By Shane Bidwell
With two conventional blue blood, and rather long shots, my Final Four predictions border on downright insane. Before the action begins Wednesday with the First Four, let’s look at the four teams I believe will make it to San Antonio.
No surprise here. Jay Wright has built a national powerhouse at Nova and look for it to be more of the same this year. The Wildcats have an absurd 6 players scoring in double figures, led by junior guard Jalen Brunson with 19 ppg. The Wildcats are the team to beat coming out of the East. I expect Alabama to give Nova a scare in the second round but for the most part the Cats should tear right through this side of the bracket, as Purdue is their only feasible competition; and even they have been less than impressive at times.
Grouped in with Xavier and UNC; Michigan my seem to be a forgotten team in this deep side of the bracket. The Wolverines are on a tear riding a 9 game win streak including 4 wins in as many days to capture their second straight Big Ten Tournament championship. Ranking 6th in KenPom defensive rankings the Wolverines are a team anchored by defense rather than offense. With the senior leadership of Muhammed-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, and energizers Mo Wagner, Isaiah Livers, and Jordan Poole this is a team nobody wants to play in the tournament. I believe Michigan is a serious national title contender and the entire West Region should be on notice.
There should be no surprise seeing the Jayhawks here. Kansas comfortably won the Big 12 (again) and is playing their best basketball of the season. Devonte’ Graham scoring and moving the ball at a blistering rate, coupled with Udoka Azubuike shooting nearly 80% from the floor makes this team downright scary. Kansas has one of the toughest roads to San Antonia due to the fact that they have Duke and Michigan State in their region. Still, I expect Kansas to come out of the Midwest un-scratched and be competing for a national title the first weekend in April.
The Bearcats have their best team in program history, yet have tended to be overlooked and cast aside this year. With the three headed monster of Gary Clark, Jacob Evans, and Kyle Washington, this team is one that nobody wants to run into in the tournament. Cincy has the number 2 scoring defense in the nation averaging just 57 points against per game. Mick Cronin’s squad is stingy and scores a boatload off of second chance points due to their efficiency on the glass. It’s time people stop overlooking the Bearcats, and take them for the serious contenders they are.