Roundtable Discussion is a new feature of the site. This segment will focus on a series of sports issues, involving the NBA, MLB, NFL, NHL, collegiate athletics and much more. In the third episode, staff writers Steven Abramo, Sam Hengeli and Jerome Williams discuss this year’s NCAA Tournament. For future reference, this segment will appear once every three weeks.
Steven Abramo: Alright guys, one the best sporting events is here – the NCAA Tournament. After taking a strong look at this year’s bracket, what stands out to each of you the most? To me, it’s the fact that the selection committee valued a team’s respective wins more so than their overall body of work. Case in point, Michigan State finished the Big Ten Tournament 29-4 but was handed a #3 seed in the Midwest because of the low number of Quadrant 1 wins they accumulated. On the opposite end, a team such as Oklahoma, who obviously enjoys the thrills of Trae Young, made the field despite going 18-13 and losing every game away from home during the 2018 calendar year. The system that the committee implemented this year just isn’t fair, especially to teams who have to deal with under-seeded teams in their respective region.
Jerome Williams: I’ll preface this by saying that my perspective is limited because there were a bunch of teams who could have gotten in that I haven’t seen play. So sticking with what I know or saw for myself, the omission of Oklahoma State and the addition of Oklahoma is a real shame.
It’s true that these teams finished tied in the conference with 8-10 records, but OSU hit the 20-win mark. They also beat Florida State, West Virginia (on the road), Texas Tech, Kansas (twice) and Oklahoma twice with the latest win coming in the Big 12 Tournament. Since beating Kansas way back in January, Oklahoma lost nine of 12 and only had one win against a quality team (Kansas State). Most of the 12 losses were close, with the only exceptions being blowout losses to Kansas and Baylor on the road, but a loss is a loss.
The simple fact is that the Sooners aren’t playing great ball; they didn’t have 20 wins and finished under .500 in conference play. While I’m not super sold on Oklahoma State as a lock for the tournament (especially considering a team like St. Mary didn’t get in), they’re definitely more deserving than Oklahoma.
Sam Hengeli: What stands out to me is the No. 1 overall seed’s (Virginia Cavaliers) brutal path to the Final Four. Virginia could play an outstanding offensive team in Creighton or one of the most efficient offenses in the nation in Kansas State just in the second round. If the Cavaliers get through that, they will likely face an Arizona team in the Sweet 16 that possesses the best player in the nation in DeAndre Ayton. Also, the seeding this year is complexing. There’s no way Arizona is a #4 seed, Michigan State is a #3 seed, nor Oklahoma, who shouldn’t be here, at the very least in the play-in game. This year we may not seed a one seed in the Final Four, just like in 2011.
Steven Abramo: Switching gears a little bit, I’m sure all of you filled out a bracket, or two, or maybe even three. With that said, is there a particular player or team that you thought of while filling the bracket that gives you confidence that they can take over and push their team deep in the tournament? Also, if you remember, the last four Final Fours have witnessed at least one team seeded #7 or lower make it. Does a similar pattern occur for the fifth straight year?
Jerome Williams: The cream usually rises to the top, but predicting what happens early in the tourney is fools gold. There is much more balance in college basketball than what we realize. Without fail, a team that no one has watched all year shows up and shows out and everybody wonders, “how the heck did that happen?” But how many people who live outside of a particular network, area code or whatever have seen Buffalo or Loyola Chicago play this year? Unless you’re a fan of those teams, you probably haven’t seen these teams play.
Well, guess what, they’re all good teams! I happened to catch a Loyola Chicago game at a sports bar, and they do possess a reliable offense, along with a great defense; two reasons why they won 28 games. I haven’t seen Buffalo play, but after looking at their schedule, I noticed that five of their eight losses have come against tournament teams (all close games).
Another thing I noticed was that they can score (84.8 pts/game). So if a team like this gets hot, they can definitely give a team who has trouble guarding, like Arizona, trouble. I was at lunch on Saturday, and some guy was going on and on about the South Dakota State Jackrabbits. Who are the Jackrabbits you ask? Well, the Jackrabbits have been to the Big Dance five of the last eight years, so they’ve been consistently good.
SDSU has a power forward in Mike Daum, averaging 24 pts and 10 rebounds per game, so they’ve got at least one good player, As a team, they’re dropping 85 pts a night. But this is the beauty of the tournament; anything can happen. But enough with the Cinderellas, the team that I think can do the most damage and is a bit underrated is Michigan.
