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The Daily Cardinal Est. 1892
Sunday, September 26, 2021
Breaking down the road to Indianapolis

Hayward: Senior forward Lazar Hayward and the Golden Eagles have been competitive in nearly every contest this season.

Breaking down the road to Indianapolis

Midwest

Home of the No. 1 overall seed the Midwest region should be Kansas' to lose. The Jayhawks stay close to home on Oklahoma city and then St. Louis and boasting a sterling 32-2 record. After them come teams like Ohio State (could be a challenger), Tennessee (criminally under-seeded) and Michigan State. Georgetown at a three-spot seems a little high for a team that lost 10 games and ended the regular season on a 2-4 skid. Few of the lower-seeded teams seem to have much upset potential, with 13- and 14-seeds Houston and San Diego St. which snuck in by scoring conference tournament upsets over more well-regarded teams (New Mexico and UTEP).

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It's the Jayhawks, they have talent coming out their ears, force turnovers, run and can overwhelm opponents defensively. Beastly big man Cole Aldrich is at the center of it all, dominating as a rebounder, swatting away 3.5 shots per game. on the perimeter point guard Sherron Collins runs the show and is the team's top scorer and distributor. The senior has plenty of experience in March, having played a crucial role on Kansas' 2008 championship and even assisting on Mario Chalmers' game-tying three which sent that title game to overtime. Besides those two Kansas has good depth and features efficient scorers like freshman guard Xavier Henry (.415 3-point shooter) and sophomore forward Marcus Morris. The Jayhawks use their length well to shut down the middle and rank second in the nation in 2-point percentage allowed.

Sleeper

It's just such a copout but the sleeper in this region has to be Georgia Tech, more by process of elimination than anything else. Northern Iowa should be here, but as a nine-seed they are a long shot to get Kansas in the second round (though a methodical offense, 10-deep rotation and trapping defense could make life difficult for the Jayhawks).

The bottom of the region is lacking so the 10-seeded Yellow Jackets fill this spot. We know they have talent in players like freshman forward Derrick Favors, sophomore guard Iman Shumpert and junior forward Gani Lawal. We know they have depth (a solid nine-man rotation). What we don't know is what shape they will show up in. Tech was only 19-11 in the regular season and had a losing record in conference. In the ACC tournament, however, they pulled off three close wins and were four points from winning the whole thing.

If Tech gets on a roll they basically have no ceiling... their players can be that good. It would not be surprising for them to flame out in the first round, but they are also the only lower-seeded team that under the right conditions could take down an Ohio State or Kansas.

—Ben Breiner

West

Look as hard as you want, you're not going to find a region more wide-open than the West. The region's top seed, Syracuse, saw its loss in the Big East tournament along with the injury to senior forward Arinze Onuaku resulted in it dropping from the third No. 1 seed to the fourth. But it might work out for the Orange because compared to the other regions they might have the easiest path to the Final Four for a No. 1 seed.

The region holds a couple of tough match-ups in the first round and possesses the opportunity for some great games in the second and onward. First, No. 16 seed has never beaten a No. 1 seed, but Syracuse's match-up with Vermont could give them some trouble. The last time the Catamounts were in the big dance was 2005 when they upset Syracuse. The Orangemen were a No. 4 seed then but you know they haven't forgotten. Vermont is led by senior forward Marqus Blakely who is one of two, along with Evan Turner of Ohio State, players to average over 17 points, nine rebounds and three assists. That being said, the Orangemen are still the favorites in the region.

Two bubble teams, Minnesota and Florida, get a chance to prove they belong by taking on Xavier and BYU. Many had the Gators on the outside looking in but they're back for the first time since they won it all in 2007. And the Gophers are looking to rebound from Ohio State stepping on their faces in the Big Ten championship game.

Potential Matchup

The best potential match-up would be a Sweet Sixteen battle between Syracuse and Butler. Usually a giant killer, Butler is now a No. 5 seed, and if they can get past a frisky UTEP team, they have the opportunity to do some damage. The Bulldogs have won 20 straight and have four players averaging over 10 points a game.

