Why #1 Seed Houston Advances

The Cougars defense is elite. They allow a nation leading 57 points per contest on only 37.9% shooting. It’s incredibly difficult to win when then other team suffocates you like that. They force 15.9 turnovers per game and themselves average fewer than 9 per contest. They have three players, all guards, that average double figure points: LJ Cryer, Jamal Shead, and Emanuel Sharp. Shead, the best of the bunch, could make a legitimate case for being the best college player in the entire region. Their four losses this season were against a four seed (Kansas), a 9 seed (TCU), and a 2 seed (Iowa State – twice). Houston looked like one of the top teams in the country from start to finish this season, and not many teams in the bracket are ready for the physical, suffocating style of defense the Cougars play.

Why #1 Seed Houston Goes Down

As good as their defense is, if a team can find a way to score against them, Houston can struggle to keep up offensively. In their four losses they averaged 56.5 points and gave up an average of 68. Jamal Shead is a great player, but Houston struggles when teams are able to keep him from being the offensive initiator. If teams allow him to score and set others up, Houston becomes extremely difficult to beat, but they don’t have anybody else to truly run the offense if a team can make him uncomfortable. Another good reason Houston could come up short? They have other talented teams in their bracket. Marquette lost nine games this season, but four of them were to #1 seeds UCONN (three times) and Purdue. With two other losses coming to Creighton (three seed), and Wisconsin (5 seed). And if Marquette gets that deep, it’s likely they have Tyler Kolek back and playing well. The #3 seed, Kentucky, can lose to anybody, but is also capable of beating anybody when they are at their best. The Wildcats have the type of balanced offensive attack to find weaknesses in Houston’s defense and have scored 100 or more six times this season. The four seed, Duke, has Kyle Filipowski, who has the size to give Houston some matchup problems. Houston is an elite team, but they don’t have a free pass to the Final Four.

Sweet 16 Sleeper

Texas Tech. The South Region is interesting in that the teams in it are really good, but outside of Houston, they have some really glaring weaknesses. Marquette’s best player has been out injured, Kentucky can’t guard anybody some nights, Duke lacks rim protection and has felt disconnected as a team for much of the season, and Wisconsin has lost 9 games since February 1st. So who is the team that could sneak their way into a sweet 16? Texas Tech is a team with quality guard play that is battle tested coming out of the Big 12. Their first round matchup is against an N.C. State team that had to win five games in five days to win their conference tournament and make it to the big dance. Their second round opponent would likely be a Kentucky team that’s extremely up and down in their play. Texas Tech shoots the ball well enough from the outside to be a team that gets hot and goes on a run in the tournament. Sophomores Pop Isaacs and Darrion Williams could lead this Red Raider squad to a Sweet 16.

Final Four Sleeper

Despite the weaknesses of the top teams in this region, it’s hard to make a case for a lower seeded team to make it to the Final Four. Could it happen? Sure. But it’s unlikely that all of the top teams in this bracket go bust. Kentucky has become a chic pick to go deep the last few weeks, but their inability to defend should give you pause in picking them. However, it’s always hard to beat the team with the most raw talent, and that team is Kentucky. Freshmen Reed Sheppard and Rob Dillingham come off the bench and yet may be the most explosive guards in the bracket. Antonio Reeves, meanwhile, provides a veteran presence in addition to his 20 points per game. I’m a firm believer that guard play wins in March, and they have the best collection of guards. If they put it together, they could upset both top seeds on their way to a Final Four.

Top First Round Matchup

#8 Nebraska vs #9 Texas A&M. It doesn’t have the big names and they may not be marquee programs, but the guard play in this matchup should be really fun. Nebraska has a fireballer in Keisei Tominaga. He’s not afraid to fire from the outside and has scored 20 or more in seven games this year. On the other side, Texas A&M had a disappointing season, but Wade Taylor IV averaged 18.9 points and 4 assists per game and Tyrece Radford pitched in 16 a game himself. The battles won’t only be outside though, as Henry Coleman and Solomon Washington from A&M will have their hands full taking on the Cornhusker big man Rienk Mast. This game has the potential to be one of the more tightly contested first round matchups.

