This is March. I am back with a preview of the entire bracket! Check it out below:
Let’s kick off the Bracket Preview with the South Region! You could argue that Alabama has one of the easiest paths of the 1 seeds to the Final Four and I would agree. The Crimson Tide have few roadblocks. Some physical teams such as San Diego State or West Virginia could test them early on, though. Arizona is the real test for them assuming they meet in the Elite 8. The size and athleticism of the Wildcats should challenge Alabama and someone who, on the right night, could end their season.
Let’s get into my picks/leans in the 1st and 2nd round games in this region:
Furman +5.5: I snagged the Paladins last night at 6.5 if you follow my Twitter (@PTsBestTakes). A dream matchup for Bob Richey and Co as they do not have to deal with a hyper athletic team in UVA. Furman’s spacing and shooting should help them plenty against the pack line defense of the Cavaliers. Play this one down to 5 and do not be afraid to sprinkle a little bit of pizza money on the Paladins ML.
Arizona -14.5: Another line that I grabbed on the open last night at -12.5. The Wildcats elite athleticism and pace should put Princeton through the ringer. The Tigers did not look all that impressive in the Ivy League tournament and do not have the talent to keep up with the Wildcat attack. All Pac 12 big man Azuolas Tubelis will have a field day against Princeton and I expect some separation in the 2H for Arizona. Play this up to 15.
Utah St Pk: The market and KenPom rarely disagree but this is one of those. KenPom has this game slated as Aggies -4. There are certainly some schematic advantages for Mizzou in terms of the Aggies never seeing a zone (but did look good in a small sample size). Mizzou will try to play at a frenetic pace to get Utah State out of sorts but they play at a relatively fast pace themselves (107th in nation). I trust the shooting of Utah State more and the fact they should have a solid FT line advantage as well.
Creighton -5: The Wolfpack are a great matchup for the Blue Jays. DJ Burns will have a tough time defending Kalk in the post and the shooting of Creighton is certainly more sustainable. The Blue Jay defense loves to funnel teams into taking tough mid range shots and that could be bad news for a NC State team with the erratic guards they employ. This may be a play by game time.
San Diego State -5: Charleston simply have not seen a defense in the Colonial like the Aztecs employ. San Diego State have their offensive droughts but they should be able to keep pace and do enough to beat and cover vs the Cougars. The Aztecs also have a distinct talent advantage, as well, IMO.
Region Champion: Alabama
-Hard for me to see a team beating them in this region unless turnovers or a cold shooting night catches them in a 40 minute span. Even then, the 3rd ranked KenPom defense can stand up in a time of need.
Runner Up: Arizona
-As stated previously, the size and athleticism in the Wildcat frontcourt is hard to contend with. Arizona are upset proof for that reason alone. They have an experienced squad and a coach in Tommy Lloyd who has certainly come into his own in his two years in Tucson.
– The Blue Jays are a 6 seed in the South region but a team ranked in the top 15 of most predictive metrics. Creighton is usually known best for their high flying offense but the Jays are top 15 on KenPom in defense. Experienced, great guard play, and shoot the ball extraordinarily well. If they catch fire, watch out!
The East Region is the most wide open of any of them, in my eyes. Purdue is the trendy top seed to be upset but they certainly could still make it to Houston despite the naysayers. Jon Scheyer and Duke are arguably the hottest team in the land and are one to watch. Marquette certainly has been elite of late and won both the regular season and conference tournament in the Big East. Who wins this region is anyone’s guess with no clear favorite.
Oral Roberts +6.5: I got this number at +7.5 but still endorse it one point lower. Punching back against a Duke team that has been scorching hot is a scary proposition but if there was one 12 seed the Blue Devils did not want to face, it was Oral Bob. Max Abmas and Co will be eying another tournament run and are better than the Cinderella team of 2021. 7’5 big man Connor Vanover should protect the paint and their defense is much improved from former teams. Duke has slowed down their tempo quite a bit so it will be interesting to see if Oral can speed up the game and get the young Blue Devils out of their rhythm or not.
Montana State +8.5: In a weird twist of fates, the mid major Wildcats of Montana State should have the upper hand in the post against Big 12 foe, Kansas State. Montana State plays a bit slower and have solid guard play to keep this within the number.
Vermont +11: The snails pace the Catamounts employ should be able to keep them within the number here.
Kentucky -3.5: I bought in on Kentucky at -3, warily. The Wildcats have the upside and talent advantage to put away a Friar squad that has stumbled over the past few weeks. I’ll take the chance that Cal can get his guys going in a win or go home environment.
Region Winner: Marquette
-Certainly my least confident region pick here. Shaka Smart loves to play the underdog role and now must play the favorite with Marquette. He struggled 2 years back with Texas in this position which gives me some pause. Their draw gives me confidence, though, and the fact they would return to MSG, where they won a Big East championship a few weeks back. A sense of familiarity should help.
Runner Up: Duke
– The Blue Devils are the darlings of this region after their body of work of late. Bart Torvik has the Dukies ranked 14th if you start the season February 1st, so they are certainly better than the 5th seed they have been assigned by the committee. The size and athleticism of Duke will be tough for any opponent and Scheyer seems to have learned on the job and become a competent head coach.
