Why Michigan will make the Final Four…
They were the best team in the best conference for months. The Wolverines have all you can ask for with veteran backcourt play, two-way wings who can shoot the three, and a dominating force in the paint to go with exceptional depth. Juwan Howard’s squad can go nine guys into the rotation and keep the same level of play while doing so. The injury to Isaiah Livers is devastating to say the least, but Mike Smith can elevate everyone else around him to make up for his absence. Hunter Dickinson can control the paint and rebound with the best bigs in the nation and even if he gets into foul trouble, Austin Davis is playing his best basketball of the season off the bench. The Wolverines are no strangers to deep runs in the NCAA Tournament and they have all of the tools to do it again in 2021.
The best non-number one seed…
Alabama Crimson Tide
Alabama was more than worthy of a number one seed, and they asserted their dominance over a relatively week SEC conference this season. They won their first 10 conference games and their final six on their way to a regular season and conference tournament title. The Crimson Tide are loaded with experience, talent, size, and depth and even if a couple of guys are having off nights, there are plenty of guys who can fill in instead. They are led by SEC POY and DPOY Herb Jones who is only their fourth leading scorer, but easily their most important player. Five-star Villanova transfer Jahvon Quinerly comes off the bench to average over 12 points per game, which is only third on the team. The Tide make the second most threes per game and are one of the best at defending the three-point line at the other end. This team is physical and built for a deep run in the NCAA Tournament.
BYU lost a trio of superstars last season in Yoeli Childs, Jake Toolson, and TJ Haws, but the Cougars reloaded with the transfers of Brandon Averette and Matt Haarms to complement the rise of Alex Barcello. These guys can knock down threes at an appalling rate and showed it in a 53-point first half against Gonzaga in the WCC Championship. They drew a tough matchup with either Michigan State or UCLA, but this team could surprise a lot of people if they can play like they did for 20 minutes against the nation’s best team.
Sweet 16 Sleeper:
Will Wade led these Tigers to the Sweet 16 in 2019 with a dominant big three of Tremont Waters, Naz Reid, and Skylar Mays. This year he has another three-headed monster of Cameron Thomas, Javonte Smart, and Tremont Watford. Darius Days is another double-figure scorer, but there is a significant drop-off after him. These four guys are more than capable of carrying this team to a first round win but might also be capable of completing a massive upset against the #1 Michigan Wolverines. With Isaiah Livers’ availability in question, the Tigers could steamroll Juwan Howard’s squad and pull off the not so unusual 8 over 1 upset on the first weekend.
Final Four Sleeper:
Florida State Seminoles
This pick might be popular with Leonard Hamilton’s consistent success in March and the potential absence of Isaiah Livers for the 1 seed Michigan Wolverines. The Seminoles are one of the deepest teams in the nation and they have experience and talent that could lead a deep run into the tournament. Scottie Barnes is an exciting freshman, but M.J. Walker is a seasoned veteran who complements Barnes well and can slow the game down for his teammates around him. Walker is no stranger to the NCAA Tournament, and he could provide some valuable experience for the ‘Noles who are attempting to reach the Final Four for the first time in 49 years.
Top Potential Matchup
Florida State vs. Alabama
A matchup between two “New Bloods” in the Elite Eight would be incredible to watch. If Florida State is not the deepest team in the country, it is Alabama. These two teams could run out 5 bench players apiece and maintain the same level of intensity and production. Every game these two teams played this season seemed to have nonstop excitement and plenty of fireworks. It would be fascinating to see if Leonard Hamilton would embrace the pace Alabama plays with or attempt to slow them down to better suit their style. Exciting players, depth, and great coaching litter this matchup and neutral college basketball fans can only hope that we get to see these two teams face off with a shot at their second (FSU) or first (Alabama) Final Four appearance in school history.
