by Ishaaon Sivansh
Before the NCAA Tournament tips off, there are some things you should know. Whether you are filling out a bracket or simply watching for the inevitable excitement, there are some basic principles that are important to understanding the madness.
1. Think twice before you pencil in Kentucky as your national champions
Kentucky will likely be the most popular choice to win the NCAA Tournament as they are undefeated(34-0). Make no mistake, Kentucky is extremely talented and are a huge threat to any team that they face, but they will have tough competition in the later rounds that they may not be prepared for. They played in a lackluster SEC this year that only provided two tough games against them. By analyzing these two games, we can get a glimpse of what it takes and what type of team it takes to knock off undefeated Kentucky. In their first game of SEC play, Kentucky played what should have been an inconsequential game against Ole Miss; instead, the Rebels took the Wildcats down to the wire and were barely bested in overtime 66-69. Ole Miss’s 3 starting guards combined for 63 points. It wasn’t lights out shooting that kept the Rebels in the game, in fact, nearly all shooting percentages were identical, and the only noticeable difference came in the Rebels outstanding 86% free throw percentage. The Rebels outscored the Wildcats 30-26 and led in rebounds for much of the game. The Wildcats followed that performance with an even worse one as they had to go to double overtime to fight off Texas A&M in their very next game. Again good guard play tore apart Kentucky, as the Aggies’ Danuel House scored a game high 25, and the Wildcats again could not defend the paint. However, as good as House’s play was, Kentucky’s near loss came at their own hands rather than the Aggies. The Wildcats shot an abysmal 28% from the field and 32% percent from beyond the three point arc, a far cry from their play even against Ole Miss. Their perfect record was only saved by the Aggies equal if not worse shooting woes; the Aggies had slightly better 33% shooting from the field and an abhorrent 13% from three. The Aggies were lucky to catch Kentucky on an off shooting night, and a better team might have pulled the upset, but the story remained the same: rebounding, points in the paint, and good guard play kept Kentucky on the verge of being upset. So If you happen to notice a team with great guards, efficient rebounding, control of the paint, and a knack for getting to the free throw line, then you might want to think before you pass them over in favor of the undefeated Wildcats. Just ask the Wildcats how much undefeated regular seasons matter, after their victory over last year’s undefeated Wichita State team.
2. Watch out for those 12 seeds
Another thing to watch out for is the inevitable early upset. Don’t even think about a 16 seed upsetting a 1 seed. It hasn’t happened yet and this year has a strong field of 1 seeds. A 15 seed upsetting a 2 seed, on the other hand, is a more common trend; three 15 seeds have pulled an upset over a 2 seed in the last three years, so it’s reasonable to think it may happen again. However, this year, the field of 2 seeds is too strong and tested to let a 15 seed slip by. 14 seeds have come out on top twice in the last two years, so another upset is possible this year. This year Georgia State can make it three consecutive years with a 14 seed advancing to the round of 32 by beating 3 seed Baylor. The Bears are more physical and can rebound well, but Georgia State has been shooting the lights out and if they continue to shoot the ball well, Baylor could be going home early. When it comes to the 13 seed Eastern Washington and 4 seed Georgetown matchup, the key will be the Hoyas’ ability to limit scoring, which will be difficult to do against the nation’s leading scorer Tyler Harvey, which gives Eastern Washington the edge. The 12 seed is the most dangerous seed in the NCAA tournament. 3 out of 4 12 seeds have won their matchups in both of the past two years. At least two 12 seeds should win it this year. Stephen F. Austin is a good candidate to do it for the second straight year, and Wyoming could power by Northern Iowa behind Larry Nance Jr. 11 seed and 6 seed matchups are fairly similar to the 12 seed 5 seed matchup; expect Dayton, BYU, and UCLA to all upset rather lackluster 6 seed teams.
3. Guards win Championships
In terms of recent years, having great guards has been a necessity to win the NCAA tournament or even get to the final. No more evidence needs to be listed than the names of past champions or runners up that had amazing guards: Shabazz Napier, Ryan Boatright, Aaron Harrison, Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr., Russ Smith, Kemba Walker, Jeremy Lamb, Shelvin Mack, Nolan Smith, Kyle Singler, Gordon Hayward, Ty Lawson, Mario Chalmers, Derrick Rose, and the list goes on and on. While you may not know all of these players, they all made their teams’ National Championship hopes come alive. This trend of guards dominating national championship games will not end soon, so be on the lookout for the next Derrick Rose.