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The Talon

The Talon

The ultimate March Madness guide

The March Madness tournament is famously known as one of the most difficult, lucky (or unlucky depending on how you do), yet fun events across all sports. The chances of filling out a perfect bracket are one in 9.2 quintillion. Graphic made by Ryan Tomlinson using Canva
The March Madness tournament is famously known as one of the most difficult, lucky (or unlucky depending on how you do), yet fun events across all sports. The chances of filling out a perfect bracket are one in 9.2 quintillion. Graphic made by Ryan Tomlinson using Canva

March Madness is the biggest college basketball tournament that takes place in the third week of March and highlights the best 68 teams in the  National Collegiate Athletics Association (NCAA). There are six rounds including the Round of 64, the Round of 32, the Sweet 16, the Elite 8, the Final 4, and the National Championship. The better teams take a lower number of seeds such as the one, two, and three, while worse teams in the tournament take higher-numbered seeds such as the 14, 15, and 16. 

After analyzing all 68 teams and other teams that even missed the tournament, I have now determined what teams can easily be upset, and what teams can have the best runs in the tournament until the championship game. I will focus on matchups and who has mismatches, and then I will share who I believe will win the game and how confident I am in that team winning with a percentage such as 80 percent. I will go over the closer head-to-head matchups more than potential blowouts and then state my final picks at the end.

First round of all time records by seeds. Graphic made by Ryan Tomlinson using Canva

East Region

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8 FAU versus 9 Northwestern

Florida Atlantic University (FAU) has failed to perform against some top teams this year, but Northwestern has proved many wrong defeating Purdue and other top Big 10 teams this year. Even though the case for Northwestern is strong, they lose easy games to worse opponents and play bad defense at the 3-point line, which is where FAU thrives. FAU loves to go on scoring runs where they shut down their opponents for five minutes and go on a long run of scoring 10 points to get up on their opponents. I think FAU also has a good size to combat tall teams and repeat another long run like last year.

Ryan’s pick: FAU (83%)

5 San Diego State versus 12 UAB

San Diego State has a very good small forward that carries this team, but they lost in their conference tournament by 10. The University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) is coming off a conference tournament where they won the championship game by 20 points. UAB has a very tall team with only one player below 6-foot-4 but unfortunately, they give up a lot of turnovers. Both teams play very fast and San Diego State forces more turnovers than UAB. Both teams are not the best from the 3-point land and focus more on the inside game and at the end of the day it comes down to speed, height, and efficiency. This game can be a coin toss either way, but UAB is coming off a big conference run and San Diego State is not.

Ryan’s Pick: UAB (57%)

3 Illinois versus 14 Morehead St

Illinois State and Morehead State have been both hot teams recently coming off the Big 10 Championship win and the Ohio Valley Championship win. Statistically, both of these teams are very even as Morehead State has the best defense against 3-pointers, and they are top 20 in opponent true shooting percentage and rebounding. Morehead State does tend to foul a lot and their depth is lacking as their bench barely scores when they are put in the game and will give up many runs to Illinois. Illinois is also a very defensive team being top 10 in major categories and is relying on their guard play to carry them in the tournament. Their fast-paced offense will cause turnovers and fouls against Morehead State and most likely have Illinois win this game, but Morehead State, if they can keep up with Illinois and stay in front, could send Illinois home early.

Ryan’s Pick: Illinois (84%)

7 Washington State versus 10 Drake 

Washington State stood atop their conference all year until losing in the semifinals of their tournament while Drake is coming off a huge win in the Missouri Valley Championship game. Drake is led by the coach’s son, Tucker Devries, and he has been their scoring option all year. They play very fast and force a lot of turnovers and even contain some of the top shooters in the country, but their interior defense gives up a lot of three-pointers to opponents. Washington State is a very good matchup with Drake as they have three starters above 6-foot-8 and attack through the interior with their size. Their slower pace and good defense could be a little scary as Drake could get slowed down, but this game will come down to who can get on top first and since Drake has a higher efficiency and shooting percentages, I think they will come out on top.

