Virginia might have gotten the NCAA Tournament’s overall No. 1 seed by dominating the ACC this year, but in a bracket that includes Arizona, Cincinnati, Tennessee and Kentucky, they’ll have to show and prove that they’re worthy of that lofty status.
North Carolina vs. Virginia: 4 Cavaliers scored in double figures as UVA won its third-ever ACC Tournament Championship, 71-63 over the 6th-seeded Tar Heels. Kyle Guy led the Hoos with 16 points in the title game. Luke Maye scored a game-high 20 points for UNC in the loss.
The Cavaliers should handle UMBC and the winner of the Creighton vs Kansas State game to advance to the Sweet 16, but that’s where things will get tricky, as they’re likely to be tested by a surging Kentucky squad or the Pac-12 regular season and tourney champs, Arizona.
The region is filled with NBA Draft prospects to watch out for like Arizona’s DeAndre Ayton, Allonzo Trier and Rawle Alkins, Miami’s Lonnie Walker, Texas’ Mo Bamba and Kerwin Roach, Kentucky’s triple-headed monster of Kevin Knox, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Hamidou Diallo, Creighton’s Khyri Thomas, Nevada’s Kendall Stephens, and Cincinnati’s Jacob Evans. Unfortunately, Virginia’s top prospect De’Andre Hunter will have to sit out of the tournament due to a broken wrist.
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There’s a great clash of styles in the opening round matchup between No. 7 Nevada and No. 10 Texas, with the Wolfpack being an offensive juggernaut and Mo Bamba anchoring a Longhorn defense that’s about as stingy as Mr. Krabs and Montgomery Burns.
The No. 6 Miami (Fla.) vs. No. 11 Loyola (Ill.) game should be hot as well. Loyola won 28 games, hasn’t lost since January and plays lock-down D, but Miami’s freshmen sensations Lonnie Walker and Chris Lykes can boogie on opponents through isolation sets with the best of them.
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But without their injured sophomore stud Bruce Brown, a certain future first round NBA Draft pick, the Hurricanes are vulnerable. The Ramblers spread the floor with perimeter players that can pass and shoot, and some are eyeing them as a Cinderalla fully capable of making a Sweet 16 run.
If you’re looking for a sleeper team to bust the bracket early on, No. 12 Davidson might be your best bet. They won’t make a magical run to the Elite 8 like they did when Steph Curry made the March Madness his coming-out party, but they bang 39.3 percent of their three’s and senior forward Peyton Aldridge is a stud. Kentucky, despite being athletically superior and loaded with future pros, better come correct or they’ll get bounced with the swiftness.
On Wednesday, Feb. 21, senior Peyton Aldridge joined an elite group of Davidson players, surpassing 2000 points.
If coach John Calipari’s crew can continue on the upward trajectory they exhibited to close out the regular season and in winning the SEC Tournament, we’re in for a helluva treat in the second round, where they’ll be facing an Arizona team that many are predicting to win the national championship.
That matchup is something we’re more accustomed to seeing in a regional final and will feature at least six future NBA Draft picks and an orgy of athleticism, the best being the aforementioned Knox and Ayton, with the Bahamas native being the consensus future overall No. 1 pick.
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Cincinnati doesn’t get the love or have the high profile like the Kentucky’s of the world, but no team in this field is looking forward to playing against their ferocious defense. The Bearcats, who went 30-4, have been outstanding all year. They’ll take you down like Old Man Otis on the defensive end. But they play a rugged, physical brand of grown-man basketball on both ends of the floor.
Head coach Mick Cronin has plenty of firepower with 6-foot-8 forward Gary Clark, who averages 13 points, 8.5 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game, playing alongside the deep guard contingent of Jacob Evans, Justin Jennifer, Jarron Cumberland and Cane Broome. Big man Kyle Washington, a 6-foot-9 senior who averages 11.3 points and 5.4 boards, is no joke either.
In episode 5 of The Journey, Coach Cronin talks about the high expectations he has for junior Jacob Evans III this year and Jacob shares with us how he is going to be a leader on the court this season.
Virginia’s the favorite, Arizona looks sexy and Kentucky is Kentucky, but Cincinnati could be the South Region’s last team standing in the Final Four.