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 so there won’t be a ton of revealing here.
1. Houston getting home - This is probably the most talked about storyline in the NCAA Tournament this year. This or Kansas going back-to-back. But the Final Four is in Houston. Jim Nantz is calling his last Final Four, of course he went to Houston. Now you have Houston as the No. 2 overall seed with a favorable draw to the Sweet 16 with people talking about them playing in their home city. We saw this with Butler in 2010 but rarely do we get this storyline.
2. Injury updates - Once again, we have major injury news. Marcus Sasser of Houston got banged up in the semis of the AAC. How healthy will he be? Norchad Omier got hurt 90 seconds into the ACC title game. Does he come back? Those are the two that really stick out because Houston is the national title favorite and Miami is a popular sneaky Final Four pick. We saw Miami get to the Elite Eight last year, they can shoot the shit out of the ball. But Omier really takes away rebounding and what makes their lineup fit.
3. The Texas dilemma - I love this Texas team. Their roster just makes sense. They won the Big 12 Tournament without Timmy Allen, another injury update guy that should be there. But we've seen Texas look the part and then fade in the NCAA Tournament. They are going to be a popular pick to come out of this region. We know the year they've had with Rodney Terry taking over, bringing in 5-stars and a transfer in Tyrese Hunter. Can they actually keep the momentum going?
4. The 7/10 game - I blogged yesterday the conspiracy theory of the NCAA Tournament committee 'punishing' A&M because Buzz Williams handed out a 9-page docket on why they deserved to be in last year. Now they have a 7 seed against a 10 seed Penn State team who is hot. We know how PSU plays. Threes, no offensive rebounding and getting to the line. A&M has awesome guards but they are predicated on defense and a slower tempo. It's by far the most intriguing 7/10 game this year.
5. Can you picture anyone winning besides the top-2? - This is what I always do right after the bracket comes out. Close my eyes and try to picture a team winning the region and cutting down the nets. The biggest question mark for me is Xavier more than IU. Xavier has an elite offense and a guy in Sean Miller that has gotten to plenty of Elite Eights. Indiana does have an All-American in TJD, but I still don't trust the guards. We've seen them get pushed around a little bit. Hell, the fact the line is them just -4 against Kent State tells me that. I'm sure this region will lead to chaos but it should be a 1v2 in the Elite Eight.
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. I'll try to avoid the obvious like Zach Edey or Jalen Wilson.
1. Colby Jones (Xavier) - We know about Souley Boum at Xavier, but Colby Jones is the guy that NBA people are looking at. He's a good shooter, rebounds well for his size and can be sort of the difference maker in terms of Xavier getting to the 2nd weekend. He's an underrated playmaker too, averaging 15/5/4.
2. Jarace Walker (Houston) - A McDonald's All-American and the highest recruit in Houston history. Shout out York, PA. But here's why I have Walker here. We know about Houston's guards and I mentioned Sasser's injury. But they have the making of a title roster because of Walker. You need to have high level talent somewhere, not just high level college talent. Walker can be that guy.
3. Christian Bishop (Texas) - Someone from Texas had to be on this list and I debated him or Disu. Both are game-changers and we know their guards. But Bishop is key for them on the defensive side of the ball. He doesn't put up big numbers or anything like that, he's just solid. Both him and Disu are good in terms of their versatility and ability to be tough in the paint. His game against TCU is a great example of it - 15 and 7 and looked the part.
4. Jalen Hood-Schifino (Indiana) - Maybe too big of a name here but he's the guy that Indiana needs. You know what you're getting in TJD. JHS has been inconsistent because he's a freshman. But he's a fucking talented freshman. Everyone, even me, can agree on that. If you get the good version of JHS you at least have the playmaker to go with TJD. They still need to shoot more threes, but you have a guard/big duo.
5. Tucker DeVries (Drake) - Drake is going to be a popular upset pick and DeVries is why. He's the son of the coach (insert stereotype here) but he's damn good. He's putting up 19 per game. at 6'7" he's a unique mismatch too. Drake likes to run a lot of guards out there and DeVries can hunt the mismatch. That's going to be the one to watch against Miami.
Best Bet To Make The Final Four (via Barstool Sportsbook) - Texas +300
I don't love anything here if we're being honest. Like I said it feels like 1v2. But this region is all over the place. There are a lot of weird teams. Iowa State looks dead, then destroys Baylor twice. Xavier at +1100 is tasty but I don't know how much I trust them. I don't trust Indiana, especially if they have to play Houston's defensive scheme.
Matchup You Most Want To See: No. 7 Texas A&M vs No. 2 Texas - give us a rivalry game that should be a conference game.
Best early gut first round play: I'll come out with my final plays day of, so this is just first gut. Don't overthink it.
Penn State +2.5
I don't necessarily love taking a team who got hot in the conference tournament, but at the same time I'm fading the one team that everyone is screaming got screwed. There's no scientific number here, but it just seems like they always lose. A&M's defense gives up a ton of three attempts, but teams have missed against them. It's the scheme. But the thing is you can't give up that many looks against Penn State. As a team they shoot 38.5 % from three. They also have the best player on the floor in Jalen Pickett. Give me the points here.