March Madness NCAA
Over the next three weekends, college basketball will surely dominate the TV ratings in the United States. The NCAA Division I tournament, also known as March Madness, is a can’t-miss appointment for any sports fan. The mayhem reaches its highest exposure during the first weekend, when basketball junkies can literally watch up to four games simultaneously from early in the morning till late at night. The single elimination format fosters the possibility of unimaginable upsets and Cinderella runs. The national championship game is set to take place on April 3rd in Glendale, Arizona.
The 45th President of the United States may have declined ESPN’s offer to fill out his bracket on television like his predecessor used to do, but don’t worry, here at VT Sports we decided to take over!
Picks by Pablo Mosquera (Gonzaga University, Class of 2014):
East: All the pundits are speculating how the potential Elite 8 matchup between the defending champions Villanova and the preseason #1 squad Duke will turn out. Notwithstanding, I don’t think we are going to witness such duel. The dark horses are the SMU Mustangs who, under first-year coach Tim Jankovich, have only dropped a game since the start of December, a measly two-point away loss against a pesky Cincinnati side. According to advanced stats guru Ken Pomeroy, SMU are the 11th best team in the nation, hence they have plenty of upside to knock anybody out on any given day.
West: This is the year. My Gonzaga Bulldogs will leave their demons behind and finally reach a Final Four. After two easy games (on paper) to kick off the tourney, the Zags will upend the West Virginia Mountaineers in the Sweet 16. In the three precedents between these two sides since 2012, Bob Huggins has not been able to decipher Mark Few’s playbook. In the lower half of the region, Sean Miller and his red-hot Arizona Wildcats will fall short once again. This time around, the PAC-12 champs will be ousted by the Maryland Terrapins. I expect Melo Trimble to rediscover his freshman mojo, albeit that will not be sufficient versus Gonzaga.
Midwest: Do not let the recent mishap against TCU in the BIG-12 tournament fool you: Kansas is a helluva team. The Jayhawks played that night sans star freshman Josh Jackson, who was internally suspended for failing to report a car accident. Bill Self kids will not be rattled by Michigan State or by the Iowa State-Purdue winner. They will face their first real challenge in the Elite 8 against Oregon, who have placed tons of faith in basketball after a dismal football campaign. Led by Dillon Brooks, the Ducks will sneak among the eight top squads, but Chris Boucher’s absence after suffering a torn ACL will be a burden too heavy to overcome against Kansas.
Sur: While I foresee North Carolina to cruise through their first three contests, whoever wants to meet the Tar Heels in the Elite 8 will have to survive a rough path on the way there. My pick to reach the Final Four here are the Kentucky Wildcats. John Calipari’s teams tend to be ultracompetitive come March and are poised to make a deep run. Freshman guard Malik Monk will pace Big Blue Nation with over 25 points per game. On the contrary, UCLA’s Lonzo Ball will not play well in the tournament, thus having his NBA draft stock stumble. By the way, his dad, LaVar Ball has indisputably clinched the “Clown of the Year” award with his ridiculous comments boasting that he would demolish Michael Jordan in his prime.
Final Four: The Gonzaga Bulldogs will cut the nets in Glendale and bring the trophy back to Spokane. As guard Nigel Williams-Goss claims in his The Players Tribune piece, there’s a special buzz in the locker room. The Zags (32-1) are the most efficient team in the country per KenPom. With a balanced offense in which five players average double digits in scoring, they will hustle their way past SMU and Kentucky. This crew will culminate a journey initiated long ago by transcendent figures such as John Stockton or Adam Morrison.
Picks by Marco Verdasco (University of Oregon, 2006-10)
West Coast squads will dominate the competition, given that three teams on the Pacific Time zone will make it to the Final Four. Oregon will defeat UCLA in a slugfest. These two sides split their PAC-12 meetings, with the largest margin of victory being only three points. The mighty Duke Blue Devils will be the last hurdle standing in the way of a historic title. The reigning ACC tourney champions will break up Gonzaga’s deep run for the second time in three years.
In the title game, Dana Altman’s players will build a sizable lead right after halftime. In spite of a stout effort by Mike Krzyzewski’s men, the Ducks won’t squander their advantage. This title will mitigate the frustrating season endured in the fall by the football team, usually Oregon’s flagship program.