How far does ND go?:
This is not an original thought by any means but this first round game will come down to which team is hitting more of their outside shots. Pat Connaughton is on fire NBA Jam style right now but the Irish will need Cameron Biedscheid to join in on the fun. Eric Atkins will provide steadiness at the point and if Jack Cooley feels fully healthy after nearly a month-long slump, the Irish should be able to withstand the Cyclones' perimeter barrage. Having said that, if Fred Hoiberg's squad shoots from distance like they're playing in Ames, the Irish may be in trouble. I believe the Cyclones will hit their share of threes but most of them will be in a late charge attempt and the Irish will survive a late come back from the Mayor's squad.
After that I just don't have enough faith in this year's squad to be clicking on all cylinders to get past an Ohio State team playing their best basketball at the right time in front of what is basically a home court crowd. I think Notre Dame is good enough to be in the game for most of it, but ND hasn't shown that they can check off all the boxes in the same night... next year, though, will be a different story.
Eric Atkins - for being the most steady and reliable factor on the team
Louisville over New Mexico and Georgetown over Indiana. Louisville wins it all.
Most Outstanding Player:
I'm stupid stubborn and I think Otto Porter will still deliver a couple of great performances.
Is Oregon going to the sweet 16 an upset? How about Pitt over Gonzaga? Those are the only two conspicuous upsets I'm picking.
How far does ND go?:
Last year, I had the Irish crashing out in the first round to Xavier. They had already peaked in January/February, didn’t look good down the stretch or in either Big East tournament game, and didn’t really have any "strength". This year, despite again being a 7 seed, they couldn’t be more different. They have played well recently, particularly in the Big East tournament. They have plenty of bigs, are playing better on defense, have achieved a much better offensive rhythm against non-Louisville opponents, and as Brey notes, are playing mature at the most important time for that.
My point is, this feels like a different team than most Irish squads in March. This feels like the break out we have been waiting for, the time for them to overachieve. Thus, not only do I have them beating ISU, I also think they shock the world and beat Ohio State. I think New Mexico takes them out in the Sweet 16 round (predicting an Elite Eight appearance feels greedy), but this is a mature team that can hang with and beat nearly anyone in the country, especially an Ohio State team that likes to slow it down and keep things low-scoring. The three games against Louisville will have prepared Notre Dame well, and they will be ready for the moment. Finally.
Jerian Grant – Not very many players in this tournament can do all the things that Grant does, but not many players are more frustrating in their attempts to do those things. As the season has progressed, Jerian has held the keys to more and more of what the Irish are able to do offensively. He has grown into an impressive passer with outstanding vision. His attack off the dribble has gotten miles better and, unlike Irish player I can think of in recent memory, knows how to get to the free throw line. He throws up some head scratchers and is susceptible to some bad cold streaks, but a good Jerian Grant can carry a team in March against anyone. If the Irish are successful, it’s hard to imagine it doesn’t start with a successful Jerian Grant.
2 of 4 – The Irish need at least 2 out of 4 big men to play well in each game to win. I don’t care who, I don’t care what combination, I don’t care if it’s different from game to game. I’m talking like 8+ points, 8+ rebounds, being a regular option on offense, passing out of double teams, legitimately good offensive game. If 2 of them can do that, not many teams can match that or control tempo like the Irish would be able to.
Louisville over New Mexico. Syracuse over Kansas. Louisville over Syracuse. I’m not really sure how anyone can choose a team other than Louisville. Maybe Duke, maybe Indiana, but no one’s going better than the Cardinals right now.
In order to get out of the East region, Michael Carter-Williams is going to have some darn good point guard showdowns. Victor Oladipo of Indiana, Shane Larkin of Miami, and Anthony Marshall of UNLV are amongst the guards he will likely face off against just to get to the Final Four. I have the ‘Cuse beating Kansas to get to the title game as well, so if he can go toe-to-toe with Ben McLemore and come out on top, he’d get my vote no question.
I put Akron in the Sweet 16, which would mean victories over both VCU and (likely) Michigan. Something crazy has to happen this tournament. I hate Michigan’s trajectory right now, and they don’t play defense. VCU is due some regression to the mean in the tourney. And Akron is comparable to Butler this year, can D up, plays 11 regulars, and has plenty of size. Reasons this won’t happen: a) it’s ridiculous (Michigan in Auburn Hills, VCU?!?) and b) their starting point guard is suspended for a pot-trafficking charge. Go Zips!
How far does ND go?:
They lose in the first round. I would love to see this not happen, but there's a lot of March baggage to deal with. They had a ten-point lead against Xavier in the second half last year! I’m hoping this is wrong, but it seems like Iowa State is going to be hot early, go up double digits and then after the Irish slice it to a one-possession game late in the second, some violation I’ve never heard of will be called to silence all momentum.
Eric Atkins – The old adage is your length of stay in the NCAA Tournament is decided by guard play, and against a team that is going to want to push tempo, the junior point will need to keep things settled, get the ball into the paint and keep the Cyclones out of the paint if the Irish want to advance.
Garrick Sherman – Despite his lack of a high-post game –Louisville just standing ten feet away and looking at him as a style of defense might have been the low point of the Big East Tournament – if Sherman is dropping lefty hooks and banging inside, this team has the front court depth to go against anyone. If he’s not doing those things, Tom Knight’s jumper is off and Zach Auguste is doing freshman things? Yeesh.
Gators over Hurricanes, Cardinals over Buckeyes. It’s pretty chalky, but I can’t talk myself into anything else. Cardinals win the title.
Chane Behanan, the MOP from the West Regional last year, goes on a tear that gets him talked about as a top ten pick in this summer’s draft.
HOP ABOARD THE NATE WOLTERS TRAIN, CHOO CHOO. A few years back, it was Ben Woodside and North Dakota State who I hitched my wagon to. They ran into a Cole Aldrich triple-double, but Wolters and South Dakota State? TAKING DOWN THE WOLVERINES, LET’S GO.
How far does ND go?:
Homer all the way... Our boys are going to get on a roll, and after Belmont knocks off NM, and we take down OSU, we just need to shut down the Bruin's Cinderella run, and get past a pesky (and equally hot) Wisconsin team to get to the Final Four. Sadly, Duke decides to give us an early welcome to the ACC and sends us packing.
Eric Atkins – Perfect execution of the "burn" and flawless decisions on the pick & roll simply takes teams apart. Really, he's always the MVP. Cooley and Grant get the love, but Eric is the straw that stirs the drink.
Cam Biedscheid – He seems like a "bright lights" guy, and I'd love to see him light someone up from downtown while playing lockdown perimeter D.
Duke/ND with Duke winning. IU/Michigan with IU winning. Duke wins it all.
If they pick someone off the winner, I'd say Kelly from Duke. If they win, he'll have to hit shots and rebound. My other guy is Trey Burke. Michigan will need to control tempo vs VCU and Kansas, and he'll have the ball in his hands.
Given I put a 7 seed in the Final Four (an unprecedented act of wild homer-ism), you could say ND as a 7 over the 2 seeded Buckeyes, but in that same bracket, I have Belmont taking out Alford's bunch (and that is if they get past Harvard). I just don't see New Mexico as a 3. Beating Cincy by 1 over Christmas break doesn't impress me at all.