Mar 3, 2018; New York, NY, USA; Michigan State Spartans guard Cassius Winston (5) controls the ball against Michigan Wolverines guard Jaaron Simmons (5) during the second half of a semifinal game of the 2018 Big Ten Tournament at Madison Square Garden.

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Mark's NCAA Tournament Predictions

What to watch for in March Madness

Mark Menard
March 13, 2018 - 6:40 pm

So just my luck, I've been asked to write a column filled with March Madness predictions in what could be the most unpredictable year in recent memory. I'm going to preface this article by warning you. I'm no expert. I'm not some analytical wizard with eidetic memory, reveling in the minutia of moneyball and Sabermetrics and parsing out field goal percentages to the eighth decimal. I didn't win any rings for my prowess on the court. In fact, you could have glued my shorts to the bench in high school, and I wouldn't have noticed until it was time to get on the bus.

I'm just a guy who loves basketball more than any other sport despite living in the heart of football country and watches as much of it as he can come tournament time. I fill out a bracket every year, and it generally becomes useless midway through the second weekend. But that doesn't bother me. It's all part of the best tournament in sports. With that in mind, here's a few observations that I hope prove useful.




11) Loyola Chicago over 6) Miami

Loyola is a seasoned  bunch who should have ended their 30+ year tournament drought last year but got snubbed despite a 28-win season that saw them come in second behind Wichita State. The Shockers switched conferences in 2018, leaving the MVC there for the taking, and the Ramblers did just that. In an absolutely loaded quadrant of the bracket, Loyola could spoil the dreams of any number of higher seeds.



12) South Dakota State over 5) Ohio State

The Jackrabbits are in the tournament for the fifth time in seven seasons and the third straight year. They have yet to win a single tournament game. This year, they match their best ever seeding at #12 and could finally be poised for a breakthrough. Junior forward Mike Daum will be a handful for the Buckeyes to contain.



13) Marshall over 4) Wichita State

Another top mid-major star who could make some noise in the tournament is Marshall's Jon Elmore. We all know the school's rallying cry "We are Marshall," but in Elmore's case, he really IS Marshall as their top scoring threat and a top line defender. He also had the hot hand in the Conference USA tournament final, knocking down a C-USA championship game record seven three-pointers. With Wichita State's penchant for sleeping on defense, Elmore could help Marshall shock the Shockers.



12) New Mexico State over 5) Clemson

The Aggies have  been rolling since before the calendar flipped to 2018. New Mexico State has lost just twice since Santa squeezed his butt down the chimney in late December, and have experience under the belt with their second straight trip to the NCAAs. It's been 25 years since they came away from the Madness, but they've got a strong shot to end that losing streak against Clemson and add to the rich tradition of 12-seeds pulling off first round upsets.




5) Kentucky vs. 12) Davidson

I could put virtually any matchup in the South bracket in this spot because that 16-team field is loaded with teams with legit Final Four aspirations, and only one of them will come through the gauntlet to get there. The first round has proven to be a stumbling block for an absurd number of #5 seeds over the years because the tournament committee tends to place lower-tier "Power 5" teams in that 5 spot while placing top-tier mid-majors in and around #12, the perfect storm for upsets. Kentucky got hot in the SEC tournament after a lackluster regular season (by its standards, that is), and it's once again a team of one-and-done freshmen molded by Coach John Calipari. He'll match wits with Bob McKillop and his team of upperclassmen. Ultra-talented but inexperienced youth vs. wily veterans is almost always a fun tossup to watch.



7) Texas A&M vs. 10) Providence

The Aggies flirted with becoming one of the nation's top teams for, like, a week at the beginning of the season, but that disappeared quickly once SEC play started. They seemed to turn things around, but did they really? We'll find out when they face the Friars in the first round. Providence tore through the Big East tournament and showed their stamina, beating both Creighton and top seed Xavier in overtime before losing in OT to Villanova in the title game. They're a hungry team, and they might just get their fill of the Aggies.



5) West Virginia vs. 12) Murray State

Murray State rides one of the nation's longest winning streaks into the Big Dance. The Racers have won 13 straight and are led by sharpshooting senior guard Jonathan Stark. They make their return to the NCAAs for the first time since 2012. West Virginia may have been underseeded a bit at #5 and knocked off overall #1 Virginia this season. The Mountaineers have shown lapses this season though and Murray State could capitalize if they're taken too lightly.



1) Kansas vs. 16) Penn

I'm not ready to pick this as an outright upset, but this is certainly a game I'll be watching. A 16-seed has never beaten a #1, but the law of averages says it has to happen someday, right? And the Ivy League champion Penn Quakers may have the best chance in a long time to make that happen. They were probably disrespected a bit in this spot, but any perceived slight would turn into a blessing if they can make history. Meanwhile, Kansas under Bill Self is the 1990s Atlanta Braves of March Madness, ripping through the Big 12 with relative ease every season only to get bumped out of the Big Dance far sooner than expected in many a year. Yes, they've got a national title, but the Braves managed one World Series win, too.



This is one of the most wide-open, even fields we've ever seen in the NCAA tournament. Nothing would surprise me when this thing shakes out. All four number 1's? Wouldn't be the first time. No number 1's left standing? Also viable. Four mid-majors? That would be a first but isn't that far-fetched this season, though having Gonzaga and Xavier in the same quadrant makes that more unlikely.

In the end though, here's what I've got:

Cincinnati, North Carolina, West Virginia, Michigan State


Print it out and take it to the bank, but only if you need scratch paper to calculate your deposits. Enjoy the madness. It may not be just a clever marketing gimmick this year.

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