Why Houston Advances:

The best defense in the nation. There isn’t much to discuss on why this Houston team is built for March, but to sum it up in one word would be “balance.” The defense is talked about so much that I don’t think I can do it justice with words, so I’ll use numbers instead. Houston has 4 players averaging at least a steal a game, three averaging a block a game, and allowed 56 ppg in the regular season (2nd in the nation). If you liked advanced nerdy stats then here’s some Kenpom stats for you, the Houston Cougars have the fourth best adjusted defensive rating in the country at 89.6, and to top that off have the best adjusted efficiency margin in the entire nation at a staggering 28.6. For those who don’t understand, the adjusted efficiency factors in team quality per a hundred possessions, meaning that per 100 times that Houston has the ball they will outscore their opponent by an average of 29 points. While Alabama is the number one overall seed, Houston is still the betting favorite at +500. While nothing is safe in March, they are the safest bet there is.

Why Houston gets Eliminated:

It’s March! We saw just a few years ago the Villanova Wildcats, a team littered with NBA talent, get absolutely mopped by a school whose mascot is literally a family-friendly dog. No disrespect to UMBC but that game, and Saint Peter’s run just a few years ago shows that the talent in college basketball is expanding and absolutely not a soul is safe from the powers of the basketball gods. Miami could beat them with their high-powered offense to counter that terrific defense. Auburn, Iowa, and Indiana all have stars who could have their “Cardiac Kemba” moment against the Cougars. What about Drake? They went 27-7 in the regular season and are probably the most picked 5-12 upset in the nation, they could do it too. Then there’s those Nittany Lions who were one shot away from winning the whole damn BIG10 and shoot the ball like an NBA team, they could get hot at the right time. Also, Texas? Yeah they’re pretty good for a team who’s gone through coaching changes in the middle of the season. The point is that no matter how good Houston may be they are just a boat in the ocean and the tides of March are always harsh.

Sweet 16 Sleeper: Penn State Nittany Lions

Do I go to Penn State? Yes. I do. Could this be biased? Maybe, but this team is so hot at the right time it almost feels inevitable that the Lions can pull off a deep run into the playoffs. This team is loaded with seniors who have a lot of experience, they run an NBA style offense with Jalen Pickett being a miniature version of a big man with his strength and passing ability to pass out of double teams from the post to open shooters. He’s not passing to good shooters either, he’s passing to elite ones. Seth Lundy and Andrew Funk are lethal from beyond the arc and guys like Cam Wynter and Pickett himself can score from deep too. Micah Shrewsberry’s offense hums like a Cadillac despite not having any freaky athletes or gravity from a dominant big, instead it relies on a 6’3 guard who genuinely plays like he’s 6’8. Size is always a concern, but the Nittany Lions just made a completely unexpected run from being a bubble team to being a 10 seed and are playing the best basketball Happy Valley has seen in 10 years.

Final Four Sleeper: Texas A&M

This is contradictory I know, but this game is happening between two teams who are just not seeded as high as they should be. Texas A&M being a 7 seed after finishing 2nd in the SEC in the regular season and the tournament should be a crime. A game between two major conference runners-up being a 7-10 seed first round matchup should be a crime. This team finished 15-3 in conference play in the SEC. It’s also important to note that the SEC is sending the second most teams to the dance out of any conference, only behind their opponent’s BIG10. A&M has strong, talented bigs who protect the rim with efficiency and show off some skill in the post. They run a lot of actions behind the gravity of their two towering bigs to free up some talented, efficient shooters off the catch who can also fill it up off the dribble. They defend well and Buzz Williams’ offense is really fluid. The key here is their live-dribble shooting ability, guys like Dennis, Taylor, and Radford can all get hot at any time and that can be the key to winning a game in the tournament, one guy making shots.

Top First Round Matchup: 5 Miami vs. 12 Drake

Drake is another example of an under seeded team. Drake is a 27-7 team that has had success in March before and also features a lot of seniors and veteran leadership. The big story for the Hurricanes is missing Norchad Omier who was injured in the ACC tournament. Omier is a huge defensive presence for the Canes and can shoot the three well, he averaged almost 14 points for Miami this season as well and is a huge part of their offense. His injury limits what Miami can do on defense, especially on help side rotations where Omier thrives as a looming threat playing free safety and stepping up to guard the ball. For Drake, they’re led by the school’s all-time leading three-point shooter in D.J. Wilkins and shoot the hell out of the ball. They are also the 5th oldest team in D1 hoops and won’t get frazzled, not[ to mention that the MVC has a history of 1st round upsets as the conference is 12-6 in first round matchups. Miami has guard depth and a lot of talent, but Drake can use their veteran leadership and pace to slow down Miami’s potent backcourt. This game and the aforementioned A&M versus PSU matchup are easily the two best in the Midwest first round.

