Indiana is the team that most people have been focusing on as a national championship contender all season long. Led by Cody Zeller and Victor Oladipo -- two candidates for player of the year -- Indiana can score in a number of ways. They like to get out and run, but they can also score in the halfcourt as long as they don’t forget about getting the ball to Zeller inside. It took Indiana a little while to rack up some road wins, but they eventually won games at Ohio State, Michigan State, and Michigan. Very few teams in the country have wins like that on their resume. The recipe, however, is out there on how to beat them. Wisconsin’s done it twice by slowing the game down and beating up Indiana with a methodical attack. Indiana’s now lost three of its last six games and while they play in the toughest conference in the country, one expects better from them given the talent.
The rest of the region is deep. Miami became the first team to not earn a #1 seed after winning both the ACC regular season and conference tournament. They’re experienced with four seniors in their starting lineup and a senior and junior coming off the bench. And that whole group doesn’t include their best player, sophomore point guard Shane Larkin. He runs the team at a high level and came through in a big way during Sunday’s ACC Final against North Carolina. Like Indiana, they can score in a number of ways, which is very important as teams focus on stopping your strengths in tournament play. In the end, I’ll look for Miami to advance to their first Final Four in Atlanta because I think Indiana’s guards just aren’t on the same level as Miami’s.
Marquette is the weakest #3 seed in the bracket and might have trouble making it out of the first weekend. Syracuse has plenty of talent, but lacks an interior scorer. The meltdown at Madison Square Garden against Louisville was somewhat disappointing, but they certainly are capable of beating anyone. Butler has Brad Stevens, which means they’re capable of upsetting anyone due to high-level coaching. The odds in this region generally suck for the underdogs and since I’m not really high on any of them, I can’t recommend any futures plays to win the region.
First round upset that will happen: California over UNLV
UNLV has spent a large portion of the season trying to figure out its identity. For some reason, coach Dave Rice took the team’s best player from last year, Mike Moser, and completely marginalized him. Anthony Bennett is a great player, probably more talented than Moser, but it’s a shame Moser and Bennett haven’t worked out that well together. As good as the Mountain West has been, California has the ability to upset the Runnin’ Rebels because of stellar guard play. Allen Crabbe and Justin Cobbs are a dynamic backcourt that can score in bunches. The committee also didn’t do UNLV any favors by sending them out to a court about 30 minutes from Cal’s campus. I guess higher seeding isn’t what it used to be.
First round upset that won't happen: Bucknell over Butler
Brad Stevens is as good of an Xs and Os coach as there is in the country. If you give him four days to prepare for a team, he’ll know them in and out. Bucknell’s best player is 6’11” center Mike Muscala, who averages a double-double. Stevens will find a way to neutralize Muscala by throwing Andrew Smith, Erik Fromm, and whoever else Stevens needs to use to defend him.
Best Non-Bracket Bets:
Colorado (+1.5) over Illinois – Illinois is over-seeded because of wins against Gonzaga and Indiana along with the Big Ten being considered the best conference in the country. They also lost their last three road games. Colorado is an experienced team who has made the tournament before and is primed to pull off the upset.
Butler -3.5 over Bucknell – In Brad Stevens we trust.
California (+3) UNLV – Guards win in March. California has the major edge in that respect.