2013 NCAA Tournament Preview — Favorites, Cinderellas and Players To Watch
The 2013 NCAA tournament begins Tuesday night in Dayton, Ohio. Between now and the national championship game in Atlanta on April 8, the nation's best college basketball teams will duel to decide which school deserves the title. Here's a preview of what to watch for in each region:
Best First Round Game — Butler vs. Bucknell: Butler has become a consistent national power. Rotnei Clarke and Andrew Smith will have their hands full with Bucknell center Mike Muscala. He averaged 19.0 points and 11.2 rebounds per game this season.
Possible Cinderella — Davidson: The talented duo of Jake Cohen and De'Mon Brooks lead the 14th-seeded Wildcats, who have played the Cinderella role before. Getting by a Buzz Williams-coached Marquette team in their first game won't be easy, but it's not a typical 14-3 seed mismatch.
Potential Upset Victim — Syracuse: The Orange are terribly inconsistent. At times, it seems as though Syracuse is one of the nation's best teams, but then they go through stretches like the 41-10 run by Louisville in the second half of the Big East title game. Guards Kareem Jamar and Will Cherry of Montana could certainly send Jim Boeheim home early.
Final Four Pick — Miami: Unlike top-seeded Indiana, the second-seeded Hurricanes won their conference, dispatching North Carolina in the ACC title game. Guard Shane Larkin is a solid playmaker who can score the basketball. Head coach Jim Larranaga has assembled a tremendous team for the tournament. The Illinois-Colorado winner could give Miami a problem, but there's no one in this region the 'Canes should fear.
Player To Watch — Victor Oladipo, Indiana: The Hoosiers' athletic guard was the Big 10 Defensive Player of the Year and will be an NBA star someday soon. He is capable of carrying the team to the Final Four.
Best First Round Game — Creighton vs. Cincinnati: Creighton's Doug McDermott is a scoring machine and Player of the Year candidate, while Cincinnati guards Sean Kilpatrick and Cashmere Wright score and defend very well. The Bluejays will need to be more disciplined to check the athleticism of the Bearcats.
Possible Cinderella — Oregon: Has a major conference champion ever been as disrespected as the Ducks were when given a No. 12 seed? E.J. Singler and Carlos Emory are the best players on a deep team that has already beaten UNLV, UCLA and Arizona this year. Oregon isn't a national title contender, but they could outperform their seed.
Potential Upset Victim — Saint Louis: The fourth-seeded Billikens are a very good team from the underrated Atlantic-10 conference, but they'll face a New Mexico State team that is the tallest in the country. Saint Louis' Dwayne Evans, Mike McCall and Cody Ellis can score with anyone, but they'll face NMSU's 7'5" Sim Bhullar in the second round.
Final Four Pick — Louisville: The top-seeded Cardinals almost seem like a lock to advance to the Final Four. The Midwest regional field offers a few challengers to Louisville outside of the top four seeds, but Duke and Michigan State have been shaky lately. Guards Peyton Siva and Russ Smith give head coach Rick Pitino experience, defense and scoring.
Player To Watch — Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State: An excellent passer and skilled defender, Smart can take over games with his play making ability and quick hands. He's a likely NBA lottery pick whenever he decides his college days are over.
Best First Round Game — Minnesota vs. UCLA: Many pundits will count out UCLA because of the loss of freshman Jordan Adams to injury in the Pac-12 semifinals, but the Bruins still have Shabazz Muhammad, Larry Drew II and Kyle Anderson. Minnesota forward Trevor Mbakwe averaged 10 points and 8.7 rebounds a game and could be a force against the UCLA frontcourt.
Possible Cinderella — North Carolina: It's hard to imagine a North Carolina team being considered a Cinderella, but the expectations for Roy Williams' largely unranked Tar Heels aren't very high this year. P.J. Hairston and James Michael McAdoo helped the team play its best games late in the season. A third-round clash with Kansas would be difficult to win, but UNC's talent is as good as anyone's.
Potential Upset Victim — Michigan: Player of the Year candidate Trey Burke has done all he can for the Wolverines, but they haven't been able to beat the best teams. If Tim Hardaway Jr. and Glenn Robinson III don't step up, Michigan could find itself back in Ann Arbor quicker than they intended.
Final Four Pick — Kansas: Save for Gonzaga, no other highly ranked team has been more consistent than Kansas this season. Head coach Bill Self has another cast of dependable performers ready for a March run. If center Jeff Withey can stay out of foul trouble, the Jayhawks should contend for the national title.
Player To Watch — Ben McLemore, Kansas : A skilled shooter with great athleticism, Kansas guard Ben McLemore is among the nation's best players. He could go first-overall in the 2013 NBA draft, should he decide to declare.
Best First Round Game — Wisconsin vs. Mississippi: Led by the antagonizing and frenetic play of guard Marshall Henderson, SEC-champ Mississippi likes to run the floor. The Rebels will have a difficult time with the defense-first approach used by Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan, but if anyone shouldn't be counted out it's Henderson and Ole Miss. They weren't even favored to make the tournament a few weeks ago.
Possible Cinderella — La Salle: The Explorers haven't been to the NCAA tournament in more than two decades, but they bring a resume filled with tough wins and close losses to quality teams. The team doesn't rebound well, but the backcourt duo of Ramon Galloway and Tyreek Duren creates a match-up headache for most teams.
Potential Upset Victim — Gonzaga: Top-seeded and top-ranked Gonzaga is having a record-setting year, but they aren't able to sneak up on anyone, anymore. Player of the Year candidate Kelly Olynyk is a solid scorer and rebounder, but if he is lost to foul trouble or neutralized by a defense, it might mean the 'Zags go home early.
Final Four Pick — New Mexico: Kendall Williams, Alex Kirk and Tony Snell give the Lobos enough talent to compete with any team. Head coach Steve Alford has them believing they deserve to be in the Final Four, and he could be right.
Player To Watch — Rodney MacGruder, Kansas State: A versatile guard, Rodney McGruder led Kansas State with 15.6 points and 5.4 rebounds per game. He and the Wildcats implement coach Bruce Weber's game plan exceptionally well.