Some teams are in the midst of a month-long journey towards the history books. Others will be boarding flights home, disappointed they didn’t even get to wear everything in their suitcase. While not the most analytically driven breakdown, this Music Movies & Hoops previews all the action you’ll care about this weekend.
Going weekend by weekend, MMH will preview each weekend’s slate of games. By this time next week, only 16 of the 64 teams mentioned below will still be about to dream of celebratory dancing to the One Shining Moment soundtrack. Will Coach K survive Tom Izzo? Will Gonzaga finally make good on their potential with Chet Holmgren or can Baylor repeat as champs? Can Coach Cal make a run with a roster of guys who actually have a few semesters experience and can find a classroom?
“In order to be the man you’ve got to beat the man.”
The East has half of last year’s Final Four in the bracket. (4) UCLA and reigning champion (1) Baylor will try to keep Coach Cal’s (2) Kentucky from going back to the Final Four. (3) Purdue, (7) Murray State, (10) San Francisco and a resurgent (11) Virginia Tech will try to slay the Blue Blood Heavyweights. Sadly, the NCAA Selection Committee pitted San Francisco and Murray State against each other to start their journey towards New Orleans.
Power Five gatekeepers (in boxing parlance) (11) Virginia Tech and (6) Texas face off in the first round as well. Seriously, the selection committed really avoided mid-major upset narratives like Don King ducks serious competition for his best boxers. At lest there is the intrigue of the 12/5 matchup though the roles are switched. (12) Indiana is trying to go Hoosiers on (5) St. Mary’s, the unheralded sparring partner for Gonzaga.
St. Mary’s plays slow while rebounding and shooting way too mid to make a major run. (8) UNC spoiled Coach K’s final party in Krzyzewski-ville but they’ll have to get through (9) Marquette and (1) Baylor to reach the Round of 16. Likewise, Kentucky will have to get by a stout Purdue Boilermakers squad led by future NBA lottery pick Jaden Ivey. I’m not sure these cats have the nine lives to live and see another weekend.
This isn’t the same Baylor team that made last year’s run. These Bears are wandering into March Madness hobbled with a thorn in their paw but they get to swat away (16) Norfolk State to get things rolling. (13) Akron and (14) Yale just don’t have the top-end talent to trouble UCLA or Purdue.
To stick with the Boxing theme, these team will want to channel their best Million Dollar Baby to see out the fairy tale ending marked by One Shining Moment.
“If there’s magic in boxing, it’s the magic of fighting battles beyond endurance, beyond cracked ribs, ruptured kidneys and detached retinas. It’s the magic of risking everything for a dream that nobody sees but you.”
Expected Sweet 16 Matchups:
(1) Baylor vs (4) UCLA
(7) Murray State vs (3) Purdue
“You put a mouse on that stage and your saloon’s gonna be as empty as Death Valley on a cold day in June when the snow don’t fall.” -Miss Kitty, Fievel Goes West
March Madness is the most watched, most bet on stage, in sports. It is a stage on which one cannot shrink in the moment, lest their trophy cabinet remain empty. Gonzaga is seeking their first title. Duke is looking to win Coach K’s last. Mike always did remind me of Fievel.
If Mark Few’s (1) Gonzaga can get by Penny Hardaway’s (9) Memphis the path to another Final Four is comparatively easy for the Bulldogs out West. Could this finally be the year Spokane, WA celebrates as the last team standing or will another great class of talent be spoiled yet again? (16) Georgia State has won 12 of the last 13, so….just kidding. Gonzaga will coast into the Sweet 16.
This is not the (5) UConn to scare anyone despite on 2 losses in the last month. (12) New Mexico State won’t be scared of the Huskies. They have not lost a game by more than 4 points since January. (4) Arkansas plays tournament style defense but lacks the outside shooting to run away from (13) Vermont. It will be up to JC Notae to lead any Razorback run. Memphis has beaten 3 Top 25 teams but (8) Boise State (0-1 vs Top25) is practically unchallenged.
(6) Alabama has run the gauntlet. They’ve beaten betting favorites Gonzaga and Houston. The Tide were 9-9 in SEC play and 5-4 against Top 25 teams. They have to talent to hang tough not perhaps not enough to hold on until the Elite 8. They’ll have to shoot their way past (11) (Notre Dame/Rutgers winner) just to have a chance at (3) Texas Tech in the Round of 32.
At the bottom of the bracket is the most anticipated second-round game in recent NCAA March Madness history. Will Tom Izzo’s (7) Michigan State end Coach K’s (2) Duke career? Will (15) CSU Fullerton be Coach K’s last tourney victim? Could (10) Davidson spoil the party by knocking off Sparty? The intrigue overwhelms the actual talent in this region but this is history. Where will you be when it all goes down like a Laettner turn around?
