Warrior Weekly: March Madness
March 16, 2017
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With the NCAA tournament starting on Thursday, here are my predictions for the Final Four:
East Representative: Wisconsin Badgers, 8 seed
This Badgers team is not supremely talented, but they have size, and experience. Players like Nigel Hayes, Bronson Koenig, and Zak Showalter played in the National Championship game two years ago. Sophomore forward Ethan Happ is the Badgers’ best player, averaging 14 points, nine rebounds, two steals, and a block per game. His ability to dominate the post, both offensively and defensively is going to cause Villanova major problems. On top of all that, Happ is an outstanding passer for a big man (three assists per game). Wisconsin’s defensive prowess (7th in the country in points allowed) will give teams like Villanova and Duke fits, and when they shoot the ball well, they are hard to beat. They have a tough road to the Final Four, but I believe in the Badgers.
Midwest Representative: Kansas Jayhawks, 1 seed
Kansas is once again a favorite to advance to the Final Four, and to contend for the National Title. In recent years the Jayhawks have feel short of their lofty expectations, but that changes in 2017 if for no other reason than a lack a competition in their bracket. I just can’t see either Oregon or Louisville beating this well balanced Kansas squad. Last year, playing as the number one overall seed in the tournament, they lacked star power, and fell in the Elite Eight to eventual champion Villanova. This year, things are different. G Frank Mason (21 points, four rebounds, five assists per game) is a favorite for the Wooden Award, and true freshman Josh Jackson has lived up to the hype of being a top recruit, as he posted 16 points, seven rebounds, and three assists per game in the regular season. Coming off an early exit in the Big 12 tournament, the Jayhawks will be chomping at the bit to make some noise in March.
South Representative: North Carolina Tar Heels, 1 seed
Talk about motivation. UNC fell four seconds short of a National Championship a season ago, and many of the players who endured that devastating defeat are back and playing better than ever. F Justin Jackson is one of the best all-around players in the country, averaging 18 points, five rebounds, and three assists per game. G Joel Berry III has had a breakout season, and UNC’s success in March will likely be determined by his play. The Tar Heels have depth, size, experience, and will be hungry to avenge last season’s heartbreaking conclusion. They’ll likely have to get past Butler, and then UCLA or Kentucky, but UNC is the best team in the South.
West Representative: Arizona, 2 seed
Besides Kansas, Arizona may have the easiest road to the Final Four of any highly seeded team. Possible encounters with Florida State, and then Gonzaga shouldn’t scare the Wildcats too much. Like UNC, Arizona is very deep, with talented in both the backcourt and the front court. Freshman F Lauri Markkanen averaged 16 points and seven rebounds per game this year, and shot an outstanding 43% from deep. Allonzo Trier, Rawle Alkins, and Kobi Simmons provide playmaking ability at the guard spot. The Wildcats are 10-2 over their last 12 games, including knocking off UCLA in the Pac-12 final. They play solid defense (65.4 points allowed) and shoot nearly 40% from downtown. Arizona has been close to multiple Final Four berths in recent years, but has failed to get over the hump. They are able to do so in 2017.