While you’re watching the Turner guys try to one-up each other on how much they know, follow and care about the NCAA Tournament…

 

LOCAL profiles-

Maryland (24-8)- which Terrapins team will we get?  The one that started a program-best 20-2 and ripped off road win after road win while repeatedly stealing victory from the jaws of defeat (Georgeton, Richmond, Michigan State)?  Or the one that had issues rebounding and saw its offense go extended stretches without scoring (Northwestern, Wisconsin, Purdue)?  Junior Melo Trimble was arguably the best player on this team from the moment he stepped on campus as a freshman, but during the preseason coach Mark Turgeon said that for the first time this was “his team”.  He can’t have turnover-filled games like he did in the Big Ten Tournament…while Trimble also needs help from the freshman trio of Kevin Huerter, Anthony Cowan and Justin Jackson.  A decent effort inside from Damonte Dodd wouldn’t hurt either.

 

Best Case- playing one game over a 13-day span recharges this team’s batteries and focus…and they find a way to put a slumping Xavier (4-7 finish with 3 wins over DePaul) out of its misery before shocking Florida State.  Back to back Sweet Sixteens? Even sweeter.  Worst Case- the “freshman trio has hit the wall” becomes more than just a theory while Dodd gets into foul trouble against a Musketeers team that ranked 1st in the Big East in rebounding.  Trevon Bluiett turns the Terps inside out and Maryland heads home without being able to visit nearby Disneyworld.

 

 

Virginia (22-10)- the Cavaliers can defend.  We’re talking #1 in the nation. Back to back efforts where they held ACC foes to under 50 points (and that’s with a shot-clock, four-corners devotees).  Unfortunately, there are two ends of the court and offensively UVa has been lacking as of late.  London Perrantes is a fantastic initiator, but the lack of a consistent secondary scorer means coach Tony Bennett has to find the hot hand in his rotation before feeding it.  The lack of a productive post-presence (6-foot-11 sophomore Jack Salt went scoreless with three fouls over 12 minutes in the loss to Notre Dame) puts way too much pressure on the perimeter.  On the bright side, they don’t have recent nemesis Michigan State (losses to the Spartans in 2014 and 15) in their region and last year’s kryptonite (Syracuse) is in the NIT.

 

Best Case- somehow Perrantes carries the Cavaliers past UNC-Wilmington and Florida with just enough help form Isaiah Wilkins, Devonte Hall and Marial Shayock.  Jack Salt makes more than two baskets for the first time in a game since December.  And somehow they avenge their January loss to defending champ Villanova in the Sweet Sixteen.

Worst Case- UNC-Wilmington (10th highest scoring team in D-I) runs them out of the gym Thursday afternoon.  Perrantes gets no help offensively and Jack Salt finds a way to foul out before the first TV timeout.  Once arriving home they tune in to watch Virginia Tech upset Villanova two days later (for shame!).

 

 

 

Virginia Tech (22-10)- the Hokies arrive a year early by hitting their stride late;  coach Buzz Williams team for the second straight year won six of nine down the stretch.  Last year it meant an NIT bid while this year it means Virginia Tech’s first trip to the big dance since 2007.  While Zach LeDay in the post (26 points and 11 rebounds a game this month) provides plenty of problems, the Hokies boast the best three-point shooting team in the ACC (#10 in Division I).  But defense and rebounding travel in the tournament, and the Hokies were last in the ACC in rebounding margin before losing top rebounder Chris Clarke to a season-ending knee injury.  And first round foe Wisconsin likes to board.

Best Case- the threes fall against Wisconsin as the Badgers crawl back into their late-season hibernation that lost five of six.  Villanova gets its scouting report mixed up and spends too much time guarding Justin Robinson from three and Justin Bibbs to penetrate…and the Hokies somehow reach the Sweet Sixteen as tournament darlings.