The Wolverines can flat out stroke the three-ball which has been a staple of all John Beilein’s Michigan teams. However, the most significant difference between this year’s squad and say the one that lost in the 2013 National Title game, is defense. In fact, this is the best defensive team that Beilein has coached at Michigan, averaging just 0.943 PPP (18th-best in NCAA). They’re also super hot right now, winners of nine consecutive. If there is any cause for concern (besides overall team free-throw shooting), it’s that the long layoff from the Big Ten Tournament may have slowed their momentum.
Sam Hengeli: I really feel confident in Arizona right now. Even though the whole FBI scandal will probably not go away, they have a massive chip on their shoulder, especially from DeAndre Ayton. Ayton has used the allegations as fuel, playing like a projected first round pick. The region that Arizona is in is soft enough to reach the Final Four with Virginia losing Deandre Hunter for the year.
To me, I don’t think we will see a team seeded seventh or lower make it this year. However, I do think #6 seed Houston is capable of reaching San Antonio. This team can defend, and Rob Gray has the potential to be the best player in the NCAA tournament.
Steven Abramo: Parity has ruled college basketball this year, as no team stands out above the rest. Everyone offers a flaw or two that could hurt them in the tournament. When looking at all the #1 seeds – Virginia, Xavier, Kansas, and Villanova – which one do you feel are the most susceptible to losing early? Even though I do have all #1 seeds making it through the first weekend, if I’d have to pick one it would most likely be Virginia. As elite as they are on defensive, their low number of offensive possessions per game could backfire if their shots aren’t falling. Plus, DeAndre Hunter’s recent season-ending injury doesn’t bolster their chances.
Jerome Williams: I expect all four #1 seeds to make it to the Sweet 16, but for the purpose of the what if, I’m going to go with Kansas. Although the Jayhawks shouldn’t have any problems with Penn, a matchup with either Seton Hall or NC State in the next round could provide issues. Both of those teams can score, and each of them has something that Kansas lacks right now: a big who can dominate on both ends of the floor.
Seton Hall’s 6’10” Angel Delgado (13.3 points and 11.6 rebounds per game) and NC State’s 7’0″ Omar Yurtseven (13.8 and seven per game) will both be a problem for Kansas’ interior defense. After watching the Big 12 Championship game live, I witnessed Kansas’ starting center, Mitch Lightfoot, get completely manhandled by West Virginia’s Sagaba Konate. I like Lightfoot, and he’s a solid player, but he’s playing out of position. He’s 6’8” at best and probably smaller than his listed weight (210 lbs).
Freshman Silvio De Sousa saved the day against West Virginia by playing strong down-low, finishing with 16 pts (8-8 from the field), 10 rebounds and a couple thunderous dunks/blocks. De Sousa had the size to match up with West Virginia’s bigs, but the Mountaineers don’t offer players such Delgado or Yurtseven in the post.
If Udoka Azubuike can’t play or is severely limited with his knee injury, Kansas will more than likely need that type of performance from De Sousa again, against a more talented frontcourt than what he faced last week.
Sam Hengeli: I would stay Virginia and Kansas are both teams that can fall in the first weekend. Virginia isn’t an offensive threat compared to the rest of the #1 seeds, plus losing Deandre Hunter is a killer for Virginia.
I choose Kansas as another #1 seed to potentially fall because Udoka Azubuike is likely to be at best 85-90 percent for the first weekend of the tournament. The Jayhawks live and die by the three-ball (nearly 38 percent of their points come from the perimeter), and have been very inconsistent for most of the season on defense. Kansas will need Devonte’ Graham to play well to avoid going home early.
Steven Abramo: We can’t end this thread without each of us revealing our Final Four and national championship pick. In my opinion, DeAndre Ayton is the tournament most polarizing player, and that’s a huge reason why Sean Miller finally reaches the Final Four. As for the other three regions, I have Xavier to win a soft West region, Villanova to win the East, and Michigan State to not only make it out of the loaded Midwest but to win the tournament.
Jerome Williams: I think its really wide open this year, but I’ll go with Michigan, Michigan State, Arizona, and Villanova.
Sam Hengeli: DeAndre Ayton is the best player in this tournament and is playing with more fire than anyone in the country right now. That’s why I believe that Arizona will represent the South region in San Antonio. My West region choice is the Michigan Wolverines because they are peaking at the right time and have terrific guard play, not to mention, Moritz Wagner is playing his best ball right now. In the East region, I like Villanova because of the talent and experience they bring, plus Mikal Bridges and Jalen Brunson are a deadly duo that can win a national championship. And to cap it off, I like Michigan State to win the Midwest regional. The Spartans are very under-seeded and underlooked Tom Izzo teams seem to play with a chip on their shoulder routinely. My choice to win it would be Villanova because of the play of Brunson and Bridges.