Field of 68 Projections – November 10, 2018

Time to drop my first projection of what the seeding looks like come Selection Sunday.  Thanks to The Bracket Project for sharing From the Rafters blog.  This has been a fun outlet to share my passion for college basketball with like-minded fans.  I stumbled upon The Bracket Matrix back in 2010 and have since enjoyed viewing and analyzing the pool of data!  I recommend devoting time to perusing the site!  Link to The Bracket Project

NCAA Field Projection – November 10, 2018

The 1s: Duke, Kansas, Kentucky, Gonzaga

The 2s: Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Nevada

The 3s: Villanova, Michigan State, Auburn, Kansas State

The 4s: West Virginia, Oregon, Syracuse, Michigan

The 5s: Florida State, Mississippi State, Virginia Tech, Clemson

The 6s: Purdue, Florida, TCU, LSU

The 7s: Washington, Marquette, UCLA, Indiana

The 8s: Cincinnati, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Butler

The 9s: St. John’s, Miami FL, Texas Tech, Xavier

The 10s: Texas, Central Florida, Maryland, NC State

The 11s: Iowa State, Providence, Loyola – Chicago, Arizona, Houston, USC

The 12s: Saint Louis, Western Kentucky, Buffalo, South Dakota State

The 13s: Northeastern, Harvard, New Mexico State, Montana

The 14s: UNC-Grennsboro, Georgia State, Vermont, Stephen F. Austin

The 15s: Belmont, Rider, UC Irvine, Wright State

The 16s: Lipscomb, Lehigh, St. Francis (PA), Radford, Texas Southern, Bethune-Cookman

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Butler Preview Crossroads Classic – 2018

The Butler Bulldogs take the court at Bankers Life Fieldhouse today against the Indiana Hoosiers.  Tip off is slated for 3:45pm, following the conclusion of the Notre Dame vs. Purdue game.

Indiana, 2017-2018 Record:16-15; series record Indiana leads 21-7 Last meeting: December 17, 2016, Butler 83 – Indiana 78

Background:

The Hoosiers (8-2) enter this contest on a three-game win streak with wins over Northwestern, Penn State, and Louisville.  They’ve won those games by a combined five points.  The two losses on the season so far were by one point at Arkansas and at Duke by twenty-one points.  Indiana is led by Senior Juwan Morgan and electric Freshman Romeo Langford.

The Bulldogs will likely have a different look to their squad on Saturday.  Duke transfer, Jordan Tucker will suit up for his first game in a Butler uniform.  The former Duke player has completed his mandatory period of sitting out a year.

Sitting behind a large pool of talent, only playing in a couple games, and not receiving much playing time was the necessary push to find a new home.  In an article written by David Woods for the IndyStar, Tucker noted, “I kinda questioned myself as far as confidence-wise. Me leaving Duke was more of like me going to find myself somewhere rather than staying.”  Tucker has sought growth in more than just basketball development, focusing on maturing, especially in his habit of responsibility.  As he grows, his teammates will continue to grow and evolve with Tucker on the court.  Although Tucker has been with the team for nearly a year and has practiced with the Bulldogs, adding him into a competitive game environment will likely create growing pains.  With those growing pains, we will hopefully see more often the brighter spots and added value Tucker brings to this Bulldog squad.

Finally, if Butler is going to red-shirt any players, we will likely know after this game.  I’m guessing that if Markeese Hastings and Bryce Golden don’t play, they won’t play in a game until next season.  I observed both of them in the team’s warm ups prior to the contest against Brown.  In that warm up, Golden was consistently making 3-pointers.  At one point, I counted that he was 16-20 shooting from beyond the arc, something Bulldog fans can be excited about!

Players to Watch:

The Hoosiers have a two-headed monster in Senior Forward, Juwan Morgan and Freshman Guard, Romeo Langford with an able supporting crew.  Both Morgan and Langford go-to scorers in the paint.  Freshman Guard, Rob Phinisee, continues to impress as he helps create scoring opportunities for this Hoosiers.

For the Bulldogs, Jordan Tucker joins the Bulldogs on the floor today.  Tucker will likely play a smaller number of minutes today unless there’s a match up that benefits Butler.  Sean McDermott will need his spot up three-pointers to fall to help the Bulldogs in today’s contest. He will likely be the difference in this game.

Keys to the Game:

3-pointers  – Live and die by the three-point shot.  Indiana ranks near the bottom in 3-point shots attempted per game and are an above average shooting team from beyond the arc.  Looking closer at the Hoosier three-point numbers, the man to watch out for is Aljami Durham.  Durham has improved his shot over the summer and currently averages 43% for season beyond the three-point arc.

When playing high-level opponents, Kamar Baldwin is shooting just 1-14 from behind the 3-point  line.  He’s a major focus on opponent scouting lists, but Baldwin should be able to knock down a few more with the open opportunities has.  If the Bulldogs can make nine or more threes, they will be in a good spot to win at the end.

Free throws – The disparity in free throw percentage between both teams is vast.  Butler shoots nearly 76% at the charity stripe compared to Indiana’s sub 64% accuracy.  It will be in the Bulldogs best interest to attack the rim and finish strong.

Sharing the ball – In Butler’s two losses, they had 10 assists against Dayton and only 4 against Saint Louis.  In their seven wins on the season, the Bulldogs have averaged 17 assists per game with a game high of 27 against Northern Illinois.  Butler can’t rely on pick-and-roll sets at the top of the key and expect isolation plays to work today.  It may work against inferior opponents, but the Hoosiers match up well.

Turnovers – In their last two games, Butler has turned the ball over only 7 times, or about 10% of their possessions.  It is important for Butler to take care of the ball as they have done well for a majority of the games they have played this season.  Indiana averages turnovers on more than 20% of their possessions each game.

Prediction:

With Indiana’s ability to get into the lane and shoot effectively near the rim, I expect Butler to pack the paint and try some zone during the game if they are getting beat off the dribble.  If Butler continues to have active hands on defense to create turnovers and they share the ball well, Butler will end up the victor in this contest.  However, if the Bulldogs fail to slow down the tandem of Juwan Morgan and Romeo Langford, they will be in for a long day.  As basketball is a game of runs, I think this will be a close game throughout.  I have the Bulldogs winning 77 – 74.

Butler Basketball 2018-2019 Season Preview – Part III

With a busier part of the year for work, I have not been able to look closely at the next few teams Butler will play in the next ten days.  I have had the time to look at Northern Illinois, however, and this could be a closer game than Bulldog fans may initially anticipate.

Northern Illinois, 2017-2018 Record: 13-19 ; series record Butler leads 5-3   Last meeting: February 2, 1997

Kenpom Ranking: 148

Background

The Huskies come into Hinkle Fieldhouse this afternoon toting an effective offense and lackluster defense.  As bad as Butler has been to start the season with perimeter defense, Northern Illinois has been worse, allowing their opponents nearly 40% from beyond the 3-point arc.  Opponents look like they are having their way inside too because the Huskies are allowing over 52% made on 2-point baskets one month into the season.  As poor as the Huskies are at defending the three pointer, their ability to score from beyond the arc is on the opposite end of the shooting spectrum.  Northern Illinois shoots nearly 42% from three, yet they don’t take many threes.

Players to watch

Northern Illinois touts a veteran team composed of mostly juniors and seniors.  Eugene German is the go-to guy that takes about one-third of the Huskies shots each game.  German does turn the ball over, about one in every five times he possess the ball.  Levi Bradley is another large contributor for Northern Illinois.  Bradley handles the ball well and he adds another dimension for the Huskies because of his ability to shoot the perimeter.  Currently, Bradley shoots above 50% from beyond the arc.  An interesting visit from the nation’s leading efficiency ranked player (according to Kenpom.com) in sophomore Rod Henry-Hayes will be a treat.  He is ranked so high because he has not turned the ball over and, to this point in the season, has made most of the three pointers he has taken.  In fact, Northern Illinois boasts three of the most efficient players in the nation.  German currently ranks eleventh for players who are used on at least 28% of possessions during a game.

Expected Outcome

Northern Illinois plays at a lethargic tempo, working their half-court offense a majority of their possessions.  German, when provided the opportunity, will take shots from beyond the arc.  Although the Huskies shoot threes at a successful clip, three-point baskets don’t make up a large portion of how they score.  Butler’s perimeter defense has improved over the past month, however that is in large part due to playing below average teams.  The Huskies have three players averaging double figures.  Eugene German leads Northern Illinois with 21.8 points per game.  In two of his last three games, he has scored 30 and 33 points.  Limiting German and Levi Bradley will be keys to Butler’s success.