Sleeper

Want to impress your friends with an insane sleeper? Try Murray State. The Ohio Valley Conference champions are extremely balanced and hold its opponents to under 40 percent field goal percentage while shooting over 50 percent. Only two teams in the nation did that this year, the other was Syracuse. Over the last five year only four teams have done it and three of those made the Final Four. Vanderbilt should have its hands full and don't be surprised if the Racers try on the glass slipper.

—Nick Schmitt

South

The South may be the weakest of the regions with Duke, perhaps the worst No. 1 seed, and an ailing Purdue as the No. 4.

Favorite

Duke is the No. 1 seed, but Villanova should be the favorite to advance to the Final Four from this reason. The Wildcats come into the tournament a bit cold, losing six of their last 10 games. But Villanova is more battle-tested than Duke, playing in the Big East. And the Blue Devils have also put up weak showings in this event lately, while the Wildcats reached the Final Four last season.

This is the Wildcats' year to win it all. The center of their team, guard Scottie Reynolds, is now a senior, and perhaps the most savvy point guard in the country. One would be hard-pressed to find a better veteran point guard to lead a team through the NCAA Tournament. Reynolds leads the Wildcats with 18.5 points per game, and is the team's go-to scorer. But Reynolds can also function as a distributor, as his experience has made him a smart ball handler.

Villanova boasts even more experience, as its next three leading scorers are all of juniors (guards Corey Fisher and Corey Stokes and forward Antonio Pena). When the Wildcats face a pressure situation with the season on the line, they can turn to players who have been there before.

Sleeper

Last year in the NCAA Tournament Siena took down Ohio State, then gave No. 1 Louisville all it could handle before falling to the Cardinals. This year the Saints return four of their five starters from last year's team giving them NCAA experience, and as a No. 13 seed, have a manageable path to the Sweet Sixteen, facing a No. 4 and potentially a No. 5.

In addition, the Saints catch a major break with their first-round match up, drawing Purdue. The Boilermakers had a fantastic regular season, but the injury of junior forward Robbie Hummel has completely devastated their team. In their last game, Purdue was blown out of the water against Minnesota, scoring only 12 first-half points and ultimately losing by 27 to the Gophers. Expect an experienced Siena squad to blitz Purdue, then take down Texas A&M to reach the Sweet Sixteen.

East

The East region boasts two giants, with Kentucky and West Virginia, both of which could have been No. 1 seeds.

Favorite

The Wildcats (32-2) have to be considered the team most likely to reach the Final Four because of the talent they can put on the floor. Everyone talks about freshman guard John Wall, and for good reason, but even the talent surrounding Kentucky without Wall is remarkable. Freshman forward DeMarcus Cousins is as powerful as anyone in the country on the low post. Along with junior forward Patrick Patterson, who is scoring 14.7 points and hauling in 7.4 rebounds per game, the Wildcats have a frontcourt few teams can contain.

But Wall is the centerpiece of the team and can take over games. He may be the most explosive offensive player in the nation, capable of single-handedly leading the Wildcats on scoring runs. Wall is quick, can create his own shot, get to the rim without trouble and hit outside jumpers. Few teams can throw out a defender to contain a player like Wall.

One fear analysts have with Kentucky is their inexperience, which can lead to the Wildcats having problems closing out games. But Kentucky's talent makes them the odds-on favorite to advance to the Final Four.

Sleeper

The Golden Eagles lost a lot of talent after last season when Dominic James, Wesley Matthews and Jerel McNeal graduated. But head coach Buzz Williams has this year's team playing hard, and as a result, Marquette has competed with every team its faced.

The Golden Eagles lost 11 games this year, but only one by double-digits. Six of their defeats (against Florida State, West Virginia, DePaul, Notre Dame and West Virginia twice) have come by three points or less.

Senior forward Lazar Hayward is the heart of this hard-nosed team, scoring 18.1 points per game. Hayward can shoot from long distance, and despite standing only 6'6"" tall, is strong enough to make an impact in the low-post.

Marquette has proven it can play with any team out there. One cannot count them out of any match up after seeing what the Golden Eagles did this season.

—Scott Kellogg

 

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