1 Virginia Cavaliers vs. 4 Iowa State Cyclones - Midwest Region - Chicago, IL
Tip-off: 7:10pm (all times Eastern), CBS (Kevin Harlan/Reggie Miller/Dan Bonner/Lewis Johnson)
I've been singing Virginia's praises for awhile now, having been a disbeliever for most of the last two seasons. But credit where it's due, Tony Bennett has built something magical in a place where that isn't necessarily easy to do. Even as a top seed and top 10 team most of the season, I still can't help but feel that these guys are underrated by most. But they are KenPom's best team for a reason, and even their losses are mostly close road losses to good teams that easily could've gone their way. Plus, I really think they have the best all-around player on the court no matter the opponent in Malcolm Brogdon.
Iowa State has one of the best offenses in the country (3rd in KenPom) and a lot of senior leadership to steady what's been a bit of an up-and-down season under first-year coach Steve Prohm. I actually like them quite a bit as a Final Four sleeper but just think they are running into a buzz-saw of offensive and defensive efficiency in Virginia. This will be a good, close, methodical game but one in which I see Virginia pulling away late. Or at least my brackets hope so.
Prediction: Virginia 71, Iowa State 63
6 Notre Dame Fighting Irish vs. 7 Wisconsin Badgers - East Region - Philadelphia, PA
Tip-off: 7:27pm, TBS (Brian Anderson/Steve Smith/Dana Jacobson)
You can find my full preview here, but considering the propensity of both these teams to play in the most exciting games possible these last two tournaments, buckle up. This one could be an absolute thriller.
Prediction: Notre Dame 67, Wisconsin 62
10 Syracuse Orange vs. 11 Gonzaga Bulldogs - Midwest Region - Chicago, IL
Tip-off: 9:40pm (approximate), CBS (Kevin Harlan/Reggie Miller/Dan Bonner/Lewis Johnson)
What to do about two teams that underachieved this season but have absolutely obliterated their competition in the first two rounds of the tournament? I can't shake the feeling of watching too much of Syracuse down the stretch this season and knowing just how bad they can be. The Zags, on the other hand, I've seen a lot of great basketball out of them these last few weeks, not the least of which was their dismantling of 3 seed Utah.
Do I see the zone giving Gonzaga a hard time? Not really, even though their biggest weakness is probably at the point guard position (although McClellan and Perkins have been pretty good of late). Domantas Sabonis is a great, athletic player who can operate in those tight spaces, and Kyle Wiltjer can obviously beat them over the top or drive on them. Ultimately, though, Gonzaga's defense is one of Mark Few's best, and I just don't see Syracuse generating enough offense or controlling the boards enough to keep up.
Prediction: Gonzaga 76, Syracuse 69
1 North Carolina Tar Heels vs. 5 Indiana Hoosiers - East Region - Philadelphia, PA
Tip-off: 9:57pm, TBS (Brian Anderson/Steve Smith/Dana Jacobson)
The Indiana bandwagon is full after a very nice performance against a talented-but-flawed Kentucky team. The Hoosiers' offense is terrific, and one of those teams that can just explode for a big run at a moment's notice. Their defense is much-improved as well, although I think it remains to be seen how much that is a product of the B1G competition. This game should tell us a lot about how far they've come.
North Carolina has a lot of disbelievers for a team that swept the ACC regular season and tournament crowns. They've eased their way past their two first opponents, but obviously neither of them are nearly as good as Indiana. That front-line, though; how does Indiana compete with that? Thomas Bryant is just too much of a kid (maybe physically but certainly emotionally) to really neutralize that experienced Tar Heel front. Too many extra chances for North Carolina give them the edge over Indiana's three-heavy offense, but just barely.
Prediction: North Carolina 73, Indiana 70