By Hocine Loukkaf on 3/16/2021
With the college tournament coming this week, let’s take a look at our top ten teams to win it all in the NCAA Tournament.
West Region, main opponent : Iowa
With solid wins against Kansas, Auburn, West Virginia and Iowa (too bad the Baylor game was canceled), Gonzaga had an easier time beating his conference counterparts in the weak WCC. The roster is loaded with some of the top guards in the country included top 5 projected pick Jalen Suggs (14.3pts 4.5as) and Joel Ayayi (11.8pts 7rbds), elite sniper Corey Kispert (19.2pts 44% 3pts) and big man Drew Timme (18.7pts 7.1rbds). The paint could be the weak link with only one big man, Watson, playing more than 10min as the Bulldogs may have to play Iowa and his dominant center Luka Garza.
South Region, main opponents : Ohio State, Arkansas
A bit like Gonzaga, Baylor relies on an incredible trio of guards made of Jared Butler (17.1pts 5as 44% 3pt), Davion Mitchell (13.8pts 5.7as 47% 3pt) and Macio Teague (15.8pts 40% 3pt). During their only loss against Kansas, they were dominated mainly inside as they were outrebounded 48-28 and could not stop either Wilson (14rbds) and McCormack (20pts). During this game, the guard-trio also shot a poor 14/44 from the floor. Same happened against OK State with a poor 6/28 from three from Baylor and the Cowboys blocking 8 shots including 6blks for Boone. If both conditions (guards failing and opposing big men dominating) are reunited, then you have a chance to beat the Bears.
Midwest Region, main opponents : Oklahoma State, West Virginia
With recent wins against top 10 ranked Ohio State (twice), Iowa and Michigan, Illinois is in the best situation to enter the tournament. We already knew about the one-two punch made of Cockburn (17.6pts 9.6rbds 1.2bl) and Dosunmu (20.7pts 6.3rbds 5.3as) but as the later got injured against MSU, the Fighting Illini may have found a new elite scorer with Curbelo, who has averaged 13.8pts 6.1rbds and 3.5as over the last eight games, and still performed in the Big 10 title game (16pts 6rbds 5as) as Dosunmu was struggling (16pts but 5/17 FG). Illinois will need and his players to be good if they have to play Oklahoma State and potential first pick Cade Cunnigham.
Oklahoma State (20-8)
Midwest region, main opponents : Illinois, West Virginia
Wins against WVU (twice) and Baylor in the Big 12 tournament have propelled the Cowboys to another level. Cade Cunningham has displayed his talent with at least 15pts over the last fourteen games including 29pts on 5/12 from three in the Big 12 Final against Texas. The less heralded Kalib Boone has also been very important for Oklahoma State as he combined 22rbds and above all 14blks in the three tournament games. With Illinois as the top team in its region, everything is possible for the Cowboys in the tournament.
East Region, main opponents : Michigan, Alabama
Why putting Texas behind OK State despite the fact that the Longhorns beat the Cowboys in the Big 12 Final? That’s pretty simple, while OK State was busy beating WVU and Baylor, Texas had an easier task dealing with Texas Tech and had one more day to rest as Kansas couldn’t compete. Yet, the Longhorns have the tools to go far and are one of the most complete teams. Coleman has been solid with 19 and 30pts while shooting 6/11 from three in the Big 12 Tournament while Big men Jones and Sims have combined 20pts against Texas Tech before torching OK State with 34pts. If first round prospect Greg Brown could use the tournament to wake up (2pts 4rbds 12tos over the last three games), Texas will be a serious challenger for the title as their region’s #1 seed, Michiagn, may have to play without Livers.
East Region, main opponents : Texas, Alabama
One of the most balanced teams in the country, Michigan can count on his frontcourt with Hunter Dickinson (14.3pts 7.7rbds 1.3bl) Isaiah Livers (13.7pts 6.1rbds) and Frantz Wagner (12.9pts 6.3rbds leadig all scorers. Unfortunately, they’re the same who disappointed against MSU (combined 11/31 FG) and above all against Illinois (4/24 FG) and as if it wasn’t enough, Livers’ availability is in the air as he’s dealing with a stress fracture on his foot and Mike Smith’s awful game against Ohio State (1/11 FG) cost them the opportunity to play Illinois in the Big 10 Final.
East region, main opponents : Texas, Michigan
While senior Herbert Jones has been the boss in Tuscaloosa (14pts 10.3rbds 5.7as per game in the SEC tournament), newcomer Jahvon Quinerly has been the regulator as he has scored at least 10pts over the last 12 games while he had only two games under 40% 3pt during that stretch. He has been even better in the last two games with averages of 16.5pts 4rbds 3as and only 1to. The Crimson tide will need to play its best game as both Texas and Michigan have been poured in their region.
West Virginia (18-9)
South Region, main opponents : Baylor, Ohio State
Are we really gonna blame WVU for losing against Bylor and twice against Oklahoma State, one of the hottest teams in the country, each game within five? The Mountaineers are playing tough as always under coach Huggins and despite the departure of Tshiebwe, McBride (15.4pts 4.7as) and Culver (14.6pts 9.8rbds) have maintained WVU in the top 15. Yet, both of them will need to play their best game as they may have to face Baylor once again (19pts 8as but 5/14 FG for McBride and only 9pts 9rbds on 0/3 FG for Culver). Senior Taz Sherman might be the X factor but his inconsistency (six games with 18pts or more, the four others under 25% FG over the last ten games) could be a danger for the Mountaineers.
Ohio State (21-9)
South Region, main opponents : Baylor, Arkansas
After a streak of four losses, albeit against three top 10 ranked teams, Ohio State has bounced back well in the Big 10 Tournament as the Buckeyes almost win it all, taking Illinois to overtime to lose 91-88. Duane Washington Jr (25.3pts and a combined 14/31 from three over the last three games) and EJ Lidell (15.7pts 5.6rbds 4as over the last three games) are the main weapons for Ohio State but Lidell will have to improve his FG% (14/43 over the last three games) to hope more than one or two wins.
West Region, main opponent : Gonzaga
Everything revolves around center Luka Garza (23.7pts 8.8rbds 1.7blk). If he’s matched up against another solid centers, he can struggle like he did against Cockurn and Illinois (21pts but 8/21 FG) or Dickinson and Michigan (22pt-loss and 6/19 FG). Moreover, with Nunge’s season over due to injury, the Hawyeyes lack rotation inside. Coincidentally, Iowa already played the #1 seed in its region, Gonzaga, and despite a respectable 99-88 loss, things were pretty tough for Iowa as, despite Garza’s individual performance with 30pts and 10rbds, guards Fredrick, McCaffery and senior Bohannon combined a poor 4/17 FG including 1/8 for senior Bohannon. If they somehow get to play Gonzaga, the guards will need to be hot from outside to have a chance to beat the #1 team in the country.