East Region: Bracket Advice 101
I get flooded with texts this time every year: what should we do with our bracket? Who are the right upsets to pick? What inside information can you give us that would help?
While it's flattering, I'll be the first guy to tell you that my bracket is no better than anyone else's. The NCAA Tournament is just as frustrating for those of us who use KenPom religiously, study and understand the film/ players and let that perspective get to our heads. In reality, your guesses are as good as mine.
But what I can do is save myself (and you) some time by typing up all the advice I'd give and putting it in one place. We'll do a quick region-by-region breakdown with some information on each team, just to see what the tournament might be like. We start with the East region, where #1 seed Michigan is potentially without one of their senior leaders and the field is wide open behind them.
Michigan: Pro-Style offense in terms of its endings; they shoot a lot of 3s, are really good at making extra passes and have a ton of experience on the wings/ backcourt. Where they are young is up front. Hunter Dickinson is a force down low, but can get himself into foul trouble, and when he does, the Wolverines are somewhat thin. They're an elite defensive team, though they need him protecting the rim to be at their best.
I'd be curious to see how they would guard the hypercharged LSU offense, who has a versatile frontcourt. Get past a difficult 8-9 matchup and they've got a stingy defensive team in Florida State who is a real threat because they can match the Wolverines with size and length on the wing. Potential Elite Eight matchups with Texas and Alabama are in their favor a bit...
It all depends on how they replace Isaiah Livers, the smooth-shooting wing who is likely out for the whole tournament. That was a tough blow, so seeing them beat two tough matchups and then a third great team in the Elite Eight is a longshot. If there's a vulnerable #1 seed, it's likely them.
Pace pace pace.
Nate Oats' offense is hypercharged; it's a little reliant on isolation and dribble penetration to start, but they aren't gun-shy about getting up treys and doing so quickly. With experienced wings in John Petty and Herb Jones, they're built for a deep run.
Two areas that are worrisome for the Crimson Tide: they can struggle with teams who slow them down -- they're 1-5 when held under 70 points. When you live by the three, you can die by the three, and one cold night or an impressive defensive performance could leave them without answers.
The second area: guarding big men. A really good big man presence on the blocks could be the team's Kryptonite. They have an impressive defense statistically, but haven't seen an elite back-to-the-basket big.
Lucky for them, this region doesn't have any. But Texas is a tough matchup for them in the Sweet Sixteen potentially, thanks to the Longhorns' size.
Speaking of Texas, this is my dark horse Final Four team. They have all the makings of a contender: experienced guard play (Coleman, Jones and Ramey, the team's three leading scorers, are all juniors or seniors). They have three "bigs" who are sensational: the classic rim protector/ finisher in Jericho Sims, the athletic stretch-big in Kai Jones and the hyperathletic wild card in Greg Brown. With that much talent, surrounded by key role players in Jase Febres and Brock Cunningham, it's a team built to win in March.
Texas forces the fourth-highest percentage of shots in the mid-range in all the NCAA. They win games based on math and have experience either out-toughing their opponent or speeding them up through a ballscreen-heavy attack. The offensive versatility combined with forcing teams to take the shots Texas wants is vital to beating most teams.
That said, the road isn't easy. Abilene Christian is a trendy Cinderella in my eyes; they're an elite defense, play really hard and take a ton of threes. It's a trap game if I've ever seen one. In the next round, all of BYU, Michigan State and UCLA are different teams to prepare for, and I always say that 11-seeds who were in the play-in round are dangerous since they build up confidence and momentum by the time they meet a 3-seed.
Beyond that, I like Texas against Alabama due to the 3-point metric imposition. Texas is built to slow that attack and has far too much size for the Tide to deal with inside. Florida State and Michigan provide different challenges, though both would be great games. If the Longhorns can clear the first two rounds, they're in good shape to get through the second weekend.
4. Florida State
Leonard Hamilton has found a recipe for success in Tallahassee: recruit athletes and length, construct an elite defense, play 10-12 guys a night so everyone buys in and overwhelm teams with pressure to utilize that depth correctly.
It's a great strategy, but when the lights are on in March, I have a tough time trusting a group who is built more on its depth than its star power. This FSU team might be different, with reliable, legitimate options like Scottie Barnes, MJ Walker and RaiQuan Gray. Gray and Barnes, in particular, are nightmare matchups because they are so damn physical on the wings.
What makes this FSU team different: they shoot 39% from 3, ninth-best in the nation. Quietly, the Seminoles have become more potent on offense than on D, thanks to some stretch bigs and the relentless rim attacks of Barnes and Gray. They invert their offense to have those wings do the attacking, and it works.
In their first two matchups, I'm not sure if there's a team there built to stop them. Georgetown's aggressive ball screen defense could take them out of their rhythm a tad, but I really like their chances of getting to the Sweet Sixteen. A trendy pick to beat Michigan (thanks to the Wolverines lack of depth right now), the Seminoles could be on a collision course with Texas for a spot in the Final Four.
Florida State gets this region's Gold Certificate of Trust as the most reliable team to advance deep into the field.
The Buffaloes are here for three reasons:
I love Wright, and have said it many times on this website. The free throw shooting is evidence of a typically strong team in March. But the matchups are really, really bad.
Georgetown, who they play in the first round, is super aggressive with hard hedges on ball screens. It may be harder for Wright to turn the corner and get to his patented runner. Florida State can switch and overwhelm him with length that he didn't see in the Pac-12.
