Five Point Play V19: NCAA Tournament Edition

It’s March Madness baby. Everyone’s favorite time of the college basketball season. It’s win or go home.

Here is our Five Point Play previewing the NCAA Tournament. Also, attached is our bracket orchestrated by Mark Strotman, Andrei Greska and Mike Nelson. Click on the image for a closer look where you can actually read the teams.

1. Who is the most vulnerable No. 1 seed? When do you see that team exiting and why?

Mike Nelson, Paint Touches: Syracuse. The Orange lost Big East Defensive Player of the Year Fab Melo and with him a major contributor to their zone defense. Melo is a 7-foot shot blocking machine. In 30 games Melo has 88 blocks (2.9 blocks per game). I expect Syracuse to bow out in the Sweet 16, losing to Vanderbilt. If UNC doesn’t have John Henson, then it is vulnerable too.

Michael Wottreng, WMUR Sports: To avoid stating the obvious of Syracuse, I’ll go with North Carolina. John Henson’s wrist is a concern for the top seed in the Midwest. The ACC Defensive Player of the Year is the important player for Carolina at the defensive end. His ability to block and affect shots around the basket turn the Tar Heels into team 1A with Kentucky as the best team in America. When UNC won the national championship in 2009, the Tar Heels needed Ty Lawson’s foot to heal for them to make their run to the national title. The same can be said for the 2012 version with the health of Henson.

Alex Jesswein, Marquette Hoops: Syracuse. Losing starting center Fab Melo (arguably Syracuse’s most valuable player) really hurts the Orange. They struggled in the few games he missed earlier this season, and I can’t see them going past the Sweet 16 with out him.  My prediction is that Vanderbilt indeed knocks off the Orange in the Sweet 16.

Mark Freund, MUTV Sports: With the news breaking that Fab Melo will be out for the entirety of the tournament, I don’t think there’s any question that the answer is Syracuse. I see teams pounding the middle, forcing the famous Orange zone to collapse in the paint and leaving wide open looks on the perimeter. I think the Cuse squeaks by Kansas State in the third round before falling to Vanderbilt in the Sweet 16.

Andrei Greska, Marquette Tribune: Syracuse. The loss of Fab Melo is a death kneel for a team that depends so heavily on that 2-3 zone. The Orange have always struggled to keep opponents off the glass this year and without their 7-footer, this deficiency will be even more pronounced. 

2. Who is a double-digit seed you see making it to at least the Sweet 16? How far do you have them going and why?

Mike Nelson, Paint Touches: In our bracket, we have two double-digit seeds in the Sweet 16: Belmont and the winner of USF/Cal. Another team to watch for is Long Beach State. The 49ers have five players averaging double-digit points and senior forward T.J. Robinson averages a double-double (12 points, 10.1 rebounds per game). Long Beach State played power-conference teams like North Carolina, Pittsburgh, Kansas, Kansas State, and Louisville. With Dan Monson at the helm (former Gonzaga coach) this team has the leadership to do some damage.

Michael Wottreng, WMUR Sports: Long Beach State. It played one of the most difficult non-conference schedules in the country. The 49ers lost at Kansas by eight and at North Carolina by six. A veteran cast anchored by senior guard Casper Ware, who scored 29 against UNC, can pull of the upset against New Mexico and possibly Louisville. The Cardinals defeated the 49ers at the KFC Yum! Center by 13 in November, but the Cardinals inability to score against a potent offense could be their demise. The health of senior guard Larry Anderson will be critical to a run to the Sweet 16, but he expects to play.

Alex Jesswein, Marquette Hoops: I think Long Beach State is a team that could do real damage in the West region.  I think it can knock off fourth-seeded Louisville and fifth-seeded New Mexico to reach the Sweet 16.  The 49ers are battle tested and Casper Ware has the star power to lead them to a couple upsets.

Mark Freund, MUTV Sports: Assuming that California can get past USF on Thursday night, I see the Golden Bears making a run. This team isn’t great defensively, but it passes the ball very well and is efficient when it wants to be. I have California beating Temple and then, by way of another upset in the Midwest region, emerging victorious over Ohio in the third round before falling to North Carolina in the Sweet 16.

Andrei Greska, Marquette Tribune: South Florida. Man can that team play defense. It made Cal look like an intramural team last night and even though the Bulls shot out of their minds, that defense will stifle Temple and Michigan. That is as far as the Bulls are getting though.

3. Who’s a team, outside of the top-three seeds, you could see making it to the Final Four?

Mike Nelson, Paint Touches: We picked Vanderbilt to go to the Final Four in our bracket, but Louisville is another team to watch. The Cardinals are hot at the right moment. They are playing gritty defense during their four-game winning streak, forcing their opposition into an average of 16.5 turnovers per game and allowing 55 points per game. Peyton Siva is playing his best basketball of the season during the stretch (13. 8 points, 6.3 rebounds, 5.8 assists per game).

Michael Wottreng, WMUR Sports: Vanderbilt is a trendy pick to come out of the East and I select them mostly by default. No other seed has better matchups to the Final Four nor the talent level of the Commodores to make it to New Orleans. When Vandy plays to its potential, it look like a world beater. When it doesn’t, it look like a mediocre team that could make an early exit. Vanderbilt is too talented to lose to Harvard or Wisconsin which leaves a date with Syracuse. If the Orange had Fab Melo, I’d take the Orange all day, but Festus Ezeli is beginning to play to the expectations. Add John Jenkins and Jeffrey Taylor and they are a matchup nightmare for most teams.

