And just like that, the first two rounds of the 2023 men’s basketball NCAA Tournament are in the books. What a wild ride it has been so far. While some people might have had Purdue losing before the first weekend of the tournament was completed, nobody thought the Boilermakers would lose to Fairleigh Dickinson. Now only one Big Ten team is left standing, and it is Tom Izzo’s Michigan State Spartans.
It wasn’t just the Big Ten that had to deal with losses over the first few days of the tournament. College basketball’s “blue bloods” were hit hard in the first two rounds. Duke, Kansas, and Kentucky all lost over the weekend and now can join North Carolina, who didn’t even make the tournament, in watching the rest of the action from home. This marks the second time in the last three years that all four of those teams failed to make the Sweet Sixteen, showing just how wide-open college basketball is these days.
Even though some of the most storied programs in college basketball aren’t a part of this year’s final 16 teams in the tournament, that doesn’t mean the rest of the tournament isn’t worth watching. There are still plenty of great players and coaches that are looking to become part of history by cutting down the nets in Houston. Today we want to know who you are rooting for to win it all in a couple of weeks.
Today’s question: Which team left in this year’s NCAA Tournament are you rooting for to win it all?
We’d love to hear your choices. Either respond to us on Twitter at @Landgrant33 or leave your choice in the comments.
Brett’s answer: Gonzaga
I feel like I have taken some of Josh Heytvelt’s magic mushrooms with this pick. Honestly though, outside of Ohio State and Big Ten basketball, I feel like Gonzaga is the team I’ve watched the most this year since I do tend to be more of a night owl. The Zags might not have quite the collection of talent that they did a few years ago, but they have found a way to make the pieces they have worked great together.
Leading Gonzaga is Drew Timme, who feels like he has been on Mark Few’s team for 38 years. Timme has the look of a guy who is about to dominate the church rec league, but he has the talent to drop 25 points against any team in the country. Along with Timme, Gonzaga has guys like Julian Strawther, Anton Watson, and Rasir Bolton, who all can fill it up if opponents decide to dedicate more resources to shutting down Timme.
Gonzaga will have a tough game on Thursday night against UCLA, but they might be catching the Bruins at the perfect time. UCLA is dealing with some injury issues. Jaylen Clark was lost for the rest of the season due to an injury he suffered in the regular season finale against Arizona. On Saturday against Northwestern, David Singleton sprained an ankle, and while Singleton should be able to play Thursday, he could be limited on the court and with his mobility depending on how severe the injury is.
Even though UCLA has an outstanding defense, Gonzaga has shown they can solve some of the toughest defenses in the country. The Zags already beat Saint Mary’s twice, with the second victory being an absolute destruction of the Gaels in the WCC Championship Game. When Gonzaga beats UCLA on Thursday, they’ll face either Arkansas or UConn, which are winnable games. I just don’t see the Zags losing another game, finally getting Few a title after so many close calls.
Matt’s answer: UCLA
Honestly, I am a little shell-shocked. I had one of my best opening weekends in recent March Madness memory, but I did a dumb thing and picked a Big Ten team to win it all. So, what am I going to do for my re-pick? Take a (soon-to-be) Big Ten to win it all. Not only that, but I’m going to take the team that plays Brett’s pick in the Sweet Sixteen; bring it on, BLeez!
Being in the 98 percentile on ESPN isn’t as exciting when you lost your champion in the first round pic.twitter.com/Vv53koMTll— Matt Tamanini (@BWWMatt) March 18, 2023
The Bruins entered the NCAA Tournament as the No. 3 team in the country according to KenPom, behind only No. 1 seeds Houston and Alabama. When you couple that with the fact that UCLA is the No. 2 seed in the West region, that means that they are the top-rated team left, after Arkansas knocked off Kansas in the Round of 32.
As Brett mentioned, UCLA is dealing with injuries, but theoretically, they should have one of the easiest paths to the Final 4, considering that they are the highest seed in their region. Yes, having Clark out for the season and Singleton hobbled is less than ideal, but they are UCLA’s third and fourth-leading scorers on the season, meaning that senior guards Jaime Jaquez and Tyger Campbell (17.5 and 13.4 points per game respectively) are still around to carry the load.
This time of year, everybody always says that the veteran, guard-led teams tend to have an advantage in the tournament. And let’s not forget that in the 2021 tournament, it was the Zags that ended UCLA’s historic run 93-90 in the Final Four with an absolutely insane buzzer-beating three-pointer by Jalen Suggs.
Jaquez, Campell, and Singleton were all on that team, and you know they will want revenge for that heartbreaker.
KenPom says that UCLA is the No. 2 team in terms of adjusted defense in the country and No. 21 adjusted offense. Gonzaga is the No. 1 adjusted offense according to KenPom, but they have the No. 75 adjusted defense. So, while I love and respect Brett, I’m taking the Bruins to win this one — and the rest of the way. I mean, how can you not root for the Big Ten team wearing those beautiful blue jerseys?