In their most recent game, the Bulldogs outplayed Brown in the first half with what looked like an uptempo offense.  It seemed clear the message from the coaching staff was to speed the offense up and get shots off quicker in the shot clock.  By halftime, the Bulldogs had grown their lead 36-17.  A couple positives in the result were the seven turnovers and thirteen assists on twenty-four made baskets.  Keeping the number of turnovers in single-digits is a great sign of growth.  Hopefully the Bulldogs continue great play today against the visiting Huskies, a slightly more formidable opponent than Brown.  I have the Bulldogs winning at home 75-67.

ACC/Big Ten Challenge Predictions

This year’s ACC/Big Ten Challenge looks to result in some memorable games.  Below are the match ups listed for each game.  The team that is italicized is who I predict to win each of the match ups.

Monday, November 26th

Minnesota at Boston College

Nebraska at Clemson

Tuesday, November 27th

Indiana at Duke

Michigan State at Louisville

NC State at Wisconsin

Illinois at Notre Dame

Pittsburgh at Iowa

Virginia Tech at Penn State

Wednesday, November 28th

Purdue at Florida State

Georgia Tech at Northwestern

Rutgers at Miami

North Carolina at Michigan

Syracuse at Ohio State

Virginia at Maryland

Prediction: ACC beats Big Ten 9-5

NCAA Bracket Prediction – Thanksgiving Edition

I hope to provide a little easy reading  to your Thanksgiving Day!  I’ve updated my field of 68 as well as introduced my Top 25 and 5.  I share what my top 25 college basketball teams are at this date and include the next 5 that are knocking on the door to take another team’s spot.  You can find my blog along with numerous others at The Bracket Project

NCAA Field Projection – November 22, 2018

The 1s: Kansas, Virginia, Gonzaga, Duke

The 2s: Nevada, North Carolina, Auburn, Tennessee

The 3s: Michigan, Florida State, Syracuse, Michigan State

The 4s: Kansas State, Oregon, Kentucky, Villanova

The 5s: Indiana, Ohio State, Virginia Tech, Clemson

The 6s: Purdue, Mississippi State, TCU, Buffalo

The 7s: Wisconsin, West Virginia, UCLA, Florida

The 8s: Marquette, Cincinnati, LSU, Texas

The 9s: St. John’s, Miami FL, Texas Tech, Maryland

The 10s: Butler, Washington, Xavier, NC State

The 11s: Iowa State, Georgetown, Central Florida, Arizona, Houston, USC

The 12s: Saint Louis, Western Kentucky, Loyola – Chicago, South Dakota State

The 13s: Belmont, Southern Illinois, Vermont, Penn

The 14s: South Dakota State, Northeastern, New Mexico State, Montana

The 15s: Lipscomb, Rider, Georgia State, Northern Kentucky

The 16s: Radford, Lehigh, St. Francis (PA), Stephen F. Austin, Bethune-Cookman, Grambling State

 

Top 25 and 5

  1. Duke
  2. Kansas
  3. Virginia
  4. Gonzaga
  5. Tennessee
  6. Nevada
  7. North Carolina
  8. Villanova
  9. Auburn
  10. Kentucky
  11. Michigan State
  12. Kansas State
  13. Oregon
  14. Florida State
  15. Syracuse
  16. Virginia Tech
  17. Mississippi State
  18. Michigan
  19. Clemson
  20. UCLA
  21. TCU
  22. LSU
  23. Purdue
  24. Marquette
  25. Buffalo
  26. West Virginia
  27. Indiana
  28. Ohio State
  29. Wisconsin
  30. Washington

Butler Basketball 2018-2019 Season Preview – Part II

The benefit of watching a few games and perusing box scores allows me to better understand the make up of Butler’s opponents.  When developing projections of what to look for game to game or share a prediction, it’s easier with a larger sample size.  For example, prior to Mississippi visiting Hinkle Fieldhouse, their team had only played one game.  At that point, the Rebels led the nation in turnovers forced, about one in five trips down the floor would end in a turnover for the opposing offense.  That game was against Western Michigan, a team that coughs up the ball nearly one in four trips down the floor when they are on offense.  As teams play more games, the averages begin to show themselves and projecting results can become easier to justify.

During their first three games of the season, the Butler Bulldogs have shown moments of brilliance and head-scratching plays that make you wonder “What is going on?”

Brief Recap

Bulldog fans have witnessed the growth center, Joey Brunk.  The Bulldogs created opportunities to score points off turnovers.  The ever compelling idea that head coach LaVall Jordan mentioned about playing at a quicker tempo eludes the Bulldogs from time to time, however.  According to Kenpom.com, Butler plays below the national average pace, holding onto the ball longer than 66% of the body of college basketball teams.

Game 4:  Dayton, 2017-2018 Record: 14-17; series record Butler leads 11-10 Last meeting: March 14, 2013.

Current Kenpom Rating: 102

The Dayton Flyers look to rebound from an uneven season last year.  Anthony Grant leads a Dayton squad that returns four of their top five scorers from last season.

Players to Watch

Senior Josh Cunningham will be a significant influence for the Flyers as he was one of the most effective shooters in the country last year, ranking fifth in field goal percentage while averaging over 15 points and 8 rebounds per game.

Other key returners that will provide significant impact for the Flyers are junior Trey Landers, and sophomores Jalen Crutcher and Jordan Davis.  These three compliment Josh Cunningham well and will spread the floor.  These three have played significant time in each of their first three games this season.  Josh Cunningham has only played in one game.

One other player to mention is Ryan Mikesell.  He’s been effective in his shooting in the small sample size of this season.  Mikesell is 50% from 3-point range and has been to the free throw line frequently.

Expected Result:

Although we are still early in the season, we begin to see trends for teams.  Dayton looks like their group has a decent defense to go with an average offense.  Butler looks like the opposite, having a decent offense along with an okay defense.

Dayton is shooting just over 60 percent on 2-point shots compared to 29% on 3-point shots.  Basing game prep off of these numbers, look for Dayton to work the ball inside for layups or to draw fouls.  A closer look at Butler’s 3-point defense causes concern, however, even against a Dayton team that currently shoots below 30% from beyond the arc.  Butler is allowing nearly 39% shooting against opponents from 3-point range.  The Bulldogs will continue to improve in this area and the number should decline, but that remains an area for concern on the defensive end.

When comparing second chances, Dayton does not allow many opportunities for opponents to grab offensive rebounds.  Even though they protect their own rim well from second chance opportunities, the Flyers struggle in their own right to grab offensive boards.

For Butler to win, they will need to pack the paint and force Dayton to make shots from beyond 15 feet.  From a fan’s perspective, limiting unnecessary turnovers, the cross-court passes, is a desire to see growth in.  Patience and maturity is required for that in addition to the coaching staff holding the players accountable.

Prediction:  I think Butler gets off to a slow start but wins this game by single digits.  I think the Dawgs win 76-68 and meet Virginia in the semi-final round.

Game 7: Saint Louis, 2017-2018 Record: 17-16; series record St. Louis leads 12-18 Last meeting: December 2, 2017, Butler 75 – St. Louis 45

Kenpom Rating: 74

Background:

Remember last year’s drubbing of the Billikens inside a warm, cozy Hinkle Fieldhouse?  File that fond memory away for now.  Saint Louis has an impressive and formidable team this year.  They did last year too, but last year’s result was the product of unfortunate timing.  With transfers eligible to play and a healthy group, the Billikens are an expected favorite to finish atop the Atlantic 10 Conference and make the NCAA tournament.  Depending on match ups come March, this may be a team you pick through to the Sweet Sixteen.  St. Louis currently sits at 4-1, beating Seton Hall by two on the Pirate’s home floor and recently losing to Pittsburgh today at the Barclay Center by 2 points.

Players to watch:

Jordan Goodwin is a great distributor of the basketball and sets his teammates up for easy buckets.  He draws fouls and gets numerous trips to the free throw line, along with Tramaine Isabell.  Both of them are tough and will fight through contact to get to the basket.

               Javon Bess rarely leaves the game and averages about four 3-point attempts per game.  Though he’s second on the team in 3-point attempts this season, Bess is shooting at 33% from beyond the arc.

               Finally, freshman big man, Carte’Are Gordon is the Billikens shot blocker and interior post.  His matchup with both Nate Fowler and Joey Brunk will be interesting to follow.  The Bulldog big men will be smart to utilize pump fakes while on the low block to encourage Gordon into going for blocks and hope they turn into fouls.

