Previewing this year’s NCAA Tournament

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons | Zach Edey leads No. 1 seed Purdue.

Matthew Theodros | Staff Writer

March 16, 2023

It’s that time of year when basketball fans and everyone in between come together for one thing and one thing only: March Madness. After weeks of seeding variance, the slate is set, as 68 (quickly 64) teams will battle to win it all.

Millions have filled out their brackets, but before making your picks, let’s set the stage, highlighting teams poised to make a run or upset a heavy favorite.

A top-seeded team has won the last five tournaments. However, this year feels different, as no overwhelming favorites are entering the tournament.

Buckets and scoring power are the best ways to describe the state of the South Region.

Despite legal issues surrounding Brandon Miller, No. 1 seed Alabama appears to be a team to beat. Nate Oats’ crew — led by Miller, a future NBA lottery pick — has the tools and versatility to beat anyone.

No. 2 seed Arizona rounded out the season playing its best basketball of the year. The Wildcats are a matchup nightmare due to their ability to defend and make difficult shots.

Freshman Azuolas Tubelis’ shot-creation skills add a unique dimension to the tournament, as his mobility poses a threat.

A first-round matchup between No. 6 seed Creighton and No. 11 seed North Carolina State is one to watch. Led by Ryan Kalkbrenner — the reigning two-time Big East Conference Defensive Player of the Year — the Bluejays will face a formidable threat in NC State. Despite barely making the tournament, the Wolfpack are led by the duo of Terquavion Smith and Jarkel Joiner, who are both elite perimeter threats.

The battle of the top-seeded teams would be an absolute gem for basketball fans. Arizona has the size to limit Brandon Miller, but his ability as a scorer is too much to deny. I see the Crimson Tide advancing to the Final Four.

The Midwest Region is highlighted by the juggernaut No. 1 seed Houston Cougars. They’ll look to make their second Final Four in three seasons. However, star guard Marcus Sasser sustained a groin injury, and his status for the start of the tournament is up in the air.

Everyone loves an upset during March Madness and this year, the possibility is likely in a matchup between No. 4 seed Indiana and No. 13 seed Kent State.

Rob Senderoff — a former assistant with the No. 4 seed Hoosiers — has led the Golden Flashes to a 12-2 record since the start of February. During this stretch, they haven’t scored lower than 70 points, and they’re winning by an average margin of 13 points per game.

There’s also a Cinderella story with this year’s Penn State team. Making its first tournament appearance since 2011, the NCAA’s oldest roster could make some noise. The No. 10 seed Nittany Lions’ mix of tenacious defense and exceptional 3-point shooting (42%) makes them a tough out.

Selecting a winner is difficult, given Sasser’s unknown status. No. 2 seed Texas poses the biggest threat in a matchup against Houston, with talent that can match the depleted Cougars squad.

The Cinderella story from 2021, No. 12 seed Oral Roberts, matches up with No. 5 Duke in the first round. Another run would be amazing, but the talent disparity is too large.

No. 1 seed Purdue is projected to be a Final Four team, but I don’t see it. They have the hardest competition, and it would be a testament to their roster if the Boilermakers can win it all.

Duke and No. 8 Memphis can attack Purdue’s weaknesses with ease. Superior guard play and attacking Zach Edey in the pick-and-roll should be in the playbook against the big man.

No. 3 seed Kansas State interests me as a team to look out for. Led by the guard tandem of Markquis Nowell and Keyontae Johnson, the Wildcats have the firepower to outscore any backcourt.

Teams like No. 7 seed Michigan State and No. 2 seed Marquette can be pesky, but the established rosters — Purdue, Kansas State and Duke — pose greater threats.

With the most parity, in terms of talent and upset, this year’s West Region brings the most questions of all the quadrants.

No. 1 seed Kansas comes into the tournament as the defending champions. The Jayhawks added shooting, but lost key players due to injury and the NBA Draft.

There is not a tougher competitor than No. 2 seed UCLA. With a mix of younger and older players, the Bruins’ intensity can lead them far in the tournament.

No. 4 seed Connecticut is a very interesting team to look out for. I wouldn’t be surprised if they get bounced by No. 13 seed Iona in the first round, or make it as far as the Sweet 16.

This is a real toss-up, as there are plenty of teams who have the opportunity to win. It boils down to No. 3 seed Gonzaga, Kansas, and UCLA. All three teams have been there before, and all pose legitimate threats.

Whoever comes out and wins it all, let’s all sit back and appreciate the unique basketball that is about to arrive. Let the madness unfold.