Top Potential Player Matchup

Tyler Kolek vs. Jamal Shead. If Houston and Marquette take care of business and wind up in the Elite Eight, we would be treated to a matchup between the best defensive guard in the bracket vs. the best pure point guard. Shead makes life miserable for opposing guards and is the head of the snake for the Houston defense. Kolek, meanwhile, does it all, averaging 15 points, 7.6 assists, and 4.7 rebounds a contest. This matchup would be extremely compelling and would feature two of the finalists for the Bob Cousy award. On top of it all: it would be for a berth in the Final Four. It’s hard to beat a matchup like that.

Top Under The Radar Matchup

#2 Marquette vs. #15 Western Kentucky. Speaking of Tyler Kolek, nobody quite knows what to expect from him in the tournament with him being out with an oblique injury. Should Marquette still be able to beat Western Kentucky? Yes. But I would not be surprised if it was a close game with 8 minutes left to play in the game. Oso Ighodaro and Kam Jones are both extremely good players as well who can carry Marquette, but Western Kentucky has Don McHenry who looks poised to put on a show in the tournament and 6’10, 240 lb Rodney Howard has the size to matchup with Marquette’s frontcourt. WKU averages 80.6 points per game and Marquette averages 78.3, so this could be a fun, high scoring affair. It’s probably not wise to expect the upset, but the Hilltoppers can absolutely make this a game.

Top 5 NBA Prospects

1. Cody Williams, Colorado
A 6’8”, 190 lb freshman forward, Williams is the younger brother of NBA wing Jalen Williams. While he’s not the go-to player on the Buffs’ roster, he has the most pro upside. He’s not a volume outside shooter, but he shot 42.1% from behind the arc this season. He does a little bit of everything, and fills in the gaps on the team. He averaged 12.6 points, 3.3 rebounds, and 1.7 assists this season while shooting 56.5 percent from the field. He is prone to turnovers, but as he becomes stronger and gets the opportunity to expand what he does on the court, he has a chance to be special. He has physical tools that the others on this list don’t have and should get better as he develops his body.

2. Reed Sheppard, Kentucky
The lowest ranked of all of Kentucky’s star studded freshman class, Sheppard has wowed this season. The Wildcats’ sixth man averaged 12.8 points, 4.3 rebounds, and 4.5 assists while shooting 52.5% from three and coming up with 2.5 steals per contest. He makes heady plays, comes up with big shots, and wreaks havoc on defense. Despite being listed at 6’3”, he is a good shot blocker both at the rim and at the three point line. His stellar rookie campaign has him positioned to be a top ten pick in the upcoming draft.

3. Rob Dillingham, Kentucky
Like Sheppard, Dillingham comes off the bench for Kentucky. Unlike his teammate, Dillingham is all offense. Dillingham is an electrifying scorer that can single handedly create a scoring run. He came from Overtime Elite with the reputation as a gunner, but refined his game to become much more efficient and team-centric. He averaged 15.4 points per game with 3.9 assists. He is exceptional at beating defenders off the bounce, has elite body control going to the rim, and is a willing passer if the defense rotates to him. He is extremely difficult to stay in front of when he has the ball in his hands and has all the makings of an microwave scorer at the guard position.

4. Kyle Filipowski, Duke
Filipowski had the opportunity to enter the draft last season and he would have likely been a mid first round pick. Instead, he opted to come back, and the seven-footer averaged 17.1 points and 8.2 rebounds per game. While his rebounding went down, his assists and blocks went up. A career 31 percent three point shooter, he shot 35% from deep this past season, showing growth in that area. He has the ability to shoot from the outside, but he’s best when he doesn’t settle for the outside shot. After being Duke’s go-to offensive option this year, he again looks poised to be a mid-first round pick in this year’s draft, assuming he elects to take the opportunity.

5. Antonio Reeves, Kentucky
The 6’6” senior led the Wildcats in scoring at 20 points per game. He’s old for a prospect, but he showed a lot of growth in his game this season. Previously a defensive liability, he has improved that area of his game, but his real contribution is his ability to score the basketball. He is a 44% three point shooter this season who draws defenses out. This season he has developed an elite running floater that he uses when defenders run him off the three point line, and it’s made him the most dangerous scorer in the SEC not named Dalton Knecht. With his ability to score the basketball and his size, he looks to be one of those seniors that can step in and help an NBA team right away next year.


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