WNUR 4-on-4: Men’s Basketball Tournament
It’s the first installment of 4-on-4 here at WNUR, where four of our broadcasters answer four questions about happenings in the world of college (and often Northwestern) sports. As yesterday was selection Sunday, Michael Stern (@michaeljstern23), Ari Ross (@aross50), Ryan Fish (@ryanmfish), and Josh Burton (@josh_burton1) reveal their final four teams, sleeper picks, and national champions. The quartet also predicts the fate of all seven Big Ten teams in the tournament.
Who’s your Final Four?
Michael: I think Kentucky is pretty clearly the best team in the country at this point, and I don’t think they’ll be seriously challenged until the elite eight against Notre Dame. The Irish can shoot and they have some sneaky size, but Kentucky’s depth will wear the Irish down. Wisconsin and Arizona are on a collision course for the second straight year out west, and I like Arizona this year. Sean Miller’s team almost beat the Badgers a year ago, and the addition of Stanley Johnson will pay dividends in the Elite Eight. I don’t think Wisconsin has a player that can stay with Johnson, and Arizona heads to the final four. Back East, this is a tough draw for Villanova. They’ve got two teams, Northern Iowa and Virginia, that can shorten the game, play great defense, and hit clutch shots. I’m concerned about the health of Justin Anderson, and I’ve just got a strange feeling about Northern Iowa. Seth Tuttle can dominate in the post, and fellow seniors Deon Mitchell and Nate Buss have been around the block. There are a clear top three teams in the south: Duke, Iowa State, and Gonzaga. I fell in love with this Gonzaga bunch early in the season, and I’m sticking with them to get to the final four. Pangos and Bell are veteran guards, Wiltjer is a go-to scorer, and Gonzaga has two bigs they can rotate that will give Okafor fits. Gonzaga-Iowa State is almost a toss-up, but I think Wiltjer can match up pretty well with Niang down low.
Ari: In the Midwest, Kentucky’s the best team in the nation and should be able to get through their bracket pretty handily. In the East, Villanova is also one of the best in the nation, 5th in Kenpom, and should advance to the Final Four with a win over Virginia, who could have trouble manufacturing offense, in the Elite Eight. In the South, picking against Duke is usually a good strategy so I think Utah upsets the Blue Devils in the Sweet 16 paving the way for the winner of Iowa State vs Gonzaga to make the Final Four. And in the West I think chalk holds for the most part and the winner of Wisconsin vs. Arizona will make the Final Four, that being Wisconsin who is build for the NCAA Tournament.
Ryan: Kentucky, Arizona, Duke and Virginia. Yes, all are either one or two seeds, but just because Cinderella is back on the big screen doesn’t mean a Cinderella team has to make major noise in the tourney. One of these teams, of course, could be the victim of a major upset earlier in the tournament, but none seem exceptionally flawed or vulnerable in my eyes until the later stages. Duke and Kentucky’s offensive weapons make them especially dangerous.
Josh: In the Midwest, I don’t see any team being able to take down undefeated Kentucky. Maryland, Notre Dame, and Kansas could give the Wildcats a good game but Kentucky is just too good. In the East, Villanova has a pretty easy road to the Final Four, but I could see 7-seed Michigan State surprising many to give them a run in the Elite 8. Villanova should make it through. In the West, Wisconsin has the country’s best player–Frank Kaminsky–and has been one of the more consistent teams this season but do have some tough potential matchups in North Carolina, Baylor and Arizona. Still, the Badgers are a tough team to take down. In the South, Duke and Gonzaga are the top 2 seeds but I see Iowa State–under Fred Hoiberg–making a surprise run to the Final Four thanks to Georges Niang and Bryce Dejean-Jones and the Cyclones’ outside shooting.
How does the Big Ten do?
Michael: I think Hammons and Purdue feast on Cincy before Kentucky steamrolls them. Maryland got a rough draw here. I actually have them losing to Buffalo in the second round. The Bulls played Kentucky and Wisconsin close early in the year, and I’m picking them to make a Cinderella run. Indiana is far over-seeded in my opinion, and Wichita State is under-seeded. The Shockers should dispose of the Hoosiers pretty easily. Wisconsin can get to the elite eight, but they aren’t super deep unless Traevon Jackson comes back, and I don’t think they’ll have enough left in the tank to beat Arizona after facing fast-paced Arkansas or UNC in the sweet 16. Ohio State got a tough matchup, and the VCU press will confuse the young Buckeyes in the first round. Michigan State can handle Georgia, but beating Virginia in two straight tournaments is a tough task, and the Spartans are weaker this year. I think Davidson beats Iowa in the first round. The Wildcats can really shoot from the perimeter, and Iowa showed against Northwestern that they can struggle from behind the arc.
Ari: I think Indiana, Ohio State and Iowa all lose in their second round match ups as all are facing teams that they’ll have trouble against. Maryland, the 2nd luckiest team in Division I according to Kenpom, gets upset in the second round while Michigan State and Purdue lose to top-seeded teams. But Wisconsin wins the entire tournament, bringing home the NCAA title to the Big Ten for the first time since 2000.