Expected Outcome:

The Billikens play at a slow pace, ranking outside the top 300 in their tempo.  That can be attributed to their desire to find an efficient shot like a layup.  St. Louis scores over half of their points on 2-point baskets.  Although the Billikens do a great job attacking the basketball and drawing fouls, they lack in their free throw percentage.  At the current date of this write up, St. Louis is shooting an abysmal 60% from the free throw line.  That’s not the only weak shooting percentage the Billikens own.  Just as their A-10 rival Dayton had a poor 3-point shooting percentage, St. Louis shoots from beyond the arc at a clip of 28%.

As far as match ups go, playing a team on their home court is tough.  The Billikens have a stout defense.  Butler will do well to share the ball in this game and not rely heavily on dancing around a big at the top of the key.  Drawing fouls will allow Butler, an effective free throw shooting team, opportunities to score where they have shown areas of struggle in the early portion of the season (namely 3-point shooting).

Result:  I think the Bulldogs squeak out a close win at St. Louis, 66-62.

Early Season Basketball Tournaments

As fans, we were treated to a terrific opening few days of college basketball.  The unexpected upsets of Baylor and Wichita State to the obliteration that Duke laid on Kentucky made for one of the most memorable opening days of college basketball.  That was followed up by exciting games played throughout the week like Buffalo going on the road to West Virginia and winning in overtime.  The loss the Mountaineers incurred was the first home opening loss since the 1989 season.

The growth of early season tournaments in college basketball has rocketed in the past decade.  In quick succession of beginning the season, teams have only played a few games before they ship off to various destinations to compete in early season basketball tournaments.   It seems that this time of year has now becoming saturated with an outlandish number of tournaments.  In this write up, attention will be given to tournaments that have more at stake for the participating teams.  Tournaments where teams that are likely to make the NCAA tournament or those that I anticipate to be on the bubble will be discussed below.

Listed below are just a few of bracketed early season tournaments.  There are an equal amount of non-bracketed early season tournaments as well.  As far as previewing the tournaments, I have mentioned the dates games are played and the location.  For a majority of the tournaments, agreements were made that some teams participating will visit schools that are actually traveling to the tournament site.  Therefore, I have not listed every team that is participating in the actual tournament, only the teams that are traveling to the tournament site.

I look at potential match ups, likely results, and dark horses to win each tournament below.  You will also see a link you may click on that will take you directly to the tournament bracket.

Gildan Charleston Classic

Thurs-Friday and Sunday, Nov. 15-16 and 18 in Charleston, South Carolina. Bracket

Teams participating: Alabama, Appalachian State, Ball State, Davidson, Northeastern, Purdue, Virginia Tech, Wichita State.

As far as quarterfinal games that are of interest, the Alabama/Northeastern final may be a surprise.  Northeastern has a solid squad.  Their season opening loss at home to Boston University does raise some question marks.

Virginia Tech should handle a Ball State team that may surprise some people in the Mid American Conference this year.  The Hokies match up well against both Alabama and Northeastern and I see them moving onto the final against Purdue.

The possible match up between Purdue and Wichita State in the semifinals could be interesting.  However, with the way Wichita State has started the year, I will be surprised if they hang around with Purdue.

Ultimately, the Boilermakers have more play-makers than Virginia Tech does, and with Carsen Edwards leading Purdue, it will be a tough ask to slow him and his supporting offensive cast down.

Favorite to win: Purdue

Dark Horse: Northeastern

U.S. Virgin Islands Paradise Jam

Friday – Monday, November 16-19 in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands  Bracket

Teams Participating: Eastern Kentucky, Kansas State, Kennesaw State, Missouri, Old Dominion, Oregon State, Penn, Northern Iowa

There is a clear favorite in this field and it is Kansas State.  Missouri and Old Dominion are the two teams that could challenge Kansas State, but I think that those two teams are a tier below.  Northern Iowa is in a down year, and the likes of Eastern Kentucky, Kennesaw State, Penn, and Oregon State are weak teams.

I think a semi final game between Old Dominion and Missouri would turn out to be a close game with the winner advancing to the final against Kansas State.

Favorite to win: Kansas State

Dark horse to win: Old Dominion

Cayman Islands Classic

Monday-Wednesday, November 19-21 George Town, Grand Cayman  Bracket

Teams Participating: Akron, Boise State, Clemson, Creighton, Georgia, Georgia State, Illinois State, St. Bonaventure

The two teams that are favorites heading into this tournament are Clemson and Creighton.  I anticipate both teams meeting each other in the winners bracket final.  There are a couple opportunities for Clemson or Creighton to slip up to their competition though.  If Clemson meets Illinois State in the semifinal, the Redbirds have a good chance of beating Clemson.  Likewise, Georgia State may sneak up on Creighton depending on how well the Panthers prepare for that game.  (It also means they beat St. Bonaventure).  Creighton shouldn’t struggle against either team due to their length and pace of play.

Favorite to win: Clemson

Dark horse: Illinois State

Maui Invitational

Monday-Wednesday, November 19-21 in Lahaina, Hawaii   Bracket

Teams Participating: Arizona, Auburn, Duke, Gonzaga, Illinois, Iowa State, South Dakota State, Xavier

This should turn out to be an exciting few days of games.  In fact, regardless of who wins or loses games, every match up should be entertaining.  We’ll get a great look at what the Xavier Musketeers look like during this three day stretch.  Their opening game against Auburn will be a great test.  The winner of that game will likely play Duke in the semi-final.

Duke has demonstrated their value after their throttling of Kentucky on opening night.  Their semifinal opponent, whomever they play, will want to keep the game close.  That’s really all they can do at this point until trends develop in what coaches can find in Duke to attack their weak areas.

I think Gonzaga has an easy time with Illinois and meets Iowa State in the semi-final after the cyclones take care of a fumbling Arizona squad.

Duke shouldn’t struggle with either Xavier nor Auburn.  One of Duke’s strengths is their uncanny ability to finish in transition.  It will be unwise for either opponent to try and up their tempo.  I think Duke moves on to meet Gonzaga in the final.  Gonzaga, at least for mid-west and east coast college basketball fans, quietly put together another strong squad worthy of being ranked in the top 10.  Mark Few prepares his teams well for each opponent.  I think if Gonzaga and Duke play in the final, Gonzaga will give Duke more of a challenge for the full 40 minutes.

Favorite to win: Duke

Dark horse: Auburn

Battle 4 Atlantis

Wednesday-Friday, November 21-23 in Paradise Island Bahamas    Bracket

Teams Participating: Butler, Dayton, Florida, Middle Tennessee, Oklahoma, Stanford, Virginia, Wisconsin

The first game between Florida and Oklahoma looks to be closer than anticipated prior to the season beginning.  I mention that because of the drubbing Florida State put on Florida.  The Gators are comprised of a talented group of players, but they looked lost against Florida State.  If Oklahoma keeps the game close, they’ll likely face Wisconsin in the semi-final.

The Wisconsin Badgers will tip off against Stanford in the second quarterfinal of the day.  The Badgers look to Ethan Happ as their leader with strong offensive and defensive play this season.  They shouldn’t struggle with a weaker Stanford team.

Butler and Dayton square off in the first evening quarterfinal game.  Dayton had an up and down year last year, not winning nor losing more than two consecutive games in a row.  With LaVall Jordan at the helm of a Butler Bulldogs squad that looks to continue their success from last year, this will be an interesting game.

In the last quarterfinal of the day Virginia and Middle Tennessee will play what should be a decided outcome by halftime.  Virginia seems to be in midseason form already with allowing few points, yet not putting many points up themselves.  I see Virginia moving on to play Butler.

In the first semi final game of the winners side of the bracket, I think Wisconsin has a more put-together team at the moment which sees them advance to the final.

In the second semi final game on the winners side, I think Virginia moves on.  Butler’s experience with their coach and on court savvy to attack the zone defense is too much to overcome.  It will be a learning experience that they can take advantage of.  If they do win, it will be because they made a large percentage of the 3-pointers they shot and they didn’t settle for long 2-point jump shots.

I think Oklahoma beats Stanford in the semi final on the losers side of the bracket, and Dayton beats Middle Tennessee State.

Finally, I think Stanford leaves without a win and loses to MTSU and Dayton beats Oklahoma.

I believe the overall winner will be Virginia after a close game with Wisconsin.  Tony Bennett has developed a system that works so well with the players he recruits that he will consistently have a high winning percentage every season.

Favorite to win: Virginia

Dark horse to win: Wisconsin

NIT Season Tip-Off

Wednesday and Friday, November 21 and 23, in Brooklyn, New York    Bracket

Teams Participating: Kansas, Louisville, Marquette, Tennessee

The match up between Louisville and Tennessee should be great.  With Louisville still feeling the after effects of the FBI probe, recent sanctions, and introduction of new head coach, Chris Mack, it’s amazing to think that the Cardinals can still compete.  This will be a “down year” relatively speaking, but they will play teams tough during the entirety of the game.  I think Tennessee wins by single digits.

