Falcon columnist predicts March Madness

March 20, 2018 — by Siva Sambasivam

Saratoga Falcon Consenus Prediction and Analysis

Che-Chef-ski’s Recipe – Midwest Region Duke’s to lose

Thus far, the Midwest division has been relatively uninteresting, primarily because the region is extremely top heavy with experts only really considering two teams as even remote Final Four possibilities: No. 1 seeded Kansas and 2-seeded Duke.

After blowing out Penn in the first round and beating Seton Hall by 4, the Kansas Jayhawks will only have to dispatch Clemson to cement their cakewalk to the Elite Eight. But surprisingly, the Jayhawks have done this much without the classic feature star that has become the trademark of recent Kansas teams, like Joel Embiid or Andrew Wiggins. They won the Big 12, and the conference tournament without a single lottery pick, by featuring a terrific small-ball, four guard lineup, led by Devonte Graham, the Big 12 Player of the Year, and Malik Newman.

They hit a ton of threes and get out on the fastbreak, making them one of the hardest offenses to stop in the entire nation. Regardless, they have one big weakness — defending size. Starting center Udoka Azubuike is nursing a sprained knee and still doesn't have a timetable for his return, which could prove instrumental in whether Kansas can have a chance against Duke and their 6’11 monster of a power forward Marvin Bagley III.

The Duke Blue Devils should also have a cakewalk to the Elite Eight after the Syracuse Orange surprisingly took down the No. 3 seeded Michigan State Spartans with their trademarked zone defense to to prevent the Spartans from scoring once in the final 5:41.

However, don’t expect them to do this against Duke. Led by Bagley III, the ACC player of the year and a surefire top-5 draft pick, along with freshman forward Wendell Carter Jr. and senior guard Grayson Allen, Duke should have no problem against Clemson despite its zone defense.

Assuming Duke does prevail, it will set up the most interesting Elite Eight matchup of the entire bracket — Kansas vs Duke. Two universities that have been near the forefront of college basketball almost every year for the last two decades will battle it out for the chance to go into the Final four. And whichever school does win will automatically become the championship favorite.

Kansas’ small ball lineup might be able to keep pace with Duke offensively, but defensively they will have no answer for Bagley. Even with Azubuike back, there will be little stopping Bagley, not to mention Mike Krzyzewski, the best coach in collegiate history, who will be calling the shots for Duke.

In the end Duke should be able to easily handle Kansas, but their title run won’t stop there. They will either face Purdue or Villanova in the Final Four, neither of which have a good enough big man to stop Bagley. And then if Duke is indeed able to make the National Championship, then you just turn the keys over to Krzyzewski. When you have the best player in the tournament on your team, there is really no excuse for Krzyzewski not to win his sixth national title.


Prediction: Elite Eight: Duke wins over Kansas. Final Four: Duke wins over Villanova. National Title Game: Duke wins over Michigan.  DUKE IS YOUR NATIONAL CHAMPION

Will Nova be the only No. 1 seed in the Final Four?
This year March Madness has lived up to its name. It was the first time ever that a No. 1 seed (in this case, Virginia) has been eliminated in the first round, and the South doesn’t have any of its top four seeds left. However, the bit of normalcy that remains almost all exists within the East region. Four of its top five seeds are still in the Sweet Sixteen and fans are most likely going to get to see the well-anticipated Purdue Boilermakers vs Villanova Wildcats matchup.

In the top half, Villanova will half to beat the West Virginia Mountaineers, and this game will probably be the biggest challenge all tournament for the Wildcats. The Mountaineers live and die with their press-heavy defense, and in a loosely officiated game should easily be able to trap the backcourt of Nova, but if ticky-tack fouls are called, West Virginia could get into foul trouble quickly, and may be forced to go deep down their bench.

But either way, Nova should be able to come out on top. After shooting 50 percent from the floor, 40 percent from 3-point range, and 77 percent from the line all year and blowing past their first two opponents in the tournament, the Wildcats are poised to make a deep run, and beating West Virginia is only the first step.

In the other half of the bracket the Purdue Boilermakers will take on the Texas Tech Red Raiders. The Boilermakers had a 19-game winning streak during the season and always looked to be a strong contender to come out of the East. What they lacked, though, was a consistent scorer and leader. This flaw might have been solved with the emergence of sophomore Carl Edwards in the Big 10 Tournament. The Boilermakers now have the scorer they need to top the veteran-heavy, defensive-minded Red Raiders, especially without a fully healthy Keenan Evans.

But as good as the Boilermakers can be on the offensive end, they don’t nearly have enough firepower to compete with the Wildcats. Nova’s backcourt of Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges will be too much for Purdue giving Nova another Final Four appearance to put on their school resume.

In a Final Four matchup against Duke, they will meet their match. The Wildcats just don’t have the solidified big man to matchup with Marvin Bagley III on the offensive or defensive end. Grayson Allen should be fine against Brunson, and the Blue Devils will return to the championship game.

