John Peterson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
After an exciting week of conference tournaments, the bracket has been announced and March Madness is underway. Here are the major headlines, some sleepers to watch out for, exciting games to watch and some favorites to make it to Phoenix.
Northwestern has earned their first ever NCAA tournament bid. First ever. It’s amazing to think that it would take this long for a school in a major conference. It’s time to celebrate in Evanston.
The Wildcats are a solid team and there is no better time to believe in a team like them than in March. It’s possible they can shock a few people by beating no. 1 seed Gonzaga and advance to the Sweet Sixteen. Gonzaga has had an easy schedule and Northwestern is battle tested with the possibility of having destiny on their side.
Making the tournament is an accomplishment in and of itself for the Wildcats, but don’t be surprised if they make a run. Their tough loss against Wisconsin will have them focused for their game on Thursday against Vanderbilt.
The South Region
The South region hosts North Carolina, Kentucky and UCLA. In short, incredible. No history of college basketball is complete without mentioning UNC, Kentucky and UCLA. They are the most recognizable schools in college basketball and are one, two and three respectively in Final Four appearances (53 combined).
Butler is also the four seed in the region and should not be overlooked. As of recently, they have been very successful in March with two championship appearances in 2010 and 2011. They are always a fan favorite and an upset pick for many in their bracket pools.
This region might be one of the best in NCAA tournament history. The top three teams in this region are always in the conversation to win it all, but this year it will only be possible for one of them to make it to the Final Four. However, if Butler can recapture their magic, it could even be zero.
Kentucky’s Malik Monk scores 47 points against UNC earlier in the year in Las Vegas (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
This region also has the potential to provide incredible games down the stretch:
UNC vs. Kentucky
UNC vs. UCLA
UCLA vs. Kentucky
Butler vs. UNC
This bracket also hosts the Wichita State Shockers and the Dayton Flyers, who are both known for making noise in March. This is easily the best bracket of all time. It hosts the traditional heavyweights of college basketball with some of the greatest cinderella teams of recent years.
Mentioned above, this is the Wildcats’ first appearance in March. They have found the magic this season, including their full court pass and lay-up to win against Michigan. It’s not out of the realm of possibility for NU to have more in store.
People tend to underestimate the first four teams. However, they can be very dangerous.
A win in the first four provides added momentum and a boost of confidence that can be carried into the second round matchup.
Look for Wake Forest to win against Kansas State and then put up a fight Friday against Cincinnati.
Despite making it to the ACC tournament final, Notre Dame was only given a five seed in the tournament. The combination of being underestimated and being placed in an easier bracket gives Notre Dame a perfect chance to make a surprising run to the Elite Eight.
The Fighting Irish finished second during the ACC regular season (12-6) and were the runners-up in the ACC tournament. The ACC is easily the best conference in basketball, yet Notre Dame was not rewarded.
However, Notre Dame’s region has the weakest top seeds in the tournament. West Virginia is the four seed and Gonzaga is the one seed. The two teams the Fighting Irish would most likely need to beat to advance to the Elite Eight, which is not out of the question.
The Seminoles are also in the same weak region as Notre Dame. They are ACC tested and could look to make a run, possibly to the Final Four.
Arizona will be very tough to beat, and in all honesty should have been a no.1 seed. They won the Pac-12 tournament and had a share of the regular season title. The difference between the no. 1 seed and the no. 2 seed in this region is minimal, but Arizona is much more deserving than Gonzaga.
Middle Tennessee celebrating after beating no. 2 seed Michigan State last year (Darnell Harris/Getty)
Just a year removed from upsetting Michigan State as a 15 seed, Middle Tennessee should be a popular pick to do the same this year. They face no. 5 Minnesota, who did not boast many impressive wins out-of-conference and have not historically been good in March.
The Gophers have three players who average over 14 points a game and have the potential to create a lot of trouble for Minnesota (JaCorey Williams 17.3 ppg, Giddy Potts 15.8 ppg and Reggie Upshaw 14.5 ppg) and many teams going forward.
According to Five Thirty Eight, Middle Tennessee has a 48% chance of beating Minnesota. Therefore, look for them to pull off the upset against Minnesota.
Xavier also has a three-headed monster with three players averaging more than 14 points per game. They are led by Junior guard Trevon Bluiett who is scoring over 18 points per game and is averaging close to six assists per game as well.
The Musketeers lost six straight games during February and March and did not have the most impressive regular season. However, they have a strong tournament history, and seem to be playing better basketball, for instance with their win over Butler, which was their first win against a ranked opponent this season en route to the conference semi-final.
They are not a sexy pick, but have a good shot at upsetting Maryland this Thursday (49% chance according to Five Thirty Eight).
Ryan’s Final Four Picks
Ryan is currently a student at the University of North Carolina. He grew up in the Bay Area and has had Raiders season tickets his entire life fostering his love for the NFL. He has founded his own sports website, thejrreport.com and works at the Sports Desk for the Daily Tar Heel. You can follow Ryan on twitter @rytime98 if you want to discuss anything sports.