Top Potential Player Matchup: Marcus Carr & Jalen Pickett; Round 2

Marcus Sasser and either of these two guards would be fantastic to see as well, however this matchup would be sensational as well. Carr and Pickett are two very talented guards with different playstyles. Pickett is a gravitational force that likes to play with his back to the basket and use his strength to get easy shots inside and attract double teams. He’s 6’3 but plays 6’8, and is one of the best playmakers in college basketball. Carr is a more traditional scoring guard, he has a really clean jumper and plays off the ball really well. He spots up well and shoots off the dribble well too. He isn’t the strongest but he’s a lot quicker and more athletic than Pickett. Their contrasting playstyles will be interesting to pit against each other in the throes of March.

Top Under the Radar Matchup: 8 Iowa vs. 9 Auburn

The 8 versus 9 seed being a matchup that hasn’t been discussed a lot is interesting, but Auburn and Iowa have both dabbled in some forms of mediocrity and some forms of greatness this season. Iowa might be a little overseeded, especially after losing to Ohio State in the BIG10 tournament and Nebraska before that. Auburn might be overseeded too, but they’re playing in Alabama which is a virtual home game for the Tigers while the Hawkeyes have struggled on the road all season. However Iowa is an objectively better team, Auburn has great guards but they don’t have a star like Jabari Smith Jr. Anymore. Iowa has Kris Murray, a lethal scorer who put up over 20 a game in the BIG10 this past season. His shot making and hot streaks could tear down Auburn’s wing defenders and send Iowa to the round of 32. There’s a lot of ifs surrounding this game between the play of Iowa on the road and if Auburn can find any footing on defense and consistency on offense.

Top 5 NBA Prospects in the region:

1. Jarace Walker, Houston

Walker is an athletic specimen. He’s got excellent dribbling ability for his size, he can shoot the three well and create shots for himself with ease. He’s also strong as a bull, he can punish teams on the inside with brute force and then create on the outside. He’s a decent enough passer and his size and suprising quickness both in speed and reaction time is enough to make him a projected lottery pick. He’s an NBA prototype with the combination of frame, size, and basketball IQ. Walker reminds me a lot of Lauri Markannen with his size and versatility as a vertical spacer and defender.

2. Kris Murray, Iowa

Like his brother, Kris Murray is as solid as they come. He’s the best pure shooter in the Midwest region and can spot up and get hot from literally anywhere whenever. He’s an excellent passer out of the post and can carry the load on offense playmaking and scoring, his defense is questionable but he’s an undeniable force on offense. Kris’ best NBA comparison is his brother, who’s a valuable piece on a great Kings team.

3. Jalen Hood-Schifino, Indiana

JHS is a shifty guard with great speed and an excellent handle. He can create shots in the mid range really well and is a force moving downhill, he’s equally elegant and powerful as a finisher. He’s equally flashy and intelligent as a playmaker, a lot like former number one overall pick Cade Cunningham. He’ll be a great pickup for any team that drafts him as he’s obvious NBA guard talent.

4. Trayce Jackson-Davis, Indiana

He’s undersized for a guy who plays center, however the NPOY candidate plays up in size against the best bigs in the country and dominates his matchups against taller defenders. He can easily slide into NBA line ups as a four with his playmaking, strong finishing, and stellar rim protection. Guys like Draymond Green and Ben Simmons have shown effectiveness in great defenders who can’t shoot well and that’s a mold that TJD could find himself filling in to.

5. Marcus Sasser, Houston

His health is a concern, and Houston will need him to play if they want to finish this dream season with a ring. Sasser isn’t a super high-flying finisher but he’s crafty, much like a Tyrese Maxey of sorts. He can shoot from wherever and he has excellent defensive anticipation. He also runs the P&R better than most guards in the country and has great length to help him defend and find crazy angles for open looks.


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