– A sleeper in this region is really escaping me so I’ll roll with Cal and Co. The Wildcats have failed to live up to expectations all season but they have the talent and experience to possibly put it together. It certainly will not be an easy first weekend but if they make it to MSG for the Sweet 16, watch out.
To the other side of the bracket we go! The Cougars may have the easiest draw of any 1 seed. If star Sasser is indeed 100% by the weekend (all signs point towards that), I’m not sure who stands in the way of Houston sans the Texas Longhorns.
Houston -19.5: This line has moved against my buy in at -20.5 and it is due to the fact Marcus Sasser may not play. Despite his possible absence, the Cougars are a nightmare matchup for the Norse. Houston have played well against the zone, to the tune of 1.23 PPP this season. The Norse run an unconventional zone so that could confuse Houston a bit but even if there are missed shots, the Cougars should abuse NKU on the offensive boards. Historically, the Horizon League struggles deeply in the NCAA tournament and Northern Kentucky has not seen a defense even close to this one. Houston should roll.
Auburn Pk: The shooting of Iowa could certainly cause problems vs the Tigers but I worry they won’t find that often against the funneling defense of Auburn. The Tigers should roast the Hawkeyes in transition and the fact they have the pseudo home court advantage of playing in Birmingham, should pay dividends. Iowa coach Fran McCaffery infamously nose dives in March and Bruce Pearl has the upper hand here.
Penn St +3: A&M got the nightmare draw of all draws. They were not only under seeded but also face the exact team who can expose their flaws. The Aggies have packed in their defense against the awful shooting of the SEC and now face a Nittany Lion squad who is one of the most proficient teams in the nation from beyond the arc. Maybe A&M pounds it inside vs a smaller team in Penn State but Marble/Coleman are not world beaters by any means. I like the unconventional strategy the Nittany Lions bring to the table in a one off vs a team they match up well against.
Drake +2.5: The more I look at this game, the more I like the Bulldogs against Miami. If big man Norchad Omier is out for the Canes, it may be all systems go. I like the looks of Drake and how good their guard play is. They set up well against a Miami defense, who struggles in the PNR.
Region Winner: Houston
– The Cougars escape the attention of many casual observers because of their affiliation with the AAC but Kelvin Sampson has this team hitting on all cylinders. There are not many landmines for this team early on or later on into the Sweet 16. Obviously, an Elite 8 matchup with Texas would be far from easy but I like Sampson to have the coaching acumen to gameplan better than interim Longhorn head coach Rodney Terry.
Runner Up: Texas
– The Longhorns have been flying all season and that should continue in the NCAA tournament. They are simply too talented and experienced to do otherwise. This team is easily the 2nd best in the region and on the right night, could upset Houston and head to H Town for the Final Four.
– I struggle to see a team other than Houston or Texas making it to the Final Four but if I had to pick someone, it would be the Musketeers. Sean Miller is the 2nd best coach in this region and X has been great, even without Freemantle around anymore due to injury.
Arkansas -2.5: I played this Sunday night on the open at -1.5. The Razorbacks have been playing much better with the addition of 5 star Nick Smith into the lineup in the past month. Meanwhile, Illinois have not beat a quality team away from home since early December. These are two teams trending in different directions IMO.
VCU +3.5: Man, this number got absolutely steamed by folks as soon as the lines opened last night. The Rams are playing well at the right time and took the A10 tournament by storm. VCU’s press could cause a Gaels squad to panic a bit as they struggled when Gonzaga employed a press with their athletic guards. St Mary’s is one of the best according to predictive metrics but one that many people do not truly respect as they are just a 5 seed. VCU could certainly win this one outright but this number just does not sit right with me.
Region Winner: Kansas
– The looming injury news of McCullar certainly makes this a tough pick but if he is full go for the Jayhawks, I don’t see who stops them. The path is not easy with a potential matchup against Arkansas in the Round of 32 or an Elite 8 clash with UCLA or Gonzaga, but I trust Bill Self and his experienced team to come through.
Runner Up: Gonzaga
– If the Zags defensive prospects weren’t so poor, they might be my pick for the region. Mark Few and co have employed the #1 offense in the nation since Jan 1 if you look at Bart Torvik. Gonzaga is experienced, hyper talented and do not have the pressure of being a #1 seed. I love this unusual position for the WCC champs.
– The Horned Frogs have had a topsy turvy season full of injury and drama. The recent loss of starting center Eddie Lampkin is a bit troubling even with the frontcourt depth TCU has. Despite all this, TCU have an elite top 20 defense and an All American guard in Mike Miles who can take them places. Jamie Dixon is one of the best coaches in the nation and honestly, a bit underrated. The Horned Frogs could certainly play spoiler if they play to their potential.
Houston over Alabama:
The story writes itself. The Cougars return to their hometown for the Final Four and redeem Phi Slama Jamma 40 years later by winning a national title. Famous Houston alum, Jim Nantz, will also be making his final NCAA tournament call as a commentator for CBS. The Cougars are the complete package and I like them in a revenge spot against the Crimson Tide.
Note: Thank you for all the support this season! I will not be going away. I will be previewing separate rounds, including the play in games on Tuesday and Wednesday. Be on the look out for my best bet columns as well as content on my Twitter.
This is an article written by Pat Taylor
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