Ryan: The most likely pick for a Big Ten team in the Final Four is Wisconsin, but I have Frank Kaminsky and co. losing to Arizona in the Elite Eight (a rematch of last year’s battle; sure, I’ll say this year’s game goes to overtime too). Wisconsin is undoubtedly an elite team, but I can see T.J. McConnell and the Wildcats having success in the pick-n-roll game as Michigan State did in the Big Ten Tournament; that being said, this game is almost a toss-up for me. I have Maryland winning two games before losing to the bulldozer that is the Kentucky Wildcats in the Sweet Sixteen. As much as I’d like to see the Terps pull the unlikely upset, I don’t see that happening. I have four other Big Ten teams winning at least one game, with Purdue, Iowa, Michigan State and Ohio State beating Cincinnati, Davidson, Georgia and VCU respectively. Watch out for the Spartans and Buckeyes, though. Michigan State’s dynamic backcourt and Ohio State’s athleticism could spell trouble for teams in the second round (or beyond). Finally, I think Indiana loses its first round game against Wichita State. *Insert incredulous Tom Crean expression here*
Josh: Purdue can beat Cincinnati in the first round before falling to Kentucky in the Round of 32. Maryland should be able to beat Valparaiso and West Virgina before losing to Kentucky in the Sweet 16. Wisconsin will make the Final Four before becoming the 3rd Big Ten team to fall to eventual champion Kentucky. Ohio State, led by D’Angelo Russell, will upset VCU and Arizona to reach the Sweet 16 before running into Baylor. Michigan State will surprise some people and stun Virgina in the second round before beating Providence to reach the Elite 8 where the Spartans will lose to Villanova. Iowa faces a tough matchup in the first round with Davidson and will see Aaron White’s career end abruptly with a quick exit. Indiana barely got into the tournament field but will shock Wichita State in the first round before falling to Kansas
Who are this year’s sleepers?
Michael: I mentioned Buffalo, I think they’ll reach the sweet 16 as a 12-seed. Watch out for Wichita State against Kansas; Bill Self teams love to bow out early in the tournament and there’s some bad blood here since the Jayhawks refuse to play Wichita in the regular season. I LOVE Eastern Washington as a double-digit seed in the sweet 16. Tyler Harvey is the country’s leading scorer, the Eagles won earlier this year at Indiana, Georgetown almost always loses in the first round, and Stephen F Austin might take care of Utah for them. Out on a limb, I kind of like NC State against Villanova. The Wolfpack have beaten Duke, UNC, and Louisville this year, and played Virginia tough twice. Coach Mark Gottfried took down a number one seed when he was in charge at Alabama, and Barber, Lacey, and Turner can make shots.
Ari: In March you can never bet against Tom Izzo, so Michigan State is a team that could surprise. Notre Dame won the ACC Tournament beating Duke and UNC, and could have a shot at taking down Kentucky should they get their. Utah is a team that could give a lot of teams trouble, including Duke if they can advance to the Sweet 16. Eastern Washington has the top scorer in Division I in Tyler Harvey (22.9 PPG) and that alone makes them a team to watch.
Ryan: Both of my sleeper teams are from the basketball powerhouse that is the state of Iowa. Northern Iowa is dangerous team: the Panthers are currently 4th in the country in opponent’s points per game and Senior Seth Tuttle (15.3/6.8/3.3) is a monster. Iowa State can also make some serious noise; the Cyclones have beaten Kansas and Oklahoma twice and seem to thrive in tight games or when faced with a deficit. Be wary of the Big XII champs, too.
Josh: Michigan State blew an early lead in the Big Ten Tournament Championship to Wisconsin but in beating Maryland in the semis, the Spartans showed how good they can be. Even as a 7-seed, they can make some noise and take down some higher seeds en route to the Elite 8, where their run will end to ‘Nova.
Who is the national champ?
Michael: I’m not going against Kentucky. Too much athleticism against Arizona, Northern Iowa, or Gonzaga. For what it’s worth, I think it’s a final of ‘Cats and ‘Dogs as transfer Kyle Wiltjer faces his former team.
Ari: Wisconsin upsets Kentucky, preying on their youth, Frank “The Tank” Kaminsky & co. make their way to the championship where they face Villanova who defeats Gonzaga in a close one. Ultimately Bo Ryan and the experienced Badgers pull this one out with their superb offense.
Ryan: Duke over Kentucky. I’m going with the field over Kentucky in a probably ill-advised move, but I think the Blue Devils are out for blood after losing to a (albeit a very good) Notre Dame team in the ACC Tournament. Also, Kentucky playing SEC competition all year and struggling against some mediocre teams has to catch up with them sometime, right?
Josh: Kentucky is too good, has too much depth and too much size to be prevented from an incredible 40-0 season. This is their season.