Updated Prediction: Elite Eight: Villanova Wildcats vs Purdue Boilermakers

Final Four: Villanova Wildcats vs Duke Blue Devils

Result: Villanova loses to Duke in Final Four

Will the Gonzaga Bulldogs earn their championship redemption?
Although the top two seeds — including the defending national champion — in this bracket have been eliminated, this bracket still might be the most interesting in the tournament.

With the nation’s hottest team in the Michigan Wolverines, playing the cinderella story Texas A&M Aggies in the bottom half, as well as last year’s runner up Gonzaga playing the Florida State Seminoles in the top half, this is setting up to be dogfight with the winner of this region almost guaranteed to make the National Championship.

The Michigan vs Texas A&M Sweet 16 showdown will provide fans an amazing opportunity to see two teams who have been tearing it up recently with two different styles of play battle it out. The Wolverines come into the game having won 11 straight, including two amazing wins in the Big 10 Tournament against Michigan State and Purdue, to claim the third Big 10 Championship in school history. Meanwhile Texas A&M Aggies are also on a hot streak after taking down both the Providence Friars as well as the defending champs North Carolina Tar Heels.

Neither team excels in 3-point shooting, but the Wolverines rely more on their impeccable defense, holding opponents to 63 points a game, whereas the Aggies use a dominant frontcourt to dominate opponents inside. The  Aggies lead the nation in rebounds, blocks and rebounding margin, while the Wolverines are at the top in protecting points in the paint.

But at the end of the day the Wolverines defense should prevail. Led by explosive forward Mo Wagner, their front line should be able to contain the Aggies’ big men and as long as their balanced offensive attack can put up around 70 points, they’ll have their third Elite Eight trip this decade.

In the other half of the west, the defending runner-up Gonzaga Bulldogs will be taking on the Florida State Seminoles. The Bulldogs lost a lot of their roster from last year’s Final Four appearance, but still have veteran leadership in guards Josh Perkins and Silas Melson.

The Seminoles, on the other hand, are a relatively inexperienced team and they don’t rely on one particular scorer. They play a fast paced and up-tempo game with 10 players in their regular rotation, and rely much more on athleticism than consistent outside shooting.

This is not a recipe for success against the well-coached and experienced Bulldogs, and Gonzaga should be able to move onto the Elite Eight to take on the Wolverines.

However against Michigan they might have some trouble. Forward Killian Tillie will likely be matching up with Wagner, and the Bulldogs lose a ton of size and strength in this matchup, and as is the case in most years, the Bulldogs are not at all battle-tested coming out of the weak WCC. In the end, the Wolverines will be one of the toughest teams Gonzaga has faced all year, and a slow start in the game will likely lead to their demise.

Updated Prediction: Elite Eight: Michigan Wolverines vs Gonzaga Bulldogs

Final Four: Michigan Wolverines vs Kentucky Wildcats

Result: Michigan loses to Duke in National Championship.

With Top 4 seeds out, South region provides intrigue
This season, the South has shown itself to be a bracket of upsets. After seeing DeAndre Ayton and his Arizona Wildcats blown off the floor at the hands of No. 13-seeded Buffalo on March 15, the 16-seeded UMBC (University of Maryland, Baltimore County) Retrievers defeated top overall seeded Virginia in a historic upset.

But with all the momentum that the Retrievers had after pulling off the 20 point upset, their Cinderella story came to an end against 9-seeded Kansas State Wildcats. Despite being able to shoot their way out of the Pack Line scheme the Retrievers couldn’t get it going from 3-point land and that combined with the Wildcats offensive prowess, led to a 50-43 defeat.

The Wildcats will now face No. 5-seeded Kentucky in the Sweet Sixteen, in what will most likely be an offensive shootout. Although the freshman-heavy Kentucky team has been inconsistent all year, they have the talent and the ability to dominate in the post, which should likely be the deciding factor in their chance to make it to the Elite Eight.

But the Sweet Sixteen in the bottom half is where this bracket tends to get fascinating. Both the two and three seeds, the Cincinnati Bearcats and the Tennessee Volunteers respectively, lost in dramatic fashion during their Round of 32 performances. The Bearcats were upset by 2 at the hands of the Nevada Wolf Pack after surrendering a 22-point second half comeback, while the Loyola Chicago Ramblers topped the Volunteers, on their second game winner of the tournament.

This sets up an extremely interesting matchup between the Ramblers and the Wolf Pack, but in the end it won’t really matter. The winner will most likely have to play Kentucky and neither team can match the size or talent of the Wildcats. In the end, Kentucky will come out of the South, but their lack of experience, will prevent them from going any further in the tournament.

Updated Prediction: Elite 8: Kentucky Wildcats vs Nevada Wolf Pack,  Final Four: Kentucky Wildcats vs Michigan Wolverines. Michigan wins, Wolverines go to National Title Game