By Brandon Pemberton
The NCAA Tournament Bracket has been set and now it’s time for me to go through each region and pick who I believe will make it to the Final Four this year in New Orleans. Be sure to listen to Sports Trap Radio every Saturday on ueradiolive.com from 10am-2pm, hosted by Chris Marshall (@215_sports_guy) and myself weekly.
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Kentucky's Anthony Davis
Top 4 Seeds: 1. Kentucky 2. Duke 3. Baylor 4. Indiana
Preview and Prediction: This region is a very tough draw in my opinion. Kentucky was obviously the #1 overall seed in the tournament and picked by the committee after having a great regular season beforing losing to Vanderbilt in the SEC championship. Vandy exposed some of the weaknesses of the young but talented Kentucky team: Point Guard play and shooting. The Commodores were able to slow down Kentucky by playing a great 2-3 zone, with man principles, which forced the Wildcats to take contested shots from the perimeter and cut down drives to the basket.
Duke is the two seed, but they are only real good when making three-point shots. Their lack of a true point guard and inability to defend on the perimeter will be the reason why they only make it to the Sweet 16 if they can make it past 10 seed Xavier.
Baylor is my sleeper team of this region. They kind of fell off of the map after bad losses to Kansas and Mizzou during conference play. They have as much talent and athletic ability as any team in the country. When Perry Jones III comes to play, no one in the country can check this kid.
I like the young talent on Indiana’s team. Tom Crean has done a great job recruiting since taking over there. Cody Zeller is talented but young. If he comes back for another year, I see a deep tourney run for them. Don’t sleep on the veteran #5 seed Wichita St either. They shoot the ball well and have size in the paint.
Upset predictions for this region: 11 Colorado over 6 UNLV and 10 Xavier over 7 Notre Dame
Regional Semis: 1 Kentucky over 5 Wichita St, 3 Baylor over 2 Duke
Regional Final: 3 Baylor over 1 Kentucky
Marquette's Jae Crowder
Top 4 Seeds: 1. Michigan St 2. Missouri 3. Marquette 4. Louisville
Preview and Predictions: Michigan St. is the one seed in the West Region after finishing the season 27-7 and winning the Big 10 conference tournament. Their conference was arguably one of the top 2 in the country and the Spartans, led by Senior forward Draymond Green were damn good all season long. A great defensive and rebounding team like most Tom Izzo coached teams, they still do have problems scoring points for stretches during games. One bad shooting game could have them exiting this tourney early.
Mizzou is a guard-driven team, which fits well during this time of the year. Pressey, Denmon, and English are all good shooters, with Pressey getting into the lane and dishing to his teammates for open looks. Forward Ricardo Ratliffe is an undersized 4-man, who shot 69% from the field, mostly off of dunks, layups, and putbacks. They could run into trouble against a bigger team who pounds the ball inside and doesn’t let the Tigers dictate the tempo of the game.
Marquette has been one of my favorite teams to watch all season. I love Buzz Williams’ coaching ability and the way he motivates his players. Led by seniors Darius Odom-Johnson (18.5 ppg, 45% FG, 40% 3pt) and Jae Crowder ( 17.4 ppg and 8.1 rpg), the Golden Eagles are a tough, hard nosed group of players. I see them getting hot and making a deep run this year.
4 seed Louisville is solid. I’m not that impressed by them, but my sleeper team for this bracket is the 8 seed Memphis. This is a young, but talented group of players led by Will Barton, who at 6’6′ 175lbs manages to grab eight boards a game, while shooting 51% from the field, playing the wing. If this teams gets hot, it can do some major damage.
