Welcome to Banners’ coverage of the 2018 NCAA Tournament! Here we will give you the same info that you can get hundreds of other places on the web processed slightly differently and with our own slant as you prepare to immerse yourself in all things college basketball in the most glorious four days on the sporting calendar. We will break the bracket down region by region to get you completely prepared to pick and, more importantly, root with the best information available.
The Midwest contains perennial blue blood powers Kansas, Duke, and Michigan State vying for the Final Four bid. They dominate the scene in the region, with most sites showing a 75-80% chance that it’s one of them advancing from the first two weekends. Farther down the region, the best 16 seed in tournament history lurks, and an under-the-radar potential star leads for the 10 seed. There’s plenty to be seen here.
How is an 11 overseeded? By being in the tournament at all. They’re 54th in the KenPom, 52nd in the Massey composite, and they’ve been getting crushed by pretty much every tournament team they faced. There are a slew of more deserving and more interesting teams left out; I don’t know what this selection was about by the selection committee, but I don’t like it. Bart Torvik says they’ve got a 51% chance of going home from Dayton, and I hope that 100% happens.
#3 Michigan State
The Spartans are one of two teams in the top ten on both ends of the floor according to KenPom; Duke is the other. Their losses are to Duke at a neutral site, at Ohio State, home to Michigan, and to Michigan at a neutral site. They’ve not lost to anyone outside of the top 15 in the KenPom. They’ve gone through their whole schedule and beaten everyone they were supposed to. Even in a down year for the Big Ten, that’s worth more than a 3 seed.
Easy to Like
#6 Texas Christian
My favorite thing about Texas Christian is Jamie Dixon. He coached at Pitt forever, but they canned him a couple years back because apparently making the tournament almost every year was too much fun for them. They inexplicably hired Kevin Stallings - who had sucked at Vanderbilt for years - and he immediately cured Pitt of relevance on the national stage. I’m sure Dixon is too #classy to throw a middle finger to Pitt for firing him and then hiring someone much worse while he won the NIT last year and is in the tournament this year, but I’m not. Screw you, Pitt, for thinking you were too good for Jamie Dixon.
Also, TCU is a veteran group that plays really good offense and shoots the three exceptionally well. All that makes them fun to watch, but it’s the Jamie Dixon Revenge Tour that really captures my heart here.
Fun to watch
#7 Rhode Island
If you enjoyed HAVOC when Virginia Commonwealth was doing it, you’ll probably get a kick out of watching these Rams, with whom you also don’t want to go to war. They sell out to force turnovers on defense; if they don’t get them, they’ll just foul you. Their defense overall isn’t that great and their whole offensive strategy is to chuck the ball at the rim as much as possible, then go get it off the glass. Some teams drag games into the mud; URI just wants to make them descend into chaos.
Easy to Hate
How could it not be? Their senior leader is Grayson Allen who - despite what Seth Davis would have you believe - has learned nothing from the adversity that he has put himself through by being a complete punk on the floor. Not even an indefinite one-game suspension from Coach K - who somehow has kept the reputation as a leader of men despite doing everything from paying players to letting Grayson Allen continue to exist - turned Allen’s behavior around. They’ve got a crop of one-and-dones who are probably great dudes, but there’s nobody I’ll be cheering for to lose in this region more than the Blue Devils.
I know, but go with me here. At 127 in the KenPom, Penn has a case as the best 16 seed in history, and they’re better than 9 teams that made this year’s tournament. Their defense smothers the arc, which is where Kansas loves to score points. Kansas also crushes from inside, but they’ve got injury concerns there. I think Penn can defend well enough to give KU problems; whether or not their 205th-ranked offense will find a way to get some points on the board is another question altogether. I’m not saying you should pick Penn here, but this isn’t exactly the kind of quasi-buy game a one seed usually gets.
#5 Clemson v. #12 New Mexico State
Fun fact: both of these teams live and die with their defense and can’t score that well at all. Fun fact #2: Clemson best scorer, Lord Donte Grantham, schtoinked his knee and is out for the year, taking his 14 and 7 with him. When you can’t score already and then your best scorer gets hurt and then you get drawn against a good defensive team, you might be in trouble. NMSU crushes the defensive glass; if Clemson can’t get first shots to fall, they’re not going to get second ones and could be on the way home early.
Player to Watch
Let me be the first to introduce you to a kid called Trae Young.
I’m just kidding. Let’s talk about TCU’s Vladimir Brodziansky instead. I’ll be referring to him by his full name throughout the paragraph because I cut and pasted it and that’s easier than learning how to spell it.
Anyway, Vladimir Brodziansky is a 6’11” center from Slovakia who his been storming the Big 12 all year. He has a 128.8 ORtg and an EFG% of 61.1%. He’s a monster on the offensive glass and blocks a ton of shots. Even better, he’s 114-139 (82%) from the line and 46-90 (51%) from the mid-range. He had the best ORtg in the Big 12 and kept his efficiency high against top competition. I hope TCU feeds him and he eats like the beast he is so we can see what happens when he faces Michigan State’s Jaren Jackson in the second round.