Guide to the NCAA Tournament for the Casual Fan

Alt Caption Guide to the NCAA Tournament for the Casual Fan

It’s that time of year where seven hours of commercial free football is far in the rear view mirror, and we can all pick teams like Saint Peter’s to beat Kansas because it’s March and we can.

March Madness is the best time of the year, but it can be overwhelming, especially for the casual fan. I’ve done the research, and I am here to give a general perspective. Be sure to read our list of best March Madness contests and brackets.

NCAA Tournament for the Casual Fan

Here are some overview notes before I give my thoughts region by region.

  • Conferences to Buy: SEC, BIG12, BIG EAST
  • Conferences to Sell: ACC, BIG 10, PAC-12
  • There are tons of teams that  can make a huge run, or lose in that first game… be very careful with the first round 13-4, 12-5, and 11-6 matchups.
  • WILD WILD WEST REGION: From unc to arizona to baylor, i don’t believe in any of the top seeded teams in the region.
  • Expect chaos… Goal is to find the 9 seed or higher that’s gonna make the run to elite 8 or beyond.
  • History shows 1 seed will likely going to win the title. 

East Region

Top of the bracket 

  • #1 UCONN: Starting with UCONN, they have undoubtedly been the best team in the country throughout the regular season. The defending national champions are the best offensive team in the tournament, and their 7’2 center Donovan Clingan brings an element to the court other teams just don’t have. You’ll see most experts picking UCONN to go all the way, but they are lined up for a very tough sweet 16 matchup, which leads me to the Auburn Tigers.
  • #4 AUBURN: Bruce Pearl’s squad heads into the tournament as one of the hottest teams in the country. The Tigers are fresh off an SEC tournament championship, and in my eyes, are by far the best 4 seed in the tournament. The Tigers can score with the best of them, but they can kick it into a different gear defensively as they rank top 25 in defensive rating. 

Bottom of the bracket

  • #6 BYU: In their first season in the Big 12, BYU is a dangerous team flying under the radar. The five out spread offensive look puts big defenders in a tough spot and they have guys who can shoot the lights out. So many different guys can score for them, and their leading scorer comes off the bench. After all, they have played some of the toughest competition in all of college basketball throughout the year. Watch out for the Cougars because not many teams can get hot shooting the ball like them. 
  • #3 Illinois: I am not a big believer in the Fighting Illini this season. Illinois has been a solid offensive team throughout the season, but they have relied heavily on their best player Terrance Shannon. Shannon is an electric player averaging 23 points per game, but I am not a fan of the rest of the squad. Coleman Hawkins is a great offensive big who doesn’t bring as much of a defensive presence. This team reeks of upset to me. One bad offensive performance and they are gone. I think Morehead State gives them problems in game one and they don’t make it out of the first weekend with BYU matchup brewing in round two.
  • OVERALL: A sweet 16 game featuring Auburn and UCONN would be spectacular. It is extremely tough to repeat as champions, and giving Bruce Pearl a week to prepare for the Huskies could be the difference. I think Auburn has a chance to make a final four run. Iowa State is the #2 seed, and they have the championship defense to make a run, but not the firepower offensively. Watch out for a BYU-Iowa State sweet 16 matchup where the spread offense could be a lot for the Cyclones. This region is either 

Auburn or UCONN in my eyes, and it could be a really tough spot for the Huskies.

West Region

Top of the bracket

  • #1 NORTH CAROLINA: As somebody who watched way too much ACC basketball this season, I just don’t understand the UNC hype. I think the Tar heels have been vastly overrated the whole year. The big consensus surrounding the Tar Heels is their “elite” defense. They have a solid defense led by experienced big man Armando Bacot, but their offensive problems are overlooked. RJ Davis is the star, but again, I‘m not a fan of teams relying on one guy, especially somebody who takes upwards of 20 shots a game. One bad Davis game and they’re cooked. This isn’t close to a top four team in my eyes, and I smell blood in the water. Don’t let the North Carolina brand fool you, they don’t have that championship DNA of the other top teams.
  • #8 MISSISSIPPI STATE and #9 MICHIGAN STATE: Michigan State vs Mississippi State is by far the toughest first round game to pick. When these teams play their best ball, they can hang with just about anyone in the country. The problem picking this one is you don’t know which team you’re going to get on either side. Both squads have been some of the most inconsistent teams throughout the year.  The popular pick is going to be Michigan State due to Izzo’s history in March, but be careful of Mississippi state. Tolu Smith is a 6’11 nightmare for Izzo’s squad and will give them serious troubles down low. All in all, Michigan State has championship level guard play, we just don’t know what to expect inside the paint. I think a second round matchup of UNC will be way too tough for the Bulldogs, but if we see the Michigan State guards get hot, they have Final Four potential in the West. 
  • #5 St. Mary’s: The Gael’s are legit. Guard Augustas Marciulinois is the WCC player of the year, and Alex Ducas, an All-WCC forward is one of the best perimeter shooters in the country. St. Mary’s finished the year 23-2. They have size that defends well, don’t turn the ball over, and are a top rebounding team in the country. A team with all these attributes and finished the year hot is a team that can make a deep run. A first round matchup against Grand Canyon will be a popular 12-5 upset, but it feels like St. Mary’s is being overlooked. This team really does have all the tools to make a run to the final four, especially in the West region where anything can happen.
  • #4 Alabama and #13 Charleston: In my eyes, the Crimson Tide can’t make it to the second weekend. They are ranked 303 in defensive rating and average close to 12 turnovers per game which is just a recipe for disaster. Charleston as a 13 could is an interesting upset pick. Charleston averages over 10 threes a game, over 80 points a game, and is one of the better rebounding teams in the country. Alabama has tons of offensive weapons and elite guard play, but one bad shooting performance, and a team like Charleston that can make you pay on the defensive end will be dangerous.