Ryan’s Pick: Drake (55%)

Something to note about this region is no March Madness champion has gone back-to-back since Florida in 2006 and 2007 making this task slightly more challenging for the University of Connecticut (UConn).  Also, no unranked preseason team that gets seeded as a one or two in the tournament has ever made it past the Elite 8 ruling out Iowa State.

West Region

8 Mississippi State versus 9 Michigan State

Michigan State had a bad tournament run but is one of the better nine seeds in the tournament. They have excellent defense and force a lot of turnovers. Since Michigan State is on the slower side for pace and Mississippi State has a faster pace at an efficient level can take advantage. They had a great tournament run and have a great interior defense not to mention some of the best perimeter defense in the NCAA. I believe that with this faster pace and unbelievable defense, Mississippi State has the potential to be a great pick and also a potential upset versus North Carolina at Chapel Hill in the round of 32.

Ryan’s Pick: Mississippi State (70%)

5 Saint Mary’s versus 12 Grand Canyon

Saint Mary’s is coming off their conference tournament with a good win against Gonzaga in the championship game. They are a highly efficient slow-paced team. Saint Mary’s is very good at shooting and 3-point defense. Saint Mary’s can handle top fast-paced teams like Gonzaga, but only once as they went 1-2 against them this year. Grand Canyon is coming off a win in their conference tournament and they are a very good 12 seed in this tournament. Grand Canyon is one of the fastest-paced teams and has many star-caliber players that can carry this team. With this team being able to force many turnovers as well, the turnover battle, 3-point shooting, and mostly everything will be very similar. Grand Canyon being the faster team will allow more shots to go up and be able to get up on the slower-paced team.

Ryan’s Pick: Grand Canyon (71%)

6 Clemson versus 11 New Mexico 

Clemson began the year out hot and has become very mediocre to wrap up the season. New Mexico on the other hand started hot, cooled down, but then went on a great run in their conference tournament to gain an automatic bid. Clemson’s defense hangs in with top teams but it is because they play a slow-paced game. They give up many scoring runs and also lose turnover battles to most teams. With New Mexico having a fantastic turnover margin, they play very fast and all they have to do in this game to succeed is shut down Clemson’s number one scoring option and New Mexico will be on to the next round.

Ryan’s Pick: New Mexico (81%)

7 Dayton versus 10 Nevada

Dayton is coming off an early conference loss and Nevada also did not go far in their tournament. According to statistics, it truly looks like these seeded teams should be flipped with Dayton being the underdogs. Dayton has a very good starting lineup and does just about everything well from the floor on offense and defense. What is tough about Dayton is that they are very consistent with their slow-paced offense and hitting the right amount of shots. Nevada likes to play at an average pace and fall into the hands of Dayton as they would slow down to their opponent. Nevada likes to give up many 3s but plays a highly efficient offense and never goes on scoring runs, which can hurt when playing a team like Dayton. Nevada’s game will rely on how well their guard Kenan Blackshear as he is the reason they win games or lose games. He sometimes will have six turnover games, but in other games, he will have 30 points. I believe Dayton’s defense will be able to hold him to a minimal amount of points.

Ryan’s Pick: Dayton (59%)

Something to note is with this many fast-paced teams in the region, the later matchups will come down to who has the stronger defense, while also making a lot of shots. Teams like Alabama will not go as far as teams like Mississippi State, but unfortunately, they got an unlucky draw with a tough next game.

South Region

8 Nebraska versus 9 Texas A&M

Nebraska had a great run in the Big 10 tournament that was able to propel them into March Madness. Texas A&M also had a similar run in their conference tournament that helped them reach the tournament. Nebraska is led by their guards that can get red hot from the 3-point line. Unfortunately, Texas A&M gives up some of the most 3-point attempts across the entire NCAA. Nebraska also plays slightly faster and more efficient basketball than Texas A&M. Texas A&M likes to use their guards when it comes to scoring and playing their slower style. They can let teams back into games after being up by a lot of points. Texas A&M does like to force some of the most turnovers in the NCAA and Nebraska is barely above average when it comes to giving up turnovers. This is one of the closest games in the first round of March Madness and it could go either way. I believe Nebraska has a slight edge due to Texas A&M’s 3-point defense and their hot run and shooting percentages in the Big 10 tournament.