In the second game, Kansas is heavily favored to beat Marquette.  The Jayhawks will give Marquette trouble with their height, length, and their guard play.  However, Marquette is set to have one of their most successful seasons in years.  If the Golden Eagles are hitting their threes, win the rebounding battle, and play the transition game well, I think they will play Tennessee in the final.  That isn’t likely so I have Kansas moving on.

Favorite to win: Kansas

Dark horse to win: Marquette

Continental Tire Las Vegas Invitational

Thursday and Friday, November 22-23 in Las Vegas, Nevada    Dates and Game Times

Teams Participating: Michigan State, North Carolina, Texas, UCLA

I couldn’t locate a bracket, but did find game times.  UNC and Texas will play in the first game followed by UCLA and Michigan State.  Winners of both games will play each other.  Losers will play against each other.  Michigan State showed some resolve against a deep Kansas team during their Champions Classic game.  Indy native, Kris Wilkes has put up impressive numbers for the Bruins.  I think that the Tom Izzo led Spartans triumph and take on North Carolina in the second game.

Texas saw a wonderful story unfold in seeing Andrew Jones return to the court after being diagnosed with and then beating leukemia.  Shaka Smart needs results as the coach of the Longhorns.  He’s muddled in the Big12 Conference the past few years.  I don’t see him beating North Carolina in their first game, however.  Texas is likely to depart Las Vegas with two losses.

In the championship, I expect a close game, one that the Tar Heels eventually win by single digits.  The key for the Spartans is to remain out of foul trouble.

Favorite to win: North Carolina

Dark Horse: UCLA

College Basketball Season Preview

College basketball is back today!  The first official tip-off is this afternoon at 12:30pm between Wisconsin Lutheran at Green Bay.  What a lot of college basketball fans will focus their attention on is this evenings double-header at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in downtown Indianapolis, Indiana where Kansas plays Michigan State and Duke plays Kentucky.  As far as the beginning of the season, conversation and debates tend to gravitate toward  conference predictions, who are sleepers and cinderellas to wreak havoc come tournament time, and players to watch.  I will briefly touch on each of those topics in this post!

Conference Predictions

The Big 12 boasts the deepest conference.  They are capable of sending a majority of their teams to the tournament and make it to the second weekend.

Big 12 Conference Prediction:

  1. Kansas
  2. West Virginia
  3. Kansas State
  4. Texas
  5. TCU
  6. Iowa State
  7. Texas Tech
  8. Baylor
  9. Oklahoma
  10. Oklahoma State

The ACC is second on my list.  This may be rather bullish, but I think the ACC can send 7, possibly 8 teams to the NCAA Tournament this year.  Four teams in Kenpom’s top 10 preseason ratings is telling, but does not reflect the body of work in the first couple months.  It will be interesting to see how things shake out in the non-conference schedule.

ACC Conference Prediction:

  1. Duke
  2. Virginia
  3. North Carolina
  4. Syracuse
  5. Florida State
  6. Clemson
  7. Miami FL
  8. Virginia Tech
  9. NC State
  10. Louisville
  11. Notre Dame
  12. Boston College
  13. Georgia Tech
  14. Pittsburgh

The Big East may have lost some talent at the top of the conference, but I think that view is a bit shortsighted.  The bottom half of the conference is loaded and each conference game will be a battle.  Also, Villanova has consistently proved that they effectively prepare their players to play at a high level annually.  It may be a rougher start to the season for the Wildcats, but I am confident Jay Wright will have sorted things out by the time the first week of Big East play begins.

Big East Prediction:

  1. Villanova
  2. Marquette
  3. Butler
  4. St. John’s
  5. Creighton
  6. Providence
  7. Seton Hall
  8. Xavier
  9. Georgetown
  10. DePaul

The Big Ten is strong at the top of the conference with Michigan State, Purdue, Wisconsin, Michigan, and I’ll include Indiana in the mix too.  But with Illinois and Rutgers associated in the same group, that drags the conference down for me.

Big Ten Prediction:

  1. Michigan State
  2. Purdue
  3. Wisconsin
  4. Indiana
  5. Michigan
  6. Penn State
  7. Maryland
  8. Nebraska
  9. Iowa
  10. Ohio State
  11. Northwestern
  12. Minnesota
  13. Illinois
  14. Rutgers

The SEC has five strong teams that I think will make the NCAA tournament, yet after those five, there isn’t much to write home about.  I do think that LSU will surprise fans this year.

SEC Conference Prediction:

  1. Kentucky
  2. Tennessee
  3. Florida
  4. Auburn
  5. Mississippi State
  6. Texas A&M
  7. LSU
  8. South Carolina
  9. Arkansas
  10. Alabama
  11. Vanderbilt
  12. Mississippi
  13. Missouri
  14. Georgia

Sleepers and Cinderellas

Buffalo didn’t just beat Arizona, they absolute wiped the floor with the Wildcats.  The scary thing is that five of the top six scorers are back after a 27 win season.  The Bulls will be a pick to make the second weekend in the NCAA tournament this year.

If St. John’s doesn’t perform well this year, then I don’t know what the future looks like for Head Coach Chris Mullins.  Preseason Player of the Year, Shamorie Ponds, will continue to draw attention for the numbers he puts up in the scoring column, but the addition of Mustapha Heron and Sedee Keita bring depth to the Johnnies roster.  Big East conference play will be telling how St. John’s will participate in the postseason, but I expect they will join 67 other teams in the NCAA tournament.

Few seem to be talking about them currently, but the Saint Louis Billikens are on the verge of making noise this season.  They are an athletic team that has phenomenal rebounding, especially in their guards.  Offensive rebounding will keep the Billikens in games in addition to their physical bigs.  They have a deep roster that does not give up much when the rotation goes 8, 9, or 10 deep.

Loyola Chicago won the hearts of college basketball fans as they methodically made their way to the Final Four last year.  Although they lost three players from last year’s team, they bring back potential All American Clayton Custer.  The Ramblers will have to compete with a reloaded Illinois State team in the Missouri Valley Conference this season for the top spot.  I’m on the fence if this conference has the possibility to get two teams into the tournament this season.

The Nevada Wolf Pack is loaded with talent after bringing back an experienced group of players.  They are a likely pick to win out their conference and make it past the second weekend in March.

Western Kentucky brought in a five-star recruit in Charles Bassey.  His off court issues may be the hurdle that stymies the Hilltoppers season.  However, if Bassey keeps his focus on school and basketball, teammates Taveion Hollingsworth and Lamonte Bearden are set to be reliable scoring options for Bassey.

Players to Watch

South Dakota State’s Mike Daum has reached his senior season.  He will produce offensively for his squad.  He will need to average just under 25 points per game to reach 3000 career points – a feat achieved by only eight other players.  The most recent NCAA player to score 3000 career points was Doug McDermott from 2010 to 2014.  If there’s one reason that SDSU makes it back to the NCAA Tournament, it’s because of Daum and his ability to draw defenders to him and shoot accurately at a high clip.

Carsen Edwards from Purdue is a do-everything type of player.  His speed, ability to shoot the ball, and distribute to teammates effectively makes him a player to watch.  As a sophomore Edwards averaged 18.5 points a game.  Relying on him as an upperclassman invites the idea that he will be productive this season.

Duke has a plethora of freshmen to watch.  If you want rim-rocking dunks, Zion Williamson is more than willing to provide that entertainment.  However, R.J. Barrett is the savvy lefty that is versatile on both ends of the floor.  He distributes the ball at a high level and has a feel for the game that is unmatched by nearly all other NCAA college basketball players.

Markus Howard’s 52 point performance that included 11 3-pointers wasn’t the ah-ha moment fans began to pay attention to Howard’s scoring ability.  He’s always had it, but that performance drew more attention.  Howard will provide numerous sparks for Marquette throughout the season.  His role should help guide this Marquette squad to the second weekend and possibly beyond.

The loudest cheers for Indiana’s first game may not be during the actual game itself.  It may likely be when freshman Romeo Langford’s name is announced.  His shooting will excite and his level-headed persona will surprise.  Langford has potential to lead the Big Ten in scoring this season.  I’m most excited to see Marquette and Indiana play each other in what should be a game that does not lack offensive scoring.

It is always enjoyable to invite conversation and discussion as another college basketball season begins.  As this is an opinion piece, I would love to hear which teams and players you are excited to watch this year.  In the following weeks, be sure to look for updates on early season tournaments!  Happy first day of college basketball!

