I am not going to wax poetic about John Wall or Sherron Collins. I’m here to give you the scoop on the sleepers, the dreamers, and the coolers. This year’s March Madness looks eerily similar to 2006, when George Mason made the Final Four and not a single number one seed made it to the final weekend. Given the amount of upsets throughout this year, the amount of non-power conference teams currently ranked (seven), and lack of a truly dominant squad, this year’s tournament promises to provide some upsets—or at least more than last year.
So here are some teams and ballers that might catch your eye come March, and that you should keep in mind when filling out
Siena: The best moment in last year’s tournament came when Siena toppled Ohio State in double overtime. The team plays a fast-paced offense and has a balanced attack in which four players average at least 14 points a game. Assuming they breeze through their conference tournament (which they should), this team has experience, style, and the chops to make it to the second weekend this year, even as a 12 seed.
Cornell: Senior Ryan Wittman is a beast. He’s this year’s version of Stephen Curry and they have eerily similar profiles. Wittman is the son of a former NBA standout (Randy Wittman). He can make it rain from anywhere on the court, and he does not shy away from the big moment. And his team has a chance to shock somebody this March. Cornell only lost at Kansas by five points, and has proven all season long that they can handle tough, road environments. If Wittman’s threes are falling, Cornell (also projected as a 12 seed) has a serious chance to become the first Ivy League team to win a Tourney game since Princeton in 1998.
Don’t Sleep On…
UNLV and San Diego State: To be fair, I’ve only seen glimpses of these teams play all year, as the Mountain West is rarely televised and not talked about nearly enough. They play in arguably the nation’s fifth strongest conference. New Mexico and BYU are legitimate threats to go deep—but so are these two squads. It seems like every year, both of these teams find themselves in the tournament. Both teams are well-coached, well-rounded, and have been there before. While the Mountain West didn’t perform well in last year’s tournament, the level of play in the top tier of this league rivals the power conferences. Don’t be surprised if three or four teams from the Mountain West make the Sweet 16 and turn some heads in March.
Xavier: Every year, the NCAA tournament comes around. And every year, Xavier makes its way into the second weekend. Projected as a 6 seed right now, this would be an absolute worst-case scenario second round matchup for their opponent. This has become one of the top programs in the country. They always play good defense, smart, ball control offense, and make their foul shots. While Temple and Richmond have nice squads, Xavier is the cream of the crop in the Atlantic 10. They have two explosive guards in Jordan Crawford and Terrell Holloway, along with their rock in the middle—Jason Love. This team can beat anyone in the country on a
UTEP: The Miners quietly clinched the Conference USA regular season title Tuesday evening, ending Memphis’ four-year streak. Memphis has done pretty well in the post-season in that stretch and UTEP has the talent to emulate this success. Derrick Caracter, the former top prospect who went AWOL at Louisville, has found his mojo in West Texas, and running mate Randy Culpepper is on a tear. UTEP has a legitimate chance to make a very deep run into this year’s tournament.
The Who Dats: If you don’t know, now
James Anderson, Oklahoma State: Most people probably hadn’t heard of Anderson until he exploded this past weekend, ruining Kansas’ perfect conference record. This junior combo-guard is as dynamic as they come. He’s liable to drain a three on one possession, and then fly above the rim on the next. He has ups and he knows how to use them.
Gordon Hayward, Butler: Hayward is the most versatile player in the country. Hayward has gained ten inches since his freshman year in high school (when he played point guard), and now stands at 6’9″. Hayward has an uncanny handle for a big man and can also knock down the trey. As one of the best sophomores in the country and a legitimate NBA prospect, Hayward has a chance to show the nation just how good he really is—and could lead Butler to the promised land.
Ryan Rossiter, Siena: He’s definitely the goofiest player in the field, but he may also have the biggest heart. This junior forward just reeks of unintentional comedy—and even though he looks like he works for the Geek Squad, he can actually ball. Sheer hustle.
The All Name Team: Or, what were your
Iman Shumpert, Georgia Tech: I love shumping. And so does Iman.
D.J. Gay, San Diego State: He always drops the risqué beats.
Scoop Jardine, Syracuse: Fatman
Bol Kong, Gonzaga: The offspring of Manute Bol and King Kong. Yeah, he’s a beast.
O.D. Anosike, Siena: The
Overdose is killin’ it out there!
Rodriguez Sherman, Kent State: He’s got two last names and lends himself to being called the Shermanator on national
My crazy pick to win it all: Villanova
There is no dominant team in this year’s tournament. Kentucky has poor outside shooting. Kansas relies heavily on their freshmen. And if Syracuse can lose at home to Louisville, they’re just not that good. So what’s not to love about Villanova? They have the best-dressed coach in the nation, Jay “the Godfather” Wright. They made it to the Final Four last year and are one of the more mature teams in the country. Scottie Reynolds, who seems to have been at ‘Nova for a decade, is one of the top point guards in the country and is always clutch at the end of games. Coupled with running mates Reggie Redding and Corey Fisher, the Wildcats have arguably the best backcourt in the nation—and they don’t rely on the three pointer. They struggle at times defensively, but their face-paced style of play, roster depth, and guard-heavy approach lends itself favorably to this year’s tournament. This team still hasn’t played to its potential, and Wright will get this machine working its best at the right time, as he always seems to do.
Author’s Note: Since this is the Maroon-News’ last issue prior to Spring Break and Selection Sunday is not for another week and a half, I am previewing the NCAA tournament as if it started tomorrow. It is based on Joe Lunardi’s Bracketology on espn.com, which predicts the field of 65.