Drew Timme and Chet Holmgren are the headliners. Duke’s Paolo Banchero will be either blamed or credited when writing the last page in Coach K’s storybook career. All three will play in the NBA next year but keep an eye on Memphis’ Jalen Duren. The 6-11 freshman is a double-double threat (12.2 ppg, 8.1 rpg) and recently dropped a 21-point, 20-rebound masterpiece on UCF.
Will one of these guys be the villian to take out the Blue Devils? Duke has lost as a two-seed before. The final cut comes from the Usual Suspects, and then Coach K will be gone, just like that…Mike will have a day off.
Will it be more: “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once and a while you might miss it.”
“The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he did not exist. And like that… he is gone.”
Expected Sweet 16 Matchups:
(1) Gonzaga vs. (12) New Mexico St.
(2) Duke vs (3) Texas Tech
“I cannot understand why you should wish to leave this beautiful country and go back to the dry, gray place you call Kansas.”
“That is because you have no brains,” answered the girl. “No matter how dreary and gray our homes are, we people of flesh and blood would rather live there than in any other country, be it ever so beautiful. There is no place like home.”
The Scarecrow sighed.
“Of course I cannot understand it,” he said. “If your heads were stuffed with straw, like mine, you would probably all live in beautiful places, and then Kansas would have no people at all. It is fortunate for Kansas that you have brains.”- The Wizard of Oz
(1) Kansas is the consensus favorite due the cakewalk of a region they face. (2) Auburn just bombed out of the SEC tournament and (5) Iowa is just 2-5 against Top 25 teams. (6) LSU is finally getting around to firing Will Wade and can’t shoot three good shots in a row.
Looking at upsets? (12) Richmond is too reliant on a streaky backcourt. (15) Jacksonville State is too short. Even (9) Creighton is too mistake prone to trust. The best bet? For the first round? (11) Iowa State has an elite perimeter defense and Izaiah Brockington. (8) San Diego State might sent the Jayhawks home in the second game.
(3) Wisconsin plays basketball a bit too much like it plays football. Methodical. Efficient. But not quite at the championship level even when they have Big Ten Player of the Year Johnny Davis, Coach of the Year Greg Gard and All-Freshman team honoree Checky Hepburn. The Badgers are the best mid you ever had. (4) Providence is the same strain, just sold with a pretentious Big East bend that wishes it was Ivy League. They’ll face a (13) South Dakota State team that has won their last two first-round games.
(7) USC and (10) Miami is the biggest football school battle on a basketball court matchup in the first round. Neither will get by Auburn even if Bruce Pearl does his best impression of Bruce Pearl. (14) Colgate has the experience, length, and sharp-shooting to be the highest seed to advance to the second weekend. All five starters have double-digit scoring averages and they are one of the best three-point shooting teams in the country.
And when the curtains open
To the roaring of the crowd
You will feel it all around you
Then it finally happens
And it’s all come true for you
And the songs are playing over and over
Till you do it all over again
Kansas – Play The Game Tonight
Expected Sweet 16:
(1) Kansas vs (5) Iowa
(2) Auburn vs (11) Iowa State
You know something, Sam? I don’t care if you’re proud of me. You just stay away from me from now on. What is that nun going to do with it? She can’t even buy underwear. – Oda Mae Brown, Ghost
(1) Arizona will hope to not be haunted by the ghost of Sean Miller. The Wildcats did not wilt in making a comeback against UCLA in the Pac-12 Championship. (16) Wright State will be a nice warmup game before facing (8) Seton Hall or (9) TCU. Both of those teams were merely average throughout the season in conference play (19-18 combined) and against Top 25 teams (8-12 combined). Nothing much is expected of either. Arizona should survive the first weekend.
Jay Wright’s (2) Villanova makes their free-throws and limits mistakes, a great recipe for at least surviving the first two rounds. Villanova will be overwhelming favorites over a (15) Delaware team led by Jameer Nelson Jr. The real test of their championship mettle will come against (7) Ohio State or (10) Loyola-Chicago in the second round.
(11) Michigan will need to show improved maturity when Juwan Howard returns. They are 2-7 against Top 25 teams as it is and will be readjusting to Howard running the sideline huddles. (6) Colorado State has a great opportunity to put the school on the March Madness map. (3) Tennessee should give (14) Longwood their first loss of 2022.
(5) Houston is looking to make a return trip to the Final Four. Las Vegas has them at better odds to make it than their seeding implies. The Cougars have four seniors looking to make history, they just need to make their free-throws. They are one of the worst in the country at making teams pay from the charity strips. Undersized (12) UAB will put them on upset alert with a blitzing defense.
(4) Illinois and (13) Chattanooga have the confidence and several All-Conference players on the rosters. This might seem to be the blandest region but it just takes one big upset to send millions of brackets into the trash while some college town erupts in a frenzy.
“Yeah, yo, there’s a dozen ways to die, six million ways to do it / Let’s go through it, my mind flow like fluid…”
Expected Sweet 16:
(1)Arizona vs. (5) Houston
(6) Michigan vs. (2) Villanova
Final Four Predictions: Gonzaga, Kansas, Villanova, Purdue