March Madness is the greatest event in sports in my opinion. Who doesn’t love this time of year? Brackets being filled out, only later to be busted because of the inevitable upset that nobody saw coming. It’s win or go home, so everyone is giving it everything they have. That small school has a chance to make a name for itself on a national stage against the big time Blue Blood program. Buzzer beaters. People storming the court. A lot of people that fill out brackets hardly even keep up with college basketball, but they want to be involved. Multiple games are on just about every day after the tournament starts, and who can complain about that. It’s just fun. It differs from college football in the fact that it is more about people earning their way than computers and polls that people have never heard of, and everyone has a chance.
If you don’t have the strength of schedule or the wins, just go out and win your conference tournament and you will earn your way in guaranteed. There are so many iconic moments that I won’t even begin to go over them. I will reveal my final four pics and my championship game winner pick since you stopped by. Even though there will always be favorites, there is hardly ever a clear cut winner, and when there is, that team doesn’t win a lot of times. One bad shooting night can doom you. You never know what is going to happen, and that is part of what makes it so great. The suspense is killing you isn’t it? Okay, okay, here we go:
EAST REGION: #2 Seed Duke Blue Devils
I don’t make this pick just because I am a longtime Duke fan (Let’s Go Duke!), but because the talent is too real, and the team is gelling at exactly the right time. They are the first team to win the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament by winning 4 games in 4 days. They started the season with big hype because of the players they had returning to go along with a sick recruiting class coming in. Harry Giles was the number one ranked recruit, but he was injured so he couldn’t play to begin the season. Jayson Tatum missed games. Luke Kennard emerged big time and has been the team’s best player all year. Amile Jefferson is back anchoring the middle in a big time way like always. Grayson Allen has had an up and down season, and during the regular season he did have his moments (Like dropping 25 on UNC at Cameron), but during the ACC tournament the real Grayson Allen showed up and decided to stay, and that’s a big reason why they won the conference tournament. They can’t win a title without him. Matt Jones has struggled shooting lately, but he hit a big shot against Notre Dame and is always reliable defensively. Kennard is still being Kennard, which means he shows why he is ALL-ACC every night. Tatum is playing a great all- around game every night and is virtually unguardable. Giles is getting better and is able to stay on the floor for extended minutes now. As much as the media likes to say Duke doesn’t have a point guard, I think Frank Jackson is a pretty good one and has been all season. If they can win 4 games in 4 days, what is to stop them from winning six more and taking home a National Title?
West Region: #2 Seed Arizona Wildcats
The Pac-12 will be represented by Zona. They are a number 2 seed for a reason. They are for real, and they are Pac-12 champions. In a conference with other studs in Oregon and UCLA, Arizona took the tournament championship. Does that mean that they will advance farther in the NCAA tournament? No. I think they will though, because of the matchups, and because they are good enough to go all the way. Allonzo Trier leads the way. The sophomore and future pro missed games earlier in the season because of an NCAA violation, but he already had a season under his belt so he didn’t need much time to catch up. It has showed in his play, because he came back balling out. Lauri Markkanen is a projected lottery pick, and is a matchup nightmare. The 7ft freshman uses his shooting ability to stretch the floor, and he averages 7.1 rebounds per game to go along with 15.6 points, so he doesn’t forget that he is a big man, and it hurts opponents. Freshman Rawle Alkins is a 6 ft 5, 220 pound freight train, and he can score. They have veteran Parker Jackson-Cartwright at pg and freshman Kobi Simmons for depth. Sophomore 6-11 center Chance Comanche has been solid inside along with 7 ft junior Dusan Ristic. The cupboard isn’t bare in Tucson. It’s a good mix of youth and experience. Expect Sean Miller to ride that mix to the Final Four.
Midwest Region: #1 Seed Kansas Jayhawks
Having talent in Lawrence is nothing new to Bill Self, and neither is winning. It is almost a given that they will win the Big 12 conference regular season yearly. Frank Mason is a POY candidate, and has been a down right star all year. Backcourt running mate Devonte’ Graham is a tough, solid veteran guard that averages 13.1 points and 4.3 assists per game. It’s pretty tough to stop a battle tested, veteran backcourt that can put up points the way they can. Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk is a steady, solid 6’8 junior guard. Josh Jackson, projected to be a top 5 pick in the upcoming draft, missed their conference tournament game against TCU, and that is a big reason why they lost. He isn’t overhyped. He scores, rebounds, play defense, and plays hard. He is also a great athlete. They will need him to make a run. Kansas fans, enjoy him while he is wearing the blue, because he most likely won’t be wearing it anymore after the Final Four. Landen Lucas is solid senior role player along with sophomore Lagerald Vick. They have a pretty good amount of size and athleticism. They will be a tough out. Can their guard play make Bill Self a two time national champion in Lawrence?
