyger Campbell are great. They will need someone to step up in the absence of Jaylen Clark.
- Gonzaga – The Zags will eventually win the National Title. The Bulldogs led the nation in scoring and field goal percentage. Drew Timme leads the team in scoring and rebounding. Malachi Smith, the UT Chattanooga transfer can be a significant x factor.
- UCONN – Adama Sanogo and Donovan Clingan are forces in the paint. Defensively they allow 65.0 points per game.
- St. Mary’s – The Gaels are fifth in the country in scoring defense, giving up 60.1 points per game. Logan Johnso and Aidan Mahaney both average over 14 points per game. They have three players who shoot over 70% from the free-throw line, which could be their downfall.
Most Interesting first round matchup (8) Arkansas vs. (9) Illinois: Last year, Arkansas went to the Elite Eight, and this year at times, struggled, including losing four of their last five games. Illinois has lost three of their last four games. Matthew Mayer, the Baylor transfer, could be huge for Illinois because of his extensive big-game experience.
Team to come out: Gonzaga – Everybody loves Kansas and UCLA but don’t sleep on the Zags. They put themselves in a good position and schedule the right way for moments like this, so don’t be surprised if the Zags wind up in Houston.
FINAL FOUR: TEXAS, GONZAGA, ARIZONA, PURDUE
NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP: ARIZONA DEFEATS TEXAS