Sports staff predicts NCAA bracket wins – The Vermilion
Another year of college basketball has come and gone, and March Madness is once again upon us. Last year’s tournament was drama-filled until the very last second of the very last game, with Villanova beating North Carolina on a game winning buzzer beater by Kris Jenkins. This year promises to be nothing less than amazing. The sports staff at the Vermilion decided to join the bracket picking fun and get together and give our picks for the final four and the eventual national champions.
Final Four: Derek
Duke (East) vs. Arizona (West)
Kansas (Midwest) vs. UCLA (South)
National Championship: Arizona vs. UCLA
National Champion: UCLA
When I got to the end of my bracket, I realized I had one No. 1 seed, two No. 2 seeds and a three seed, which would be the first time since 2009 that the four teams in the Final Four were a top-three seed in their bracket. So basically, there’s no way I will be right. I think it’s one of the best things about March Madness — even the experts on ESPN get a lot of games wrong. With that being said, here’s my best guess on who will end up at the end of the big dance.
Duke, Arizona, Kansas and UCLA are all very good teams that have played at an elite level at some point during the season. Duke and Arizona are both playing good basketball coming off conference tournament championships. Kansas made an early exit in the Big 12 tournament and UCLA lost in the semifinals to Arizona.
Duke might be the most hot-and-cold team in the Final Four, as they rely heavily on the three-point shot, but they are playing great basketball currently. Arizona, however, has been a different team since the return of sophomore guard Allonzo Trier on January 21 the Wildcats have gone 13-2. Trier is averaging 17.3 points per game and 4 rebounds per game.
Kansas has been consistent all year with the play of guards Josh Jackson (16 ppg) and Frank Mason III (20 ppg), but UCLA has the best guard in college basketball in freshman Lonzo Ball. Ball, paired with senior guard Bryce Alford, make up the best backcourt in college basketball. Add freshman titan TJ Leaf into the equation, who is averaging 16 points per game, and you have a very formidable trio for the Bruins that pairs talent and experience. The Bruins have six players who score in the double digits per game; with sophomore guard Aaron Holiday pacing the second team, the Bruins are deep.
Arizona beat UCLA two out of three times this season, but I believe it will be the Bruins who get the last laugh and cut down the nets for the first time since 1995.
Final Four: Louis
Duke (East) vs. Arizona (West)
UNC (South) vs. Louisville (Midwest)
National Championship: Arizona vs. UNC
National Champion: Arizona
A lot of people are picking Duke to win the title, and there are reasons behind that, as Duke is now healthy at the right time and consists of a full rotation. They will most likely meet with Villanova in the Elite Eight, but the momentum for the Blue Devils going into the NCAA tournament is unmatched.
Championship week says a lot about teams, and Duke winning the ACC by winning four games in four nights is something. Not to mention, Duke faced a deficit in each of those games. Sophomore guard Luke Kennard is one of the best scorers in the country with 20.1 points per game. Freshman guards Jayson Tatum and Frank Jackson are starting to find their rhythm in the offense. This team has the making of a championship team starting with head coach Mike Krzyzewski to their talented roster.
If you want to talk about playing big, North Carolina will show you. UNC is the best rebounding team in the country. Games slow down during March, and the Tar Heels’ ability to run a successful half-court offense will benefit them in the tournament. The likes of Isaiah Hicks, Kennedy Meeks and Tony Bradley free up the perimeter so the guards can get easy baskets. Junior guard Joel Berry is able to run this team like no other player on UNC can, so if he is able to stay healthy, then the Heels have a shot at the title.
Defense wins championships — I believe that mantra is still true to this day. The Louisville Cardinals grabbed the No. 2 seed in the Midwest region behind their intense defense.
Teams only average 39.6 percent from the field against this team and only shoot 30.9 from the three-point line. Teams tend to fall in love with the outside shots, and the Cardinals have the ability to expose teams of that flaw. Louisville has length and the athleticism to carry them on offense, while getting solid production from their bench. For the Cardinals to come out of this tourney as champions, they must continue to produce complete team performance on both ends of the floor and make the games ugly for the opponent with their aggressive defense.
My pick to win it all is the Arizona Wildcats. In a guard-driven era of basketball, the Wildcats feature two 7-footers in their starting lineup. With a 30-4 record, they have shown that teams can win with size, while still being able to impress from the three-point line. Arizona can still play from the perimeter with the best of them. Their 7-foot freshman Lauri Markkanen shoots 43.2 percent from three. Another important aspect of winning games in March is making free throws. Arizona shoots a high 75.8 percent from the free-throw line. This team is versatile. They only allow 65.4 points per game, which shows they are strong on the defensive end. All they have to do to win it all is continue to move ball and avoid taking tough, contested shots. The only thing stopping Arizona from winning it all is themselves, and their versatility will prove to be too much for the other teams in the tournament.
Final Four: Kristen
Duke (East) vs. Florida State (West)
Oregon (Midwest) vs. North Carolina (South)
National Championship: North Carolina vs. Duke
National Champion: North Carolina
Oregon ended the season with a record of 29-5, averaging 79.1 points per game. They are the No. 3 seed for the Midwest. They’ve had only one championship and one Final Four appearance. I’m taking a leap of faith on them making it to the Final Four this year, but I don’t see them making it past that.
Florida State is seeded at No. 3 in the West after ending their season with 25-8. Freshman forward Jonathan Isaac is expected to be a top NBA draft pick. The Seminoles average 82.5 points per game. This team has never won a National Championship and have only made it to the Final Four once.
Oregon and Florida State are both good teams, and I never cross out teams that are ranked below No. 2, but with the competition this year, I don’t see these two teams making it to the Championship game.
I predict that Duke will make it to the National Championship against North Carolina. They ended the season with a record of 27-8, averaging 80.7 points per game. The Blue Devils won their 20th Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament title after defeating Notre Dame 75-69. They are now the No. 2 seed in the East. In school history, they have won five National Championships, which is the same as North Carolina.
North Carolina ended the season with a record of 27-7, averaging 84.9 points per game. They are the No. 1 seed for the South, and, in my opinion, the NCAA Champions. This is the team’s 16th time being awarded the No. 1 seed and their 48th appearance in the NCAA Tournament. The Tar Heels made it to the Championship game last year but fell to Villanova with a score of 77-74. I think this is North Carolina’s year to bring the NCAA trophy back home.