Ryan’s Pick: Nebraska (73%)

5 Wisconsin versus 12 James Madison

Wisconsin had an unbelievable run in the Big 10 tournament knocking off number one Purdue, but they came up short in the final. James Madison on the other hand blew everyone out in their conference tournament with their fast-paced scoring, high-level defense, and excellent shooting. A regular stat in the past tournaments is teams that rarely go on scoring runs lose to teams that usually go on one or two scoring runs in one game. Unfortunately for Wisconsin, James Madison is the team to take them down. Wisconsin plays a slow-paced game that relies on their guards to score a lot of points and they can do so. Their post defense consists of three players on the roster who are above 6-foot-10 and this could stop James Madison’s inside scoring, but James Madison is one of the highest percentage shooters in the country and has the Cinderella feel of past teams. Their 3-point defense is also some of the best in the country and will force Wisconsin to play a slow in in-the-paint style game where they could attack James Madison’s tallest man standing at 6-foot-9. Wisconsin could very easily control this game, but if James Madison gets hot and plays great defense, James Madison will destroy Wisconsin.

Ryan’s Pick: James Madison (57%)

6 Texas Tech versus 11 North Carolina State

Texas Tech had a great run in the Big 12 this year but got blown out in their conference tournament. North Carolina State had the best conference run winning the Atlantic Coast Conference(ACC) championship as the 10 seed in their conference. Their breakout players remind me of a duo like Shaq and Kobe and could really carry this offense and even hold the defense. Texas Tech was on a hot streak before their loss and they can do it all on defense. North Carolina State plays average defense everywhere on the floor, but they thrive on their interior defense and rebounding as well. They tend to keep win streaks going with their heavy turnovers forced they could pull away from Texas Tech because Texas Tech is a team like Northwestern where they do not go on any scoring runs, yet give up many to opponents.

Ryan’s Pick: North Carolina State (54%)

7 Florida versus 10 Boise State/Colorado

Florida finished second place in the Southeastern Conference (SE) tournament in a fantastic push to bump their seed higher for March Madness. Boise State and Colorado are both very good teams, but I believe that Colorado’s defense and above-average pace will be a far more physical game for Boise State to handle. Colorado has the number one draft prospect named Cody Williams and this is something everyone needs to note when filling out brackets. A top prospect in every draft class has led a Cinderella team, or their blue-blood team, very far in the tournament. Some recent examples of this are Ja Morant on Murray State, C.J. McCollum on Lehigh, and Steph Curry on Davidson. I think that Colorado can make a very good run if they can get past Florida, but it is not as easy as it sounds. They play at the same pace and Florida will also try to play an interior game quickly because they are a very athletic team. They do not defend the 3-ball very well and lose turnover battles. Another thing to note is their 7 foot center fractured his leg in the SEC title game and provided a lot of interior defense. Without him, the Gators could be early exits if they do not hold onto the ball and play a consistent efficient fast paced game.

Ryan’s Pick: Colorado (68%)

With many highly efficient teams in this region, the ones that will succeed will play at an average pace, and playing it well can throw off the faster teams to not shoot as much and not get into a good rhythm. This allows teams like Houston and James Madison to win more often than teams like Kentucky, Texas A&M, and Western Kentucky.

Midwest Region

8 Utah State versus 9 TCU

Utah State was in a very tough conference this year but remained at the top all year as a projected five seed, but losing in the conference tournament dropped them to an eight seed. Texas Christian University (TCU) on the other hand had a quality win in the Big 12 tournament to help them get in. Utah State plays very good basketball as an efficient team and controls the turnover battle. Utah State does like to play some interior offense, and on defense, they give up an above-average amount of three-pointers. TCU has a very tall lineup with most guys above 6-foot-7 and they are top 10 in turnovers forced per game. TCU also played in, no doubt, the most challenging conference all year and hanging in with most teams all year. I think they have what it takes to make a good run this year.

