Which teams are your sleepers this March?
Phil Mitten (@hoopsmarinara): Off the top of my head, I'll be looking at Albany, LSU, BYU, maybe even (gasp) Purdue. I've irrationally liked Iowa State all season, so the winner of a potential SMU-Iowa State game would be an intriguing team.
Neal Olson (@olewr7): Pencil this in as provincial if need be but I think Ohio State and Michigan State as potential
second round (whoops!) third round match-ups for Arizona and Virginia respectively are ones to watch. The Buckeyes and Spartans both have talented and well coached players familiar with big spotlight games. I would not be surprised to see either team end up advancing into the second weekend.
In general it seems like no one is giving anyone outside of Kentucky a shot to win the entire tournament. Let me interject another wild idea, Kentucky doesn't make it to the Final Four. Clearly they have the most talented team this year, but they have been pushed by lesser SEC teams all season and needed overtime to beat Texas A&M and Ole Miss. While it may not be clever to think they will treat a tournament game with the same intensity as a mid-February conference game, it is a single elimination tournament. The undisputed favorite does not have a rich history of winning the NCAA tournament. One hot-shooting team can send you home without warning. Such is the joy of the madness (Tongue-in-cheek note to the editor: please delete this graf and ridiculous prediction retroactively -- please and thank you).
Luke Mueller (@Luke_Mueller24): I'm going to buck the trend here and say I think this season will be mostly chalk. I think a team that could really surprise this season is Northern Iowa. Seth Tuttle is a beast and would be getting much more National Player of the Year talk had it not been for him playing in the Missouri Valley Conference. I think Iowa State has proven time and time again that they can come back from any deficit they face (see: Big 12 Championship game).
My favorite 5-12 matchup is Buffalo over West Virginia. The Mountaineers are coached well by Bob Huggins, but Bobby Hurley's Buffalo squad scared Wisconsin and led into the second half against Kentucky. They are not intimidated by anyone. I think that Texas, Wichita State, NC State, and Ohio State can all also make some noise.
Roundtable: What are UW's Final Four obstacles?
Our roundtable returns to talk about the Badgers' performance in the NCAA tournament. Who stands to give Wisconsin the biggest challenge?
Texas has the size and shooting ability to beat a stingy Butler team and then would take on Notre Dame who can light it up, but has been very inconsistent despite winning the ACC tournament. I firmly believe that Wichita State will be hungry to prove themselves after an early exit last season. They will take on a reeling Indiana team, who they should handle. Then they play a very athletic Kansas team, but we have seen with Kansas that a well-disciplined team can frazzle and beat them (i.e. Iowa State in the Big 12 Championship).
N.C State is a very underrated team that can fill the bucket. While LSU is very athletic and has two potential first round picks on their team, the Wolfpack should have little trouble with LSU and then have the ability to beat a Villanova team that doesn't score very well. Look for the Wolfpack to get up early in their game against Villanova with outside shots and hold the pedal to the metal.
Finally, Ohio State -- yes the same team that got blown out at home to Wisconsin -- can surprise due to their size and talent. If Shannon Scott and Trey McDonald play up to their potential while D'Angelo Russell just plays like himself this team can be lethal. Time and time again we've seen good point guard play can carry a team far. The Buckeyes can beat the vaunted "HAVOC" defense that VCU will play against them because of Russell and Scott's guard play. After that, Arizona will pose a major threat (which I think will be too much), but Ohio State can hang with Arizona all game. It wouldn't surprise me at all to see the Buckeyes in the Sweet 16.
Zach Sinykin (@ZachSinykin): I actually see quite a bit of sleepers and potential cinderella teams in the 2015 NCAA Tournament. Some double-digit seeds that have jumped off the page to me is Buffalo, who can shock some people with its team chemistry and athleticism. Eastern Washington has Tyler Harvey and his sharp-shooting ability. Valparaiso has knocked off some quality opponents and Maryland will have to prepare for its work on both ends of the court.
Now those are only the teams that can shock people. In terms of Final Four sleepers, you have got to like some of those Big 12 teams that haven't received enough love. Oklahoma and Iowa State are two teams I can proudly say that I have been cheering for all year long, mainly for their grit and determination. The Cyclones are better off than the Sooners, as Oklahoma lacks an interior presence needed to go far in March.
What is the toughest bracket region?
Phil: The only thing I know for sure is that I think Duke's road is the easiest in the South. I give the nod to the Midwest as the toughest because of Kentucky, but seeds No. 2-4 are strong with Kansas, a surging Notre Dame team and Maryland. A close second would be the East, depending on if Justin Anderson can get going for Virginia. Michigan State looks like a tough No. 7 right now, plus Northern Iowa is a sneaky No. 5. But I'll change my mind on all of this tomorrow.
Neal: The East and the West regions have to be considered the toughest regions. If only because both No. 2 seeds in Virginia and Arizona had legitimate claims to be on the one line. And as noted before they are rewarded with potential second games against two college basketball powerhouse programs in Michigan State and Ohio State.
The good news for all these teams is the brackets are set up as such that in order to win the region you only have to beat four teams, not all 15.
Luke: I think the Midwest and the West are the toughest brackets. Kentucky will be challenged at some point by a team like Maryland, Notre Dame, or Kansas. All of those teams have players who can score and are well disciplined. Purdue is an intriguing matchup for them because Matt Painter could hypothetically throw A.J. Hammons and Isaac Haas at Kentucky at the same time, which would match their front court size of Willie Cauley-Stein, Trey Lyles, or Karl-Anthony Towns.
In the West, I think the No. 1-4s in this regional are the most solid and athletic. Arizona is hot and has all of it's parts firing on all cylinders, Baylor is athletic and big as always, and North Carolina has length, athletic, and finally tapped their potential. Going further down the line, Arkansas has the SEC Player of the Year, and Xavier played in the Big East championship game. VCU has been a Cinderella and always players stifling defense. The West is very difficult come Sweet 16 time in my eyes.
Zach: I honestly think Kentucky can be challenged in their own region. With an off night and great play from the likes of Kansas, Notre Dame and Maryland can all pose major threats to the Wildcats' aspirations at 40-0. Although in my opinion, the only team capable of knocking off the Wildcats in the Midwest are the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame. They have the multitude of shooters and relatively solid length to keep up with Kentucky, at least on offense.