Butler Basketball 2018-2019 Season Preview – Part I

As the Butler Bulldogs prepare for the 2018-2019 season, I will be sharing information on their non-conference opponents.  The opponents Butler will play during the non-conference portion of the season will each be given background, a brief overview of players to watch, miscellaneous information, and then conclude with an educated guess on the outcome of the game.

In researching the teams, I find joy in exploring the details that I learn about different squads and how they arrived to their current state.  Expect between two to four opponents to be evaluated with each post before the regular season tip off for the Bulldogs on November 10!

I am excited about what lies ahead for the 2018-2019 college basketball season as a whole and for the Butler squad led by LaVall Jordan in his second year as head coach at Butler.  I attended the exhibition games the past two weekends and will briefly share a few takeaways.

First, as is custom to notice, veteran players look trimmer, especially rising sophomores with their appearance being drastically different.  Jerald Butler and Joey Brunk shed some pounds and it shows in their speed and overall athleticism.

Although it was an exhibition game against a Division II team that is coming off a 7-21 campaign last season, these games are important to see how a team meshes on the floor.  Junior, Kamar Baldwin, inherits a leadership role and will likely be a primary scorer night in and night out.  Sean McDermott looked great, hitting 3-4 from 3 point range (Butler was 8-25 for the game).

Butler had 19 assists and 5 turnovers, both promising numbers.  Something I was concerned about was stagnant play and lack of sharing the ball.  Although a small sample size, it is promising to see the Bulldogs assist on 19 of their 40 made baskets.  This will be a number to strive for as Butler begins their season.  Seeing the turnover number in single digits will generally indicate smart play.  There will be off nights, but to hope for and see these numbers is a great start for the Bulldogs.

In their second exhibition game against Southern Indiana, the Bulldogs struggled to find a flow early, which is good.  That may be an odd take for a fan, but to continue to grow, they need that experience going into the season.  After falling behind 11-2 early in the game, Butler methodically made their way back and ultimately topped the Screaming Eagles 79-58.  I will take the positive spin on this result in that the leading scorer for the game was Paul Jorgensen with 24 points.  Kamar Baldwin and Sean McDermott were a collective 4-18 from the floor.  Those numbers will not be sufficient especially when Big East conference play begins.  With a defense that needs more time to practice, Butler will need to have difficult situations in which they can learn from.  The Bulldogs defesnive shell was spread thin by ball movement and accurate 3-point shooting early against Southern Indiana.  I am confident Butler will develop and grow as a team.  There will be lessons to learn in the first two months of the season, but for now, the Bulldogs prepare for Miami of Ohio on November 10th.

____________________________________________________________________________________________

A quick note about the records against opponents:  I have found information regarding Butler’s record against their opponents on sports-reference.com.  The information provided goes back to the 1938-1939 season. The numbers will not be entirely accurate based on the history of results that occurred prior to that season.  I appreciate the database having great depth in the records they share publicly.  Thanks to Ken Pomeroy for another year with his ranking system he shares with college basketball fans.  The Kenpom Rating that is shared in this post is current when the post is shared.  Those numbers are malleable and will shift throughout the season.

Game 1: Miami Ohio  2017-2018 Record: 16-18; series record Butler leads 6-1 Last meeting: March 14, 2006, Butler 53 – Miami Ohio 52

Current Kenpom Rating: 183

Background

The Bulldogs tipoff the regular season against the Miami Ohio RedHawks, coached by Jack Owens.  After finishing last season in MAC East conference play at 8-10, Miami looks to improve in the 2018-2019 campaign.  Miami does not boast seniority on their roster.  With two redshirt seniors and one junior, a younger rotation of players can be expected to take the floor.

Players to Watch

Redhawks Sophomore guard, Nike Sibande, earned MAC Freshman of the Year awards to go along with All-MAC Honorable Mention and made the All-MAC Freshman team.  Sibande has connections with the Indianapolis area, calling the city home and having attended Crispus Attucks High School.  Sibande averaged 15.1 points per game over the season, scoring in double figures in 28 of the 34 games played.  He hit 77 three-point baskets, the third most in Miami history.  He is an expected starter in Butler’s home opener.

Abdoulaye Harouna is expected to provide on-court leadership for Miami as he comes off a redshirt season.  Something interesting about Harouna is that he was born in December 1992, making him quite an older college basketball player than most that take to the hardwood this season.

Miscellaneous Bits of Info

Benjamin Litteken, was a basketball manager last season for the RedHawks.

Expected Outcome

The result of this game should not be close.  My take is Butler shoots a high percentage from the field and wins by at least 20 points.  Butler continues to field a squad with the tallest players peaking at about 6’11” or 6’10”.  It’s worked in the past, but it forces their bigs to be quick and finish at the rim with a higher iq play frequently.  On defense, the bigs again need to be smart with positioning, but also quick to shift laterally, blocking an easy lane to the basket for the opponent.

Game 2 Detroit 2017-2018 Record: 8-24 ; series record Butler leads 42-26    Last meeting: February 4, 2012, Detroit 65 – Butler 61

Current Kenpom Rating: 333

At the end of last season, Detroit’s former head coach, Bacari Alexadner, had capped off a two year stint with a record of 16-47.  The abysmal result forced the Titans into finding a coach to turn the program around.  They did so in hiring Mike Davis, the former head coach of Texas Southern and Indiana.  Through the offseason, the roster changed and much is not expected from Davis’s first year as he hopes to build the Detroit program as he did at Texas Southern.

Players to Watch

Junior Cole Long played limited minutes last season, but is one of the few players that comes back to the rebuilt team.  He fills the stat sheet with hustle plays rather than points.

Senior guard, Josh McFolley, will be the go-to scorer for the Titans. He played in all 32 games last year and averaged 11.1 points.  He scored 20+ points in 4 games and 30+ points in 2 games last season.  His career high is 34 points against Wisconsin Green Bay.

Miscellaneous Bits of Info

Detroit’s outlook this season is bleak. According to Kenpom.com, the Titans are favored to win just one game.  Another handful of games are considered tossups.  That is due to the massive turnover of players.  It could be unfair to Detroit to say they are a weak team, but because they don’t have much playing experience together as a team with their coach, it is expected that the results of winning games won’t show themselves frequently this year.  Add to the mix 5 freshman and a number of transfers, this could turn into a season of overachieving or sitting in the cellar of the Horizon League.

Freshman Antoine Davis is the son of head coach Mike Davis.

Derrien King, a grad student, is playing for his fourth college basketball team after spending time at Santa Monica College, Washington State, Angelo State, and now Detroit.  He did not play a game while at Angelo State.

Expected Outcome

Just as in game one of the season, I expect Butler to use this game as another opportunity to get more minutes for younger guys once the lead has ballooned significantly.  I think the Bulldogs win by 20-30 points in this contest as they gear up for Ole Miss.

Game 3 Ole Miss 2017-2018 Record: 12-20; series record – will be first meeting.

Current Kenpom Rating: 94

Mississippi visits Hinkle Fieldhouse this November for the first time.  However, their new coach, Kermit Davis Jr., is no stranger to the Bulldogs.  He previously coached against Butler when he was the head coach of Middle Tennessee in the 2017 NCAA Tournament Round of 64.

Davis brings a different offensive and defensive system to the Rebels.  What once was a more run-and-gun offense will likely transition into advantageous cuts to the basket, a scheme that saw success for Davis at Middle Tennessee.  The last three years at Middle Tennessee, Davis’s teams trended toward the bottom in three pointers attempted on offense, attempting 33.6% of all shots as three-pointers last season.  The defense will likely have a different look as Davis employs a 1-3-1 zone frequently.

Players to Watch

Redshirt Junior Dominik Olejniczak will cause trouble for Butler.  He stands seven feet tall and can body up down on the low block as well as provide okay passing for teammates cutting to the basket.

Bruce Stevens, a junior, is tall, has shown he can shoot the ball well, but historically has been inconsistent.  Once rated the sixth best junior college basketball player by JUCOrecruiting.com, Stevens may provide an issue for the Bulldogs if he can hit the three ball.

Expected Outcome

Those different looks on defense will require Butler to adjust – something they have not historically been great at. Mississippi played four games abroad in Canada in August.  From what I gathered, players that were retained from last year’s team mentioned how the offense flows better and that it’s easier to get to the basket.  Butler will need to have solid communication and interior defense if they want to win this game.  I think it’s a much closer game than they had against their first two opponents of the season.  Butler 79-Ole Miss 71

Miscellaneous Bits of Info

Ole Miss will attempt to get back to the NCAA tournament this season after alternating in and out since the 2013 season.