Top First Round Matchup
7 Connecticut vs. 10 Maryland
This matchup really has everything you could ask for in the first round. Two teams that are clicking at the right time, superstars emerging in James Bouknight and Aaron Wiggins/Eric Ayala, and two passionate, experienced coaches in Dan Hurley and Mark Turgeon. Bouknight is one of the most prolific scorers in the nation and is one of the most exciting players to watch while Wiggins is an explosive athlete who is taking over more and more of the offense. Either of these teams has the talent and experience that it would take to knock off #2 Alabama in the Round of 32 and I am excited to see who makes it to the 2nd weekend out of those 3.
The Spartans looked as if they were down and out a few weeks ago, but just like he always seems to do, Tom Izzo got his team clicking just in time for March. Michigan State defeated three teams in the top-five in their final six contests of the regular season and it was just barely enough to get them into the first four of this year’s tournament. Izzo extended his streak to 24 straight seasons making the NCAA Tournament with Michigan State and if that is not worthy of top coach in the East region, I don’t know what is.
Alabama took the nation by storm this season, but a lot of people look entirely at the players, which is fair, but do not give Nate Oats the recognition he deserves. Oats is only in his second season with the Tide and after back-to-back years with a NCAA Tournament win with Buffalo in 2018 and 2019, he transformed the Crimson Tide’s offensive style. Few teams are more exciting or are capable of scoring as many points as the Tide and a lot of this credit has to be given to Oats. These guys knock down perimeter shots like there’s no tomorrow and are capable of putting up 100, which they did twice, on any given night.
Top Five Prospects
1. Scottie Barnes, Florida State
Scottie Barnes asserted himself as the top prospect in the ACC, the conference I covered this season, and while he is not the clear cut best prospect in this region, I still believe he’s the top guy. The true freshman has great size and length which helps him guard any position on the floor and is one of the best playmakers in the entire conference. Players with his size are not supposed to play like point guards, but Barnes is not like most prospects. His strength and explosiveness are just additional bonuses to go along with his other unique traits and I would not be surprised to see him selected at #6 when the top-five prospects are off the board.
2. James Bouknight, UConn
One of two other guys, along with Moses Moody of Arkansas, who I could see competing with Barnes for the #6 pick is James Bouknight. The UConn guard is coming into his own after returning from injury and he is the biggest reason why the Huskies are in the NCAA Tournament once again. We have seen Kemba Walker and Shabazz Napier lead improbable runs in March before, and while I cannot see the Huskies going all the way to the title game, I would not be surprised if Bouknight carries them to at least the second weekend.
3. Kai Jones, Texas
There are plenty of unique talents in this year’s draft class and one of those guys is Kai Jones. The Big 12 Sixth Man of the Year is a freakishly athletic big man who can control the paint and also lead the Longhorns in transition with his speed and potent ball-handling. Jones knocks down perimeter jumpers, gets to the tin off the dribble, and soars above the rim for blocks, dunks, and rebounds like no one else can. He still has plenty of room for development and improvement, but the 6’11 sophomore is more than ready to make an impact at the next level.
4. Cameron Thomas, LSU
If you did not get to watch Cameron Thomas play this year, you only need to watch the first few minutes of the SEC Championship to see what all of the fuss is about. The superstar freshman made his first three shots from beyond the arc, and when I say beyond the arc, I am talking about Dame Lillard range. He started pulling up from the parking lot and shots were falling like they were layups. This guy has NBA range already and is one of the best scorers in this year’s class as only a freshman. Not only is he a top prospect in this region, but he is also first on the list of players you NEED to watch in this year’s tournament.
5. Greg Brown, Texas
Another top prospect who is a freak athlete and plays for the Longhorns is Greg Brown. He is a 6’9 wing player who can guard anybody and who is more than willing of putting somebody on a disrespectful poster. Just ask Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua (Look up the dunk, I promise it’s worth it). Brown may not take the league by storm early in his career, but with some development of his playmaking and a more efficient three-point jumper, this guy will make some noise at some point of his career.
Isaiah Livers. Michigan
Herbert Jones, Texas
Aaron Henry, Michigan St.
McKinley Wright, Colorado