Upset Predictions for this region: 12 Long Beach St. over 5 New Mexico, 11 Colorado St. over 6 Murray St, and 10 Virginia over 7 Florida
Regional Semis: 8 Memphis over 4 Louisville, 3 Marquette over 2 Mizzou
Regional Finals: 3 Marquette over 8 Memphis
Ohio State's Jared Sullinger
Top 4 Seeds: 1. Syracuse 2. Ohio St. 3. Florida St. 4. Wisconsin
Preview and Predictions: The face of this region changed when it was reported Tuesday that Syracuse Center and Big East Defensive Player of the Year Fab Melo was ineligible to play in the 2012 NCAA Tournament. Yes the Orange are loaded. They still have 10 other guys who can play, but Melo was what made their 2-3 zone work. The style of play for this team will clearly change and I can see them playing a more fast paced game with Melo out of the lineup. Dion Waiters went from off of NBA scouts’ radars to a possible late lottery/mid 1st round pick with the season he has had. He needs a big tourney if the Cuse’ are going to win it all.
I love the competition in this region. Ohio St. is very good this year, obviously led by Jared Sullinger, William Buford, and Aaron Craft. They have one of the nation’s best defenses as well. Head Coach Thad Matta has been getting the bench more experience since the season wound down and they will see more time than you expect.
FSU won the ACC championship, beating Duke and UNC in consecutive days. Leonard Hamilton has a team full of athletes with good size and length, to go along with shooters as well. Hamilton’s calling card as a coach has always been defense and they are lethal defensively. They have momentum and are set to make a deep run this year.
Wisconsin was given a 4 seed. I think it was kind of high for them and was a gift for playing in a tough Big Ten conference. The 5 seed Vanderbilt won the SEC and has a veteran team who is battle tested. They can really shoot it, they defend well, and take care of the ball. They have three guys who will play NBA ball in John Jenkins, Jeff Taylor, and Festus Ezeli…and in the tournament, talent shines.
Upset Predictions for this Region: 11 Texas over 6 Cincinnati and 10 West Virginia over 7 Gonzaga
Regional Semis: 5 Vanderbilt over 1 Syracuse and 3 Florida St over 2 Ohio St.
Regional Final: 3 Florida St over 2 Ohio St.
UNC's Harrison Barnes
Top 4 Seeds: 1. UNC 2. Kansas 3. Georgetown 4. Michigan
Preview and Prediction: UNC is the one seed and clearly the cream of the crop of this bracket. Forward John Henson sat out the ACC Championship game with an injured wrist and they ended up losing the game. Henson is a game-changer defensively, with his ability to defend in the paint and on the perimeter. But they still have Barnes, Zeller, and Marshall, and that’s more than enough for them to win it all.
Kansas surprised me with the season they had after losing the Morris twins and Josh Selby from last year’s team. The development of Player of the Year candidate Thomas Robinson, along with point guard Tyshawn Taylor has been epic. They have led this team to a 27-6 record and Bill Self has done the best coaching job of his career. He is my favorite for coach of the year.
Georgetown had a stellar season, finishing 23-8 and having one of the nation’s top defenses as far as field goal percentage and points per game. They often go through stretches without being able to get points themselves and that could possibly be a problem. Jason Clark and Hollis Thompson are who they rely on scoring-wise from the perimeter, while senior Henry Sims mans the mid-post and paint.
Michigan is the 4 seed, and can be deadly if they are making three-point shots. Freshman Trey Burke brought a different look to the Wolverines with his ability to get in the lane and create for others and himself. Tim Hardaway Jr. didn’t shoot as well during his sophomore season, but he has the capability to carry a team if he gets hot.
My Sleeper team is N.C. State. They have gotten better as the season went on in the ACC and could really surprise teams in this bracket. Sophomore C.J. Leslie has the ability to be a force defensively with his shot blocking and in transition finishing at the rim. Mark Gottfried has really done a nice job in his first season as the Wolfpack coach.
Upset Prediction for this Region: 9 Alabama over 8 Creighton, 12 Cal or South Florida over 5 Temple, 11 N.C. State over 6 San Diego St. , and 14 Belmont over 3 Georgetown
Regional Semis: 1 UNC over 4 Michigan and 2 Kansas over 11 N.C. State
Regional Final: 1 UNC over 2 Kansas
Final Four: 1 UNC (Midwest) over 3 FSU (East) and 3 Baylor (South) over 3 Marquette (West)
National Championship: 1 UNC over 3 Baylor
Brandon Pemberton of Brandon On Sports & Sports Trap Radio, for War Room Sports