NCAA Tournament preview and predictions

In a year in which the top ranked team has lost seven times for the first time in NCAA history, this year’s championship is truly up for grabs.


NCAA Logo courtesy of Wikimedia

With a field of 64 teams making up the biggest national stage in the collegiate basketball year, March Madness is officially in season.

After the passing of Selection Sunday as the first symptom of March Madness, office pools, locker rooms and even the oval office suddenly become focused on one thing: The Tournament Bracket.

The University of Virginia, University of Kansas, University of Oregon and the University of North Carolina have all been selected as the No. 1 seed in each of their respective regions. Many in the media are speculating as to whether Virginia or Oregon deserved their seed in favor of teams such as Michigan State or Oklahoma.

As many players in the NBA would tell you, the tournament is the place to build your name and improve your draft stock.

With that in mind, this year’s five-must-watch players are Oklahoma senior guard Buddy Hield — the second leading scorer in all of college basketball — North Carolina senior forward Brice Johnson, Kentucky’s 5-foot-9 explosive sophomore guard Tyler Ulis and of course, Michigan State senior guard Denzel Valentine — who is nearly averaging a triple double with 19.4 points, 7.6 assists and 7.6 rebounds per game.

Here are some predictions for the tournament that might help your chances of looking like a sports genius for the next four weeks:

Biggest First Round Upset:

No. 13 Hawaii over No. 4 California

Much of the consensus in the sports media landscape is that the future is bright for the players on the University of California Golden Bears team.

Several analysts consider freshman small forward Jaylen Brown a lottery pick in the upcoming draft. Brown was part of the U.S. U18 National Team that won gold in the FIBA Americas U18 in 2014.

Yet with all that being said, I believe if the University of Hawaii catches fire from three-point range, something the Big West Champions are fully capable of, they will upset the Golden Bears.

Final Four Predictions:


The Kansas Jayhawks came into the tournament as the No. 1 overall ranked team and the favorite to cut the net in April.

Led by senior forward Perry Ellis, Kansas is an experienced team with four upperclassmen in its starting five. Head coach Bill Self and his squad have also been battle proven this year as the champion of a loaded Big 12 conference.

Kansas has impressive regular seasons wins against several tournament teams including once against No. 20 Kentucky, twice against No. 9 West Virginia University, three times against No. 19 Baylor University and twice against No. 3 Oklahoma University.

As the consensus favorite to not only to make the Final Four but possibly the whole thing, even according to President Barack Obama, Kansas’ biggest threat in the south region of the tournament is themselves.


That’s right, I believe the favored No. 1 seed UNC Tar Heels will lose in the sweet sixteen.

Although some of this could be attributed to what many are calling a mis-seeding of Kentucky in a loaded east region by the committee, Kentucky is looking to take part in its fifth Final Four appearance in six years under head coach John Calipari.

Led by the SEC Player of the Year sophomore point guard Tyler Ulis, who averaged 17.2 points and 7.2 assists to only 1.9 turnovers per contest this season, the reigning SEC Champions have proven they have enough grit to win in arguably the toughest region in the tournament, with wins over teams like Texas A&M, Louisville and Duke this season.

However, as I previously stated, the road won’t be easy for Kentucky, besides the obvious challenge of UNC, Kentucky will have to beat teams such as Indiana, the often overlooked Stony Brook and the winner of West Virginia versus Xavier.


With many in the media proclaiming the west region to be a toss-up between Texas A&M, Oregon and Oklahoma, I am of the mindset that the best star players ultimately have the biggest impact in the tournament — see Carmelo Anthony’s champion Syracuse team circa 2003.

In looking for a star player, look no further than Sports Illustrated cover boy senior guard Buddy Hield.

Partly because of his scoring tear all year, Hield is a prime candidate for the upcoming Wooden Award. Ranked second in the nation in scoring, Hield is averaging 25 points per game and shooting an astounding 50 percent from the three point-line this year.

To put that into perspective, what Hield is doing to college basketball is comparable to what Stephen Curry is doing in the NBA, all while shooting a better percentage than Curry, who is shootitng 45.3 percent for his season.

Hield will have to maintain that elite level of play if his Sooners hope to make it into the Final Four by beating a very talented Texas A&M team as well as the winner of Duke versus Oregon in the Elite Eight.

Michigan State:

Fresh off the heals of a Big Ten Conference Championship, MSU comes into their matchup against Middle Tennessee as the winners of nine straight.

The new betting favorite, according to the Westgate Superbook and William Hill’s Nevada Sportsbook, is Tom Izzo’s Michigan State Spartans. They are led by senior guard Denzel Valentine, who’s nearly averaging 19 points, eight rebounds and eight assists a night. Denzel is a threat to drop a triple double on any given night with two triple doubles already registered this season.

As the No. 2 seed in the Midwest Region, Michigan State will have to beat solid teams in Dayton and Utah in its lead up to Elite Eight matchup against the No. 1 seeded Virginia Cavaliers.

Michigan State and Virginia have met in the last two NCAA tournaments with the Spartans winning in both of their first meetings in the Sweet Sixteen in 2014, 61-59, as well as the following year when they eliminated Virginia in the third round 60-54 in 2015.

With Michigan State winning 29 games this year, the most wins by any midwest region team in this tournament, it’s my pick to move on to the Final Four.

National Championship Prediction:

Kansas vs. Michigan State

Winner: Michigan State

In the final match of the collegiate basketball year, future hall of fame coaches Tom Izzo and Bill Self will meet as both look for their second NCAA Title as head coach.

In their potential finals preview match early in this year’s regular season on Nov. 18, Michigan State beat Kansas at home 79-73 in a highly contested battle that saw Valentine put up historic numbers, scoring 29 points, grabbing 12 rebounds and dishing out 12 assists. He joined Earvin “Magic” Johnson, Draymond Green and Charlie Bell as the only players in MSU history to rack up a triple double.

In a season that saw them get their start by beating our Florida Atlantic Owls 82-55, I am picking the Michigan State Spartans to be the last team remaining when the nets are cut. At least we’ll get to say our loss was against the National Champions.

My Bracket:

ESPN Tourn-2700

Christopher Libreros is a contributing writer with the University Press. To contact him regarding this or other stories, he can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter.