Baniewicz Bracketology: The Izzone’s East?
If you're looking for a wide-open field, head to the Eastern Region of the NCAA Tournament. Everyone's picking Michigan State, but is the choice so clear-cut?
Tom Izzo's troupe is the trendy pick, but their section of the bracket is riddled with possible pitfalls and giant-killers. Madness always prevails in the month of March, and the East looks ripe for the picking.
Whenever Tom Izzo is in the tournament, the Michigan State Spartans are always a blazing conversation piece. Izzo is 39-15 career in the NCAA Tournament, and it seems no matter who's on the team you'll find them in the Elite 8. Sparty ran through Wisconsin and Michigan to claim the Big-10 Championship and are coming into form at the right time of year. Sophomore stud Gary Harris leads the team with 17.1 ppg but gets plenty of support from versatile bigman Adreian Payne and veteran point guard Keith Appling, who both average over 15 ppg. Add in Branden Dawson's ten per game and you get a team that can hurt you in many ways.
The Virginia Cavaliers were picked as the easiest No. 1 seed to push off whenever the brackets were released this Selection Sunday, but their defense holds teams to 55.3 ppg. That's tops in the country. Any team that locks down defensively can make a hot team go ice cold in an instant, but I have to agree with experts, like Nate Silver, when they pick Michigan State to edge them out. The Cavaliers just haven't been that deep in the dance in recent times, and experience matters in March.
The NBA will certainly be watching the Iowa State Cyclones because of their big-game killer, DeAndre Kane, and Big-12 Player of the Year, Melvin Ejim. Kane (pictured above) steps up every time the Cyclones are in a big game and helped will them to a Big-12 Championship. Kane and Ejim work well with skilled forward Georges Niang, who is a nightmare of a mismatch on the outside. Niang can shoot from outside and has surprising handle for a big man, and Ejim and Kane can do anything on the floor. If the Cyclones get hot, there might not be a team that can stop them from reaching the Final Four.
Sue me, but I just don't believe in Villanova. Their 28-4 record earned them the No. 2 seed along with a nice win over Kansas, but the Cats were crushed twice this year by Creighton and are coming off a fresh loss to Seton Hall in the Big East Tournament. If you can't take care of Seton Hall in your Conference Tournament, I have severe doubts about your ability to get it done in the NCAA's. You should have doubts too.
Every region has their big-shots, but every year an unexpected team gets hot and becomes the darling of the tournament. The Eastern Region has quite a few teams that could have you shredding your bracket in the first two rounds.
Once you hop into a Dark Horse's saddle, you're in for a terrifying ride. If you don't get bucked though, you could be laughing at all your buddies all the way to the bank.
Roy WIlliams is the perfect example of a Southern gentleman, but no amount of sweet tea in the world can calm down Williams with the ups and downs for his Carolina Tar Heels this season. How can a team who loses to Belmont and UAB turn around and beat Louisville and Duke in the same season? The answer is simple. When the shots are falling for leading scored Marcus Paige they can keep up with anybody, but they can get colder than Siberia and get laughed out of the gym just as fast. NBA-bound forward James Michael McAdoo underperformed all year, but if he wakes up a nightmare could ensue.
Harvard is getting a lot of attention as a potential 5-12 upset, but Cincinnati's Sean Kilpatrick doesn't average over 20 ppg on accident. Harvard always plays a competitive, intelligent brand of basketball, but Kilpatrick is athletic enough to run them out of the gym. Either way, the winner of this matchup will in all likelihood face Michigan State, so good luck with that.
St. Joe's or Connecticut could knock off Nova with their recent loss to Seton Hall, but I like the Hawks in this one. St. Joseph's has four players averaging in double-figures, and teams from the Atlantic-10 tend to play a pesky brand of basketball in the tournament. If Shabazz Napier and DeAndre Daniels are nailing outside shots for the Huskies, the Hawks have no chance. But I'll take four scorers over two any day.
I saved the best for last. Any team with a presidential name gets me excited, and whenever you're the only team in the nation to hold Doug McDermott under ten points I get even more excited. George Washington University has a matchup with offensively loaded Memphis in the first round, but the Tigers play absolutely no defense, which I think will cost them. If the Colonials can get past Memphis, they have a real chance of ruining Virginia's tournament. Five players average double-figures for the Colonials, which is a solid answer to the best defense in the country. Virginia could collapse under pressure if the Colonials are able to get a lead, and then you'd surely have your darling of the tournament.
The field has never been so open, so who will walk through the clearing to the other side?
Final Four Bound: The Michigan State Spartans
You could spend all day trying to talk yourself out of picking Michigan State, but please don't. There's a reason everyone and their mother is slotting them for a spot in the Final Four. Tom Izzo gets more out of his players in the month of March then most coaches, and he has four future NBA players to work with.
Izzo has taken Sparty to the dance 17 straight years, but they haven't won it since 2000. They were runners-up in 2009, and the sour taste of that loss still lingers for their skipper. Virginia plays nice defense, but it's just not enough to convince me along with most experts.
Call me a sucker for good coaches, but I believe in Izzo. If there's one thing I want you to remember though, beware of the Colonials...because why not?