Alex Jesswein, Marquette Hoops: I think the top 12 teams in the country are really, really good and don’t foresee any teams outside the top 12 making the Final Four but if I had to pick one, I think Vanderbilt is a team to watch.  Not only does it have an extremely balanced and senior-laden team, the aforementioned loss of Fab Melo to Syracuse opens the door for Vanderbilt to reach the Final Four.  John Jenkins and Jeffrey Taylor might be the best duo in the country as many MU fans witnessed first hand.

Mark Freund, MUTV Sports: I think it’s Vanderbilt. Teams that are hot always seem to perform well in the NCAA Tournament, and Vanderbilt is coming off an SEC Championship that saw the Commodores take down the team many are picking to win it all, Kentucky. After consecutive years of being bounced in the first round, I think that Vanderbilt’s veteran lineup is ready to make a lot of noise.

Andrei Greska, Marquette Tribune: Vanderbilt. I know the Commodores are the cool pick right now, but they simply have the best chance. They have three NBA level prospects and are riding high off of that SEC Tournament Championship over Kentucky. Plus, they got a fairly nice draw now that ‘Cuse is shorthanded.

4. Who’s a player you could see making a Kemba Walker like impact on his team and the NCAA Tournament this season?

Mike Nelson, Paint Touches: Buzz Williams singled this man out on Marquette’s media day in October and for good reason. John Jenkins. Vanderbilt’s leading scorer on the season (19.9 points per game) is a marksman on the field. He converted on 44.8 percent of his 3-pointers and 47.8 percent of his field goal attempts. The man can flat out shoot. He also is hot as of late, leading Vanderbilt to the SEC Championship title. During Vanderbilt’s championship run he averaged 18.3 points per game and had 23 in the semifinals against Ole Miss.

Michael Wottreng, WMUR Sports: Isaiah Canaan of Murray State. The Racers lost one game all year in large part to the probable first team All-American. Canaan is highly efficient averaging 19 points and shooting 48 percent from the floor, 47 percent from three, and 84 percent at the free throw line. The Racers play the first two rounds in Louisville, roughly a four hour drive from their campus, which could give them a bit of a home court advantage and will probably get the neutral fans in all of their games. Canaan is the kind of player that can put a team on his back and lead the way as long as the rest of the team can keep the games close.

Alex Jesswein, Marquette Hoops: The top teams in the country all seem to be more balanced offensively than the Huskies were last year, but I think the 2012 NCAA Tournament could be a coming-out-party of sorts for North Carolina’s Harrison Barnes.  With John Henson’s status up in the air, the Tar Heels will need Barnes to step up and perform like an All-American if they want to win it all.

Mark Freund, MUTV Sports: : Though he might not get to play for very long, I think Doug McDermott of Creighton is a guy that can take over this tournament. He’s averaging over 23 points per game this season, and he’s scored at least 20 points in six of his past seven games, including 33 in the Missouri Valley Conference title game. If the Bluejays can somehow get past Alabama and UNC, look out for Doug McDermott.

Andrei Greska, Marquette Tribune: Anthony Davis. As heralded as the human uni-brow is, he is no where near the ceiling of his potential. He’s the best defensive player bar none and I think the Tourney is when he decides to turn it up offensively as well. His team may be stacked but Kentucky needs Davis in beast mode

5. Give us your Final Four and your national champion and tell us why they will make it.

Mike Nelson, Paint Touches: Kentucky, Missouri, Ohio State, and North Carolina are in my Final Four with Kentucky and North Carolina meeting in the championship. This is the year that John Calipari finally gets his championship. Kentucky has been the most talented team throughout the season and with concerns with John Henson’s wrist prior to the tournament, Kentucky is the smart money.

Michael Wottreng, WMUR Sports: Kentucky, Missouri, Vanderbilt, and North Carolina with UNC over Missouri for the title. Kentucky may have the most talented team in the country, but it’s been a long time since it was tested by an elite team. Vanderbilt challenged the Wildcats three times this season before breaking through in the SEC Championship game. John Calipari’s team has had a lot of talent in years but have never won a national championship. Until he wins a title, I can’t pick any team that he coaches. The Tar Heels were the preseason number one team in the country and I expect Roy Williams to work his magic in the Tournament to lead his team to six straight victories.

Alex Jesswein, Marquette Hoops: Kentucky, Ohio State, North Carolina and Michigan State are in my Final Four.  From there I see Kentucky and North Carolina facing off in the championship with the Tar Heels coming away victorious in a very tightly contested game.

Mark Freund, MUTV Sports: Kentucky, Missouri, Ohio State and North Carolina are in my Final Four, with North Carolina topping Kentucky to cut down the nets. I’ve always been a big proponent of experience, and the Tar Heels match up nicely with Kentucky. Despite all the talk about Anthony Davis versus John Henson, I think one of the key matchups will be at the point guard position, where UNC’s Kendall Marshall has the advantage over the less experienced Marquis Teaque.

Andrei Greska, Marquette Tribune: Kentucky because it has the most talent and have locations that will make any arena “Rupp 2.” Missouri because I can’t see Marquette taking the Tigers down. Vandy for the aforementioned reasons. Kansas because Robinson and Taylor make up a duo that is simply lethal. I have Kentucky and Kansas advancing with Calipari cutting down the nets for the first time in his career (before mailing them back in three years).

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