I like Tad Boyle, think this team is solid in many ways. But wow was this a brutal matchup for them. Their best shot: hang on against Georgetown and get hot from 3, draw Greensboro in the second round, and play with house money the rest of the way.
I just don't trust the Cougars. They're huge and have experience up front, but this is a team who got the benefit of kind of pushing Gonzaga to the brink once or twice in their seeding.
They're pretty good offensively because they shoot it and have Purdue transfer Matt Haarms in the middle. But they can't stop much of anyone on the other end. With a roaring Michigan State offense, a dynamic playmaker in Tyger Campbell for UCLA and the sheer talent of Texas in their path, this is one six-seed who I'm not betting on.
The Huskies are playing great lately and have a dynamic scorer in James Bouknight to keep them afloat. Maryland is a unique matchup for them; the Terps have some size and athleticism to throw at Bouknight on the wings and devote to taking him out of the game.
Many people look at UConn as a dark horse candidate. Alabama is ripe for the picking with one bad shooting game, and the Huskies have enough talent to match with power conference darlings. I'm not calling that analysis wrong, but it does likely mean someone besides Bouknight will have to step up in key moments.
One thing to watch: Huskies opponents only shoot 31% from 3 against them. Could that make them a contender to upset 2-seed Alabama?
Shocked to see them seeded this low. They were a 5 or 6 seed on my projection board.
Will Wade may be a cheater, but he assembles good talent and lets them take over. Cam Thomas is one of the nation's best scorers and can score from anywhere. Trendon Watford takes over games in stretches as a face-up 4-man who can shoot, pass, drive and is an excellent defender. Darius Days (39.7%) and Javonte Smart (42.1%) are elite floor spacers next to these two.
The Tigers have an elite top-four. They get up and down and can out-gun most of their opponents. But there isn't much beyond that. The talent makes them a trendy upset pick against Michigan, though they could just as easily falter in a difficult 8-9 matchup.
9. St. Bonaventure
A stingy defense can be found with the Bonnies. They play in an underratedly tough A-10, but didn't push themselves too much out of league. 6'3" guard Kyle Lofton has the reigns, and five Bonnies are in double-figures. There isn't much depth here, though, so don't expect them to wear down LSU in that regard. The first-round matchup is based on pace.
If they advance to meet Michigan and play with house money, look for a defensive slug fest. That style suits them much better -- if they can find an answer for Dickinson on the interior.
A very blah team, the Terps turned it on down the stretch when Mark Turgeon finally figured out what buttons to press. Aaron Wiggins is a really good college wing, Donta Scott is a tough matchup at the 4 and four Terrapins average two dimes or more a game.
They're 6-3 in their last nine, holding opponents to 38% from the field over that span. The defense could limit UConn to propel them to the next round, though I'm not sure they're built to keep up with Alabama's pace. Turgeon is a little too old-school in that regard.
11. Michigan State
The Spartans share the ball and have figured themselves out a bit. They're another Big Ten team streaking down the stretch: 5-3 in their last 8.
Michigan State does miss two key ingredients for March success. They don't shoot it great (28.9% from 3 in that same eight-game span) and don't have a lead guard to take over games. Their best player is wing Aaron Henry, who is a legit 3-and-D guy that has turned into a bit more of late. Without a top wing scorer to put him on in their region, I'm not sure if the Spartans are built to advance to the Sweet Sixteen.
A play-in game between the Spartans and Bruins is looming. It's a toss-up. I really like the talent on this UCLA team, especially in the backcourt. If the Bruins get past Sparty, they're a clear pick of mine over BYU. Their pace they can push with and how they can maneuver around screens and handoffs make them the ideal team to stop the Cougars motion offense.
Not necessarily a sleeper team, but the Bruins could be the 11-seed to get through two wins.
What a run it's been for the Hoyas through March. I've got them winning one more game against Colorado, but running out of offensive firepower to keep up with the Seminoles. Ewing's aggressive defensive tactics have finally worked, but the lack of great scorers on the perimeter can hurt a team in March.
A solid defense goes next to do-it-all point guard Isaiah Miller, the Southern Conference POY. If they get hot next to him, the Spartans could take down Florida State. But with all the athleticism and strong individual defense FSU could put on Miller to limit his output, you're betting on a Cinderella to win with other guys than their focal point.
14. Abilene Christian
I've written about Abilene Christian enough this week. Tremendous defensive group, undersized and unselfish. They run ten deep and try to blitz teams by denying one pass away. Offensively, they all shoot it and do have a seven-footer to bang with the trees. Texas isn't a pass-initiated offense, so the denials and pressure may not phase them too much. But this game will be closer than many think, and an upset for the Wildcats would not surprise me in the slightest.
Rick Pitino is back in the Big Dance, and somehow people are lauding him for it. He inherited a ready-to-win team from Tim Cluess, and, by the way, Pitino is still a massive scumbag.
Let's not let that take away from the Gaels, though. They're sensational defensively, as all Pitino teams are. If there's one 15-over-2 upset to pick, it might be this one...
16. Mt. St. Mary's/ Texas Southern
Both teams limit 3-point attempts pretty well. Interesting defensive profiles mean they could hang in longer than expected against Michigan.
The Mount doesn't have the talent to survive. They slow everything down to a deliberate pace and play in the half-court. Michigan's excellent half-court defense would be far too much for them. I'm not sure they could break 55.
âAs for Texas Southern, they'd be able to push the Wolverines a bit more. First thing first, though: get past the Mount.
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Assistant Men's Basketball Coach, Dickinson College.