Round of 64:
(1) Kansas vs (16) NC Central/UC Davis:
The upset is not happening. A legendary coach with a player of the year candidate and one of the best freshman in the nation, this should be an easy win for the Jayhawks.
Prediction: Kansas 85-61
(8) Miami (Fla.) vs (9) Michigan State
One of the more intriguing matchup of the first round, Michigan State boasts a tournament-tested coach with an extremely young non-tournament tested roster. Miles Bridges is a matchup nightmare for anyone, but Miami’s pack-line defense is athletic, long, and extremely tough to score. I expect this to be a close, low-scoring matchup. Bruce Brown and Ja’Quan Newton will be able to create enough offense to outlast Tom Izzo and the Spartans.
Prediction: Miami 59-55
(5) Iowa State vs. (12) Nevada
Nevada is obviously extremely talented, winning both the Mountain West tournament and regular season titles. They block shots at a high percentage, do not turn the ball over, and shoot the three incredible well: three key categories for pulling off an upset.
Yet, Iowa State is simply playing too well at the moment. Winning nine of their last 10, including the Big 12 tournament, they do everything that Nevada does well (other than blocking shots), but better. While the Wolf Pack rank 33rd in 3-point percentage and 18th in turnover percentage on offense, the Cyclones rank 11th and 3rd respectively (according to KenPom.com).
This is going to be an extremely high scoring game, as both teams rank inside the top 40 for offensive efficiency. The Cyclones will prevail in a close one, as Monte Morris and Deonte Burton will prove too tough.
Prediction: Iowa State 81-74
(4) Purdue vs. (13) Vermont
Vermont is a fairly interesting team. They have not lost since December 21, when they were defeated by Butler by 12 in Indianapolis (not unimpressive). Their 21 game winning streak is the best in the NCAA. They only have five losses on the year, with four of the five coming against power conference opponents (only other loss was Northeastern at home by two). Their tallest player is 6’8, they do not take a lot of 3s, and they play insanely slow.
Playing against Purdue and Caleb Swanigan, one of the best big men in the nation, this just isn't a very good matchup for the Catamounts. Vermont puts up a spirited effort, but they just do not have an answer for Swanigan.
Prediction: Purdue 71-59
(6) Creighton vs. (11) Rhode Island
The fighting Danny Hurleys have finally made their way into the NCAA tournament and they did it in convincing fashion winning the A-10 tournament. They boast four athletic wings/forwards who score the majority of their points (EC Mathews, Jarred Terrell, Hassan Martin, and Kuran Iverson). They defend the 3 incredibly well (No. 2 in the country), which is bad news for Creighton.
Rhode Island does not really have anyone who can defend Justin Patton, but the Rams are playing incredibly well at the moment (won eight in a row). In the end, Marcus Foster and Patton are just too talented for Rhode Island. This game comes down to the wire, but Creighton eventually prevails.
Prediction: Creighton 69-68
(3) Oregon vs. (14) Iona
Not much to say here. Oregon is the much better team. They take care of business and advance to the next round.
Prediction: Oregon 87-64
(7) Michigan vs. (10) Oklahoma state
The battle of two of the country’s best guards (Juwan Evans and Derrick Walton Jr.) will be an incredibly fast-paced and high scoring one. Both teams strength is putting the ball in the basket (Michigan is 5th, Oklahoma State is 1st according to KenPom.com). Both teams are awful on the defensive end. Neither are great defensive rebounders or shot blockers.
This game probably will not be decided by either Walton or Evans, instead the matchup between Jeffrey Carroll and D.J Wilson/Zak Irvin. Both of the two point guards will most likely be electric, scoring and creating chances for their teammates. Whether their teams can capitalize on these chances will dictate the outcome of this game.
Michigan pulls out a nail biter in a high-scoring, fast-paced game.
Prediction: Michigan 86-83
(2) Louisville vs. (15) Jacksonville State
I know Jacksonville State is a great story, but their fairytale ends here. The Cardinals advance.
