by Paul West
The Madness is finally here! After a whacked-out Championship Week full of upsets and buzzer beaters, the field of 68 is finally set. Before you fill in your brackets, you need some Bracketology. I’m here to help. Please don’t shoot the messenger.
The West has two teams that would make legitimate 1 seeds, and a whole bunch of streaky teams. It’s not exactly wide open, but it’s got the weakest three through six lines of all the regions. There could be some strange games here.
1 Wisconsin vs. 16 Coastal Carolina
The Wisconsin Badgers have heated up at the right time. They won the Big Ten title in an overtime thriller against Michigan State. The Badgers are 67th in points per game and 21st in field goal percentage. They’re balanced and big, a bunch of them can both shoot from deep and attack the lane, and they lead the country in offensive efficiency. 7-foot senior Frank Kaminsky is a Tim Duncan type with crafty moves, underrated athleticism and deep shooting range. He leads the Badgers in points and rebounds, and he’s second on the team in assists. The Badgers are 9th in the country in points allowed, largely owing to the fact that they rarely waste possessions or commit fouls. Practically their lone weakness is that they can struggle against quick ballhandlers and tough guards. The Coastal Carolina Chanticleers are a tough assignment for a 16 seed. They’re 70th in points scored, 56th in points against and 79th in steals; they really attack the glass, to the tune of 5th in offensive rebounds and 12th in defensive rebounds per game. They came within three points of Ole Miss, and coach Cliff Ellis has won conference titles at four different schools so he’ll have them ready for the dance. The Badgers seem to be peaking, and they should handle this one–but they’d be mistaken to look past this game. Pick: Wisconsin
8 Oregon vs. 9 Oklahoma State
The Oregon Ducks went all the way to the Pac-12 final, including a win over Utah, before getting smoked by Arizona. They’re led by senior guard Joseph Young, who averages 20 points a game, hit the buzzer-beating three that beat the Utes, and is the Pac-12 Player of the Year. The Ducks are 26th in the nation in scoring and 63rd in assists, and when Young heats up, they can score. They’re also 35th in defensive rebounds, not bad for a team that lacks size. The Oklahoma State Cowboys are hard to figure out. They’re 48th in BPI, just behind 47-ranked Oregon, and they play in the bloodbath that is this year’s Big 12 Conference. But can conference strength alone account for an 18-12 record and an 8-10 in-conference record? Nothing they do seems to jump off the page, and sometimes it’s hard to tell how they’ll score. They’ve lost seven of their last twelve games. But they’re scrappy, they hustle on both ends, and they can be stifling on defense. Junior guard Phil Forte III can hit threes in flurries, and if he or senior Le’Bryan Nash heat up from the floor, they can be trouble. This one could go either way. Pick: Oregon
5 Arkansas vs. 12 Wofford
The Arkansas Razorbacks might be over-seeded a bit, but they can be a real headache to play against. They have size, they crash the offensive boards, they run the floor, and they play with a lot of energy. At 16th in scoring and 12th in assists, the Razorbacks can put up a lot of points. They get steals and block shots, and love to break out in transition. 6’6″ junior guard Michael Qualls and 6’11” sophomore forward Bobby Portis can both heat up and take over games, and Portis is the SEC Player of the Year. The Razorbacks have put up some curious games, though, as when they got blown out by Iowa State by 18 points. The Wofford Terriers are a slow-it-down squad that’s 27th in the country in points allowed. 6’1″ senior guard Karl Cochran leads the Terriers in points, rebounds and assists, but he also takes a quarter of their shots. The Terriers are solid, and have won 11 of their last 12, but the Razorbacks would have to go pretty cold to lose this one. Pick: Arkansas
4 North Carolina vs. 13 Harvard
The UNC Tar Heels got hot in the ACC Tournament, losing in the final to Notre Dame after giving away a lead. The Tar Heels are talented and occasionally spectacular, but hard to bank on against top-notch teams. They’re 17th in scoring, 2nd in offensive rebounds, 7th in defensive rebounds and 2nd in assists; they’re second in strength of schedule and 10th in BPI. They have a bona-fide closer in 6’1″ junior guard Marcus Paige. But again, they seem to go cold and look disjointed at inexplicable times, they don’t shoot well from the perimeter as a team, and high-end teams seem to figure them out. The Harvard Crimson escaped a close call in their Ivy League title-deciding game against Yale, winning on a late jumper by Steve Mondou-Missi. The Crimson have made the tournament four years in a row, and they have guys left over from the 14 seed that stunned New Mexico two years ago. This is an experienced, patient, undaunted squad that’s well coached by Tommy Amaker and is dangerous if allowed to hang around. Unlike recent years, this year’s Crimson is more defensively oriented and lacks a sharpshooter. But if the Tar Heels have one of their mystifying outings, this is the kind of team that could take advantage. Pick: North Carolina
