We're minutes away from the NCAA Tournament kicking off in earnest, although who didn't enjoy last nights Iowa-Tennessee game? Anyway, some of the writers got together and put down a few predictions for the tournament this year. Feel free to share your own in the comments!
UConn finish: Elite Eight
On my bracket, I have UConn going to the Final Four, but putting aside my homer glasses, I think the Sweet Sixteen or Elite Eight are a real possibility. St. Joe's is a quality first round opponent, but UConn should be able to take them, and Villanova really doesn't scare me at all as a two seed. If they can get to Iowa State, Melvin Ejim would be a big problem and the Huskies didn't exactly play well against them in the tournament two years ago, but their credentials aren't as far apart as the seeds would suggest.
If UConn can get to the Elite Eight, I don't think too many fans would be disappointed. If nothing else, getting to play at Madison Square Garden again would be a blast, and obviously the farther the Huskies can go, the better.
Final Four: Florida, Arizona, Louisville, UConn
Is UConn going to reach the Final Four? If we're being honest, probably not. But in 2011 I hesitated to pick the Huskies to go all the way, and you all know how that turned out. I guess if I'm going to be wrong, I'd rather be wrong for having faith in my team than for not.
Whose dumbass idea was it to seed this team as a No. 4. Honestly.
Round of 64 upset watch: Stephen F. Austin over VCU.
Stephen F. Austin has won 28 games in a row and ran the table in its conference, so this one is probably going to be a trendy pick. Either way, it seems that every year at least one of the No. 12 seeds advances, so why not the Lumberjacks?
UConn finish: Final Four
As we all know, the NCAA tournament is all about match ups and as long as the Huskies don't play a kid named Montrezl Harrell again, a deep run is by all means possible. St. Joseph's won't be an easy first round game, but if UConn can win that, I think it has a real shot to make it to Dallas. Villanova is favorable as they lack some size and might be less talented overall than the Huskies. I have Iowa State vs. UConn in the sweet sixteen where the Huskies can flat out defend the 2,3, and 4 positions: lasan Kromah, Niels Giffey, and Deandre Daniels will lock up DeAndre Kane, Melvin Ejim and Georges Niang. In the Elite Eight, It's UConn playing Cincinnati for a 4th time where the Huskies have proven they can outlast the Bearcats. In the end though, a rematch with Florida will prove too tall a task as The Florida press will swallow the Huskies like Louisville's had done the last two weeks.
Final Four: UConn, Florida, Arizona, Duke
Champion: Florida over Duke (SOS!!!!!!!)
Round of 64 Upset Watch: Delaware over Michigan State
I'm going against ESPN's consensus national champion here because Delaware has 3(!) players that average over 18 points per game. Betting against Izzo is rarely a good idea, but the thought of nearly very significant ESPN analyst getting their champion knocked out in round one is all too enticing to pass up on.
LETS GO BLUE HENS!
UConn Finish: Final Four
I think if we get by St. Joseph's then we have a serious shot to make a run to at least the Elite Eight where we could match-up against Virginia, Cincinnati, or Michigan State. Like Ben said, if we the then get past a Villanova team that doesn't seem all that great, we would then match-up pretty well against Kane, Ejim, and Niang. If we then get to the Elite Eight, none of those three teams that I mentioned before really scares me except Michigan State although we do match-up pretty well against them with our lack of dominant big men. I've got UConn making it all the way to Dallas and then losing to Florida.
Final Four: UConn, Florida, Arizona, Wichita State
Look, I know that Wichita State may be in the hardest region and everyone keeps talking about how Louisville is playing their best basketball of the year, but it's not like Wichita State isn't playing their best basketball either. I think Wichita State has an even bigger chip on their shoulder heading into the dance as they got completely screwed with Kentucky, Louisville, Michigan and Duke all in their region. Plus, if you've watched them play a couple times, you know that they are no fluke.
Champion: Florida over Wichita State
Upset Watch: Tulsa to the Sweet 16. Danny Manning has the Golden Hurricanes rolling into the NCAA Tournament with an 11 game win streak. I know UCLA just won the PAC-12 and I love Kyle Andersen, but there have been times where the Bruins just forget what they are doing on the court and I would not be surprised if that happened again.
UConn finish: 3rd round loss to Villanova.
The sexy pick right now is to dump on the Wildcats. But the facts of the matter are this: Villanova finished in the top-20 for both offensive and defensive efficiency, per KenPom. Yes, they got blasted by Creighton in their two meetings with the Bluejays and didn't look pretty against a bad Seton Hall team last time we saw them. But, they've been a better, more consistent team than the Huskies have shown us through 34 games. If UConn gets past St. Joseph's, (which is still a big "if"), I think they fall to the Wildcats. The Hawks' defensive rebounding and balanced attack do scare me, but I think the "'Bazz factor" carries UConn into the next round, where they meet their match.
