Big Papa of the Southwest: Notre Dame (2). Similar to Jamie Dixon, I think this is Mike Brey’s year to get to the Final Four. With five senior starters, Notre Dame possesses something rarely found in current college teams: experience playing together. Ben Hansbrough has really elevated his game and mans the point; he also probably wants to add a championship ring to the family trophy case. This team shoots the ball exceptionally well, and never seems to get caught up in the moment of games. My only concern is getting caught up against an exceptionally athletic team such as Kansas. But I think this team’s headed to Houston.
If not the favorite, then: Kansas (1). Kansas has been the steady as she goes team all year, although they’ve dealt with plenty of issues. Josh Selby hasn’t been all that and a bag of chips, but he’s still a contributor. Kansas is a deep, deep team, and is the best field goal percentage team in the country at 51.4%. They like to push the ball and have shown that they lead a very balanced attack with six players averaging over 8 points per game. I don’t think this team has a problem getting to the Elite Eight, and if they can get past Notre Dame I like them to go all the way to the title.
Watch Out Now: Richmond (12). After watching Richmond run through the A-10 tournament, I really like them to win at least one, maybe two games in this year’s tournament. Upsets are about teams that can shoot the three and stay hot, and Richmond has the ability to do both. They have six guys on the roster that shoot 39% or better, so if the shots are dropping they’re going to do some damage. They take care of the basketball, and Kevin Anderson and Justin Harper are two guys who I would not want to defend. Their problem will be if they run into a team that just dominates inside, as Richmond lacks the bodies to bang the boards. Look for them to run a lot of entry passes to Dan Geriot that immediately get kicked out for open looks from behind the arc.
Most Likely First Round Upset: USC (11) over Georgetown (6). If USC doesn’t get by VCU, I’d take Richmond over Vandy here. But for posterity’s sake, let’s assume USC wins tonight. I like USC’s Nikola Vucevic and Alex Stepheson to neutralize a big Georgetown front line. And if that happens, I’m not confident enough in Chris Wright’s recovery from a hand injury to overcome what I believe is an underrated USC team possessing exceptional ball control and stellar defense.
Southwest Man-Beast: JaJuan Johnson, Purdue. Garnering First Team All-American honors along with Kemba Walker, Jimmer, Sullinger, and Nolan Smith, the center has really stepped up his game after Robbie Hummel went down with a second torn ACL before the season. The senior has averaged over 20 points and 8 rebounds a game, and his presence on the inside frees up the perimeter for Purdue’s other players. He is an efficient player, shooting 49.6% from the field while committing only 1.7 turnovers a game. Watch this guy lead Purdue to a Sweet 16 run, and then watch him develop in the NBA into the future.
Who the &#*@ is This Guy, and Why is He Awesome: Justin Harper and Kevin Anderson, Richmond. Tie. If you want an NBA prospect, check out Justin Harper. A 6-10 swingman, Harper will be playing at the next level. He uses his height to grab 7 boards and block 1.3 shots a game. But he can also slash toward the hoop, and draining threes at a 46.5% rate this season. He’s a complete player, shooting 54.3% from the field but also serving as a vital defender to a Richmond team I like to make a run. If you want a fun player to watch, pay attention to Kevin Anderson, last season’s Atlantic 10 player of the year. He’s a quick little 6 foot guard, averaging 16.5 points a game. He can fill it up in a hurry from deep, and has quick hands on D to swipe and start the fast break.
Picks: Kansas over Boston, UNLV over Illinois, Richmond over Vandy, Louisville over Morehead St., USC over Georgetown, Purdue over St. Peter's, Texas A&M over Florida State, ND over Akron.
Kansas over UNLV, Richmond over L-ville, Purdue over USC, ND over Texas A&M
Kansas over Richmond, ND over Purdue
ND over Kansas
FINAL FOUR PICKS:
Ohio State over Texas, Pitt over ND
Championship: Pitt over Ohio State, 71-67