The 2016 Tournament has truly failed to disappoint as there have been a ton of competitive games with some ridiculous endings. The Madness truly has surfaced. Even if you are a casual fan, by watching these games you probably couldn’t help but to be caught up in the craziness. Once again, this tournament has shown why it is so special and unique. The opening weekend brought us things we never have witnessed before. On Friday in the first round, Michigan State, the expert consensus pick for the National Title lost to a 15 seed in Middle Tennessee St, Cincinnati had a basket called back in the last second vs St. Joe’s https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C5ORb2OwkWA and Northern Iowa’s Paul Jesperson hit a half-court buzzer beater to win the game. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SdFB3OGUaGU. Then on Sunday, in the second round we saw Wisconsin hit a game winner vs Xavier https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FtLCqvqO1nk and Texas A&M come back from down 12 points with just 44 seconds left. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DNGmD6FcQdY.
However, after all the unprecedented happenings and huge upsets, the cream has mostly risen to the top in the Elite 8. In the East & Midwest, we have 4 teams repping from the best conference, the ACC. In the East we have the #6 Seed Notre Dame Fighting Irish playing the #1 Seed North Carolina Tarheels and in the Midwest the #1 Seed Virginia Cavaliers playing the #10 Seed Syracuse Orangemen. Then on the other side of the bracket we have two 1’s and two 2’s with the #1 Seed Kansas Jayhawks playing the #2 Seed Villanova Wildcats in the South and the #1 Seed Oregon Ducks, playing the #2 Seed Oklahoma Sooners in the West. We still have all the #1 Seeds alive and two #2 Seeds. At the end of the day, this could be an all chalk Final Four, and I believe that’s exactly how it will go.
South Region, Louisville: #1 Kansas vs #2 Villanova
Kansas, the #1 overall seed, got here by beating Austin Peay, Uconn and Maryland, while Villanova has beaten Unc Asehville, Iowa and Miami. Kansas has not lost since January 30th, winning 17 straight games. Villanova lost in the Big East final and after watching them in person in the Big East Semi’s vs Providence, I didn’t come away overly impressed. But Daniel Ochefu was not healthy in that game and now is and they are playing excellent in this tournament. Kris Jenkins has such a nice stroke, he rarely misses , Josh Hart is playing aggressive, Ryan Arcidiacono who plays with a ton of heart and energy is playing solid also. Ochefu looks healthy and had his best game of the tournament against Miami, dominating inside while creating open shots on the perimeter for Jenkins and Arcidiacono. For Kansas, Perry Ellis has been a revelation. He has gotten so much better this season. He never has been this aggressive and fluid. He also has developed a more consistent outside shot. He is it what makes Kansas goes and nobody has been able to stop slow him yet. Ellis is developing a solid NBA game. 6’10, Jr. Landen Lucas has stepped into the starting rotation and been a force on the boards while playing Solid D.
I think the big factor is here is Ochefu. When he at his best, Villanova is at their best. Miami failed to contain him as he was a force inside and created opportunities for his teammates. I feel Kansas has the depth and strength inside with Lucas, Traylor, and Bragg to slow him down just enough. Add on Perry Ellis contributing defense along with Guards Frank Mason, Wayne Selden and Devonte Graham, Kansas will play much better D then Miami did on the Villanova shooters. If Nova decides to double Ellis, look for Devonte Graham to have a big game. Both these teams are well oiled, but Kansas is more synthetic and will have a lot of fans backing them in Louisville. Kansas 77, Nova 73.
West Region, Anaheim : #1 Oregon vs #2 Oklahoma
The Pac-12 had an awful tournament, but Oregon has shown that they were a step above in that conference and have proven to this point to be worthy of a #1 Seed. Oregon easily took Care of Holy Cross in the opening round, but had to come back in the last five minutes to beat St. Joseph’s. They went on handle Duke in the Sweet Sixteen and looked to be at their best. Dylan Brooks is just an awesome player. He can shoot, drive, plays solid D and displays a ton of hustle. He can give Buddy Hield a run for his money in this game. Elgin Cook can also shoot and can take it to the basket as well. Jordan Bell is a man amongst boys inside, blocking shots and finishing around the rim. Oregon looks extremely dangerous and one of the most balanced scoring teams left in the tournament. Oklahoma defeated Cal State Bakersfield, VCU and Texas A&M to get here. No secret with Oklahoma, it’s all about Buddy Hield. He has a Stephen Curry like release and range. He can put 40 up any given night. But Oklahoma is going to need Isaiah Cousins, Jordan Woodard and Ryan Spangler to play big if they want to win this game.
I believe Oregon, winners of 11 straight games, are the more balanced team offensively and also play better defense. Their D is underrated. Oklahoma has the best player on the court, but they are a little too reliant on him. Also this team lacks depth. I think it’s Oregon’s time. Many people doubted them as a #1 seed, have doubted the Pac 12, but I think they prove a lot of the doubters wrong and show the country how good they are. Oregon 81, Oklahoma 76.
