by Dan Gardella
Finally! The speculating is over! 68 teams are dancing and know their path to a championship. Of those 68 teams, six come from the Big East will put on their dancing shoes and will be heading to various locations across the county to hopefully meet up at one place: San Antonio.
As the Madness begins on Thursday, here’s a look at each team and their chances of dancing through the first weekend of April.
The Blue Jays (21-11), along with Providence and Butler were seeded low for their resume as each team boasts beating either Xavier or Villanova during the season. Creighton, an eight seed begins their journey on Friday when they take on ninth seeded Kansas State, a team Blue Jay star Marcus Foster is all too familiar with. Before transferring to Creighton prior to his junior season, Foster averaged 15.5 and 12.5 points in his freshman and sophomore years as a member of the Kansas State program. It seems all too fitting that Foster’s college basketball career may end courtesy of the team that he began it with.
If Creighton is able to hold off the Wildcats, their next opponent is likely the overall number one seed in the NCAA Tournament, the Virginia Cavaliers. Tony Bennett’s program enters the tournament 31-2 and winners of the ACC regular season and tournament titles. In Big East correspondent John Fanta’s words, “It’s like getting your in-laws together. They are total opposites.”. Creighton enters the postseason ranked in the top ten in in the country in points per game (84.3) while Virginia is the top team in the nation defensively, allowing a mere 53 points per game. Therefore, something is going to have to give. If Greg McDermott and company can find an efficient pace and put up points consistently, they can find themselves in the Sweet Sixteen.
My Prediction: Lose in Round of 32
Don’t Be Surprised if: Lose in Sweet Sixteen
The Friars (21-13) enter the NCAA Tournament as one of the hottest teams in the conference. After entering the Big East Tournament still on the bubble, Providence popped that bubble with wins over Creighton and Xavier before falling to Villanova in an action-packed, high intensity championship game. However, when they heard their names called, they were seeded tenth in the West Region. Regardless of seeding or location, Ed Cooley said that his team had matured at the right time as they travel to Charlotte, North Carolina to match up with seventh seeded Texas A&M on Friday. A looming problem when facing off against the Aggies is their size in the front court. A&M forwards Tyler Davis and Robert Williams combine to average around 18 rebounds per contest. The X-Factor for the Friars will be the immergence of freshman Nate Watson. Watson, who showed signs of potential in New York will likely see the increased minutes to match the Aggies size.
If Providence is able to pull off the upset, the road does not get any easier. The Friars’ next opponent would appear to be the North Carolina Tar Heels, who also had a successful run in New York, finishing second in the ACC Tournament behind Virginia. Like Texas A&M, Roy Williams has Luke Maye, who averages 17 points along with 10 rebounds. The Tar Heels also provide a balanced attack against the Friars who at times were inconsistent in the Big East Tournament.
My Prediction: Lose in Round of 64
Don’t Be Surprised if: Lose in Round of 32
The Bulldogs round out three teams in the Big East that got seeded lower than most people expected. But then again, when has being a low seed stopped Butler from having Cinderella runs in March? As the tenth seeded team in the East, the Bulldogs travel to Detroit to take on seventh seeded Arkansas. Butler’s run in New York concluded in the semi-finals of the Big East Tournament to mighty Villanova, but they were not expected to make it that far. Butler, helped by a last second tip-in by senior Tyler Wideman shocked the third seeded Seton Hall Pirates in the quarterfinal round of the conference tournament. The Razorbacks from Arkansas feature two of the top five scorers in the SEC as Jaylen Barford (19 PPG) and Daryl Macon (16.9 PPG) look to carry Arkansas throughout the tournament. However, Butler counters with Kelan Martin (20.8 PPG) along with guard Kamar Baldwin (15.5 PPG) along with role players in Paul Jorgensen and Tyler Wideman make LaVall Jordan’s job a lot easier on the offensive side of the ball. I believe if Martin and Baldwin can control the game and break the full court pressure Arkansas will likely bring, Butler will see themselves continuing to dance.
Like Providence, Butler’s next opponent (barring a historic upset) would be the Purdue Boilermakers. Purdue, who hasn’t play a game since March 4th, comes into the tournament after falling to Michigan in the Big 10 Championship. It will be interesting to see if the Boilermakers start off on the wrong foot as a result of the long layoff, but I don’t think it will be nearly enough where they would fail to advance into the round of 32 to possibly face off against Butler. If this matchup occurs, to me, Butler has a slight advantage. In battle between Kamar Baldwin and Carsen Edwards, I would go with the crafty, speedy Baldwin to create his shots as well as getting to the basket. In regard to forward play, it’s often difficult when you have to deal with a 7’2” monster in the form of Isaac Haas (15 PPG, 6 RPG) and Vincent Edwards (14.5 PPG, 7.3 RPG). I think that with a mix of players such as Wideman, Martin, Nate Fowler, and Sean McDermott, they can contain them. On the offensive end, the question for Purdue is who will guard Kelan Martin and guard him well enough to win? To me, I don’t think anyone can. Advantage: Bulldogs. From there on, it’s all up in the air as to who the Bulldogs can face but Butler is up for the challenge.
