Contact CU Independent Sports Writer Jake Mauff at firstname.lastname@example.org
Why is March arguably the best sports month of the year? The NHL and NBA seasons are starting to wind down, with real playoff implications on the line for several teams. Baseball is about to start again. But, most notably, there’s March Madness. This year’s tournament features a lot of competition in the Midwest region.
Favorite: No. 2 Michigan State Spartans (29-5, 13-5 Big Ten)
In theory, every number one seed should be the favorites in their respective region. They are number one for a reason. But a lot of people were left scratching their heads when Virginia was given the top billing over MSU.
The Spartans have been playing their best basketball lately and won the Big Ten tournament against Purdue, 66-62. Senior guard Denzel Valentine led the team in the three major categories. He almost had a triple-double, ending with 15 points, 10 rebounds, and nine assists.
Head Coach Tom Izzo always has a chance to win in March. This year’s no different, with a very balanced team. Valentine is the star, and was the only player to score in double digits, but one of 11 players for the Spartans to score at least one basket in the Big Ten championship game. Factor in that this team has a pretty consistent defense, the Boilermakers only converted 38.2 percent from the field the contest, and this game is representative of reasons why some believe Michigan State is the most likely team to win the entire NCAA Tournament.
However, MSU is going to have to watch foul troubles. They sent Purdue to the line 21 times. Without those points, this game would have been a blowout for the Spartans.
Virginia does deserve some respect. They went to the ACC championship game and fought hard against North Carolina, who is the one-seed in the East region. Senior guard Malcolm Brogdon won the ACC conference player of the year. He shot over 40 percent from deep to help him average 18.7 points a game.
The Cavaliers will certainly play tough throughout their games, and shouldn’t worry about Hampton too much in the first round. It’s every other matchup that’s going to be the challenge.
Pac-12 powerhouse Utah will look to make a splash as the three-seed. They’ll look to put the taste of their 88-57 loss to Oregon in the conference tournament out of their mouths. The Utes can’t have another game with 20 turnovers and a rebounding margin of minus-11 if they expect to win games against talented opponents.
Sophomore forward Jakob Poeltl will look to lead his team into a deep run. Fresno State will likely be nothing more than a speed bump, and their next matchup will be against either Seton Hall or Gonzaga. The Utes should be equipped to handle this situation.
Purdue, the fifth seed, will look to bounce back in the tournament after the aforementioned MSU loss. They may be motivated, or they may be in a slump. Any team has that puts up a fight against the Spartans should do the same against the any team in the NCAA.
Fourth seed Iowa State is always a tough team to defend, but they aren’t the best defenders either. This doesn’t necessarily bode well against Iona, which is 13th in three-pointers attempted. Whoever wins this game could also compete in games down the line.
Prediction: Michigan State produces as always
Izzo seems to do better in March than he does in the regular season. The team that already looks stacked should only improve down the stretch. A Final Four appearance shouldn’t be out of the question, though it’ll be a tough battle from that point, but being ranked as the number two seed might prove to be a motivator for the Spartans.
Plus, Valentine may elevate his game even more and average a triple-double during the bracket the way he’s been playing. If he falters, however, the team may be in some bad water.
Texas Tech will play Butler on Thursday in the 8/9 seed matchup for this region’s first non-First Four game. Their game begins at 12:40 p.m. and will be broadcast on truTV.