March Madness starts in a few days, and there are many things that need to be discussed before the games are played. Many questions that have to be answered? A bunch surround Dan Hurley’s UConn squad, who may have the lowest floor but highest ceiling of any contending team for this year’s championship. What about Houston? After their disappointing loss in the AAC tournament, how far will they really go without possibly Marcus Sasser? And maybe the biggest question of them all, is Alabama a fluke? All of these questions will be answered here!
Is Alabama’s success a fluke?
I think so. And this may not be a popular question but I also have a not popular answer. Most people have Alabama winning the South Region, and even going on to make it and/or win in the national championship game. I don’t think the same. First off, their defense is very below average, ranking 130th in scoring defense in the entire NCAA. And they are very Brandon Miller reliant. The guy is one of the top prospects for this year’s NBA draft, averaging 19 points per game. And in all five of their losses but one, Miller has averaged less points per game than he has on average this season, including an 11 point stinker in a loss to Oklahoma and just eight points against Houston, who they were able to somehow squeak a win out of. But the point is, if Miller is contained by very great guards and defenses, like either Maryland or West Virginia in round 2 and possibly a meeting against Baylor in the elite eight, watch what happens. The Crimson Tide will not make it to the elite eight this season!
Should we overreact to the Big 12 and how teams played against that conference?
That’s a tough question. And it made me think when you look at a matchup between two teams like Maryland and West Virginia in the 8-9 of the South Region. Because statistically, and when you look at the two teams records, Maryland is the better squad. But could West Virginia’s lack of success be because of the Big 12, a conference that has held the previous two national champions? That is a legitimate answer. I’m going to say no. Because while the Big 12 is the best conference in the NCAA, teams shouldn’t gain a significant amount of value for playing second fiddle to those top Big 12 teams, and then have the teams at the top of the Big East, top of ACC, top of Big Ten, get disrespected because of it. How do we know West Virginia would play the way Maryland did in the Big 10? I think in a case like this, we have to stick with who has played better. But I also do understand the argument and having to against higher competition and being more prepared for this tournament because of it!
Will Houston being the AAC affect their ability to go far in the tournament
I think so. Seth Davis brought up a very good point on the Selection Sunday show on CBS, and it was comparing Kansas and Houston and how different they are. Houston has just seven quad one wins, ten less than a team like the Jayhawks. And the craziest part is that Houston has had the 96th hardest strength of schedule in all of college basketball. Are we sure they can play well against the top teams. Because when they went against even just a team like Houston, things did not go well. So the fact that they haven’t proven to play against top tier competition is concerning, and they’re lucky to have a relatively easy path to the elite eight. But a matchup against Texas or Texas A&M or Xavier or any other team in that caliber could be a scare for some Cougar fans, who are looking to get back to the final four for the second time in three seasons!
Can Houston get eliminated early without Marcus Sasser?
When analysts said going into this tournament that the winner would be very region determined, they were right. Because even without Sasser for one or two games, I can see Houston moving on, because they would play either Iowa or Auburn in round 2, who each have their fair share of weaknesses, and most likely move on to play Indiana or Miami (two very overrated, highly seeded teams) or a double digit seed. That is a clear path to the elite eight, Sasser or not. If they were in any other of the three regions, I would be concerned for Houston. But since they’re in this region, Cougars fans, I wouldn’t be too concerned about losing before the elite eight!
Who’s under the most pressure for UConn?
Head coach Dan Hurley 100%. A third straight 1st round exit for a program like Connecticut would be in-excusable as a favorite in all three games. But from a player standpoint, Adama Sanogo is under the most pressure. For the 2nd straight year, Sanogo made 1st team All Big East and actually led all Big East players in scoring, with a dominant post game and a significant improvement in advanced statistics like offensive rating, true shooting percentage (all efficiency statistics for that matter), PER, offensive win shares, overall win shares and offensive, defensive and overall box plus-minus. However, with a 7 foot dominant freshman backing him up in Donovan Clingan, who’s 4th in the entire NCAA in PER and has proven to have multiple 20 point games when given the proper opportunities, he needs to prove he can be a valuable piece in the 2nd half, which he has struggled with this season and prove he can play well in the tournament, after averaging 7 points per game on 37.5% shooting from the field in his previous two March Madness appearances. If he wants to make the NBA like his talent suggests he could, he has to prove he can play well in the biggest moments of the biggest games, and this is a golden opportunity for him to prove he can do that!
How would an inconsistent team like UConn go back to their No. 2 form and make a run at a Final Four?
I think a key for UConn is using their insane amount of depth. This the deepest team they’ve ever had under Dan Hurley, with a solid and reliable ten man rotation to play with down the stretch. They need to rely on guys like Tristen Newton and Nahiem Alleyne’s scoring, as the Huskies are 12-2 when Newton crosses the double digit mark in points and are undefeated when Alleyne scores eight or more points. Consistent play and lack of mistakes from Andre Jackson is also key, and he needs to make sure he limits turnovers and mistakes. They also need Jordan Hawkins to be a reliable 1st option offensively. In all of Connecticut’s championship teams, they have relied on top tier guard play, from guys like Richard Hamilton in 1999, Ben Gordon in 2004, Kemba Walker in 2011 and Shabazz Napier in 2014, and they’ll need Hawkins in 2023. He is an elite scorer, scoring 20 or more points in eight of his last 11 games. The lottery pick type talent has a chance to prove himself. They also need to make sure they can close games, as they only have one win lower than seven points this season, and are win-less in games separated by five or less points!
Can Gonzaga get over the hump?
This is a question every single season. Because the Bulldogs have had their fair share of chances in the past. Undefeated regular seasons, buzzer beaters, nine current NBA players, 22 straight NCAA tournament appearances (all under Mark Few) an 83.6% winning percentage under Few, two national championship losses, and not one national championship on the mantel. They’ve somehow found a way to choke all of these opportunities away. But this year will be different. Bulldog fans stand up, because you guys will be on the top of college basketball in a few weeks. For starters, let me address their 267th ranked statistical defense. If they outscore the other team, it won’t be a problem. I also think they have an easy path. While UCLA’s defense is really good statistically, the can’t keep up with the top offense in all of college basketball. And secondly, I don’t think Saint Marry’s defense will find their way to Gonzaga, even though the Bulldogs already put up 77 points against them in the West Coast Conference Championship. Drew Timme and Gonzaga have the most scary offense in college basketball, and will be crowned national champions for the first time ever!