Best 1st round matchup: (tie) Cincinnati vs. Harvard, Connecticut vs. Saint Joseph’s. When the brackets were released, it seemed the obvious 12-over-5 was Harvard beating the offensively-challenged Bearcats. And with good reason: Harvard is very good defensively, one of the best 3-point shooting teams in the field, registered a big upset last March, and has a “Hot” coach in Tommy Amaker. The Bearcats have Sean Kilpatrick, play stingy defense, and won at Memphis and Louisville this season. First to 45 wins? UConn has one of the best backcourts in the tournament, but it’s not like the Hawks haven’t seen talented guards – they beat VCU twice. Both games feel like they could end on the final possession.
Double Digit Darkhorses: Harvard (12), Providence (11), NC Central (14). Providence is here for two reasons: Bryce Cotton, one of the most underrated guards in the country, and free throw shooting (No. 2 in the country at 78 percent). North Carolina, its first round opponent, is one of the worst free throw shooting teams (344th, 62 percent). Central is a dangerous team that has won 20 in a row, won at NC State early in the season, and plays very feisty defense. Also, Iowa State doesn’t play defense. Hence: Ken Pom has the game 76-70 and the Vegas line is nine, but expect it to drop.
NBA Prospects to Watch: I count just three potential 1st round picks – Gary Harris and Adreian Payne (Michigan State), and Shabazz Napier (UConn) – but then a slew of players who could go in the second round. Iowa State has three – Melvin Ejim, Georges Niang and DeAndre Kane. UNC has two – Marcus Paige and James Michael McAdoo. Then there are guys like Joe Harris (Virginia), Shaq Goodwin (Memphis), Kilpatrick (Cincinnati), Cotton (Providence) who might get drafted. What’s most interesting to note is that among the Top 2 seeds, there’s really only one potential pro next year (Harris, who I think will have a nice international career).
Frivolous Facts: Of No. 1 seeds, Virginia had the worst record (6-4) against teams in the 2014 tournament. Villanova has lost four games – by 16, 28, 21, and one. Iowa State topped 90 points nine times this season; Virginia topped 80 once (November 30th against Missouri State). Delaware lost at Villanova by four, and at Ohio State by 12 early in the season.
We regret the error: Over the summer, I put out a “Top 50 players in college basketball” list. Been doing it for a couple years. People seem to hate/like it. When it came out, the biggest rankings that irked the masses were Ryan Arcidiacono, G, Villanova (28), Russ Smith, G, Louisville (26), and Marshall Henderson, G, Mississippi (25). Yes, it’s clear that Smith is not in the same category as those guys. He had his best season as a senior, while Arcidiacono slumped and Henderson didn’t improve. Unquestionably, Smith deserved to be in the Top 15.
Heart Says ____ in the Regional Final: Virginia vs. Iowa State. I grew up in Virginia; I have a 42:1 ticket for Iowa State to win the title. This pick could be squashed by Sunday night.
Head Says ____ in the Regional Final: Michigan State vs. Villanova.
Regional Winner: Michigan State.