East Region (Washington, D.C.):
Most Vulnerable High Seed:
#3 LSU Tigers
The LSU Tigers have had a phenomenal season up to this point, winning a share of the SEC regular season conference title. But we have to remember that a lot of their success can be attributed to the presence of their head coach Will Wade, who was suspended after an FBI wiretap leaked that had Wade talking about making strong offers to recruits with the scheme cog Christian Dawkins. LSU will now face a tough first round matchup with the 14th seeded Yale Bulldogs, who are extremely talented. LSU doesn’t have their normal leader and by playing under an interim coach who doesn’t have much experience, I worry about the Tigers ability to get to the second weekend, especially with Maryland/Belmont/Temple waiting in the balance in the Round of 32.
High Major Player to Know:
Louisville F Jordan Nwora
The ACC Most Improved Player for a reason, Jordan Nwora made significant strides in his sophomore season at Louisville under new head coach Chris Mack. His points per game totals jumped up nearly 12 points to an average of 17.2. He’s a high-volume scorer, but he’s the most important guy to the success of the Cards. If he can hit shots, you’ll see this team thriving, but if he’s off, there may be some evident issues. Nwora is an incredible rebounder who uses his 6’8 size to battle on the glass, coming in at an average of 7.5 rebounds per game. He will get you some steals as well, as he’s aggressive in terms of playing the passing lanes. All in all, Nwora needs to focus on better shot selection and defensive technique if the Cards want a long stay at the dance.
Mid-Major Player to Know:
Yale G Miye Oni
If the Yale Bulldogs want any shot at upsetting the third seeded LSU Tigers in the first round on Thursday, having this guy show up big would be very beneficial. Oni is the superstar scorer and leader for Yale, as the big junior guard averages 17.6 points per game. He also uses his 6’6 frame to grab a high number of rebounds for a guard, with his totals clocking in at 6.3 per night. He is very solid in terms of his efficiency, as he shoots 45.5% from the field, and 39% from beyond the arc. Oni isn’t a slouch when it comes to putting his teammates in great situations either, as he is one of the best passers in the Ivy League, averaging 3.5 assists per game.
Cinderella in the Region:
#11 Belmont Bruins
One of the more consistent mid-major programs in recent years, Belmont will be playing against Temple in a Tuesday night play-in game for the right to play the sixth seeded Maryland Terrapins. I have the Bruins winning that game and then playing Maryland on Thursday. Belmont couldn’t get the Ohio Valley’s automatic bid, but they’ve had a gaudy season, dominating their conference and falling just short in the tournament. Belmont is a tremendous shooting team, similar to many past cinderella stories, as they rank fifth in field goal percentage, and 45th in three-point percentage. Dylan Windler is one of the best basketball players in the country and he will have to be the go-to guy if the Bruins want to win their first NCAA tournament game in program history.
Upset Alert 🚨🚨🚨:
#12 Liberty over #5 Mississippi State
The Liberty Flames are one of the very best mid-majors in the entire tournament, and they drew a tough opponent in the Bulldogs of Mississippi State. Liberty won the Atlantic Sun tournament by defeating Lipscomb, 74-68, last week. They’ve played well in the tougher games they have played, but none of those opponents will match up to quite the level that Mississippi State does. There are plenty of reasons to pick Liberty here, including their offensive efficiency, impressive 49% field goal percentage, rock solid 77% free throw shooting, tremendous defense (60.8 points allowed per game), and their ability to limit turnovers (10.9 per game). Mississippi State will be booked for an early exit if they don’t find a way to stop turning the ball over so much, as they average 13.3 turnovers per game.
Sleeper in the Region:
#4 Virginia Tech Hokies
Virginia Tech without Justin Robinson was a Round of 32 team. Virginia Tech with Justin Robinson returning could still be a Round of 32 squad, but I’m leaning towards a Sweet 16 appearance and possibly further for Coach Buzz Williams’ squad. With the Hokies finally healthy, they have the talent and experience necessary to make a deep run in March, but they’ll consistent production from Robinson, who will return from his nagging foot injury, as well as Kerry Blackshear, who’d been playing really well as the season concluded. And don’t forget that Williams has a projected lottery pick on his team in Nickeil Alexander-Walker who could prove a lot about his future by having a tremendous March run. I’d say it’s a safe bet to have Virginia Tech advancing to the second weekend, but if they have Duke awaiting them in the Sweet 16, Buzz Williams may be in the doghouse.
#1 Duke over #16 North Dakota State
#9 UCF over #8 VCU
#12 Liberty over #5 Mississippi State
#4 Virginia Tech over #13 Saint Louis
#11 Belmont over #6 Maryland
#3 LSU over #14 Yale
#7 Louisville over #10 Minnesota
#2 Michigan State over #15 Bradley
#1 Duke over #9 UCF
#4 Virginia Tech over #12 Liberty
#3 LSU over #11 Belmont
#2 Michigan State over #7 Louisville
#1 Duke over #4 Virginia Tech
#2 Michigan State over #3 LSU
#1 Duke over #2 Michigan State