by MATT GORDON Editor-in-chief
March Madness is finally here and the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament bracket has just been released. The top teams are set. The last four teams in have let out an exhale of relief, and the tournment snubs are left high and dry to play in the less-popular NIT Tournament.
Which top team has their hopes on the Final Four? Which big time players will rise to the challenge and lead their team far into the bracket? Are there any sleeper team that we need to watch outn for? All these questions will be answered in my five predictions for the NCAA Tournamnet:
1. Top seed that will go far in the Tournament – Two-seed Miami Hurricanes: The Miami Hurricanes may have just been handed a spot to the Sweet Sixteen and even to the Elite Eight. I believe they were given the easiet road to the Sweet Sixteen with a first round matchup against Pacific and then a second round matchup against either Illinois or Colorado. The Hurricanes will blow out Pacific, and both Illinois and Colorado are going into the tournamnet limping. With the three-seed Marquette’s recent tournamnet failure and six-seed Butler’s dropoff from last season’s performance, I expect Miami to cruise after winning the ACC outright and go on to play Indiana for a chance at the Final Four.
2. Must-see first round game – Five-seed Wisconsin Badgers vs. 12-seed Ole Miss Rebels: Both of these teams go into the tournament hot, as Wisconsin lost a close one to Ohio State in the Big Ten championship game, and Ole Miss winning a stunner over three-seed Florida in the SEC chamionship game. Wisconsin is an old-fashioned team and has won in the past with a style of offense that goes down deep and kicks it out to many lethal shooters. They will want to keep this game low scoring, but Ole Miss will want to speed things up and use excellent guard play to weave around the solid Wisconsin defense. I believe this game goes down to the wire, as both team have come up big at times during the season. If you are going to watch one game this whole tournament, watch this one.
3. Player to watch – Aaron Craft, three-seed Ohio State Buckeyes: I am not sure why I love this point guard’s style of play, but I do. He is almsot a Steve Nash-type assist player with a little bit of Russel Westbrook’s drive. As the leading point guard for the Buckeyes, Craft can do it all and he runs the show down in Columbus, Ohio. He led his team to the Big Ten crown with 20 points and nine assists against the Michigan State Spartans, and nine points and six rebounds against Wisconsin in the championship game. His defense is stellar, as he can shut down any opposing guard with his quick hands and speed. With him leading the way, Ohio State has a really good shot at making the Final Four.
4. Best sleeper team – 11-seed Belmont Bruins: Often regarded as the best shooting team in the nation, this Belmont team is ranked fourth in field goal percentage with .494 percent. They also rank in the top 15 in the nation in points per game and assists per game. After winning the Ohio Valley Conference over rival Murray State, Belmont has had plenty of rest and is prepared to face six-seed Arizona in the first round. Arizona lost in their Pac-12 semifinal game against UCLA, and have fallen off the path after going 14-0 to start the season. Bad losses to USC, UCLA, and Colorado have caused the Wildcats to drop down to a lower seed. I can see Belmont beating Arizona in a close game and then going on to play a close one with three -seed New Mexico.
5. Biggest tournament snub – Kentucky Wildcats: The reigning tournament champions did not earn a bid to the NCAA tournament this year, but they probably should have – maybe. Let’s face it, the Wildcats lost to lowly Vanderbilt in the quarterfinals of the SEC tournament and even had two bad losses to Arkansas and Georgia before the tournament. However, we also have to remember that the Cats had a big win over Florida that many thought would boost them into the tournament. An RPI of 56 is not horrible and they did play many quality teams, even though they may not have won every time. However, as well as beating Florida, they beat Missouri and Ole Miss. Perhaps if they had freshamn star Nerlens Noel, who tore his left ACL in February, maybe they would have made the tournament. Again, maybe.