Bracket Reveal and Bracket Predictions

One of the best days of the year in sport has greeted us!  I have had to do a lot of front end work knowing that I would be away from home!  I am currently sitting with close friends in the middle of a ski trip in Colorado!

I can’t believe this is already my third year walking through each of the matchups and sharing my predictions.  I read through last years write up I did and found a couple things I want to grow in.  Here are a couple changes this year that you will see.  First, I will give more background on the teams body of work.  You can expect to see the recency of a team is on for their last 8 games coming into the tournament.  This includes how they fared in their respective conference tournaments.

After the First Four matchups and Round of 64 games, I will give my thoughts on who will win each matchup based on statistical trends, what I’ve observed through watching teams play, and my gut.  I’ve always done this, but I’m expanding my scope of (hopefully) valuable information to consider.  2 years ago, I was 40-23.  I did not select a single Final Four team nor champion correctly.  Last year, I didn’t fare as well, going 38-25.  (That does not include correctly picking three of the four play-in games).  However, I did pick two Final Four teams and one team, Gonzaga, that made it to the National Championship.  Overall, that puts me at 78-48 (62%) for the last two NCAA tournaments.

We have finally arrived at a favorite time of the year for myself and other college basketball fans.  The bracket has been revealed and now it’s time to get the ink and project the results for the field of 68!  Just as I did last year, I will walk through my predictions of who will win matchups every round.  I will also include possible matchups that would be a lot of fun to watch.  So, are there any sleepers in this field?  Who has the easiest path?  Hopefully this helps you when you sit down to fill out your bracket!  My record predicting each game last year was 40-23 where I incorrectly guessed the entire Final Four and Championship games.  Take my insight with a grain of salt, I guess, but it’s always fun to attempt to predict the unpredictable!

Before listing my decisions for each matchup, I will review some helpful tips when selecting your bracket.

Since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985, 19 of the 32 champions have been a 1 seed.  I’m not sure how much influence this actually has, but 7 of the last 10 have come from the top seed line.  Of course we love the upsets.  They make the tournament exciting and surprising.  However, a 1 seed has never lost to a 16 seed.  It’s rare for all four 1 seeds to reach the final four though.  It has happened once, in 2008.  On five occasions, 3 number 1 seeds have made it to the final weekend.

Take into account the more recent games (usually the last 8-10 games played).  A team can get better or worse over the course of a season. Recency is a factor in helping predict how a team will play in the NCAA tournament.  Vermont had a 15 game winning streak snapped in mid-February.

Pay attention to how many times a coach has been to the tournament and their results.

Here’s something to consider.  Previous winners have had a Kenpom defensive efficiency at or below 90.9.  Only 7 teams possess that going into the tournament.  One of the teams, Georgia Tech, is playing in the NIT.  The other 6 teams are: Virginia, Gonzaga, Florida, South Carolina, West Virginia, and Louisville.  Historically, teams have a top 3 offensive efficiency.  None of the 6 teams listed have that.  The closest is Gonzaga, which may be inflated due to their conference opponents being quite weak for the most part.

A note about seeding because I was surprised by where some teams fell.  What caught my eye was how Big East teams were seeded.  Due to the number of times teams meet during the season, rules or expectations have been put in place so those two opponents don’t meet again until a certain point in the bracket if they both continue to win.  For example, Butler and Villanova are in the region of the bracket.  They’ve already played each other three times this season, twice during conference play and the third coming during the Big East Tournament.  Because of those 3 meetings, they would not be allowed to play each other until the Elite 8.  Butler was slotted to be a 9 seed, yet found themselves a line lower.  The same goes for Providence, the Big East Tournament runner-up.  Due to them being in the same region as Xavier, the Friars who were to be a 9 seed were dropped a line to the 10.  If teams played each other twice, they could meet in the Sweet Sixteen; once, they would meet as early as the Round of 32 (that makes sense because Butler could potentially play Purdue in Detroit if both teams win their opening game).

First Four

Tuesday, March 13th

Game 1: LIU-Brooklyn vs. Radford – LIU Brooklyn experienced an average year and put together a nice run through their conference tournament, beating number 1 seed and favorite Wagner to reach the First Four games in Dayton.  They have 6 losses by 6 or fewer points. 3 guys make up a majority of the minutes played.  Radford went 0-3 this season against teams already in the tournament.  They are my pick to win this game and move on to play Villanova.

Game 2: St. Bonaventure vs. UCLA – The Bonnies have a tough ask playing against UCLA in an opening game.  Fortunately, they have one of the most experienced units in college basketball, something that can push them to move onto the second round.  UCLA likes to move the ball quickly, getting easy baskets in transition.  If they want to win this game, they are going to have to make shots.  Their youth has led to an up and down year, losing to Colorado a couple times during the regular season.  I’m going Bonnies here.

Wednesday, March 14th

Game 3: Texas Southern vs. North Carolina Central – After losing their first 13 games of the season, the former IU and UAB coach, Mike Davis, has his Tigers back in one of the First Four games for the second consecutive season.  They will play against North Carolina Central, a team that also made it back to back years in playing a First Four game.  My choice is Texas Southern, however, they are prone to a lot of turnovers.  If that happens, that could spell trouble.

Game 4: Syracuse vs. Arizona State – After a hot start to the season and a top 5 ranking, Arizona State fell off in a major way.  Bobby Hurley’s squad has the chops to knock off Syracuse, a team that probably should not have made the tournament.  The Orange are an abysmal shooting team.  Their length and zone are typically what keeps them in games.  The Sun Devils win this one, but it’s much closer because of Syracuse’s defense.

South Region

Round of 64

1 vs. 16 – Virginia vs. UMBC – The Retrievers make an appearance in the NCAA tournament only to be matched with the superior Cavaliers.  Virginia, a heavy favorite, will force turnovers and play a slow game.  I won’t be surprised if they break 70 points in this game though, something they did infrequently during the season.

8 vs. 9 – Creighton vs. Kansas State – Creighton, when they move the ball well, can beat any team in the country.  Their ball movement opens up passing lanes and has earned them the fourth best 2-point percentage in the country according to Kenpom.  Kansas State has an average interior defense and are awful from the 3-point line, the only thing that will make this a game.  Bluejays move on.

5 vs. 12 – Kentucky vs. Davidson – The Wildcats have a tough date with Davidson, a team that upset A10 favorites and stole a bid in the process of making the tournament.  Kentucky’s ability to guard the 3-point line well spells trouble for the Wildcats.  Davidson does not attempt many free throws per game nor do they gather many offensive rebounds.  The one thing on their side is their ability to score in an efficient way.  Because they shoot the ball so well, they have a great opportunity to stun what some consider a heavy favored Kentucky team.  I’m going with the uset and picking Davidson.

4 vs. 13 – Arizona vs. Buffalo – Buffalo is one of the fastest teams in the country, spending less than half the time with the ball on offense.  Because of this, they are able to put up a lot of shots and a lot of points.  Arizona will be a tough out, however, because of Deandre Ayton and Allonzo Trier.  With Arizona’s odd spotlight in the FBI probe, can they push out the noise and focus on winning games?  Once a team that was a heavy favorite to win the title, the Wildcats will have a tough road ahead if they’d like to see that expectation come to fruition.  I’m going with Arizona in this game.

6 vs. 11- Miami (FL.) vs. Loyola Chicago – Porter Moser has finally done it.  He has put together an impressive roster that is made up of a wide spectrum of players’ experience. The Ramblers demonstrated how the transfer market can be a benefit to a team.  Marques Townes (Fairleigh Dickinson) and Clayton Custer (Iowa State) have helped lead Loyola to their first NCAA tournament appearance in decades.  Loyola moves the ball so well and they shoot 40% from the 3-point line.  They are riding a 10 game winning streak into the match-up against Miami.  The Hurricanes are average 3-point shooters and take care of the ball well.  They are a slower paced team which plays in their favor if they are finding good shots.  They lack experience though and I see Loyola taking this game.

3 vs. 14 – Tennessee vs. Wright State – The Volunteers only play a 7 man rotation, something to consider when fouls become important.  The Volunteers boast a strong offense and defense, with their focus on defense being their calling card.  Their 2-point shooting is not great, mainly because they don’t have a tall line up.  That means they settle for jump shots or runners rather than layups.  Wright State is going to have a difficult time with this Volunteer team.  The Raiders are turnover prone and not great shooting the ball.  This game shouldn’t be close – Tennessee moves on.

