Michigan State Spartans, Tom Izzo to rule March Madness

Michigan State Spartans, Tom Izzo to rule March Madness

March 20, 2019 3:00 AM
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My basketball contributions to Gaming Today over the years have almost exclusively dealt with the NBA. But my love and enjoyment of the college game is equally as deep and passionate as it is for the professional game.

And in many ways it is even stronger with the greater number of teams, players, coaches and personalities involved on the collegiate level.

Thus I am sharing my thoughts with for this season’s Tournament, following up my column last week that discussed thoughts on filling out your brackets for the various contests, office pools and the like that will have the effect of reducing collective productivity of the U.S. workforce as our attention becomes consumed with an event that has come to rival the Super Bowl in terms of both widespread interest and betting activity.

Now that the field has been set and each’s team’s path to the national championship has been charted the time has come to make my predictions.

As I noted last week, it would go against history to predict all four No. 1 seeds to reach the Final Four almost as much as expecting none to advance that far. In the 18 tournaments since 2000 there have been seven seasons in which two No. 1 seeds made the Final Four and seven in which just one has made it that far.

Over the last nine seasons five have seen just one No. 1 seed and two have seen two make it — and both have been in the last two seasons!

It is always easiest to make the case for a 1 seed to make the Final Four and win the title. But I would not be surprised if the winning team in this season’s tournament rewards its coach with his first NCAA championship.

There are several highly respected coaches that have teams capable of making a deep run in an effort to gain that first title. Two who come to mind are coaching two of the 1 seeds — Mark Few of Gonzaga and Tony Bennett of Virginia.

Of course Virginia will be highly motivated to atone for last season’s stunning loss to Maryland-Baltimore County in what was the most shocking upset in the 80 year history of the tournament as it marked the first and only time that a 1 seed lost to a 16. This season’s team is stronger than last season’s.

Gonzaga is also seeking to hurdle the final obstacle to a national title that eluded the ‘Zags two seasons ago when they lost in the championship game to North Carolina, 71-65.

Two other coaches seeking their first title also have recent experience in the Final Four.

Two seasons ago, prior to defeating Gonzaga for the title, North Carolina eliminated coach Dana Altman and his Oregon Ducks, 77-76, in a Final Four contest. Last season Michigan and coach John Beilein lost to Villanova in the championship game, giving the Wildcats and coach Jay Wright their second title in three seasons.

Even longtime coach Kelvin Sampson has a team capable of winning it all. The Houston Cougars, who have been under the radar for much of the season, was on the verge of fashioning this season’s best record, 32-2, before losing to Cincinnati in the American Athletic Association’s Championship game.

Still, its 31-3 record was tied with Buffalo for the nation’s best record and only Gonzaga (30-3) and Virginia (29-3) enter the Tournament with fewer than four losses.

For my pools and contests I will be submitting several brackets — some based on numbers and others based on matchups. Some will involve a combination of the two with some being considered conservative and others being more aggressive.

As for double-digit seeds to make it past the first weekend and play in the Sweet Sixteen, how about No. 13 St Louis in the East, No. 12 Murray State in the West, No. 12 Oregon in the Midwest and No. 10 Seton Hall in the South.

I do expect form to hold somewhat although I do expect the recent trend of at least one team seeded 7 or lower to extend the current streak to seven straight seasons.

In the East I predict Michigan State (2) to defeat Duke (1) in the Regional Final. The Spartans will meet the winner of the West where I expect Nevada (7) to awaken from its recent slumber and outrace Gonzaga to reach the Final Four in what might be the Tournament’s most exciting game. The Wolf Pack was picked sixth by Blue Ribbon prior to the season and had a fine 29-4 season.

I am looking for form to take a beating in the Midwest as Houston (3) defeats Auburn (5) to reach the Final Four and oppose Virginia (1) in the West after the Cavaliers exorcize the demons from last season by defeating Villanova (6).

In what I predict will feature three coaches looking for their first National Title (Eric Musselman of Nevada in addition to Sampson and Bennett) I am calling for Tom Izzo and Michigan State to cut down the nets in Minneapolis two weeks from next Monday and win his second national title and the third in Michigan State’s history defeating Virginia. 

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