WILL MICHIGAN STAY RED-HOT AND WIN THE WEST?
Sleepers & Giant Killers
Every year, one team falls victim to the dreaded “5-12 curse.” If you’re a fan of the Ohio State Buckeyes, who are the #5 seed in this region, you may want to pop an antacid pill before proceeding forward.
The South Dakota State Jackrabbits went 28-6 this season after playing a rugged non-conference schedule, meaning they are highly battle-tested and won’t be afraid of anyone on the court. The Jackrabbits also employ a bombs-away from three-point approach on offense, and they shoot almost 40% from three as a team. This matches up terribly for the Buckeyes, who were ranked 154th in the nation in three point defense this year.
Look for South Dakota State to pull off the upset over Ohio State in the first round, and try and turn the tables on a former Giant Killer in Gonzaga in the second round.
After a two-year absence from the NCAA tournament, San Diego State is primed to make some noise in the dance this year as well. Head coach Brian Dutcher, the long time lieutenant to Steve Fisher, has a big and athletic team that should pose a lot of problems for Houston.
For as good as the Cougars have been on defense, they foul opponents way too much, which generally tends to work to a team’s disadvantage when playing big and athletic opponents. This has been Houston’s death knell all year, and we think it will again be the case when they play the Aztecs.
We think San Diego State advances into the second round, and gives Dutcher a “dream” match-up against the University of Michigan, Where he and Fisher won a national championship, and once coached the “Fab Five.”
Best & Most Underrated Players
Xavier’s Trevon Bluiett is a three-time All-Big East selection, and the Musketeers’ leading scorer this season. Bluiett’s scoring ability is like a Swiss army knife: there’s a tool for every situation. He’s the one that head coach Chris Mack will be relying on most, to get out of this minefield of a region.
North Carolina’s Joel Berry II hasn’t put up the same numbers this year as he has in previous years, but that’s because he’s carrying the offense on his shoulders more so than ever. What the box score won’t show is the fact that Roy Williams trusts Berry implicitly. Last year’s Final Four Most Outstanding Player is the go-to guy whenever they need something big to happen.
Luke Mayes is the yang to Berry’s Yin. Maye and Berry were the first duo at North Carolina to both average more than 17 points per game since Michael Jordan and Sam Bowie back in 1984. Maye is the guy whom Tar Heels fans will remember as the one who hit the shot that propelled UNC over Kentucky last year, and he built on that shot by turning into a true All-American this year.
Keita Bates-Diop of Ohio State has made Chris Holtmann’s job in Columbus a lot easier. The dual-threat scorer has not only been an underrated defender this year, but also a tremendous rebounder. This season, he was a walking double-double threat, with the ability to create mismatches no matter who was guarding him. More importantly, he’s taken on the focus of opposing defenses, allowing the rest of his teammates to get better looks and matchups.
Top NBA Prospects
This region might be the thinnest on 2018 NBA Draft prospects, especially considering the most ballyhooed player on a team in this region didn’t play for most of this season.
Michael Porter Jr. of Missouri didn’t make his debut for the Tigers until the first week of March, and unsurprisingly looked rusty in his return. By his own admission, he was only “65%” of the way recovered from the back surgery he had. But, there’s a reason why Porter was one of the most highly coveted players in the nation coming out of high school. While the surgery will spook many teams, Porter is still a very prolific scorer, who can shoot the ball and create his own shot opportunities. He’s also an excellent athlete with a high basketball IQ, showing the ability to score points in a variety of ways, or set up his teammates when the opportunity is there. At 6’10, he’ll be a point forward in the NBA, and scouts will be riveted by his combination of size and skills.
Sophomore Robert Williams from Texas A&M could find himself in the lottery mix as well in this upcoming draft. The 6’9 forward is a strong finisher around the basket, and a solid play-maker for a big man. He his long arms, enormous hands, and non-stop motor allows him to rebound, defend, and block shots at a high level. His lack of height might be a question for teams looking for rim protection at the next level, and he’s still got a ways to go, as far as developing a complete offensive game. But at least as an energy-injecting big man, Williams will have a fit in the NBA.
You could argue that the #1 job for Xavier head coach Chris Mack, heading into the tournament, will be to make sure his players completely forget the fact that they’re “supposed” to be the best team in this region. The West features the two teams who appeared in last year’s national championship game (North Carolina and Gonzaga), and a Michigan team that’s only lost one game since February 1st. Xavier, North Carolina, Michigan, and Gonzaga, while South Dakota State and San Diego State pull off the upsets. Texas A&M gets out of the first round. Florida State is so much more battle-tested than injury-ravaged Missouri.
Xavier and Gonzaga should advance to the Sweet 16. The same goes for UNC. As much as it would be great to Dutcher upset Michigan, that likely won’t happen. The Wolverines will square off against the Tar Heels. From there, we actually like Michigan to send the defending national champions home. On the other side, every one of Xavier’s losses came when the opponent scored more than 80 points, and the Bulldogs score an average of 84.5 points per game. They have the balanced scoring depth that can score in bushels, which has shown to give the Musketeers problems this year. Take Mark Few and the Bulldogs to move on to the Elite Eight.
Finally, we have Michigan defeating Gonzaga, getting John Beilein his second Final Four appearance as the head coach in Ann Arbor.
Final Four Prediction: MICHIGAN
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