7 vs. 10 – Nevada vs. Texas – Texas has subscribed to a slow, grind-out games this season and it hasn’t really paid off in their favor.  Essentially alternating wins and losses for a majority of the season, the Longhorns enter the tournament looking for a win against a strong and efficient Nevada Wolfpack team. Nevada’s defense can be iffy from time to time, but teams need offense to put up points and win games.  Nevada is a strong 7-seed and I see them moving on past the Longhorns.

2 vs. 15 – Cincinnati vs. Georgia State – Slow, laborious, tactful.  The Cincinnati Bearcats boast an impressive defense-minded team.  They create turnovers and force teams into taking contested shots.  This Georgia State team is not the same one that upset Baylor a few years ago.  Take Cincinnati in this game.

Round of 32

1 vs. 8 – Virginia vs. Creighton – Slow vs. fast pace.  Virginia plays the slow tempo in the land and Creighton plays one of the fastest.  The Cavaliers are deadly from beyond the arc, yet average from two.  Creighton crashes the boards on defense, making it difficult for teams to grab offensive rebounds.  The Bluejays losing Martin Krampelj really hurt the teams multidimensional offensive attack.  I think Creighton has a great chance to upset Virginia early.  They have to speed up Virginia to make it happen, and I think it will.  Bluejays stun Virginia and move on.

5 vs. 4 – Kentucky vs. Arizona – This will be a great match up if it does end up happening.  Kentucky is stringing wins together and Arizona boasts coachable talent.  As good as Arizona is, they have questionable losses and Deandre Ayton can fall away quietly in a game.  If he isn’t involved, the Wildcats become more one dimensional.  I think Kentucky has the ability to make that happen.  Wildcats move on.

11 vs. 3 – Loyola Chicago vs. Tennessee – Tennessee plays a 7 man rotation, something that can spell trouble if fouls begin to pile up.  Loyola will look to continue moving the ball to get open threes which they hit at a high clip.  I’m picking the Ramblers to ramble on (I really wanted to say that).

7 vs. 2 – Nevada vs. Cincinnati – Nevada’s solid shooting against Cincinnati’s sound defense should be a great game.  One thing that the Bearcats have lacked in other years is the ability to score.  They have that this year, but not at as an efficient rate as Nevada.  I have the Wolfpack in this game.

Sweet 16

8 vs. 5 – Creighton vs. Kentucky – They Wildcats are making a great run at the right time and I fear Creighton will get into a race up and down the floor, something they are generally good at.  This Kentucky team is good at that too and I foresee the Wildcats winning that race – UK moves on.

11 vs. 7 – Loyola Chicago vs. Nevada – What a fun mid-major matchup if it happens!  I think the Rambler’s have a great shot at winning this game if these two teams do meet.  The Wolfpack can put up points, but they aren’t stellar on defense.  I do think Nevada moves on though.

Elite 8

5 vs. 7 – Kentucky vs. Nevada – Kentucky should handle Nevada easily in this game.  There is a large mismatch on the defensive end that the Wolfpack can’t overcome.  Wildcats move on.

West Region

Round of 64

1 vs. 16 – Xavier vs. Texas Southern – The Musketeers have put together a strong season, getting quality play from every player.  It seems like the identity of playing with a chip on their shoulder continues to be their calling card.  They play an emotional style of basketball, getting in the heads of their opponents.  Xavier won’t have a difficult time with their opponent and moves on.

8 vs. 9 – Missouri vs. Florida State – Missouri, after having lost future NBA pick Michael Porter Jr. for most of the season, had their best player ready to go in the SEC tournament.  He fared well, but what’s more impressive is what Missouri did this season without Porter.  Florida State casts a shadow upon itself with lazy play from time to time which leaves them susceptible to turnovers, poor defense, and game mismanagement.  Look for the Missouri Tigers to move on.

5 vs. 12 – Ohio State vs. South Dakota State – After a less than stellar start, Chris Holtmann and his Buckeyes bring an unexpected and impressive season into the NCAA tournament.  They have a difficult opponent in South Dakota State, however.  Most people that follow college basketball will look to Mike Daum, a stellar basketball player in his own right who averages more than 20 points per game.  One who gets overlooked is his freshman guard teammate, David Jenkins.  The Jackrabbits shoot the three ball well, and they shoot it frequently.  If they hit double-digit threes in this game, I smell upset.  I do think Ohio State gameplans well and sees them to the next round.

4 vs. 13 – Gonzaga vs. UNC-Greensboro – Gonzaga has quietly put together a strong season again under Mark Few.  Thanks should go out to St. Mary’s for drawing most of the attention for a very solid Gonzaga team.  History is on their side having a few players back from their run to the NCAA championship last year before falling to the North Carolina Tar Heels.

6 vs. 11 -Houston vs. San Diego State – Houston plays a great brand of basetball…most of the time.  If they continue to move the ball well against a just better than average San Diego State team, Houston should wind up playing a game this weekend.  Houston moves on.

3 vs. 14 – Michigan vs. Montana – It’s going to be a tall task for the Grizz to out Michigan of the tournament.  The Wolverines won the Big Ten Conference Tournament Championship and should continue a deep run in NCAA’s.  I expect a hard fought game by Montana, but Michigan pulls away in the end.

7 vs. 10 – Texas A&M vs. Providence – Texas A&M had a great start but fell off quickly through the season.  Providence, the Big East tournament runner up that pushed Villanova to overtime is laden with seniors, a calling card to a deep tournament run.  I’m going with the Friars in this game.

2 vs. 15 – North Carolina vs. Lipscomb – North Carolina begins its defense of last year’s National Championship with an easy opening game.  The Tar Heels should win by double-digits.

Round of 32

1 vs. 8 – Xavier vs. Missouri – The Musketeers will hand the Tigers well.  Xavier’s weakness is their inability to put games away against inferior opponents.  Xavier moves on.

5 vs. 4 – Ohio State vs. Gonzaga – Ohio State’s overachieving season comes to an end as they play against Gonzaga.  The Bulldogs quietly obtained a 4 seed and with Mark Few at the helm, Gonzaga should move on.

6 vs. 3 – Houston vs. Michigan – Michigan matches up well against Houston.  I think Mo Wagner’s ability to spread the floor and shoot from distance helps Michigan move on.

10 vs. 2 – Providence vs. North Carolina – Although Providence can shoot well, they can go cold quickly and force unnecessary shots.  North Carolina’s length will cause trouble for Providence.  UNC moves on.

Sweet 16

1 vs. 4 – Xavier vs. Gonzaga – I think Gonzaga actually has a better front court this year than last year.  Xavier is a weak 1 seed, ranking 14th in kenpom’s ratings.  Their defense is not elite which is why I have the Bulldogs moving on.

3 vs. 2 – Michigan vs. North Carolina – This will be a fun game as both teams can put up points and shoot the ball well.  I think Michigan continues to make shots down the stretch that ultimately sees them through to the next round.

Elite 8

4 vs. 3 – Gonzaga vs. Michigan – Michigan’s defense will keep them in this game.  They will need to share the ball to get open looks and crash the boards against a Gonzaga team that is well grounded in the fundamentals of the game.  My take is Michigan in this game.

East Region

Round of 64

1 vs. 16 -Villanova vs. Radford – Villanova is dangerous.  Having both Phil Booth and Eric Paschall back playing are key for the Wildcats to have a deep tournament run.  Jalen Brunson helps guide Villanova with an unbelievable feel for the game.  This game will not be close.  Villanova moves on.

8 vs. 9 – Virginia Tech vs. Alabama – Funny enough, Virginia Tech went up one seed line in the same exact portion of the bracket from last year.  They run into a hot Alabama team coming off a small flurry of a run in the SEC tournament.  I believe Alabama has one more win in them before being squelched in the next round.

5 vs. 12 – West Virginia vs. Murray State – With two time Big 12 defensive player of the year, West Virginia seems to matchup nicely with Murray State.  The Hokies finished second to Kansas in the Big 12 Conference tournament.

4 vs. 13 – Wichita State vs. Marshall – It looks as if the Shockers move to the AAC has paid off as they were appropriately seeded for the first time in the last three years.  Wichita State should hand Marshall easily and move on to play against West Virginia.

6 vs. 11 – Florida vs. St. Bonaventure – Florida has had an up and down season.  Losing at home to Loyola Chicago early in the season was a wake up call for the Gators.  I think the sporadic play of missing a lot of shots dooms the Gators and sees the Bonnies move on.

3 vs. 14 – Texas Tech vs. Stephen F. Austin – The Red Raiders have a great defense to go along with a pretty good offense.  I think Stephen F. Austin is in trouble unless they shoot better than 60% from 3, with an emphasis on making a lot of 3s.  Red Raiders move on.

