March Madness 2018 from Jake Kaufman

Jake Kaufman, Reporter

The Contenders

Duke Blue Devils

I said in early November that Duke would be competing for the National Championship and, of course, my opinion hasn’t changed. They have an opportunity to make it all the way. Coming into the tournament with a 26-7 record they have shown they are one of the best teams in college basketball this season. Sure they had some ugly losses on the road at Boston College and St. John’s. But they also had their hot streaks in November against the Texas Longhorns and Florida Gators. The Blue Devils are led by ACC POY Marvin Bagley III. From the words of Dick Vitale, this “diaper dandy” is one of the best in college basketball. Averaging 21.1 ppg and grabbing 11.5 rpg as well as leading college basketball with 22 double doubles on the year. They’re also led by there lone senior SG, who many call the new Laettner, Grayson Allen. He’s proven time and again he’s the floor general commanding very talented freshman recruits. Many will remember his famous tripping incidents and most recently a butt foul in the semifinals against North Carolina. Allen has the opportunity to end his career like Laettner, ending his career with a second national championship and a storybook ending to a great career.

Xavier Musketeers

Shocked in the semifinals by the Providence Friars in the Big East Tournament, the Musketeers will have something to prove in the tournament. Remember just last year they came in as an 11 seed and made a run to the Elite 8. They come in with a record of 28-5 and several big contributors from last year’s team including C Steve O’Mara and PF Kaiser Gates. Leading the team is the dynamic duo, Trevon Bluiett and J.P Macura, who have proven with their combined PPG to be one of the best duos in college basketball. Another key player providing a stretch of 20+ point games is University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee transfer C Kerem Kanter, little brother of New York Knicks C Enes Kanter. Coming in as one of the 1 seeds in the West Region, the road to San Antonio is a definite possibility for the Musketeers. A possible matchup with 4 seeded Gonzaga will prove the Final Four capability of the Musketeers.

Virginia Cavaliers

In November the Cavaliers weren’t even on the radar for the top 25, let alone being a possible 1 seed. With a record of 30-2 and the number 1 overall seed for the NCAA Tournament led by sophomore SG Kyle Guy, the Cavaliers have the best defensive efficiently in the country. Supported by SF Devon Hall and PG Ty Jerome, the defense is a lock down force. Being one of last year’s biggest disappointments in the Round of 32 by allowing 71 points to 5 seeded Florida, the Cavaliers came up quite shy with just 39 points. They can redeem themselves this year if they make it all the way to San Antonio led by their defense first approach.

Teams Capable of Making a Run

Michigan Wolverines

Crazy to think that 3 seed Michigan wasn’t ranked until the middle of January! Many expected them to take a dive this year. But that wasn’t the case. Michigan has two returning starters from last year’s Sweet 16 team. They come in with a record of 28-7 and won the Big 10 Tournament for the second year in a row. Led by Junior PF Moritz “Moe” Wagner has carried the team on his back all season much like the second half of the Round of 32 upset over Louisville last year. Moe has the help of SG Muhammad Ali Abdur-Rahman. What has been great about the Wolverines is there offense. They are able to get second chance points and knock down 3’s at a constant rate. No doubt here that the Wolverines can make a run to San Antonio.

Arizona Wildcats

What a crazy year it’s been in Tucson. An 0-3 showing in the battle for Atlantis back in November. Then, just a few weeks ago the ongoing federal probe alleges Head Coach, Sean Miller, was wire tapped discussing a $100,000 payment to Arizona C DeAndre Ayton to commit to the school. Now there’s chatter Ayton has the opportunity to win the Wooden Award for best player in college basketball. By his side is junior SG Allonzo Trier who was suspended for failed drug testing but later cleared to return to the court and be a huge factor for the Wildcats. Winning the Pac 12 Tournament has kept the Wildcats on a hot streak. Heading into the tournament as a 4 seed with a record of 27-7 they have officially resurrected their season. Their offense is the big factor that could end the Virginia Cavaliers season in the South region.

Purdue Boilermakers

The Boilermakers are another surprise popping up in the top 10. Hovering at the beginning of the season in the top 20-25 range, they did what needed to be done. While the Boilermakers season ended in a Big 10 Tournament loss in the Championship at the hands of the Michigan Wolverines, they head into the Tournament with a 28-6 record and something to prove. They are a 2 seed in the East region and are led by senior PF Vincent Edwards and C Isaac Haas along with sophomore PG Carson Edwards. A matchup with Villanova in the Elite 8 could send the Boilermakers to the Final 4 or send them home.

Bracket Busters

Nevada Wolf Pack

An upset in the Mountain West Tournament put the Wolf Pack in as a 7 seed. Led by NC State twin transfers Caleb and Cody Martin, these two have been the alphas of the pack. Meeting them are the 10 seeded Texas Longhorns who haven’t played up to preseason expectations and could meet a first round exit at the hands of the Wolf Pack. This will land them a match with the 2 seeded Cincinnati Bearcats in the Round of 32. It’s hard at times to predict 2-7 upsets but this may be one of them this year. The Wolf Pack has been to the tournament the past 2 years and built their team with transfers and four year players. It could be in the cards for the Wolf Pack to make it to the Sweet 16.

Providence Friars

The Friars wouldn’t have been in the field if it wasn’t for the upset over Xavier in the semifinals of the Big East Tournament. Now they find themselves in the tournament for the 5th straight year. The Friars have 3 wins against teams ranked in the top 5 this year. Led by senior SG Kyron Cartwright and PF Rodney Bullock, the Friars are out for some revenge. They were given a 10 seed and matched up with 7 seeded Texas A&M. They have the opportunity to take on the defending National Champion North Carolina Tar Heels. The Tar Heels knocked out the Friars in the Round of 32 back in 2016. Now the Friars have the opportunity to return the favor. The Friars have beaten Xavier twice this year along with Villanova. They are full of tournament experience with several Seniors making 4 straight tournament appearances. Have faith in the Friars.

New Mexico State Aggies

As the winners of the WAC Conference, the Aggies easily earned themselves a trip to the tournament. Coming in as a 12 seed they will meet 5 seeded Clemson in the first round. Since the beginning of the year they were one of the Mid Major locks to be in the field of 64. Led by one of the top rebounders in the country, Senior PF Jemerrio Jones, has provided many second chance possessions for the Aggies. It’s also important to note that Clemson hasn’t been to the tournament since 2011. They will go in with no tournament experience while the Aggies have earned their dance card the past 2 years. Then a possible meet up with the Auburn Tigers who haven’t has their dance card signed since 2002 makes the Aggies possible Sweet 16 appearance a true bracket buster.