How local teams might fare in the NCAA Tournament, plus bold predictions

Steven Amrein, Staff Writer

The NCAA Men’s basketball tournament bracket was released Sunday, and college basketball fans everywhere are ecstatic that March Madness is officially upon us. The following is my prognosis on how the most unpredictable event in sports might shake out this year.

As always, my bracket will probably end up terrible. Take my advice or leave it, but you can show us your basketball knowledge and join the Sentinel’s bracket challenge.

First, two local teams on each side of the state line that could make some noise.

Kansas Jayhawks

The Jayhawks continued their record-setting dynasty by clinching their 14th consecutive Big 12 regular season championship. And on top of that, KU was able to win the conference tournament without their starting center, Udoka Azubuike, who missed the Big 12 tournament due to an injured left knee. He is expected to return in time for the NCAA tournament games.

The Jayhawks have been playing their best basketball of late but continue to have noticeable weaknesses. The lack of size and depth have hurt KU in many of their losses this year. If they were to lose, it would most likely be due to foul trouble or their opponent dominating the paint and glass.

The brightest spot for Kansas is neither the return of Azubuike nor the senior leadership of Wooden Award Finalist, Devonte Graham.

Rather, the Jayhawks have benefited from the unexpected emergence of Silvio De Sousa and Malik Newman. During the regular season, the two combined to average 16.8 points per game and eight rebounds per game. Those totals ballooned to 34 points per game and 14 rebounds per game between the duo during the Big 12 Championship.

Kansas will first take on Penn at 1 p.m. Thursday.

Missouri Tigers

The Tiger’s tournament hopes boil down to one man: Michael Porter Jr. The extremely talented freshman was able to return from injury in time for the SEC tournament. Porter, understandably, showed signs of rust as Missouri fell to Georgia, 62-60.

His return could be both good and bad for Mizzou.

On the bright side, he has the talent to carry a team on a Cinderella run. History has shown that many teams who succeed in the tournament need an all-star who can create for himself and others. Porter has that potential.

On the negative side, team chemistry could suffer. The team has only played one full game with their best player before the tournament. This could make it difficult for other players who might have their roles significantly reduced.

The Tigers will also be hindered by the loss of senior forward Jordan Barnett for their first game. After being arrested for a DWI, Barnett was suspended for the team’s game Friday against Florida State at approximately 8:50 p.m. but could be back in time for a potential matchup with No. 1 seed Xavier.

Now, let’s get onto the real fun behind March Madness.


Virginia could have an early exit

The Virginia Cavaliers have been the best team in college basketball for a majority of this season. But, I see lots of trouble for Virginia in the South Region for two reasons.

The first is the type of basketball Virginia plays. The Cavaliers are known for their phenomenal defense and slow-moving offense. This results in a lot of low scoring and close games. The inability to score a lot of points puts Virginia on the upset block. All it takes is for one previously unknown player to hit a couple threes down the stretch and Virginia’s 309th ranked scoring offense would struggle to keep up.

The second reason is the other teams in their region. Both Creighton and Kansas State are strong teams that could pull a second-round upset.

If the Cavaliers make it to the sweet 16, they could be met by fifth-seeded Kentucky or No. 12 seed Davidson. Kentucky has finally caught stride, winning seven of their last eight games. Davidson is also red hot, winning eight of their last nine–the only loss being in triple overtime to St. Bonaventure.

The No. 4 seed, Arizona, also poses a threat with DeAndre Ayton. Any team with the probable No.1 NBA draft is dangerous.

Regardless of whether it is in the Round of 32 or Sweet 16, I see a plethora of teams who will eventually take down the No. 1 overall seed before the Elite 8.

The 6 vs. 11 seeds

While the 5 vs. 12 seed games are common upset picks, I see more opportunity in the 6 vs. 11 games this year. Over the last two tournaments, 11 seeds have gone 6-2 vs. No. 6 seeds. I predict this will be the third straight year that 11 seeds will go 3-1.

Loyola Chicago’s is the 12th best 3-point shooting team in the country. This makes them a popular pick over the slumping Miami.

Arizona State’s guard play and Syracuse’s lanky zone will present problems for TCU.

In the other play-in-game, both UCLA and St. Bonaventure have plenty of potential to beat Florida, who is just .500 in since the start of February.

Lastly, San Diego State’s size poses a threat to Houston. The Aztecs start two forwards who are 6 foot 10 inches. On the contrary, Houston does not have any players taller than 6 foot 6 inches who play more than 17 minutes per game.

Libscomb vs. North Carolina

This is the 2 vs. 15 game that could end in an upset. No. 15 seeds have won four games in the last six tournaments and they are due for a win this year.

Lipscomb is the 15 seed who is perfectly built to pull that upset. They play extremely fast tempo basketball, ranking No. 5 nationally in possessions per 40 minutes. They have an upperclassmen guard, Garrison Matthews, who averages over 22 points per game. They shoot 24.5 threes per game, ended the year on 8 game wins streak, and score 83 points per game.

Do I think this upset will happen? No.

Would I be shocked if it did? No.

Happy March Madness, folks.