March Madness is arguably one of the most interesting times of the year, especially to college basketball fans everywhere. Families and friends come together and make brackets predicting the winner of the national basketball tournament. They make numerous brackets with different picks in each one, hoping that no matter what, they can somehow say that they were indeed correct on predicting the outcomes of the games. Somewhere, Nostradamus is smiling, knowing that he would dominate the ESPN Tournament Challenge, but this time the predictions are up to us.
The atmosphere in the stadiums and around the country is incredibly inspiring. There is something about this month that gives any team the strength to believe that they can win. Whether it is history, the doubters and being labeled an underdog, playing because of the sheer passion for the game, or a combination of the three, every time each team laces up they have a chance to prove their doubters wrong.
Kentucky comes into the tournament undefeated and a heavy favorite to win. Almost everyone is labeling them as the “safe” pick and have confidence in the Wildcats to get the job done. It won’t be so easy playing against teams that are “supposed” to lose to them. Their opponents can leave it all out there, because it is win or go home.
Atmosphere and pressure play a huge role in the game and although I respect what UK and a number of other top seeds have done this far, I am picking Wichita State to win the championship. They have a number of shooters and big time players who make big plays when needed. However, they did suffer a terrible loss to Illinois State in the Missouri Valley Conference tournament. Coming into this tournament, much less of a story than last year after their undefeated season, they are a dangerous team that is flying under the radar. Watching the big conferences play sometimes overshadows the other schools with consistently solid programs.
Watch out for Northern Iowa. Look for them to make a run. They are a good team that not a lot of people know about. They most likely will not go all the way, but look for them to make some noise early and maybe upset a true contender. Also, if Texas gets hot, they can compete with anyone. I believe that Kansas will be the biggest disappointment. They are way too inconsistent and have lost many games to lesser opponents that their talented roster should have throttled. It will be interesting to see how Bill Self approaches each game.
However, there is my pick: the Shockers over Nova in a close game. The backcourt of Fred VanVleet (12.7 ppg, 5.8 apg), Ron Baker (15.0 ppg) and Tekele Cotton (9.6 ppg) will try to prove guard play really does win in March.
Although I have a strong feeling about Texas and Arizona, I just believe that Wichita State thrives off of the pressure and big shots will create a buzz in the atmosphere to keep them in any game. They have deadly shooters on their team, play solid defense, and play well in transition. The Shockers are much more ready for the challenge than last year. They will go through Kentucky and shock the nation.