Final Four: Florida, Iowa State, Arizona, Duke
Round of 64 upset watch: No. 12 Harvard over No. 5 Cincinnati
Most of my big upsets in the round of 32, but there's little doubt in my mind Harvard is going to beat the Bearcats. It's a popular 5/12 pick, and there's reason for that. The Crimson are a highly efficient, tough basketball team that can also compete athletically across the five positions. Otherwise, keep an eye on No. 14 Mercer against No. 3 Duke. This upset would just devastate my bracket, but there's no denying Mercer is indeed a strong team--particularly along the perimeter. Those kind of clubs are dangerous in March, we've seen it time and time again.
UConn Finish: National Champions
So I'm the guy that's gonna pick the Huskies to take the title. Just an extremely biased decision right? Wrong. The best team doesn't always win the tournament, and that works to our advantage quite a bit because there's little to no chance we could beat Louisville. We have already taken down the other favorite, Florida, even though the Gators had a couple players out, and an injured Scottie Wilbekin down the stretch. We have Shabazz and some role players in Boatright, Giffey, and Brimah that have shown that they can bring there A game on the big stage (albeit inconsistently). This team is deep enough to do it (imagine if Omar comes can find a way to get a shot to go through the hoop!!!) and a coach in Kevin Ollie who has proven to be a phenomenal motivator finally getting a chance to show us what he's got on the sport's biggest stage. We'll need a little luck along the way but why not us? Ollie told the fans he'd be back at Gampel in early April to raise a banner so why not believe him? He's hasn't let us down before.
Final Four: UConn, Florida, Arizona, Louisville
Champion: UConn over Arizona
Upset Watch: #12 Harvard over #5 Cincinnati
It's hard to call Mick Cronin leading his Bearcats to a one and done an upset, but the seeding says it is. The Crimson feature Ivy League Player of the year Wesley Saunders scoring 14 points per game and being the go-to guy for Tommy Amaker's team that is filled with fantastic role players and senior leadership including the three point sniper Laurent Rivard who is shooting 42.6 percent beyond the arc for the year. Amaker and the Crimson will find a way to slow down Sean Kilpatrick, the Bearcats struggle to score, and Cronin finally loses it in a fiery outburst for the ages.
Harvard wins 53-46.
UConn Finish: Elite 8
St. Joes is a pretty good team, but I think a UConn team starved to play in the NCAA Tournament will do anything not to lose in the first round, especially since that's what happened in 2012. Then we'll have a huge match-up against Nova with a lot, including conference pride, on the line. With the winner advancing to the Sweet 16 at MSG and a hyper-motivated Shabazz Napier I feel good about our chances. Iowa State would be the likely opponent in the Sweet 16. The only reason I have UConn winning that one is because of Madison Square Garden, I think we've won a few games there before. That advantage is why I think UConn can get that win to move on to the Elite 8 where they will lose to that Michigan State team that everybody is so high on.
I'd love to hold strong on my national championship pick from the preseason. But with disappointing seasons from DeAndre Daniels, Omar Calhoun and inconsistency across the board it's really hard. If DeAndre and Boat/Kromah/Giffey can play at a high level consistently and the guys down low can overachieve a little, combined with some Shabazz magic who knows..
Final Four: Michigan State, Louisville, Arizona, Florida
Championship: Florida over Louisville
Round of 64 Upset Watch: No. 12 NC State over No. 5 St. Louis
Billikens?!?! Come on.
I would like to add that there is certainly a part of me that believes UConn can make it to Texas. Wichita State made the Final Four last year as a 9-seed, Butler has made the National Championship twice in a row as a middle seed. The tournament is always a wildcard, but one fact remains. We have Shabazz Napier, and they do not. If Shabazz can play at a very high level, and even bring a second gear to tournament play, all we need is for the role players to improve their consistency. Can we properly use Giffey as a spot up shooter? Can DeAndre Daniels play a full 40 minutes? Recent history suggests yes. We have great defenders and a lot of experience across the board. There are two 1,000 point scorers in our back court and two more seniors who play big time minutes at the wing. Hopefully we can take advantage of the new hand-check rules given our guard strength. Our big men are nothing to write home about, but we can overcome that if we avoid certain teams as we advance.
Three years ago UConn completed one of the most incredible runs in college basketball history. The ninth-place team in the Big East won 11 straight tournament games en route to a Big East Tournament title and National Championship. The Seniors on this team were freshmen that year, but followed it up with an embarrassing loss to Iowa State in the first round their disappointing Sophomore year. As Juniors they played on a team that was banned from the tournament even though they were allowed to transfer without having to sit. These guys care about UConn and care about winning this tournament, anything can happen.
LET'S GO HUSKIES!!!