7 vs. 10 – Arkansas vs. Butler – This game pits two teams that are lackluster in consistency.  Arkansas can string wins together, but they can also go cold quickly.  They shoot the ball very well from the 3-point line, just over a 40% clip.  The Razorbacks will have to make 3’s to keep this one close.  They give up a lot of offensive rebounds, something the Bulldogs will have to take advantage of.  Arkansas is an older team, led by seniors.  That usually spells success for a team that makes a deep tournament run.

2 vs. 15 – Purdue vs. CSFullerton – The Boilermakers have had a successful and odd year.  After a string of 2 losses early, they rattled off 19 consecutive wins before dropping 3 straight.  The Boilermakers have all the pieces to make a run, now it’s up to the coach to prepare them well to allow them to.

Round of 32

1 vs. 9 – Villanova vs. Alabama – As electifying as Collin Sexton is with the ball for Alabama, the Crimson Tide lack experience.  Villanova may be challenged for the first 25-30 minutes, but should pull away from a young Alabama team that is going to be good next year if everyone they expect to return, does.

5 vs. 4 – West Virginia vs. Wichita State – In what should be a great game, the Shockers and Mountaineers will play a passionate, smash-mouth style of basketball.  Wichita State plays the inside-out game well and can be difficult to guard.  West Virginia’s Jevon Carter is a two time Big 12 defensive player of the year.  I think the way his attitude goes is the way the Mountaineers go.  They played a close game with the Jayhawks in the Big 12 Tournament title game until eventually losing by double-digits.  I think the Shockers move on.

11 vs. 3 – St. Bonaventure vs. Texas Tech – This is the end of the line for the Bonnies. Although both teams have decent offenses, Texas Tech’s defense is much better.  The Red Raiders are my pick in this game.

10 vs. 2 – Butler vs. Purdue – Butler is a dangerous 10 seed.  These two teams will be familiar with each other as they played earlier this season in mid-December.  Purdue won that game convincingly by 15.  Purdue looks like a team that has all of the parts for a deep run.  They will need to make sure that Carsen Edwards, Isaac Haas, and Matt Haarms are playing at a high level to see that deep run through.  Butler plays a closer game, but ultimately loses.  I think their kryptonite is their ball movement.  The Bulldogs, in their great wins, moved the ball well.  Even if their typical personnel ended up shooting the ball, they didn’t have to create space.  Purdue moves on.

Sweet 16

1 vs. 4 -Villanova vs. Wichita State – The Wildcats will have a tough match-up against the Shockers, a team that resembles Villanova’s style of play in some ways.  Both teams don’t get too rattled and are confident in their game plan.  I think Villanova makes more shots than Wichita State which sees them move on.

3 vs. 2 – Texas Tech vs. Purdue – Purdue is one of the most complete teams in the country which is why I think they won’t have too difficult of a time getting to this point in the tournament.  The one thing that can spell trouble is if they go cold from the 3-point line.  Texas Tech, when they play well, can compete with any team in the country.  They’re lack of consistency has me wary of them though.  Boilermakers move on.

Elite 8

1 vs. 2 – Villanova vs. Purdue – Two very complete teams, if this game should happen, it will be highly competitive.  I think Purdue’s ability to utilize their bigs down low and spread the floor will allow for the Boilermakers to take and make some open looks from 3.  I have the Boilermakers moving on.

Midwest Region

Round of 64

1 vs. 16 – Kansas vs. Penn – Kansas was on the ropes this season, having lost multiple times at home, a rare occurrence under Bill Self.  Now having won 13 straight Big 12 titles, Kansas has another opportunity to make a deep run.  They have been historically weak in the NCAA which causes concern for people wanting to pick Kansas to make a run through to second or third weekend.  To this point, if a 16 seed ever had a chance to beat a 1 seed, it’s this game.  Penn has a slow, efficient team that has a good chance to scare Kansas.  I still think the Jayhawks win this game.

8 vs. 9 – Seton Hall vs. NC State – Seton Hall, a roster filled with seniority, has not performed in the way I thought they would.  They are a strong team, but their seeding supports the idea that they can play well or poorly in a given game.  With the Wolfpack as an opening opponent, the Pirate’s must like their chances to secure an opportunity to play Kansas.  NC State has had great wins and questionable losses, making them a difficult team to project.

5 vs. 12 – Clemson vs. New Mexico State – The Tigers have had a stellar season and enter the tournament against a very strong New Mexico State team.  Clemson will be without a key player though which puts them on upset watch.  My analytical mind tells me to go with New Mexico State, yet my gut says Clemson.  Tigers move on.

4 vs. 13 – Auburn vs. Charleston – Bruce Pearl, after having lost 2 players and an assistant coach to the FBI probe that broke before the season began, has led his team to a surprising seeding.  Their opportunistic style of play makes them fun to watch.  Charleston, making the tournament for the first time in years, has a difficult match up.  I think Auburn wins this game and moves on even without one of their best players.

6 vs. 11 – TCU  vs. Arizona State – The Horned Frogs had consistently been in the top 25 for an early portion of the season. A few losses here and there saw Jamie Dixon’s team fall out of the national spotlight, but they haven’t fallen too far. The conundrum that is Arizona State is their ability to shoot the ball well in this one. Dixon generally has sound defensive teams.

3 vs. 14 – Michigan State vs. Bucknell – The Spartans begin their tournament run against the Patriot league champions, Bucknell. Michigan State’s coach, Tom Izzo, was surprised by the return of a projected NBA pick last season.  The Spartans should have little trouble handling Bucknell.

7 vs. 10 – Rhode Island vs. Oklahoma – Rhode Island, after a strong conference showing, lost to Davidson in the A10 title game.  For the past two years, the Rams have been an under the radar team to keep tabs on.  Their opponent, Oklahoma, is the first team to make the tournament after finishing the season on a 2-8 record over 10 games leading up to the tournament.  Oklahoma is electrifying when Trae Young is on, but beyond Young’s small supporting cast, the Sooners aren’t much of an opponent.  If young takes a high volume of shots, I expect Rhode Island to move on without question.  Hopefully the committee doesn’t make a similar mistake next year by allowing an undeserving team into the tournament.

2 vs. 15 – Duke vs. Iona – The Blue Devils, riddled with talent and a coach that has vast amounts of experience in the NCAA tournament begin with a difficult opponent in Iona.  Ultimately, I think Duke pulls away and wins big, but the continued development of the Blue Devil’s defense will see their season end abruptly or soldier on to the second weekend.

Round of 32

1 vs. 8 – Kansas vs. Seton Hall – I think Delgado and company don’t have what it takes to hang with Kansas in this so the Jayhawks move on.  It should be close early, but the Pirates are susceptible to poor shot selection.

5 vs. 4 – Clemson vs. Auburn – If both teams get here, it will be more impressive because they are both missing key players.  I think Auburn continues its run to the next round.

11 vs. 3 – Syracuse vs. Michigan State – Michigan State has only beat two opponents that are in the field this season.  Syracuse, by virtue of winning in the First Four and taking out an overseeded TCU team matchups up well, but the Spartans ability to stretch the zone defense sees them win.  Sparty moves on.

7 vs. 2 – Rhode Island vs. Duke – Unfortunately the Rams drew on the side of Duke and if they get past them, they meet Michigan State.  This is a difficult region to come out of on top.  It’s likely that whoever wins this region ends up as champion.  The Blue Devils, once abysmal on defense, especially in transition, grew over the season and have been become a stout defensive team.  Blue Devils move on.

Sweet 16

1 vs. 4 – Kansas vs. Auburn – Auburn’s run is cut short by a weak one-seeded Kansas team.  This will probably be the Jayhawks last win of the season in my opinion.

3 vs. 2 – Michigan State vs. Duke – In what should be a great game, I see Duke pulling away at the end, namely because of the ability to make shots.

Elite 8

1 vs. 2 – Kansas vs. Duke – Kansas’s defense is weaker than Duke’s.  The Jayhawks are also not as efficient and don’t share the ball as well.  Blue Devil’s move on.

Final Four

5 vs. 3 – Kentucky vs. Michigan – With Kentucky’s great run to the Final Four, Michigan looks to maintain it’s hot winning streak that sees them through to the championship game.

2 vs. 2 – Purdue vs. Duke – If this game happens, it will be a fun one because of the matchups of the bigs.  I think Duke’s bigs are more athletic and will draw out Purdue’s bigs.  Blue Devils move on.

Championship

3 vs. 2 Michigan vs. Duke – Again, a fun game that looms in the distance.  With the bigs of both teams and Michigan’s guards being able to draw multiple defenders and find the open man, there is a complimentary style of play that will provide for a lot of points.  I’m going with Duke as national champion this season.