Now that we know the brackets and who will be playing where, the real fun begins. Anyone can fill out a bracket with four No. 1 seeds cutting down the nets and making the Final Four. But what fun is that? And more appropriately, how often does that even happen? There will be upsets and inevitably, a mid-level team will get hot. Take a look at LSU in 2006 (as a No. 4 seed) or Alabama in 2004 (as a No. 8 seed).
Yes, we know Kentucky probably won’t get beat early, and that Syracuse and UNC both look Final Four bound. But we’ve said the same things about other “unbeatable” teams in the past. Someone is going to catch a quick exit.
So here are five teams to watch, one from each bracket and a sleeper team you might not expect to make a run at New Orleans this year.
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EAST: Vanderbilt (No. 5 seed)
Vandy is running on pure confidence right now. After beating Kentucky in the SEC championship they are back to playing their best basketball. Vandy is a very experienced team that returned five starters from last year (four of which are seniors). They are a team that holds themselves to high standards. They entered the season as a pre-season top 10 team. They have some great players in John Jenkins, who is one of the nations best outside shooters, and Jeffery Taylor who proved against Kentucky that he’s capable of playing with the best. Look for Vandy’s experience and confidence to carry them through the early stages of the tournament. All roads lead through Syracuse for them, but if they can pass that test lookout for Vandy to make a run at winning it all.
MIDWEST: Georgetown (No. 3 seed)
Georgetown is a team that has all the necessary pieces. They’ve got the perfect roster to fit the type of basketball they need to play to win. With the recent emergence of Henry Sims, Georgetown’s roster matches their identity even more now. Sims has been passing the ball carefully and skillfully. They’ve been able to use him as that post facilitator that Roy Hibbert and Greg Monroe used to be. They’ve got Hollis Thompson and Jason Clark who can both knock down outside shots and both have the experience needed to provide that will to win mentality. The key advantage for Georgetown is their depth. The freshman Otto Porter has provided a great spark for them and has really turned it up as of late. If Georgetown is playing at tip top shape they can be a very big test for Kansas and then top-seeded UNC.
SOUTH: Baylor (No. 3 seed)
Baylor is just too balanced of a team. With Pierre Jackson, Brady Heslip and Deuce Bello off the bench they have the firepower in the backcourt to keep up against some of the better backcourts in their division. Heslip and Jackson are both top notch shooters from the outside who push the tempo. Baylor’s first big test will likely be against the 2nd seeded Blue Devils, who seem determined to make something special happen. However, Baylor’s biggest advantage over every team is their size, which is something Duke just can’t match up against. Perry Jones III, Quincy Acy and Quincy Miller are three players Duke just doesn’t have an answer for. If Baylor can ride their size and outside shooting through the South bracket, they are a mismatch for any team.
WEST: Florida (No. 7 seed)
Florida is one of those “live or die by the jump shot” teams. But with the path they have laid out in front of them, that’s exactly what they’re going to need to advance. Kenny Boynton, Bradly Beal, Erving Walker and Erik Murphy (who has really come on as of late) are a tough group to match up with. When they’re hitting their shots this team can be really tough to keep up with on the scoreboard. If they can pass their first big test in Missouri, which will be a hard fought game and will ultimately most likely come down to the very end, the future looks bright for the Gators. The better teams they have in their bracket all force you to make jump shots and that’s exactly what they do best with their superior guard play. If they can get hot and stay hot, Florida will be a force to be reckoned with.
SLEEPER: Murray State (No. 6 seed)
Murray State is a team you might not know much about. They haven’t had the hardest schedule in the nation but they managed to put together a remarkable record of 30-1 this season. They are a team that’s not accustomed to losing and are extremely confident in their abilities. Isaiah Canaan is one of the nation’s best players and doesn’t get the national recognition he deserves. Keep and eye on them in that weaker West division. They’ve got a shot at making a run at the Final Four if they can continue to play at the level they’ve played at all year.
Which five teams will you be watching closely?
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