Best 1st round matchup: Ohio State vs South Dakota State. The Buckeyes were a huge surprise this year, playing Top 30 offense and defense under 1st year coach Chris Holtmann. But were those stats built against a Big 10 that was down this year? Keita Bates-Diop is a future pro. The Buckeyes lost to Penn State three times, and only have one win over a tournament team dating back to two months (Purdue on February 7th). South Dakota State gave #1 seed Gonzaga fits for a half last year before losing. The Jackrabbits are significantly better by every statistical measure this year. Future NBA player Mike Daum averaged 25.1 ppg last year, and 23.8 ppg this year, and shot 42 percent on 3-pointers this season.
Most Dangerous Double-Digit seed: San Diego State (11). Healthy and hot, the Aztecs have won nine in a row, including two wins over Nevada in the last 10 days. Trey Kell scored double figures in his last four games after a slow February due to injuries. Kell and Malik Pope were in the tournament in 2015 (2nd round loss to Duke). It’s a brutal matchup for Houston, which is favored by three.
Future NBA Draft picks: Robert Williams, Texas A&M; Luke Maye, North Carolina; Theo Pinson, North Carolina; Moritz Wagner, Michigan; Michael Porter, Missouri; Keita Bates-Diop, Ohio State; Mike Daum, South Dakota State; Killian Tillie, Gonzaga.
Ken Pom Says: North Carolina is the highest-rated team in the region (7), followed by Gonzaga (8), Michigan (10) and Xavier (14). The Musketeers are the #1 seed in the West.
Don’t Forget About Me: Michigan last played on March 4th. The Big 10 tournament was moved up a week, and the Wolverines snuck by Iowa in overtime, then beat Nebraska by 19, Michigan State by 11 and Purdue by 9. But the layoff between games is 11 days, with the Wolverines drawing the March 15th Thursday night game.
Best Coach in the Region: John Beilein, Michigan. Took Canisius to the NCAA Tournament, then Richmond, and then West Virginia to the Elite 8. At Michigan, he’s lost in the title game, the Elite 8 and the Sweet 16. Chris Mack has been to the Sweet 16 four times in eight years, and got to the Elite 8 last year. Roy Williams was close a couple times at Kansas, and has won three titles at North Carolina, mostly because he’s been loaded with future pros.
Head Says: Xavier is the most susceptible #1 seed in the tournament, and Michigan-UNC could be a de-facto regional finale. North Carolina beats Gonzaga to advance to the Final 4.
Heart Says: Xavier’s Chris Mack finally breaks through to the Final 4, taking down mighty North Carolina and Roy Williams. Trevon Bluiett is the region MVP
Bracket pick: Gonzaga. Zags lost four of their top five players from last year’s team that went to the Championship. Healthy mix of two seniors and a junior, plus youth. Tillie (sophomore) averages 13.4 ppg; Norvell (freshman) averages 12.2 ppg. Gonzaga gets revenge against UNC in the regional final.