Everything You Need to Know About the 2015 NCAA Tournament
The NCAA men’s basketball tournament field of 68 was announced on Sunday evening, meaning everyone at your office is working harder on their brackets than their real jobs today.If you are clueless about college hoops, don’t stress: many of your co-workers haven’t paid attention to college basketball since last March (when the guy who only picks teams with dog mascots guessed Connecticut would win it all).
Besides, we’ve put together a guide of the most important things you need to know to help you fill out your bracket, with favorites, contenders, possible upsets and notable storylines. Grab your brackets and go:
The Favorite: Villanova – The top-seeded Wildcats have won 15 straight games since losing to Georgetown on Jan. 19. Coach Jay Wright’s team is experienced and balanced, with no player carrying a scoring average of more than 15 points per game. Villanova should be a lock to at least get to the regional final.
The Contenders: Virginia and Louisville – Second-seeded UVa was among the best teams in the country for most of the season. The defensive-minded Cavaliers play — and win – in ugly fashion. If guard Justin Anderson can come back from an emergency appendectomy that sidelined him late in the season, Virginia could win the region.…Rick Pitino always has fourth-seeded Louisville ready to make a March run. The Cardinals could easily be the team that keeps ‘Nova Nation from the Final Four.
Possible Upset Picks: LSU and Boise State/Dayton – Ninth-seeded LSU gave top-ranked Kentucky one of its toughest games earlier this year, so knocking off inconsistent eight-seed N.C. State in the first round will be an easy task by comparison.…Both Boise State and Dayton, who will face each other in a play-in game, will be capable of beating the sixth-seeded Providence Friars. However, PC’s LaDontae Henton and Kris Dunn might not just let that happen.
Player to Watch: Seth Tuttle, Northern Iowa – Wooden Award finalist Seth Tuttle of Northern Iowa might be the best player you’ve never seen. A forward who can score, rebound and defend, Tuttle has fifth-seeded Northern Iowa ready to step into the Butler – Gonzaga – VCU realm as an perennial mid-major power. If UNI moves through the rounds, he’ll be the reason.
Storyline You’ll Likely Hear: Louisville Misses Chris Jones – Louisville dismissed guard Chris Jones from the team for disciplinary reasons on Feb. 22. He’s subsequently been charged in a rape case. The fourth-seeded Cardinals are 3-2 since Jones — the team’s leader in assists — was dismissed, and 5-5 over their last 10 games. If Louisville struggles the first weekend, the pundits will point the finger at Jones’ absence.
The Favorite: Duke – Ho-hum: Duke is favored to return to the Final Four again. With Quinn Cook, Tyus Jones, Justise Winslow and Jahlil Okafor leading the way, the Blue Devils won 12 straight games even after dismissing Rasheed Sulaimon from the team in January. Duke may be one of two teams, including Wisconsin, who could legitimately match-up with Kentucky…provided the Blue Devils stay away from another early round upset.
The Contender: Iowa State – Third-seeded Iowa State is playing as well as any team not named Kentucky. The Cyclones defeated Oklahoma and Kansas on the way to the Big 12 title. They could be Final Four-ready, especially with forward Georges Niang fully healthy; he suffered a broken foot in ISU’s first game of the 2014 NCAA tournament.
Possible Upset Picks: Eastern Washington, Davidson and North Dakota State – The South could be where many brackets get busted. Thirteenth-seeded Eastern Washington is paced by Tyler Harvey, the nation’s leading scorer. The Eagles, who have already beaten Indiana this year, could become the latest underdog to take out Georgetown early in the tourney… Davidson’s sharp-shooting team and motion offense makes it a challenge for any team. If the 10th-seeded Wildcats can drop seventh-seeded Iowa, it would underline how weak the Big Ten actually is this season…Remember when second-seeded Gonzaga was the scrappy upstart? Well, Mark Few’s Bulldogs are now the established power — one that hasn’t gotten out of the NCAA’s first weekend since 2009. Fifteenth-seeded North Dakota State has nothing to lose.
Player to Watch: Jahlil Okafor, Duke – Duke has a history of big men — Danny Ferry, Christian Laettner, Elton Brand, Shane Battier, etc. — who haven’t been as dominant in the NBA as they were in college. Freshman Jahlil Okafor figures to change that when he gets to the Association. Other than his pedestrian free-throw shooting, the Blue Devils’ center is the big payoff for some NBA team’s tanking tactics.
