Breakdown of this year’s March Madness

David Cassilo

Midwest Regional

Dancing With the Stars

No region has as much individual talent as the Midwest. The top players read like a who’s who of college basketball. 

Among those who will be sure to make headlines are Kansas’ Sherron Collins and Cole Aldrich, Maryland’s Greivis Vasquez, Georgetown’s Greg Monroe, Oklahoma State’s James Anderson and Ohio State’s Evan Turner.

All six of those players are capable of taking over a game, and whichever one of them gets the hottest in March could determine which team winds up in Indianapolis.

Best First Round Game: No. 6 Tennessee Volunteers vs. No. 11 San Diego State Aztecs

Tennessee is the only team to have beat Kansas and Kentucky, the tournament’s top two seeds, this season. Having said that, the Volunteers have been one of the most erratic teams in the country since senior forward Tyler Smith was kicked off the team in January.

What awaits them is MWC tournament champion San Diego State. The Aztecs won’t quite score at the rate Tennessee does, but their grind-it-out defense could cause trouble for a Volunteer team that can hit a cold streak. Still, the Aztecs haven’t played a team close to the caliber of Kansas or Kentucky, let alone beaten one of them.

Who to Watch: Ohio State senior forward Evan Turner

In a region full of stars, Evan Turner shines brightest. The favorite for National Player of the Year has made Ohio State a legitimate national title contender since returning from a fracture in his back.

Appropriately nicknamed “The Villain,” Turner recently crushed the hearts of Michigan and Illinois fans with his heroics in the Big Ten tournament. While the Buckeyes aren’t the deepest team, Turner can hide their weaknesses.


East Regional

Does Talent Trump Experience?

There’s no doubt that Kentucky is one of the most talented teams in the country. Led by freshman guard John Wall and freshman center DeMarcus Cousins, the Wildcats dropped just two games during the regular season.

However, Kentucky played in a relatively weak SEC where the best team it faced all season was Vanderbilt. Games with NCAA tournament veterans Cornell, Wisconsin and West Virginia could be looming for a team led primarily by underclassmen.

Best First Round Game: No. 5 Temple Owls vs. No. 12 Cornell Big Red

Temple and Cornell both have the talent to make the Elite Eight, but unfortunately for them, they must play each other to get there.

While the Owls don’t score very much — just 65.1 points per game — they are one of the best defensive teams in the country, holding opponents to just 56.1 ppg this season. On the other hand, the Big Red is the best 3-point shooting team in the nation. 

For comparison’s sake, Cornell nearly beat Kansas in Lawrence this season while the Jayhawks crushed Temple by 32 points in Philadelphia.

Who to Watch: West Virginia senior forward Da’Sean Butler

Da’Sean Butler has saved his best for March as he has hit three game-winning shots for West Virginia in its last four games. 

While the Mountaineers have one of the easier paths to the Elite Eight, Butler will need to remain on the top of his game as he is the team’s best-scoring threat. He already has a Big East title under his belt, and it’s not crazy to think he could add an NCAA title, as well.


West Regional

Is Syracuse’s Big Man A-O.K.?

Syracuse received a much easier draw than Kentucky and Kansas and should be considered one of the better bets for the Final Four. The one thing holding them back is an injury to the Orange’s senior Arinze Onuaku. In the Big East quarterfinals against Georgetown, Onuaku needed help getting off the court after injuring his quad.

There is a good chance that he will miss at least the first two rounds and might not be 100 percent for the entire tournament. Syracuse only goes seven players deep and without a healthy Onuaku, who averages 10.5 ppg and 5.1 rpg, the Orange would be vulnerable to an upset in any round except the first.

Best First Round Game: No. 4 Vanderbilt Commodores vs. No. 13 Murray State Racers

The Racers ran away with the Ohio Valley Conference and are one of just three teams in this year’s field with 30 wins to their name. The key to their success has been balance on offense as six players average between nine and 11 ppg.

Vanderbilt is a popular pick to be upset in the first round, but this isn’t the same type of Commodore team that was upset by Siena two seasons ago. The Commodores have a strong balance between junior center A.J. Ogilvy and a deep backcourt that should help neutralize the Racers.

Who to Watch: BYU junior guard Jimmer Fredette

While this region features Big East Player of the Year Wes Johnson, its most electric player is Jimmer Fredette.  The junior guard gained national attention when he scored 49 points against Arizona earlier in the season. Overall, Fredette has two 40-point games and five 30-point games this season.

If there is anyone capable of carrying a team to the Elite Eight like Stephen Curry did for Davidson two years ago, it’s Fredette.


South Regional

Land of the Upset?

Duke might have gotten the best draw of any one-seed, but that doesn’t mean that the Blue Devils will walk to the Final Four. The South region is full of potential Cinderellas. Lousville, Utah State, Siena, Old Dominion, Richmond and St. Mary’s could also survive the first weekend.

Meanwhile, Baylor and Texas A&M might make surprise trips to the Final Four thanks to playing the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight in their own state.

The sleeping giant of it all is Villanova, the highest seeded team from last year’s Final Four.

Best First Round Game: No. 7 Richmond Spiders vs. No. 10 St. Mary’s Gaels

It will be a contrast of strengths when the Spiders and Gaels face-off in Providence. Richmond is led by its guard play and the best of those is lightning-quick junior guard Kevin Anderson, the Atlantic-10 Player of the Year.

For St. Mary’s, it starts on the inside with senior center Omar Samhan. He is the only player in the tournament, and one of only two in the country, to average at least 20 points and 10 rebounds per game.

Who to Watch: A trio of Baylor Bears 

It could be a coming out party for Baylor in March. The Bears have three of the most talented and unknown players in the country.

Their leading-scorer is junior guard LaceDarius Dunn, who averages 19.6 ppg this season. Feeding him the ball is senior guard Tweety Carter. Averaging 6.1 assists per game, Carter led the Big 12 and was sixth in the country.

Down on the blocks is junior center Ekpe Udoh. The projected NBA first-round pick finished first in the Big 12 in blocks per game (3.9) and third in rpg (9.8).