By Brandon Eastman Posted March 14, 2012
Overall No. 1 seed Kentucky is in this region, along with the No. 2 Duke Blue Devils, No. 3 Baylor Bears, No. 4 Indiana Hoosiers, and defending National Champions UConn Huskies. Expect to see Kentucky and UConn face off in the second round, but don’t expect a close game. Kentucky won’t be challenged until the Elite Eight. Indiana will compete against them, but away from the comfort of their home court, the Hoosiers have yet to register a good win. In the bottom half of this region, I expect to see Baylor and Duke square off in the Sweet Sixteen.
Duke relies heavily on their three-point shooting, while Baylor is more of a post-oriented team. Points in the paint will get it done in the tournament and that is why I predict this region will come down to Kentucky and Baylor.
Anthony Davis, Terrence Jones, and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist are three NBA prospects for Kentucky and are enough to give any team fits. Baylor will be able to counteract them with their own trio of Perry Jones III, Quincy Acy, and Quincy Miller. This game will come down to which team will be able to get hot from the outside. Baylor’s Brady Heslip and Pierre Jackson are better outside threats than Kentucky’s Doron Lamb and Darius Miller.
Final Four pick: No. 3 Baylor Bears
This is probably the weakest region in the tournament, with only two real Final Four contenders, so we’ll skip all the shenanigans and get right to the point. No. 1 seed Michigan State and No. 2 seed Missouri will face off in the Elite Eight. Draymond Green and the inside game of Michigan State have carried the Spartans through the postseason. For a team that relies so heavily on points in the paint, one off-game could end their season. They’re also a team that is at its most successful playing the game at a slower pace. Missouri is a team that likes to get up and down the court. They have game-changers in Marcus Denmon and Kim English, who score at a very efficient pace. The Tigers will rack up the fast breakpoints, but their only concern will be if they can at least contain the Spartans post players. I don’t think they can.
Final Four pick: No. 1 Michigan State Spartans
Syracuse is the No. 1 seed in this region. Their tournament stay will be cut short in the Sweet Sixteen when the Vanderbilt Commodores take them down. Vanderbilt has all the momentum after knocking off Kentucky in the SEC Championship game and they will carry that momentum deep into the tournament. On the other half of this region is an interesting team in Florida State. They are the No. 3 seed and beat North Carolina in the ACC Championship game, but they rely so much on the three-point shot, which has not been consistent at all for them this season. They will be able to score enough to get them to the Sweet Sixteen, but Ohio State will send them packing. This leaves the Buckeyes and the Commodores in the Elite Eight. Vanderbilt is a more experienced team, a better shooting team, and finished the season on a higher note. Having said that, however, the Buckeyes are the best defensive team in the country with Aaron Craft and William Buford on the perimeter and Jared Sullinger down low. They should be able to prevent the Commodores from going on huge scoring runs and nobody in the country is going to stop Sullinger when he has two feet in the paint.
Final Four pick: No. 2 Ohio State Buckeyes
No. 1 North Carolina and No. 2 Kansas are on a collision course to meet in the Elite Eight because, quite frankly, nobody in this part of the bracket can match up with their size and athleticism. Harrison Barnes, Kendal Marshall, Tyler Zeller, and John Henson for the Tar Heels have carried the team all season. The same can be said for Tyshawn Taylor and Thomas Robinson (who should be the National Player of the Year) have been the best inside-outside duo in the country this season. Both of these teams like to get out and run in transition and both teams like to pound the ball inside to their posts. The outcome will come down to which team will be able to maintain a 100% effort on the defensive side of the ball for 40 minutes. After a disappointing end to the conference tournaments for both teams, I think Kansas will have a tougher time regrouping in time for this big game.
Final Four pick: No. 1 North Carolina Tar Heels
Final Four in New Orleans:
Michigan State def. Baylor
North Carolina def. Ohio State
North Carolina def. Michigan State in a rematch of the first game of the season for both teams.