The Tar Heels of North Carolina survived a few injuries this season to win the ACC regular-season crown. Juniors Leslie McDonald and Dexter Strickland had their seasons cut short due to injury, but the core of the squad has survived. Sophomore Harrison Barnes came back for the opportunity to steer his team to a national championship, but he’ll have to raise his game like he did in the latter stages of last season.
The fact that he wasn’t involved in the last shot attempt in the Tar Heels’ loss to FSU in the conference tournament final was somewhat alarming since Barnes has the natural talent to make things happen. Kendall Marshall is as good of a distributor as anyone at the college level and he has been a more aggressive scorer in recent weeks. His outside shot, however, is an Achilles’ heel and I usually like a college point guard to be able to take and make the last shot since they always dominate the ball. The tall trees of Tyler Zeller and John Henson -- assuming he’s healthy -- can bang inside with anyone. The deciding factor will probably be how Reggie Bullock and P.J. Hairston fill in for the injured duo in the backcourt because they’ll need to make the occasional big shot.
The Midwest Region starts with North Carolina, but it’s probably the deepest of any in the bracket. Kansas arguably has the best resume of the No. 2 seeds as the Big 12 regular-season champion. The dynamic duo of Thomas Robinson, an unstoppable force on the inside, and the remarkably improved Tyshawn Taylor lead the charge, but it’s role players like Jeff Whitey, Travis Releford, and Conner Teahan that will need to play at a high level as well. What kills me is that I actually like this Kansas team a lot despite the fact it’s their least talented team in years. Readers may remember my distaste for Bill Self, who constantly underperforms his seed, but I actually think there’s less pressure on them to perform this year. That’s a positive thing. Therefore, I’m advancing Rock, Chalk, Jayhawk to make the trip to New Orleans. It’s worth noting that if you subtract UNC’s loss to UNLV (in Las Vegas) and Duke (a bit of a fluke), the other three losses came against teams (FSU and Kentucky) who could compete with UNC’s size. Kansas has that covered.
The road won’t be easy for the Jayhawks. Georgetown has one of the best defenses in the country and an offense that’s tough to prepare for in a tournament format. They’ve got great leaders in Henry Sims, Jason Clark, and Hollis Thompson. Underclassmen Otto Porter, who’ll be a stud next year, and Markel Starks bring great energy. Two weeks ago, I was ready to look at these guys as a Final Four team, but they fell flat on their faces at Marquette recently and blew a double-digit lead to Cincinnati in the Big East Tournament. Michigan fits similar criteria to Georgetown with a decent defense and an unconventional offense. Unfortunately, they lack the dominant frontcourt player of past Beilein’ offenses and guard Tim Hardaway Jr. is experiencing a poor shooting season. Temple has the pieces to be frisky as well with three really good guards and a productive front line. They just face a really tough road to climb.
Second-round upset that will happen: N.C. State over San Diego St.
It’s an upset in the bracket, but not an upset in Vegas, where the Wolfpack are actually two-point favorites. They’re riding the momentum of a strong late season run, including a possible charge call that went against them in the ACC Tournament semifinals, and have a very strong coach in Mark Gottfried. San Diego State has a much different team than the one that was well-known last year and has overachieved most of the season. Their best player, James Franklin, also wears a long-sleeve t-shirt underneath his jersey. That’s f*cking embarrassing.
Second-round upset that won't happen: Ohio over Michigan
I’m not really sure what anyone’s seeing here in predicting the upset. Coach Beilein has a 5-0 record in the opening round of the tournament, so you know his teams are prepared. They’re also coming off a loss, so they’ll definitely be motivated. The closest thing Ohio has to a defining quality is their defense, but Michigan’s guard-heavy offense should be able to handle any pressure.
Best Non-Bracket Bets:
Alabama -1.5 over Creighton – It’s a lot easier to score (Alabama) when you’re playing against a team who can’t defend (Creighton). It’s a lot harder to score (Creighton) when you’re playing against a team who can defend. This is not the match-up Creighton was looking for.
Georgetown -4 over Belmont – There’s one upset every year that gets overhyped and falls flat. This is that upset.
Temple (+2500) to make the Final Four – The Owls are much better than the 10th-best team in the region. They’re also the only team in the top half of the bracket who has the size to hang with UNC.
Georgetown (+4000) to win the National Championship – If you’re looking for an off-the-radar team to win it all, I think the Hoyas offer the best value.