South Region: #1 Seed North Carolina Tar Heels
I went back and forth on this one between UNC and UCLA in a regional finals matchup. It pains me to say it, but UNC won out for me because of depth and experience. I must keep it real. Even though they did lose to my Duke Blue Devils twice and still got a number one seed, they are a good team. They are two time regular season ACC championship and National Runner up good. It took a shot at the buzzer from Villanova to beat them last year. Most of their top players are back this year. They go 9, and sometimes 10 deep, and it starts with ACC player of the year Justin Jackson. Starting with an experienced, pro caliber wing isn’t a bad way to start. I won’t compliment a UNC guy too much, but he is smooth and he can shoot it, and with some range. Fellow Junior Joel Berry II runs the point, and he is another guy that can fill it up. He torched Duke in Chapel Hill, so he has the ability to go off. Kennedy Meeks is a senior that nearly averages a double double, and controls the paint down low with fellow senior Isaiah Hicks, who averages double figures in points. Theo Pinson is a Junior starting role player. He is probably their best perimeter defender and a good athlete. They are one of the few elite teams that don’t start a freshman, and they are the only one in my final four that doesn’t. They don’t have a lot of point production coming off of the bench outside of 7.3ppg from Tony Bradley, who also pulls down 5.2 rpg, but they have four or five guys that usually play. It’s hard (even for me) to ignore the fact that they have experienced guys that can ball, and they have depth. I would guess they are motivated to get back to the Final Four after losing the National Championship game in the worst possible way.
National Semifinal: Duke vs Arizona
Duke marches on. Why? Because they will continue to stay hot and Arizona will have trouble with their four guard lineup. Jefferson is capable of stepping out to the perimeter and guarding Markkanen. I would imagine that Matt Jones will be guarding Allonzo Trier, because he usually guards the other team’s top scorer if it’s a perimeter player. Arizona has size, but Giles will come off the bench and play more minutes like he was able to do in the ACC tournament, allowing duke to defend their bigs and compete on the boards. It won’t be the first time they are playing a bigger team, and they will combat the other team’s size with the fact that they will knock down threes, and they have four perimeter guys that will get double figures. I don’t know who they will use to guard Jason Tatum, and that has been the question for just about every team with him being a matchup nightmare that can destroy you inside or outside. Kennard will get his, and he will draw attention and give Grayson Allen one on one matchups, and he will produce. Jefferson will provide solid inside play and at least flirt with a double double if he doesn’t get one. They will communicate as a team on defense. Arizona has players, so they will threaten, but I expect to see Allen, Jones and Jefferson playing in another national title game. There you have it. Let’s Go Duke.
National Semifinal: Kansas vs North Carolina
What a heck of a Final Four game. The guard matchups are pretty crazy. A lot of experience on the floor from both sides. Mason and Graham are better in my opinion, and they will run the show and show that they are. They will hit shots, and they will guard at a high level. Justin Jackson will attack the matchup if he and Josh Jackson guard one another, with the freshman being a higher ranked NBA prospect than him and having a chance to show him up on the biggest stage of college basketball, and his team needs him to score. They may free him up and use Pinson on Jackson, but Jackson will be his usual self and get his. I think North Carolina has more size, but the guard play will win out with Frank Mason being big time and carrying Kansas to the title game. No matter what decisions people decide to make on their pro futures after the season, this will be his last go around, and that won’t be lost on him while he is out there giving it his all, and just being himself, which is pretty good. UNC has a powerful starting lineup, but I think Kansas has enough to be better on this day, and they can defend at a high level. Advantage Kansas…let’s go.
National Championship: Duke vs Kansas
Welcome ladies and gentlemen to the main event. Let’s get ready to rumble. I assure you that I am not being biased. Duke, in my mind, is the best team in the country. They don’t go deep, but they don’t need to. Kennard seems to be blessed with unlimited energy to play about 39 minutes a game, and when he is out there he is putting up 20 per. On any given night you can get 20 from Tatum or Allen, and Frank Jackson will score and do a solid job of running the offense whether he starts or not. Kansas has showed that they can beat Duke by actually doing so on November 15th at Madison square Garden after Frank Mason hit a game winner, but that was after only a few games, and that was a different duke team. That Duke team didn’t have Jason Tatum or Harry Giles as they were both dealing with injuries at the time. This Duke team is becoming the team that everyone predicted they would be. Giles is 100 percent healthy, and his production is going up. I’ve already spoken on Tatum. He is the best isolation guy in the nation, and his all-around game has really evolved as he isn’t forcing the issue as much and has learned to use the attention he gets to find the open man. He is also a solid rebounder. Kennard will score from everywhere and is a great rebounder for a guard. They will sag off of Grayson Allen, who will run the point at times and make great passes, and he will make them pay by knocking down threes and attacking closeouts. Unless they have an off night, Kansas will get theirs. Mason will do his thing. Graham will hit some shots. Jackson will do a little bit of everything. Lucas will be tough inside. Duke will do more, and they should cut down the nets. Coach K does it again!! Come on Duke, make me right.