East Region, Philadelphia: #1 North Carolina vs # 6 Notre Dame
North Carolina has arguably looked like the best team in the tournament thus far, especially after they just put up a 100 spot on Indiana last night. Before that they took care of Florida Gulf Coast and sent Ben Bentil and Kris Dunn from Providence to the NBA draft. Notre Dame who nearly made the Final 4 last year by coming up short against Kentucky, returns to the Elite 8 again. The Fighting Irish have lived up to their name by battling in every game and coming from behind to beat Michigan, Stephen F. Austin and Wisconsin. Carolina and Notre Dame, both from the ACC, met twice this year with Notre Dame winning by four on their home court in early February, but Carolina got their revenge in the ACC tournament by molly whopping the Irish with a 31 point win.
Carolina has size all over the court with 6’9 Bryce Johnson, 6’9 Kennedy Meeks, 6’8 Isaiah Hicks and 6’8 Justin Jackson. Balance that out with emerging guard Joel Berry and Sr. Marcus Paige. Paige, who was injured this year and failed to look like his former self, returned to prominence last night vs Indiana shooting 6-9 from three finishing with 21 points. If he plays like that, I don’t think anybody can beat them. Bryce Johnson is just a beast inside, a sure-fire NBA talent. Notre Dame boasts guard Demetrious Jackson and 6’10 Sr.F Zach Auguste on the inside. These two kids are both excellent at their positions. Auguste is a pro as well. He just needs to develop a better jumper. VJ Beachem has emerged in this tournament hitting a ton of big shots and they are also getting good minutes out of Bonzie Colson. Steve Vasturia is also another big piece that has returned from the Elite 8 team last year.
While this game will not be the blowout we saw in the ACC tournament, Carolina is still favored by 9 in this game and is expected to win somewhat easily. I think the Irish, being in all the fights they have been in so far will battle, but ultimately will come up short. Carolina just has too much size to deal with Auguste and on the flip side, Notre Dame doesn’t have the size or strength to stop Carolina inside. It appears Paige has returned to his old roots and like I mentioned earlier, if he’s going like that, Carolina will be the favorites to win this whole thing. North Carolina 83, Notre Dame 75.
Midwest Bracket, Chicago: #1 Virginia vs #10 Syracuse
Virginia is the San Antonio Spurs of college basketball. Smart, fundamentally sound, defensive minded basketball. Coach Tony Bennett personifies this team, humble, high character, patient. They just wear you out over the course of 60 minutes. The Cavaliers went through Hampton, Butler and Iowa St. to get to this point. They have the Size with with Seniors Anthony Gil (6’8) and Mike Tobey (7’0) and big bodied Guard Malcolm Brogdon. Brogdon completely resembles a Spurs type player in my opinion. He’s like a younger Boris Diaw. 6’2 Jr. Guard London Perrantes shot the best percentage in the NCAA from three this season and is another sound player. It would not be a surprise to see this team cutting down the nets in Houston. Nobody expected Syracuse to be here in the Elite 8 and many didn’t expect to see them in the tournament itself after they lost in the ACC tournament to Pitt. But with Michigan St. going out it opened up the doors for them and they took advantage. They easily took care of Dayton and Middle Tennessee St. before having to come from behind to beat Gonzaga. They haven’t necessarily beaten the best competition, but I thought they have played pretty well. 6’7 Sr F/G , Michael Gbinije is a very good player and can shoot and drive with the best of them. He has had an excellent tournament. He’s NBA material. Freshmen Tyler Lydon has also come alive in this tournament, stepping up huge for the Orangemen. Tyler Cooney, after his disastrous ACC tournament, has revived and Malachi Richardson, Tyler Roberson and DaJuan Coleman have all contributed to the cause. Cuse boasts size all around to match Virginia and they have a player that can finish a game in Gbinije.
Virginia and Cuse played back in late January with Virginia winning on their home court 73-65. Virginia pretty much controlled that game and maintained the tempo but Gbinje and Richardson shot a combined 11-19 from three that kept it close. Can they shoot like that again? Doubtful, but Cuse is playing with a lot more confidence then they were then. After the Virginia game in January, Boeheim proclaimed, “We cannot play defense inside”. Cuse also had a very tough time with Gonzaga’s 7’0 Sabonis, so let’s see how they can do against Anthony Gill and Mike Tobey. Although Sabonis really came into his own in this tournament. Tobey had a huge game against the smaller Iowa St and it would be huge if he could repeat that performance against Syracuse. I think this game will be a grind it out battle, but in the end I think Virginia sends Cuse packing. Perrantes seals the deal with a couple big threes and FT’s down the stretch. Virginia 71, Syracuse 63.
Enjoy the games and have a Happy Easter! Please follow me on twitter @FantasySavvy. Thanks for reading.