My Prediction: Lose in Sweet 16
Don’t Be Surprised if: Lose in Elite Eight
Seton Hall’s up and down season continues into March Madness. After winning three of their last four to conclude the regular season, the Pirates marched into Madison Square Garden as the three seed in the Big East Tournament. It turned out their trip to New York was cut short by the Butler Bulldogs who upset the Hall 75-74. A positive from the game was that Desi Rodriguez, who had missed the last three and a half games with a sprained ankle saw minimal minutes in the loss to Butler. As Seton Hall, the eight seed in the Midwest Region prepare to face ninth seeded NC State on Thursday in Wichita, Kansas, Rodriguez continues to recover and is likely to be 75%-80% come game time. If the Pirates want to advance into March, they will have to win the battle of the big men. The headline of the game is Angel Delgado (13.3 PPG, 11.6) against Omer Yurtseven (13.8 PPG, 6.9 RPG). If Delgado can win this battle or simply take Yurtseven out of the game with foul trouble, the Pirates will march on to the next round.
From there, the Pirates’ draw doesn’t help as they face number one seed Kansas, Big 12 Champions once again. Although the Jayhawks were without Udoka Azubuike all Big 12 Tournament, they managed to prove that they did not need him to win games in the postseason. Behind Devonte’ Graham, Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk, and Malik Newman, the Pirates will not be able to keep up with the Kansas offense.
My Prediction: Lose in Round of 64
Don’t be Surprised if: Lose in Round of 32
History for the Musks! Chris Mack’s program grabs their first number one seed in school history. Entering the tournament, they are one of a small group that people have penciled in as a legitimate chance to hoist the trophy come April. Now it is difficult to speculate who they will play if they go far. So, I will save the trouble. Instead, I will look at the other top teams in the region. Below Xavier in the West Region is North Carolina, Michigan, Gonzaga, and Ohio State. What’s similar with these teams? Each one of them has as equal a chance tomake the run to San Antonio as Xavier. My original pick to come out of this region was Michigan due to their hot play. However, similar to Purdue, they have not played in a week which may impact their performance in the early rounds. Another team that I see making a run is Gonzaga, a team Xavier may face in the Sweet 16. After falling in the National Championship, a year ago, they have all the pieces to make it back to Monday night.
The bottom line for Xavier is they cannot have any off nights like they did against Providence in their loss in the Big East Tournament. Their senior leaders Trevon Bluiett and JP Macura combined to shoot 6-24 from the field in the three-point loss. Any off days from the second round through the remainder of the tournament can result in the end of their season. The X-Factor for the Musketeers is Quentin Goodin. The sophomore point guard averages close to nine points and five assists per contest and is crucial to the success of Bluiett and Macura as well as the rest of the team.
My Prediction: Lose in Elite Eight
Don’t Be Surprised if: Win National Championship
The Wildcats are more than ready to face the challenge of the NCAA Tournament after their championship run in the Big East Tournament. After blowing out Marquette and Butler in the quarterfinal and semi-final of the tournament, Villanova was stifled on offense by Providence in a grind-it-out type of game. In past seasons, this would be a type of game that Villanova would lose. This year is different. The Wildcats locked in defensively and came away with the overtime win to claim the Big East title, their third in four years.
Looking ahead to the NCAA Tournament, people believe the Wildcats have the easier path to the Final Four out of all the teams playing. However, that’s not entirely true. There is the possibility that the Wildcats could face Alabama in the round of 32. A Colin Sexton vs. Jalen Brunson showdown is must-watch TV. In the Sweet 16, there is a chance that Villanova could see West Virginia, a defensive oriented team that knows how to stop potent offenses.
The X-Factor, like it has been all season is protecting the pumpkin along with being efficient. In Villanova’s last two losses, the Wildcats combined for 29 turnovers. If they can play smart and ride behind Wooden Award Finalists Mikal Bridges and Jalen Brunson, they will hoist their second NCAA National Championship Trophy in three seasons.
My Prediction: Win the National Title
Don’t Be Surprised if: Win the National Title