It’s that time: March Madness. The four day hiatus of college basketball, the hiatus when Lick-students, teachers, and staff scramble to fill out their March Madness bracket is coming to an end. Have you finished? The possibilities are more exciting than ever. Out of a 68 team pool, a record 7 teams in the Pac-12 conference made the tournament.
With Cal Berkeley, ranked #4, a 20 minute Bart ride from Lick, and other schools that are part of the Pac-12 in close proximity to the Bay Area, it is easy to be easy to get excited about the upcoming tournament.
My predictions for how teams from the Conference of Champions will fare.
The school that will surely be sporting the flashiest jerseys, Oregon, is known more for being a football powerhouse than a contender in March Madness. Give this squad credit; Oregon didn’t enter the regular season ranked in the Top 25. They’ve earned #1 seed thanks to a dominant offense that has scored at least 76 points in 16 of its last 18 games. Dillon Brooks and Tyler Dorsey have led the Ducks to eight straight wins and a conference championship. Bottom line: Oregon is coming into March hot. Oklahoma and Texas Tech are the only schools that pose a serious threat to Oregon in a relatively easy path to the Final Four. Don’t expect the Ducks to slow down.
Prediction: National Champions
Last Saturday’s 88-57 annihilation by Oregon of the Utah Utes was concerning, but the Utes performance in that game did not represent how well they have played all year. The Utes finished 26-8, second in the Pac-12, a resume good for a #3 seed in the upcoming tournament. Sophomore Jakob Poeltl is by far the best player; he is projected to be a top 10 pick in the NBA Draft. This year, Poeltl has averaged 17.6 points and 9.1 rebounds and draws a comparison to Warriors center Andrew Bogut. Poeltl’s superior footwork in the low block and interior presence gives Utah a good chance to make the Sweet 16, but the Utes got unlucky. A Sweet 16 matchup with #2 seed Michigan State awaits, and I don’t see Utah stopping a team predicted by many to win the “natty.”
Prediction: Michigan State Defeats Utah in Sweet 16
Cal Berkeley is loaded with talent this year. NBA scouts will likely be in the stands at the South Regional watching Jaylen Brown showcase his explosiveness and Ivan Rabb put his superb post moves on display. The two freshman are projected to be lottery picks in the NBA Draft by DraftExpress.com and the team has a total of five players who are expected to be drafted before the third round of the upcoming NBA draft. Cal’s two best players are freshmen, and the team has yet to be tested on the big stage. The team collapsed in the semifinal of the Pac-12 tournament and I predict they will struggle to own the big stage come the Round of 32.
Prediction: Maryland Defeats California in Round of 32
Despite losing four of their five starters last year, Arizona has pieced together a physical team that consists of the 5th best frontcourt in college basketball, according to Bleacher Report. Their top three players — Ryan Anderson, Gabe York, Allonzo Trier — all average 15 or more points, so they are balanced. Nevertheless, this team is not nearly as electric as last year’s team, who lost to Wisconsin in the Elite Eight as a #2 seed. To make matters worse, Arizona has dropped three of its last six games. The team will travel 2,500 miles to Providence, Rhode Island in order to likely take on Wichita State, a team that made it to the Final Four, something Arizona hasn’t done in 15 years. Seniors Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet and Wichita State have the poise on the big stage and raw skill to upset Arizona and make a Cinderella run this year.
Prediction: Wichita State beats Arizona in Round of 64
Oregon State will make their first NCAA tournament in 26 years thanks to superb play from senior Gary Payton II. The son of the former NBA star, Gary Payton, is averaging 15.9 points per game to go along with 5.1 assists and 7.9 rebounds. Simply put, the point guard can do it all. The Beavers draw a #7 seed, but somehow have a mere 29% chance to beat #10 seed VCU. The team is a bad shooting day from Gary Payton II away from getting blown out by a team that has tournament experience. The team is too reliant on Payton. I agree with the Vegas odds on this one.
Prediction: VCU defeats Oregon State in Round of 64
I’m a strong believer that teams who struggle coming into March stand little to no chance to do well in the tournament. #9 seed USC has lost seven of their last ten games. While the team shoots 38.5% from the three-point line, the Trojans are notoriously streaky and struggle at the free throw line (67.8 Team FT%). Even if the Trojans catch fire from behind the arc, they are unlucky to draw a first round matchup with the underrated Providence Fliers. Vegas has dubbed Providence two point favorites to win. Unlike the Trojans, the Flyers aren’t reliant on the three ball, which makes them likely to take down the Trojans. Future NBA star Kris Dunn (16.3 PPG, 6.4 APG, 5.7 RPG) will carry the team to a second round matchup with the North Carolina Tar Heels, whom they will upset in making an unexpected Sweet 16 run.
Prediction: Providence defeats USC in Round of 64
I’m a fan of Colorado. They have a knack for upsets, having defeated Oregon, California and Arizona. Senior forward Josh Scott is a reliable source of offense inside the arc and the team can light it up from three-point range (A Pac-12-best 39.2%). The Buffaloes do commit a bunch of turnovers, but they will have the rebounding advantage against Connecticut. The Huskies wouldn’t have made the tournament if it weren’t for a 75 foot bank shot that sent a game with Cincinnati to a fourth overtime, a game they ultimately won. Connecticut’s luck will run out against a Colorado team making its third tournament appearance in the last 13 years. Unfortunately for Colorado, they will be sent packing when they run into arguably the hottest college team in the nation, the Kansas Jayhawks.
Prediction: Kansas defeats Colorado in Round of 32