By Josh Adams & John Malmin
Player to Watch
Allonzo Trier (Shooting Guard, Arizona Wildcats): After missing the first half of the season due to testing positive for PED’s, Trier has played terrific since returning. Trier is Arizona’s best player and is one of the most gifted scorers in all of college basketball. Fresh off of winning PAC-12 tournament MVP and leading Arizona to both a PAC-12 regular season title and a conference tournament title, Trier should continue his stellar play.
Przemek Karnowski (Center, Gonzaga Bulldogs): While less known than teammate Nigel Williams-Goss, I would argue that the seven-footer is more essential to a Gonzaga run. Karnowski is a top player in defensive efficiency and though his low points-per-game statistic doesn’t reflect it, he is a deceptively good scorer at the rim. I believe he is one of the best big men in the tournament, and his five years of experience will help the Zags.
Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders (12): There’s an old saying that lightning never strikes in the same place twice. Well, that’s exactly what is gonna happen this year for the Blue Raiders. Last year, they broke everyone’s bracket after beating the No. 2 seed Michigan State Spartans, a team that had the most money bet on them to win the NCAA tournament last year. This year they’ll face Minnesota in the first round; while the Golden Gophers have improved after only winning eight games last season, I don’t believe they have the experience to overtake the Blue Raiders. In the second round, I have them beating a former cinderella program in the Butler Bulldogs. I think that the trio of Giddy Potts, Reggie Upshaw, and Jacorey Williams will be too much for Butler to handle. However, all good things must come to an end as I have them losing to the North Carolina Tar Heels in the next round.
Princeton Tigers (12): Last year, Yale captured our hearts after taking down Baylor. This year, I’m selecting their Ivy League rivals to pick up on the magic. With a first-round matchup against Notre Dame, a team that has showed inconsistency, I’m looking for the 5-12 curse to strike again. I have them playing West Virginia in the second round, and I believe that the Tigers will rain three-pointers on the Mountaineers. The run ends there though as they will lose to Gonzaga in the next round.
Baylor Bears (3): Coming out of the East region, I have the Baylor Bears. I think that this is the year that Baylor will make a deep run in the tournament. I don’t see Villanova repeating this year and while Duke has been hot as of late, I see them more as a collection of extremely talented individuals rather than a team. The Bears have one of the best players in the country on their team in junior forward, Johnathan Motley, who I expect is poised to have a great NCAA tournament performance.
Kansas Jayhawks (1): In the Midwest, I have the Jayhawks coming out on top. Kansas has three things that I believe are necessary to be a Final Four team: they are well-coached, talented, and have experience. They are led by senior guard and Big 12 Men’s Basketball Player of the Year, Frank Mason. Mason has a talented supporting cast that includes Big 12 Freshman of the Year and future NBA lottery pick Josh Jackson and junior guard Devonte’ Graham. The only thing that could possibly hurt and prevent the Jayhawks from making a deep tournament run is their lack of frontcourt depth.
Arizona Wildcats (2): Sean Miller has never led the Wildcats to a Final Four appearance but this is the year that things finally change. Arizona like Kansas has the three things I look for in a Final Four team and after winning the Pac-12 conference title, I believe that Arizona will continue their hot play. Led by my pick for player to watch in Allonzo Trier, who I think can be the tournament’s most outstanding player, I think that the X factor for the team will be Finnish freshman forward and potential NBA lottery pick Lauri Markkanen. Markkanen hit a cold spell during the tail end of the season but has since regained form. If he can be the Robin to Trier’s Batman, then the sky’s the limit for this Arizona team.
North Carolina Tar Heels (1): The Tar Heels will make it to the National Championship for the second year in a row. North Carolina is led by the duo Joel Berry and Justin Jackson, but they are way more than a two-man show. They have depth and talent at every position. John Calipari is a great recruiter, not the greatest of coaches and while Kentucky is talented, I do not see their talent overcoming their inexperience and inconsistency. Ball or fall, UCLA will go as far as Lonzo Ball can take them. Lonzo Ball is what makes UCLA go; he drives the car. There is a notable drop-off in their play when he’s not on the floor. If he has one bad game or deals with foul trouble, that could mean the end of UCLA’s season.
Duke Blue Devils (2): Sorry Nova, but there will be no repeat for you. Duke will be representing the East region this year. I keep telling myself that this isn’t Duke’s year, but I like their matchups too much. It also helps that Grayson Allen and Co. are catching their stride at the right time as they just blew through the ACC tournament.
Gonzaga Bulldogs (1): The Zags have made the tournament every year since 1999 but this is their best team. They distribute the ball amongst themselves well, with five players scoring between 10 and 16 points. If one thing can bite them it is that they don’t have the raw talent that the other top seeds have.
Kansas Jayhawks (1): Led by senior guard Frank Mason III, I like the Jayhawks to clean up the Midwest region. They shouldn’t even be pushed until the Elite Eight when they meet Louisville. Kansas has the offensive ability to outscore anyone in the field, and an experienced roster bodes well for their chances.
North Carolina Tar Heels (1): They have the ability to take the game down low or shoot over you. Big men Isaiah Hicks and Kennedy Meeks average 16 rebounds a game, while Justin Jackson and Joel Berry II combine for 32 points per game. The balanced attack makes them a formidable foe for any opponent.
North Carolina Tar Heels (1) vs. Arizona Wildcats (2): Second time’s the charm for the North Carolina Tar Heels after losing last year on a game-winning buzzer beater. While these are two extremely talented and well-coached teams, I believe that North Carolina’s depth and more experienced frontcourt will be the deciding factors in this game. It will be a close and competitive game with North Carolina pulling it out. The win will mark North Carolina’s sixth NCAA tournament championship and their first since 2009.
Kansas Jayhawks (1) vs. Gonzaga Bulldogs (1): I believe that Kansas is too talented to not make the title game with Mason and Big 12 Freshman of the Year Josh Jackson on the team. Gonzaga is the most sound team in the tournament and for that reason they will hang around and make it a game. But, the talent on Kansas will be too much for Gonzaga to handle and the Jayhawks will add yet another trophy to their case.