I’ll be looking at each region over the next couple of days as the NCAA Tournament gets ready to tip. We’ll look at matchups to watch, previews, picks, players to watch and what team could be a sleeper to come out of each region. I’ll be releasing my entire bracket on Wednesday or Thursday morning so there won’t be a ton of revealing here.
1. An absolutely loaded region: This is the deepest region to me. It feels right with Gonzaga as the 4th No. 1 seed to have the toughest road to the Final Four. But you’re talking about Michigan, Texas Tech, Florida State, loaded mid-majors, Nevada, Markus Howard. There’s just so much talent here. Will we see chaos here?
2. Can Buffalo make a run? Buffalo is a team that can make a Final Four despite not being a power team. Coming from the No. 6 seed this isn’t that outrageous of a claim. They like to get up and down the floor. They already have quality wins. They can score with anyone in the country. This is someone that can get there and you shouldn’t be surprised.
3. What Texas Tech offense shows up? For the 6 weeks leading up to the Big 12 Tournament, Texas Tech had an absolutely elite offense. Mooney and Moretti were hitting shots. They didn’t have to just rely on Jarrett Culver. Now, they still have Culver, but if Tech is hitting shots they are a national title contender.
4. Will Markus Howard vs Ja Morant live up to the hype? The moment Marquette vs Murray State showed up on the bracket people got jazzed up for the 1v1 matchup. Now, I don’t think they cross match against each other but that won’t stop this from turning into a heat check-off. We’ve seen Howard turn a casual game into a 40-point outburst. We’ve seen Ja just go win games. This could be the best of Round 1.
5. Will a top coach finally get that national title? We’ve seen John Beilein and Mark Few get close the last few years. Can one of them finally get that national title so they are talked about even more? Could Chris Beard get his? Can Leonard Hamilton get to the Final Four in his 70s? As loaded as the talent here is the coaching talent is insane too.
Players to Watch
There are a couple ways to look at this, but I’m looking at this strictly as an intrigue factor. These are players that could be lottery picks in the NBA Draft, could put a team on their back or are just flat out good players.
1. Ja Morant (Murray State) – See above.
2. Markus Howard (Marquette) – See above pt. 2
3. Jordan Caroline (Nevada) – He missed the MWC Tournament game against San Diego State, leading to a loss. As good as the Martin’s are, Caroline might be the more important piece. His ability to rebound and go as well as space the floor a bit and leave some open lanes is huge. Keep an eye on his health.
4. Jarrett Culver (Texas Tech) – Culver is a top-10 NBA talent. He’s an All-American. He’s the one guy on Texas Tech that can just go get his bucket. We’ve seen Beard put him in more pick and roll sets as a playmaker. That’s huge for this event with his ability to create for others as well as himself.
5. Brandon Clarke (Gonzaga) – Rui draws a lot of attention out at Gonzaga, but Clarke has been better this year. He’s the best defender in the country in my opinion. He’s uber efficient on the offensive side. He’s an excellent rebounder. He’s the most important player for Gonzaga.
Other Names: Zach Norvell (Gonzaga), CJ Massinburg (Buffalo), Jazz Johnson (Nevada), Andrew Nembhard (Florida), Zavier Simpson (Michigan), Anthony Lamb (Vermont), Mfionudu Kabengele (Florida State), Tyus Battle (Syracuse)
Best 1st Round Matchup
No. 5 Marquette vs No. 12 Murray State – For every reason I explained above. It will be a star vs star showdown. If they play to a draw then it turns to the supporting cast and guys like the Hauser brothers. This is probably the most anticipated 1st round matchup this year.
Most Likely to Reach the Final Four
2. Texas Tech
3. Florida State
11. Murray State
13. ASU/St. John’s
16. FDU/Prairie View A&M
Team Underseeded: None
Team Overseeded: None
Matchup you most want to see: No. 1 Gonzaga vs No. 3 Texas Tech
Most likely 1st Round upset: No. 12 Murray State vs No. 5 Marquette