Prediction: Louisville 77-59
Round of 32
(1) Kansas vs. (8) Miami
Two of Kansas’s weaknesses are defending the 3-point line and preventing offensive rebounds. They rank in the 200s for both categories per KenPom.com. Miami is not a great outside shooting team, but they do a fairly good job at creating second chances.
The Hurricanes will need to play freshman Dejan Vasiljevic, their best outside shooter, if they want to keep pace with the fast scoring Jayhawks. Yet, he is an obvious liability on the defensive end. Davon Reed and Bruce Brown will do a good job of containing Mason and Jackson to the best of their ability, but Miami just is not talented enough to stay up with Kansas. Also, the fact that this game is in Tulsa will only help Kansas.
Prediction: Kansas 77-70
(4) Purdue vs. (5) Iowa State
Caleb Swanigan and Isaac Haas, one of the biggest front lines in the nation, face off against Iowa State, a small-ball team who plays 6’5 power forwards. This is a serious mismatch for Purdue. They have consistently struggled to defend against teams who play four perimeter players. They lost twice to Michigan (DJ Wilson has the size of a big but plays wing) as well as a non-conference game against Villanova.
They also struggled against Ohio State and Maryland (Justin Jackson is a hybrid big man). Looking at the tournament last year, Purdue fell to Little Rock, a team that played four guys under 6-5. This supporting cast for Purdue is much better; the guards can actually make 3s this year. Yet, they still have been disappointing against smaller teams.
Deonte Burton will take Swanigan outside and get him in foul trouble, Monte Morris will have a field day putting Isaac Haas in pick and roll situations, and the Cyclones will hit enough outside jumpers to win this game.
Prediction: 79-73 Iowa State
(3) Oregon vs. (6) Creighton
If Chris Boucher is playing here, I would say Oregon. Yet, without that shot blocking presence inside, the game becomes much more difficult for Jordan Bell; he is now relied upon for consistent interior defense. Creighton is able to spread the Oregon defense out and penetrate into the lane, thus creating more open jumpers. Justin Patton dominates as Creighton reaches the Sweet 16.
Prediction: Creighton 71-68
(2) Louisville vs. (7) Michigan
The rematch of the 2013 national title game, Michigan runs into their weakness. Louisville is probably the best defensive team in this region, so they can at least weaken the Wolverines’ intimidating offense. They also have the length to defend Zack Irvin and D.J. Wilson. The Cardinals are going to dominate the rebounding game, Donovan Mitchell will have one good half of basketball as usual, and Rick Pitino out-coaches John Beilein.
Prediction: Louisville 66-58
(1) Kansas vs. (5) Iowa State
The third meeting between the two this season, this one is the rubber match after they split during the regular season. With a somewhat split crowd in Kansas City, Bill Self spends the week before the game complaining about the selection committee’s decision to place Iowa State in the Midwest.
Frank Mason and Monte Morris duel it out as both score over 20 points and dish out 11 assists each. Landen Lucas gets in foul trouble and Carleton Bragg/Dwight Coleby struggle on the glass. Iowa State shoots 50 percent from beyond the arc as Kansas is upset before the Elite Eight.
Prediction: Iowa State 85-80
(2) Louisville vs. (6) Creighton
The Bluejays have a poor shooting day and simply can not find enough open lanes to beat the Cardinals. Louisville is too athletic, defensive, and long. They dominate the rebounding game and finds their form from deep. The Cardinals continue their hot streak into the regional final with a double-digit win over the Bluejays.
Prediction: Louisville 74-62
(2) Louisville vs. (5) Iowa State
Iowa State enters the game with momentum. With basically a home crowd, they bring their star point guard and sweet shooting wings into a matchup with a stifling defense. While the Cyclones jump out to a big lead, Louisville chips away and eventually makes a late second half run to take the lead. The Cardinals are able to use their depth to match Iowa State on both ends of the floor. Rick Pitino once again out-coaches his counter part as he wins the Midwest Region and reaches his eighth final four.
Prediction: Louisville 68-64