Ryan’s Pick: TCU (71%)

5 Gonzaga versus 12 McNeese State

Gonzaga is a highly efficient team that lost a close game to Saint Mary’s in their conference tournament, and McNeese State is a very fast and efficient team. McNeese State’s head coach used to coach at Louisiana State University (LSU) and got kicked out for recruiting players going over the budget. His Cinderella team only lost three games all year. They shoot very well from the 3 and play very good defense forcing a lot of turnovers. The problem is that their defense gives up a lot of easy shots and Gonzaga will take advantage of this. Gonzaga has a great exterior defense, loves to score inside on small teams, and can play at McNeese State’s pace and slow them down. With McNeese State not playing top competition, I think a lot of people will pick this upset, but Gonzaga’s defense will be able to hold McNeese State more than McNeese State can hold Gonzaga.

Ryan’s Pick: Gonzaga (63%)

4 Kansas versus 13 Samford

Kansas has been at the top of the charts all year, but with recent injuries, they have fallen off. Samford on the other hand is getting hot when it matters and they are one of the best shooting teams in the country. Samford is a team that forces a high turnover rate, but they turn the ball over just as much as they force turnovers. Kansas does play at a high-paced rate and has a good starting lineup, but their bench depth is not very good. Their starting lineup has the potential to get out of this round, but everything else about this team is so average and could lose to a Cinderella team. Samford has a very good offense, but their defense is where they struggle and this will lead to a very high-scoring game. With Samford committing some of the most fouls in the country and their point guard is the only one who takes care of the ball. If Kansas can play good exterior defense head coach Bill Self should be able to coach a good defensive game plan after a tough Big 12 tournament the entire regular season. But now with recent news of Kansas’ star player being ruled out for the tournament, Kansas’ weak depth will not take them far.

Ryan’s Pick: Samford (67%)

6 South Carolina versus 11 Oregon

South Carolina is a very good team and a good sleeper for this March Madness. Oregon is one of the hotter teams entering this bracket as they won the Pac-12 tournament. South Carolina does play a slower-paced game, gives up many runs to opponents, and hardly goes on any runs themselves. The highlight of this team is their 3-point defense, but other than that, they do not force too many turnovers and could fall behind a fast-paced team. With Oregon’s above-average pace, they allow a lot of opportunities to opponents and a highly efficient team could end Oregon’s run. But Oregon’s height is very tall and since South Carolina got blown out in their last game, and Oregon has had consistent runs in March. South Carolina will not be able to keep up with Oregon’s pace unless almost every shot is falling for them.

Ryan’s Pick: Oregon (59%)

This region has many great shooting teams, but the ones that will make it out of this region will be ones that can defend the 3 ball as well as they shoot it. The teams who will succeed in this region will be Creighton, Purdue, and Texas. 

Usually, in March Madness, one 11 seed beats a six seed, one 13 seed beats a four seed, and multiple 12 seeds beat a five. There has also been a trend where two years in a row now a 15 seed has taken down a two seed.  I do think that multiple 12 seeds are high on the radar for upsets and many 11 seeds as well, but there are not many 13 seeds I can confidently believe in to upset a four other than Samford. I also do not see any 15 seeds beating any two seeds except a potential Western Kentucky upset.

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Ryan Tomlinson
Ryan Tomlinson, Staff Reporter
Ryan Tomlinson is a junior at Ankeny High School who is involved in baseball, track and field, show choir, concert choir, Key Club, and FBLA. Ryan works in the social media field of The Talon and looks forward to Advanced Journalism. In the future, Ryan looks to major in sports communication. A fun fact about Ryan is he loves to swim anytime, anywhere.
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