Storyline You’ll Likely Hear: UCLA Didn’t Belong – Despite playing Pac-12 champ Arizona tough twice this season, 11th-seeded UCLA probably should have been playing in the NIT. The Bruins’ shaky record against ranked teams indicated that they weren’t as deserving as others. Yet, they were given another opportunity to embarrass themselves in March (against former UCLA coach Larry Brown and SMU, no less). How long before Steve Alford starts feeling the same heat that forced his predecessor Ben Howland out?
The Favorite: Kentucky – The top-ranked Wildcats have complied a 34-0 record on the way to becoming the even-money favorite to win the title. Karl-Anthony Towns, Willie Cauley-Stein and Devin Booker lead Big Blue’s legion of NBA-level talent which defends even better than they score. If any team comes within 10 points of this juggernaut, it may feel like an upset.
The Contenders: Wichita State – In 2014, it was undefeated Wichita State who lost to Kentucky in an amazing NCAA tournament game. Could the tables turn in 2015? The seventh-seeded Shockers are still very good, with Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet leading a balanced offense. They won’t fear the Wildcats if they face them again.
Possible Upset Picks: Buffalo and Texas – The 12th-seeded Buffalo Bulls gave Kentucky a big scare this season. Head coach Bobby Hurley will make sure his players are as unflappable as he was when he played for Duke. That could mean trouble for fifth-seeded West Virginia… The strength of the Big 12 was all the rage during the pre-selection show chatter. As an 11th-seed, Texas can prove the pundits right by taking out sixth-seeded Butler.
Player to Watch: Jerian Grant, Notre Dame – A 6’5” scorer, Jerian Grant is an NBA level talent who has spearheaded the potent Notre Dame offense all season long. He could take over the Midwest Region — until the Irish face Kentucky.
Storyline You’ll Likely Hear: It’s Kentucky’s Tournament To Lose – Kentucky John Calipari finally won his first NCAA title when his 2012 Wildcats cut down the nets. Odd as it may seem, he really can’t win this year: if Kentucky takes the title, they were supposed to win it anyway; if they lose, they have failed.
The Favorite: Wisconsin – The top-seeded Badgers’ are experienced, disciplined and talented enough to win an NCAA title. Wisconsin’s methodical play is refined enough to knock-off Kentucky or any other team in the field. If point guard Traevon Jackson returns from a foot injury, the Badgers should find themselves in the Final Four.
The Contenders: Arizona and North Carolina – The West has an abundance of talented, athletic teams who could march into Indianapolis instead of Wisconsin. Pac-12 champion Arizona has won 11 games in a row and 17 of 18 overall. Brandon Ashley, Stanley Johnson and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson could prove difficult to stop…Only fourth-seeded North Carolina could win 24 games and reach the Atlantic Coast Conference title contest and have it seem like a down year. The Tar Heels still have enough talent to make a deep run.
Potential Upset Picks: Georgia State and BYU – R.J. Hunter, Ryan Harrow and Kevin Ware form a three—guard trio that makes 14th-seeded Georgia State a nightmare opponent. Inconsistent three-seed Baylor could find that out right away… Let by the high-scoring Tyler Haws, BYU is fun to watch and rarely gets out-hustled. If 11th-seeded Cougars can get by Ole Miss in the play-in round, they could roar past Xavier, too.
Player to Watch: Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin – An athletic center who can shoot the three and block dunks, Frank Kaminsky makes NBA scouts salivate. As good as his 18.1 points and 8.1 rebounds per game are, his fun-loving attitude is even better.
Storyline You’ll Likely Hear: The Big 12 is Up; The Big Ten is Down – While both the Big 12 and the Big Ten conferences each landed seven teams in the NCAA tournament, the Big 12’s reps trend higher: second-seeded Kansas and three-seeds Baylor, Iowa State and Oklahoma. After top-seeded Wisconsin, the Big Ten has only fourth-seeded Maryland in the top 16 overall seeds. The iconic conference could be down to just two teams — or fewer — after the first weekend. The Big 12 likely won’t have that problem.