It’s March Madness, the greatest time of the year. Looking for some help with your bracket? Don’t know which teams to believe in, in this crazy college hoops season? We’ve got your back. We’re breaking down every first-round game in the field of 68, plus looking ahead at which teams will make the run to the Final Four.
6. Notre Dame (21-11, 11-7/ACC)–The high-flying Irish aren’t quite as good as they were last season, when they came thisclose to upsetting previously unbeaten Kentucky and advancing to the Final Four for the first time since 1978. But many of the same players from last season’s squad are back, including beastly forward Zach Auguste, who was tremendous in that Elite Eight game last season, doing a commendable job against Kentucky’s bigs, including likely NBA Rookie of the Year Karl Anthony-Towns. The 6-10 senior was also unstoppable against Duke in the ACC tournament, putting up 19 points and 23 rebounds. He’s without a doubt someone to watch in this tournament.
6-1 junior guard Demetrius Jackson is another key for the Irish, as he puts up 15.5 points, 4.8 assists and 3.5 rebounds per game. Three other players, 6-5 junior guard Steve Vasturia, 6-5 forward Bonzie Colson and 6-8 junior V.J. Beachem also average in double figures in scoring.
75.7 points per game (118th)
11. Michigan (22-12, 10-8/Big Ten)--The Wolverines probably cemented their NCAA Tournament spot after beating both Northwestern and top-seeded Indiana at the buzzer in the Big Ten tournament. Michigan does own four Top-50 wins, which the committee put a ridiculous amount of weight into, but they’re also 4-12 against top-50 teams. Still, head coach John Beilein has done a terrific job with this group, which lost its best player, senior guard Caris LeVert (16.5 ppg) to injury in December. LeVert returned for one game in February, but re-aggravated his left injury after just 11 minutes. He hasn’t played since.
In his absence, the Wolverines have turned to small-but-mighty guard Derrick Walton Jr. (11.7 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 4.5 apg), and 6-6 junior guard Zak Irvin (11.7 ppg, 3.1 apg). This team owns some quality wins, including home victories over Purdue and Maryland.
11. Tulsa (20-11, 12-6/American)–Everybody thought Tulsa was headed for the NIT when the Golden Hurricane were blitzed, 89-67, by Memphis in the American Athletic Conference tournament. But the committee’s obsession with top-50 wins gave this team a reprieve. It almost balances out–as the Golden Hurricane probably should have been included in the field of 68 last season, but were left out when it was clear the committee didn’t value the AAC.
This Tulsa team is dangerous, and it will enter the NCAA’s with a chip on its shoulder, as pundits like Dickie V will spend a few days shouting about how they don’t belong. But it also has some guys who can ball–including a terrific backcourt in 6-3 senior James Woodard (15.6 ppg, 5.2 rpg) and 6-4 senior guard Shaquille Harrison (14.8 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 4.1 apg).
PREDICTION: Michigan gets past Tulsa thanks to some hot shooting and size on the perimeter, but Notre Dame’s Auguste and Jackson are too much to handle in the Round of 64. The Irish advance to the second round, where they’ll fall victim to Bob Huggins and his ‘Press Virginia’ defense.