Tournament to be “madder” than usual

McLeod Brown | Sports Editor

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It’s that time of year again.

The time where dreams are realized, hopes are crushed, and bragging rights are made

The 2013 NCAA Divison I Men’s Basketball Championship field has been selected. 

As March Madness begins, here’s a primer on each region and the teams to watch for before tip-off comes on Friday afternoon.

 

MIDWEST

Louisville gained the No. 1 seed in the Midwest regional. They captured their second straight Big East title with a 78-61 victory over Syracuse in the league’s final championship game. The Cardinals deploy one of the most fearsome backcourts in the nation each game with Russ Smith and Peyton Siva. Smith averages a team-leading 18 points per game for Louisville and has become one of the most dynamic players to watch in Division I. Gorgui Deng also gives the Cardinals a formidable presence down low, where he averages 10 points and 10 rebounds per game, enough to earn him First-Team All-Big East this season.

National powerhouse Duke is the No. 2 seed in the region. The Blue Devils were a visibly different team when senior Ryan Kelly (14 ppg, 5 rpg) was healthy this year, going 9-4 when the big man was injured and 18-1 with him in the lineup. First-Team All-ACC selection Mason Plumlee leads the team in scoring and rebounding with 17 and 10 per game, respectively. Deadeye shooter Seth Curry also spreads the floor for the Blue Devils with his 17 points per game, including a 43% average from behind the three-point line.

Michigan State and Atlantic 10 conference champion St. Louis round out the top four seeds in the region.

However, team to watch in the region is No. 5 Oklahoma State. The Cowboys were once ranked in the Top 25 this season and have predicted future lottery pick, freshman Marcus Smart (15.4 ppg, 5.7 apg) at their disposal. When they get hot, they’re hot, and could easily advance to at least the Sweet Sixteen.

Prediction: While there could be some upsets in the region, Louisville is just too much to handle. The Cardinals advance to the Final Four as the champion of the Midwest region, taking down Michigan State 70-64 in the Elite Eight.

SOUTH

The Big 12 champion, Kansas Jayhawks, holds the prestigious No. 1 seed in the South. Led by First-Team All-Big 12 selections Jeff Withey and Ben McLemore, who many predict will be the No. 1 overall pick in this June’s NBA draft, Kansas has continued their basketball dynasty this season and are one of the strongest teams heading into the tournament.

Georgetown earned the No. 2 seed in the region after dropping their Big East Semifinal game to Syracuse, 58-55. Before that, the Hoyas were one of the hottest teams in the nation with all-conference selection Otto Porter, Jr. leading the team in scoring and rebounding with 16 and seven, respectively. Nobody seemed to be talking about the Hoyas this season. They’ll look to make some noise in the tournament.

Florida, who dropped the SEC championship game to Ole Miss 66-63, and Michigan, with their star-studded squad that includes Trey Burke, Glenn Robinson III, and Tim Hardaway, Jr., round out the top four seeds in the South.

Former CAA member Virginia Commonwealth University gained the No. 5 seed in the region after they advanced to the A-10 conference title game in their first season in the league. Coach Shaka Smart will look to recapture some of that magic that helped the Rams advance to the Final Four in 2011.

North Carolina also competes in this region, where they matched their worst seeding ever at the No. 8 spot. Pre-ranked No. 11 in the nation by the AP before the season, this season has been disappointing for Roy Williams and the Tar Heels. Nevertheless, the squad managed to advance to the ACC final before losing to Miami. The last time UNC was a No. 8 seed, they advanced to the Final Four in 2000.

Prediction: While the Jayhawks keep it interesting, Georgetown takes the region and advances to the Final Four in a tight one, 60-54.

 

WEST

This region may prove to be the most “bracket-busting” of them all.

Gonzaga enters the tournament with their first No. 1 seed ever, finishing the regular season ranked No. 1. The Bulldogs finished with a 31-2 record, losing only to then-nationally ranked Illnois and Butler. Kelly Olynyk and his distinctive flowing brown hair leads the Bulldogs with 17.5 points per game and seven rebounds per game. The Bulldogs will look to prove the doubters wrong and not have another “Adam Morrison moment,” who was last seen in a Bulldog uniform crying after a loss in the 2006 NCAA tournament.