Bottom of the bracket

  • #6 CLEMSON and #11 NEW MEXICO: THE GAME NOBODY IS TALKING ABOUT AND I DON’T KNOW WHY. This game has the potential to be the best of the first round. Starting with Clemson, nobody likes a 6 seed, but this could be a really fun tournament squad. Joseph Girard has been around forever, he doesn’t miss free throws, and is the perfect tournament point guard. PJ Hall is a scoring big that can shoot, and dominate the paint. The Tigers are great offensively and above average defensively, and I can live with that during the tournament (example: Miami last season). if they are playing their best, they can hang with the best. I don’t like the ACC but I love Clemson. Now, New Mexico, which is one of the hottest teams in the nation. Leading scorer Jaelen House is one of the best two way players in the country. This team is steaming hot, winning four straight after a heartbreaker to Utah State. they have the defense to shut you down. This game has tons of potential… Whoever wins this one is going to play upset for the rest of the tournament, and can make an elite eight run as I don’t think the bottom of this bracket brings much.
  • #3 BAYLOR: I believe in the Big 12, but not Baylor. They shoot well, but don’t defend at a high level. If shots get tough to knock down, they will get bounced. I even think #14 Colgate gives them trouble if you want to get crazy with your bracket.
  • #2 ARIZONA: I think the Wildcats got a really favorable draw and will probably get to the sweet 16. That being said, I don’t see any championship DNA in this team. They are 2-3 when being held under 80 points. The PAC 12 is weak and doesn’t play defense. It feels like the same story with Arizona every year, so be carefully picking the wildcats to make a deep run.
  • OVERALL: As mentioned above, i don’t believe in any of the 1-4 seeds in the west. This is where we see a 9+ seed make an elite eight run or beyond… its just a matter of who.

South Region

Top of the bracket

  • #1 HOUSTON: I am most certainly buying the Cougars. Athletic, size, great mix of elite defense and shooting. First year in the big 12 and they dominated. They got embarrassed by Iowa State in the Big 12 championship, but good to have that embarrassing right before the tournament starts. They are the best all around team, and I don’t think UCONN repeats. Houston my team to win it all.
  • #5 Wisconsin and #12 James Madison: Most popular 12-5 upset pick. Wisconsin was solid to end the season getting a win against Purdue. James Madison won in their only big contest of the year at Michigan State early in the year. They are in the top 50% of 3 point shooting teams in the country. 
  • #4 DUKE: not buying the blue devils. I don’t see the championship toughness. Maybe they make it to the second weekend from having some of the best raw talent, but Duke isn’t a final four team this time around.

Bottom of the bracket 

  • #3 KENTUCKY: Kentucky finds themselves in a good spot. If they can score consistently behind elite guard play of lottery picks Reed Sheppard and Rob Dillingham, they make it out the bottom of the bracket. Only issue I see with the Wildcats is size.
  • #7 FLORIDA: There’s a lot to like about UF. They played tough in a strong SEC before losing to Auburn in the championship. #2 Marquette in the second round is definitely doable. Former Big East player of the year Tyler Kolek is battling injury. Shaka Smart could be up for another shortened season.

Midwest Region

Top of the bracket

  • #1 PURDUE: Purdue has the best player in the country, 7’4 Zach Edey, and surrounding him are a bunch of 35%+ 3 point shooters… That’s pretty much all you need to know. This isn’t the same Purdue team that lost to a 16 seed last year, but they aren’t too far off. I think the Boilermakers got a nice draw which will lead them to the second weekend, but I don’t see final four in the future.
  • #5 GONZAGA and #12 MCNEESE: The 12-5 every wants to talk about. There is tons to like about both of these teams. Gonzaga is playing in its 25th consecutive tournament, and Mcneese is 30-3 after going 11-23 last year. Unbelievable. Will Wade vs Mark Few is a fantastic matchup. Mcneese shoots like crazy, but Gonzaga is gonna play their brand. Just sit back and watch a great tournament game… AND GIVE ME THE 12-5 UPSET IN MCNEESE.
  • #4 KANSAS and #13 SAMFORD: Another game with tons of potential. Kansas will be without their star Kevin McCullar. Samford could be a great upset picl. They are one of the top offensive teams in the country. Kansas has been playing slow, and if they continue to struggle offensively without McCullar, watchout for Samford with the upset.

Bottom of the bracket

  • It’s #2 Tennessee or #3 Creighton. So much to love about both teams. Tennessee has the best player in the country in Dalton Knecht, and even if you take him away, they can win games. Creighton shoots the ball well, defends, has size, and after making the elite 8 last year, I think they can go far again. 7’1 Ryan Kalkbrenner makes a huge difference. As one of only 3 BIg East Teams in the tournament, I really like the Bluejays to make a strong run to the final four.
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