West Region (Anaheim, CA):
Most Vulnerable High Seed:
#2 Michigan Wolverines
One of the last remaining undefeated teams to lose, Michigan started off this season in tremendous fashion, making a statement as John Beilein wants to get the Wolverines back to the championship. With some struggles on offense lately and the tendency to not show up in the second half against big teams like Michigan State, there’s some cause for concern for Michigan, especially considering they may have a second round date with a Nevada team that is extremely talented and made the Elite Eight last year. Beilein’s crew is one of the best defensive teams in the nation, but a stagnant offense is never a recipe for success in the big dance, and Michigan will not be able to survive with one.
High Major Player to Know:
Texas Tech G Jarrett Culver
Absolutely no one expected Texas Tech to be this good this season after the amount of roster turnover that head coach Chris Beard had to deal with. But Jarrett Culver has helped make this an incredible season for the Red Raiders. As one of the few returning guys to the team, the 6’5 sophomore guard has positioned himself to be an NBA first round draft pick with his stellar season. He’s a do-it all player for Beard’s team, averaging 18.5 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 3.7 assists per game. Culver’s efficiency is clearly above average as well, as he is shooting 48.5% from the field with a rather disappointing 32.3% three-point mark. He’s also one of the best defenders in college basketball. The potential for him to hit four or five threes on a nightly basis is there, and Culver will look to lead the Red Raiders to their first Final Four in program history.
Mid-Major Player to Know:
Northern Kentucky F Drew McDonald
McDonald, a traditional stretch big in basketball, excels at shooting the three ball and dominating the glass. He’s undoubtedly the biggest why the Northern Kentucky Norse are back in the dance after missing it in 2018. Heck, they would be at home if it wasn’t for McDonald hitting the game-winning three pointer with 1.6 seconds left in the Horizon League semifinals. The senior has experience and the drive to keep his team feeling like they’ve got a chance. McDonald, averaging 19.1 points and 9.5 rebounds, will have to hit his shots from deep and dominate the glass in the first round game if the Norse want to even think about tasting an upset. But with this kid’s will and determination, I wouldn’t count them out of it just yet.
Cinderella in the Region:
#12 Murray State Racers
By winning the Ohio Valley tournament this week, Murray State secured the automatic bid to the big dance, effectively removing any possible pressure of being on the bubble. Murray State has a guy that goes by the name of Ja Morant, and you may have heard of him. He’s a top three NBA prospect and a legitimate future star as a professional, but he’s led the Racers into serious upset conversation for now. Murray State can win ball games in the tournament by letting Morant do what he has done all year long, which is taking the focus of the defense on him and putting his teammates in perfect position to score. And heck, if his team needs to get a bucket, I guarantee you that he will score. Morant will be a fun spectacle to watch throughout the tournament, and hopefully we can watch him for more than one game.
Upset Alert 🚨🚨🚨:
#13 Vermont over #4 Florida State
Anthony Lamb is the star for the Vermont Catamounts, and a big game from him may be the key to an upset over the fourth seeded Seminoles of Florida State. Neither team is overpowering offensively, but Vermont has been the better defensive team over the course of the season according to most metrics. The Catamounts allow 62 points per game compared to FSU surrendering 67, and Vermont is a really effective rebounding team who could cause fits to teams that struggle in this area. There’s also certainly no doubt that the Catamounts have played high level competition this year, as they lost to Kansas and Louisville in road games. Florida State was really good last week in the ACC Tournament, but if they don’t play that well in the Round of 64, don’t be surprised if Lamb leads Vermont to a first round victory.
Sleeper in the Region:
#8 Syracuse Orange
This is one of Jim Boeheim’s best teams in recent years and that’s crazy to say considering he’s had two deep runs over the past three years with bubble-esque teams. Obviously, the experienced coach’s signature is the Syracuse zone defense, which has always caused problems for teams who’ve never played against it before. Syracuse makes opponents work for buckets on the offensive end of the floor, and they love to slow down the pace of the game. It looks like Tyus Battle (17.2 PPG) should be healthy for the tournament and that would obviously provide a significant boost to the confidence in picking the Orange. At the least, there’s no reason not to give Syracuse the benefit of the doubt and pick them over Baylor in the Round of 64.
#1 Gonzaga over #16 Prairie-View
#8 Syracuse over #9 Baylor
#12 Murray State over #5 Marquette
#4 Florida State over #13 Vermont
#6 Buffalo over #11 St. John’s
#3 Texas Tech over #14 Northern Kentucky
#7 Nevada over #10 Florida
#2 Michigan over #15 Montana
#1 Gonzaga over #8 Syracuse
#4 Florida State over #12 Murray State
#3 Texas Tech over #6 Buffalo
#7 Nevada over #2 Michigan
#1 Gonzaga over #4 Florida State
#3 Texas Tech over #7 Nevada
#1 Gonzaga over #3 Texas Tech