Ohio State is the No. 2 seed in the region after they captured their third Big Ten title in four years. Aaron Craft is one of the craftiest and scrappiest players in the country. The junior isn’t a scorer, but does all those things that do not show up in the stat sheet but help teams win. First-Team All-Conference performer Deshaun Thomas leads the Buckeyes with 19.5 points per game and 6.2 rebounds per game.

While the top two teams in the West are difficult to match up against, there are plenty of other teams that could take the region such as No. 3 New Mexico, No. 4 Kansas State, No. 6 Arizona, or No. 7 Notre Dame.

The team to keep an eye on is No. 12 Ole Miss. On the bubble before their conference tournament, the Rebels gained an automatic bid to the tourney after their 66-63 win over then-No. 13 Florida in the SEC championship. Marshall Henderson has earned national recognition for becoming one of the most emotional players in college basketball. He leads the team in scoring at 20 points per game. Murphy Holloway is another key contributor for the team, with 14.6 ppg and 9.6 rpg. If the Rebels go on a streak, like they did to win the SEC championship, Ole Miss could turn some heads.

Prediction: While Ole Miss makes a run to Sweet Sixteen, Kansas State tops them, before dropping to Ohio State in the Elite Eight, 70-58. The Buckeyes have players at every position, and that will get them to Atlanta and the Final Four.

 

EAST

The East is shaping up to be the most exciting of the regions, with many potential great games to be played.

No. 1 seed Indiana features two of the most recognizable names in college basketball: Cody Zeller and Victor Oladipo. Zeller, the younger brother of former Tar Heel Tyler Zeller, leads the Hoosiers in scoring and rebounding with 17 and eight, respectively. Oladipo, who has become known for his intense play, is right behind him in both categories with 13.6 and 6.4. Tom Crean has brought the Indiana program back to the top and they’ll look to cap off their season with a national championship.

The ACC-champion Miami Hurricanes are the No. 2 seed. The Hurricanes came out of nowhere to have their most successful season in program history, capturing their first ACC conference crown and a No. 2 national ranking at one point during the season. First-Team All-ACC member Shane Larkin is the heart and soul of the team, averaging 14.6 points and 4.4 assists per game. Former George Mason coach Jim Larranaga will look to continue the Hurricanes magical season in March.

Marquette and Syracuse are the No. 3 and No. 4 seeds in the region. The Orange would love nothing more than to win another national title for Coach Jim Boeheim as he exits the Big East after 34 seasons in the league.

Frequent Cinderella dancer Butler sits at the No. 6 spot. After making it to the title game in 2010 and 2011, but dropping both in heartbreaking fashion, the Bulldogs did not even make the tournament in 2012. They’ll look to get back to their winning ways and maybe make Gordon Hayward proud by winning a national championship.

NC State sits at the No. 8 spot in the region, just like their rival UNC in the South. For a team pre-ranked No. 6 in the nation by the AP, this season has been a let-down for the Wolfpack. Nevertheless, the team has shown what earned them that high ranking with key wins this season, including a 84-76 win over then-No.1 Duke in January. 

Prediction: Indiana takes this region. The Hoosiers are their own worst enemy and, when they are playing their game, they are arguably the toughest team in the nation to beat. As long as they do not beat themselves, they can take the title. Indiana takes down Miami (FL) in the Elite Eight, 76-71.

 

NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP PREDICTION

The above predictions leave the Final Four as: Louisville vs Ohio State and Indiana vs Georgetown.

Ohio State topples Louisville behind Craft’s all-out play and wins 76-67.

Indiana defeats Georgetown in a battle of will on the other side 70-64.

That makes it Indiana vs Ohio State. The two powerhouses will go toe-to-toe. While this could be either team’s ball game, Indiana plays too soundly and keenly to not end this season with a championship.

The Hoosiers win their 6th national title, defeating the Buckeyes 63-58.