6 Xavier vs. 11 Ole Miss/BYU
The 21-13 Xavier Musketeers are another team that’s hard to figure out. They can score: they’re 43rd in scoring, 9th in assists and 29th in field goal percentage. They’ve played some scrappy, interesting games. But their defense isn’t very good, and they draw one of the two play-in games that’s between teams who probably deserve outright bids. The BYU Cougars, in particular, are a dangerous up-tempo team that’s 2nd in points, 15th in offensive rebounds, 5th in assists and 46th in field goal percentage. They also have 6’6″ junior guard Kyle Collinsworth, who broke the NCAA record with five triple-doubles this season. Then there’s 6’5″ senior guard Tyler Haws, who averages 21.9 a game and can score in bunches. BYU vs. Ole Miss a play-in game is as baffling as UCLA as an 11 or Baylor as a 3. Ole Miss is a tough, physical team who hits the boards and can put up points. Whichever team survives this one will be a headache for the Musketeers. Pick: BYU
3 Baylor vs. 14 Georgia State
The Baylor Bears are a solid team from the best conference in the country, but giving them a 3 seed is mind boggling. They don’t shoot very well, even though they have a weird knack for streaky three-point shooting, and they’re 113th in the nation in scoring. But they’re also 13th in offensive rebounds and 44th in assists, which is really something when you think about it. The Bears have a real bear (see what I did there?) in 6’8″ junior Rico Gathers, who looks every big of his whopping 280 pounds and averages almost 12 points and rebounds a game. If a team can take away the Bears’ second chances on offense, they might score single digits in a half. The problem is, the Georgia State Panthers are weak on the boards. They can score, however: the Panthers are 64th in scoring and 17th in field goal percentage. They’re also 63rd in points allowed, and 6th in steals. They have Kevin Ware, the 6’2″ junior guard who was with national champion Louisville before suffering an infamously gruesome season-ending leg injury; Ware is a tough player with tournament experience. They have 6’2″ senior guard Ryan Harrow, who’s played with NC State and Kentucky and averages almost 18.7 points a game. In fact, Harrow isn’t even the Panthers’ leading scorer, as 6’6″ junior guard R.J. Hunter averages 19.8 per game. This game will be a study in contrasts. The Panthers could shoot their way to an upset, or the Bears could maul them on the boards and put them away easily. Pick: Baylor
7 VCU vs. 10 Ohio State
The VCU Rams have come to be known for their “Havoc” defense, a smothering, hectoring full-court press that creates chaos in opposing offenses. Coach Shaka Smart put the VCU program on the map as a wunderkind, and not the Rams are a prominent fixture in college basketball. Though the Rams don’t have a resident sharpshooter, they transition from defense to offense explosively: they’re 3rd in the country in steals, and 53rd in scoring. Before losing 6’2″ senior guard Briante Weber to a midseason ACL tear, the Rams were on fire; it took them a while to recenter, but 6’6″ senior Treveon Graham has been on fire and they’re back on track. They beat a tough Dayton team to win the Atlantic 10 title and earn a single-digit seed. The Ohio State Buckeyes are another team that doesn’t jump out at you in any one aspect, but they’re 17th in BPI and 14th in strength of schedule. They’re also 24th in points and assists, 11th in field goal percentage and a surprising 20th in blocks. 6’5″ freshman guard D’Angelo Russell is their go-to guy; he scores 19.3 a game, he leads the Buckeyes in rebounds and he’s second on the team in assists. He’s the kind of player who can carry a team all by himself. If the Buckeyes can win on the boards and limit turnovers, they’ll win this game. Pick: Ohio State
2 Arizona vs. Texas Southern
A lot of people thought the Arizona Wildcats would land a 1 seed after winning the Pac-12 tournament, and they have a legitimate argument. The Wildcats are a smothering defensive team that attacks the boards, but they can score, too: they’re 22nd in points per game and 6th in field goal percentage. Their assist leader is 6’4″ senior guard T.J. McConnell, an athletic and tenacious slasher who knows how to play x-factor. They’re a legitimate threat to go to the Final Four. The Texas Southern Tigers beat Michigan State this season. They’re also 211th in BPI, and they lost to Gonzaga by 40 and Baylor by 26. Pick: Gonzaga
Upset alert: Georgia State. They can light up the scoreboard, and Baylor often struggles to shoot. If the Panthers shoot well and get even a moderate amount of defensive rebounds, they can swipe one.
Watch out for: UNC. They’re explosive in transition, they’ve played a tough schedule, and they have a guy who can take over the end of a game. If they put it together, they could go really far.
You might not have heard of: Believe it or not, Kyle Collinsworth. He was a hot topic for a few days when he broke the triple-double record, but otherwise, most of BYU’s press goes to Tyler Haws. Haws can light it up, but Collinsworth is their most versatile threat.