The Midwest features Virginia and Michigan State as the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds, with some arguing MSU should be the top seed. Utah and Iowa State round out the top four.
Virginia is going to win. Let’s just get that out of the way. I’ll explain how dominant they are later on, but don’t overthink this game. Virginia will win. Hampton made it to the tournament last year, giving it experience few mid-majors have. They have two players with great names who each score frequently, with Reginald Johnson Jr. and Quinton Chievous averaging over 17 points per game. However, Virginia is just too good.
Robbie’s Pick: Virginia
No, Brad Stevens does not coach this Butler team. But these Bulldogs are one of the most experienced teams in the tournament, as no man in their eight-man rotation has fewer than two years of playing experience. Texas Tech is a balanced team that can be led by any of their starters. Either team could win this game, but Texas Tech’s weak rebounding will come back to haunt them. They were 300th in the nation in defensive rebounding, and that simply is not good enough to win close games.
Robbie’s Pick: Butler
Little Rock is intriguing sleeper pick. They have 29 wins, tied for second most in the nation. Every starter is an upperclassman, making it the 12th-most experienced team in the nation, according to KenPom.com. They didn’t lose consecutive games all season, and run a nine-man rotation that allows them to play aggressive defense all game. UALR defends the perimeter extremely well, and is 19-0 when their opponents make fewer than 15 free throws. Unfortunately for them, Purdue’s size does not care about Little Rock’s chances. Purdue trots out two 7-footers in AJ Hammons and Isaac Haas. Purdue will pound it inside all game, and Little Rock will be unable to defend it.
Robbie’s Pick: Purdue
Georges Niang vs. A.J. English is going to be a riveting matchup. Niang is Iowa State’s do-everything center, averaging 19.8 points, 6.2 rebounds and 3.3 assists. He is perhaps the toughest matchup in the nation because he can beat defenses in so many different ways. A.J. English is one of the best scorers in the nation, averaging 22.5 points per game, while dishing out over six assists. The Gaels rely on 3-pointers, and have five players on their team who have attempted at least 60 this year. A team that relies on three pointers rarely goes far, but they are great upset picks. Iowa State is very talented and has a huge chip on their shoulder after losing in the first round last year, but they get bounced early again. They don’t get to the free throw line and are not good rebounders – statistics that are very relevant come March.
Robbie’s Pick: Iona
Seton Hall is one of the hottest teams in the nation, beating Xavier and Villanova on its way to the Big East Tournament Championship. They are in the top 15 in efficiency defense, and have a great guard in Isaiah Whitehead. No team wants to play them right now. Gonzaga has two stars in Domantas Sabonis and Kyle Wiltjer, but no help around them. If Sabonis or Wiltjer has an off night, Gonzaga is out.
Robbie’s Pick: Seton Hall
Forward Marvelle Harris’ 20.7 points per game leads Fresno State, which made the tournament because someone from the MWC had to qualify. The Bulldogs simply do not have the talent to compete with a team like Utah. The Utes have a star in Jakob Poeltl, who is averaging 17.8 points and 9.1 rebounds per game. Poeltl is one of the best big men in the country, and will be too much for Fresno State to handle.
Robbie’s Pick: Utah
Which Syracuse is going to show up? The team that beat Notre Dame and Duke? Or the team that lost five of their last six games? Jim Boeheim’s team always runs a great 2-3 zone that makes it difficult to get good looks from outside. This season has been no different, with the Orangemen having one of the best 3-point defenses in school history. It’s too hard to trust Syracuse, however, especially against a good Dayton team. Dayton is a strong team, but this pick is more about Syracuse than Dayton.
Robbie’s Pick: Dayton
Tom Izzo wins in March. I’ll save the real statistics for later, but know that Izzo has more Final Fours (seven) than first round losses (four).
Robbie’s Pick: Michigan State
Robbie’s Sweet 16: Virginia, Purdue, Michigan State, Utah