Best of the Best: Kentucky (Overall number 1)-Kentucky is hands down the best team in the field. They have arguably the nation’s best player in Anthony Davis (14.3 PPG, 64.9 FG%, 10 RPG) and a supporting cast that features three other players who average at least 12 points per game.
The Wildcats biggest weakness is their three-point shooting. While they’re good enough in virtually every other aspect of the game to overcome that deficiency, if a team is able to clog the middle and force UK’s shooters out onto the perimeter, the Wildcats could go fall before reaching New Orleans.
Best of the Rest: Wichita State (5)-The Shockers boast one of the nation’s most prolific offenses. They score right around 78 points-per-game and feature a seven-foot center to anchor their four-guard spread.
Cinderella: South Dakota State (14)-While they lack athleticism, the Jackrabbits love to focus their energy behind the arc. On offense, they shot nearly 40% as a team from three-point land, while on defense their guards lock down the perimeter. This may sound ridiculous, but if SDSU can get past Baylor and UNLV (two deep, athletically-talented teams) they could slip past Duke, a team that lives-and-dies on three-pointers, and reach the Elite 8.
Early Exit? Indiana (4)-I debated between Duke (relies heavily on long-range shots), Baylor (inconsistent despite large amount of talent) and Indiana, but, in the end, I went with the Hoosiers. IU relies heavily on its long-range shooters to open up the paint and establish a physical presence inside. They’re a decent rebounding team, but could run into trouble as early as their first round matchup with New Mexico State, who prides itself on dominating the paint and pulling down rebounds.
Must See Matchup: Wichita State (5) vs. VCU (12)-Shaka Smart’s VCU Rams are looking to catch fire as they did last year on their run to the Final Four, while the Shockers score points in bunches and dominate the boards. This battle of mid-majors will be fun to watch.
Game I’d Pay to See: VCU (12) vs. Indiana (4)-I’m a sucker for high scoring games with a ton of three-pointers. A team, like Indiana, who shoots the ball exceptionally well from beyond the arc should rip apart the Rams’ defense. On the other side, it will be interesting to see how VCU’s long-range snipers fair against a Hoosier defense that focuses on locking down the perimeter.
Picking a Winner: Kentucky-The Wildcats may be the best team out there, but their road to the Final Four will not be an easy one. Indiana has already upset the nation’s number one team, and Duke, UConn and Baylor are all quality teams that could give them a run for their money. That being said, I don’t see Kentucky losing another game between now and April 2.
Best of the Best: Syracuse (1)- The Orange boast an up-tempo offense that scores most of its points in transition. Defensively, they clog the middle and try and force turnovers to help setup their offense. They also boast a 10-man rotation, which means fatigue should not be a problem at any point during the tournament. That being said…
Early Exit? Syracuse-… They have their flaws. As was the case last year, the Orange struggle when they are unable to break free for transition baskets, relying instead on long-range and contested jumpers. If they’re cold or unable to get free, they could be done as early as the third round.
Best of the Rest: Florida State (3)-I really like the Seminoles. In less than a 24-hour period they had to knock off Duke and UNC to win the ACC Tournament and appear to be playing their best basketball heading into the Big Dance. They commit a lot of turnovers, which could catch up to them against a team like Syracuse (if the Orange even reach the Elite 8), but their balanced offense and stingy defense compensate for that deficiency.
Cinderella: Montana-While relatively untested, the Grizzlies love to up the tempo and average nearly 70 points per game. On defense, they focus on sealing off the perimeter and have limited their opponents to fewer than 62 PPG.
Must See Matchup: Vanderbilt vs. Harvard
Game I’d Pay to See: Gonzaga vs. Ohio State-The young, savvy Bulldogs get a chance to see what they’re made of against the second-seeded in their region. OSU could be the first 2-seed to fall if the Zags are able to lock down Jared Sullinger.
Picking a Winner: Florida State-The Seminoles should be able to cruise into the Sweet 16, where they could meet Ohio State, the only team that could give them trouble.
Best of the Best: Missouri (2)-The 2012 Tigers could be even better than the group that reached the Elite 8 in 2009. Seniors Kim English and Marcus Denmon lead a lethal four-guard lineup that pushes the tempo and seldom settles for poor shots. The Tigers’ lone weakness is their lack of depth. It seemed to catch up with them at points late in the season, but this team continued to find ways to win.
Best of the Rest: Marquette (3)-The Golden Eagles love to run opponents into the ground, but unlike other up-tempo teams, they have the size and ability to establish an inside presence. They may not be the strongest team defensively, but they use the full court press to help dictate the tempo for their offense.
Cinderella: Long Beach State (12)-Unlike some of the other mid-majors in this year’s tournament, LBSU has experience against big name teams. Their seniors have played games at Syracuse, Pitt, Kansas and North Carolina, meaning that they will not be intimidated by any big name opponents they may run into.
Early Exit? Michigan State (1)-Izzo is a great coach, but that potential third round matchup with Memphis could prove to be his demise in this year’s tournament.
Must See Matchup: Memphis vs. SLU-No one is giving the Billikens a chance against Memphis, but their aggressive defense and balanced offense should provide for an exciting match-up against Memphis’s length and quickness.
Game I’d Pay to See: Murray State vs. Marquette-Both teams run an up-tempo style of offense and play defense primarily in the man-to-man set.
Mizzou vs. SLU-Two local teams squaring off with a trip to the Final Four on the line? Yes, please.
Picking a Winner: Mizzou-This team is on a mission and that perceived “snub” by the selection committee will provide some extra motivation to an already determined team.
Midwest (St. Louis)
Best of the Best: UNC (1)-Their offense averages over 82 points per game and has the size to establish an interior physical presence both offensively and defensively. Their frontcourt features three future NBA stars in Harrison Barnes, Tyler Zeller and John Henson.
Best of the Rest: Kansas (2)-KU may not be the juggernaut they have been in year’s past, but the bracket sets nicely for a run to at least the Elite 8.
Cinderella: Belmont (14)-I am not a huge fan of teams who live and die with the three-pointer, but Belmont has the size to dominate the offensive boards and the depth to stay fresh and energized throughout the game.
Early Exit? Georgetown (3)-They are a young team that lacks a go-to-scorer. They also struggle to hit their free throws, which could kill them in a tight game.
Must See Matchup: Saint Mary’s vs. Purdue-Two conflicting styles of play. Purdue struggles on the boards, but is dedicated to running their motion offense. Saint Mary’s uses its size to overcome a lack of athleticism.
Game I’d Pay to See: Kansas vs. UNC-The Jaybirds have the size to match-up with UNC, but their lack of a true threat from behind the perimeter could cost them against the Tar Heels.
Picking a Winner: Kansas (2)
WIN A FREE FULLY-CATERED LUNCH FROM MCALISTER’S DELI!
The fine folks over at McAlister’s in Des Peres have agreed to donate a free fully catered lunch for 5-7 people each month. When I say fully catered, I mean basically their entire catering menu is open AND you can even have it delivered to your home or office completely free of charge!
This month’s prize will be given away to whoever wins our mini-bracket pool. The person who is able to select the most second and third round games correctly will win this month’s McAlister’s catered lunch.
All you have to do is join the official HSB Bracket Pool on ESPN.com!
The games officially kick off on Tuesday with the play-ins, but you have until 10:30 Thursday morning to officially submit your picks!
Hank’s Sports Blog will be giving away a free University of Missouri flag, compliments of the fine folks over at CVS Flags.