Worst Case– the rotation shortened to seven men due to injuries gets into foul trouble early against the Badger bigs, allowing Ethan Happ and Nigel Hayes to have the Hokies for lunch inside.  The threes don’t fall and coach Buzz Williams sweats profusely throughout the second half of a 20-point blowout.

 

 

 

VCU (26-8)- the Rams are the most recent “local” school to reach the Final Four.  Despite more wins than the Terps, Cavaliers or Hokies the Atlantic 10 runners-up find themselves with the lowest seed…and in the 7-10 game for the third straight year.  Senior JeQuan Lewis is the catalyst on both ends of the floor (4th in the A-10 in assists and steals) while junior Justin Tillman has posted nine double-doubles in his most recent 12 games.  They draw fellow mid-major Saint Mary’s in the first round…and have the longest to travel (Salt Lake City) of the area schools in the tournament.  But that’s nothing new, as they’ve also been sent to San Diego and Portland, Oregon in recent years.  I’m sure there are plenty of direct flights from Richmond…

 

Best Case- the Rams get past the Gaels after holding 6-foot-11 center Jock Landale (17 points and 9 rebounds per game this season) in check.  Their havoc defense wears down an Arizona team that peaked last weekend in the Pac-12 Tournament and the former Cinderellas are able to wear the glass slipper once again en route to the second weekend.

Worst Case- Landale and 6-foot-10 big man Evan Fitzner are too much inside and the Saint Mary’s defense that ranks 2nd in the nation causes too many bad possessions.  The Rams learn you can’t press of misses and turnovers…and come up short.

 

 

 

ODDS AND ENDS—

Biggest Snub—

Illinois State (27-6). Two losses since Christmas Day-both to a 30-win Wichita State.  Meanwhile, middling major conference schools like Vanderbilt (first 15-loss team to make the field as an at-large) from a so-so SEC makes the field.  The other pretenders (Iowa, Cal, Syracuse, Richmond) had enough holes in their resume to justify their exclusion of a bracket that rewards quality seasons.

 

Most Overseeded—

South Carolina.  The Gamecocks finished 22-10 and tied for third in an underwhelming SEC while entering Selection Sunday with five losses in their last seven games…yet they get a #7 seed in Greenville, SC?  Honorable mention goes to Minnesota scoring the second-highest seed (#5) from the Big Ten despite finishing fourth in the league and getting swept by Wisconsin (a #8).

 

Most Underseeded—

Wichita State.  The 19th ranked Shockers were certainly shocked to get a #10 seed after going 30-4.  While their major-conference foes (LSU, Oklahoma) wins game against teams that wound up underperforming, they’ve lost once since Christmas.  And they get to play Dayton in Indianapolis…with a potential second round showdown against Kentucky.  Honorable mention goes to SMU, who gets a #6 seed and won’t know their foe until Wednesday night’s game between USC and Providence.  Perhaps the committee has a thing against 30-4 teams…?

 

 

Local team everybody bandwagons on-

Can we include West Virginia?  No?  In that case Maryland will play in the Sweet Sixteen after disposing of Xavier and Florida State.  Melo gets one more weekend as a Terp before going pro…

 

 

Sleeper Pick-

Wake Forest played their way into the field as the young nucleus gathered by coach Danny Manning won seven of its last eleven.  Forward John Collins is the type of player the Demon Deacons can ride into the second weekend, and Wake has prevailed recently when foes have zeroed in on him.  Honorable mention goes to Rhode Island…who got hot late en route to an Atlantic 10 Tournament championship and faces a Creighton team that hasn’t been the same since losing Maurice Watson, Jr. to injury.

 

 

Favorite to Win-

North Carolina despite losing in the ACC Semifinals is a #1 seed and begins tournament play in Greenville, South Carolina.  The Tar Heels are talented and when focused their ceiling is better than anyone elses.  For all the grief Roy Williams gets, he has as many National Championships (2) as Dean Smith has…and in half the tenure of his late mentor.  UNC won’t need an errant pass or late time-out to give him a third.

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