By Andrew Porter
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – No one knows how the NCAA Tournament will actually go. But if you were to ask me what my dream matchups would be for this year’s bracket, here’s what I’d tell you:
Round of 32
St. Joe’s (10) vs. Villanova (2)
The Holy War! Show me a Philadelphia basketball fan who doesn’t want to see this game on Saturday and I’ll show you a liar! Phil Martelli vs. Jay Wright in a must watch, intense, Philadelphia Big Five NCAA city rivalry tournament matchup. These teams met on December 7th, and the Hawks were blown out 30 points at home. Fortunately for the Hawks, December 7th doesn’t live here anymore. Since then, all St. Joe’s has done was go 20-5 en route to an A-10 conference championship. Nova was bounced out early in the Big East tournament by Seton Hall, who finished 6-12 in the conference.
My pick: St. Joe’s
Oklahoma State (9) vs. Arizona (1)
A lot of star power in this potential round of 32 game. Since returning from his three-game suspension, Oklahoma State’s leading scorer Marcus Smart (17.8 PPG) has been excellent, leading the Cowboys to a 5-2 record, with both loses coming in overtime. Along with Smart, Markel Brown, Le’Bryan Nash, and Phil Forte are all averaging over 13 points per game for the Cowboys. The Wildcats are lead by all-around guard Nick Johnson and likely NBA lottery pick, forward Aaron Gordon.
My pick: Oklahoma State
Kentucky (8) vs. Wichita State (1)
This is the ultimate major conference, star-filled, athletic team vs. the mid-major, team ball, “unproven” team. Projected lottery picks Julius Randle and James Young will be on display for the Wildcats against senior leading-scoring Cleanthony Early, Nick Foles look-a-like Ron Baker, and sure-handed point guard Fred VanVleet for the Shockers.
Team, experienced ball prevails in the NCAA tourney.
My pick: Wichita State
Ohio State (6) vs. Syracuse (3)
If you enjoy good point guard play, this game is for you. Syracuse’s freshman sensation, Tyler Ennis, vs. Ohio State’s experienced senior point guard, Aaron Craft. Neither guard is a phenomenal scorer, but both understand how to play their position and control the tempo. Ennis is a smart, young player who understands the pace of the game as well as anyone, averaging 5.6 assists and 1.7 turnovers per game.
Craft is a veteran and one of the best on-ball defenders in all of college basketball, averaging 2.5 steals per game.
My pick: Syracuse
Duke (3) vs. Michigan (2)
These powerhouse teams can score and you would have a slew of NBA players to keep your eye on here. On Duke you have Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood, both expected to be top-ten picks, with Parker arguably the best player in college basketball. On Michigan, you have sharp-shooting wing guard Nik Stauskas to go along with complimentary guys like Caris LeVert and Glenn Robinson III. A possible return from injury by sophomore forward, Mitch McGary, could be in-store as well.
My pick: Duke
North Carolina (6) vs. Virginia (1)
Virginia smoked UNC 76-61 on January 20th at Virginia. This would be a classic ACC rivalry, revenge game, with the winner advancing to the Final Four. Sophomore point guard, Marcus Paige of the Tar Heels, would be the main attraction in this one. Paige, a point-guard who can score with the best of them, is exactly the kind of player that could carry a team to the Final Four.
My pick: North Carolina
Kansas (2) vs. Florida (1)
Assuming Joel Embiid is back for this game, a down-low battle between Kansas’ Embiid and Florida’s Patric Young would be incredibly entertaining. Not to mention, SEC player of the year Scottie Wilbekin against National Player of the Year and possible number one overall pick, Andrew Wiggins.
Florida enters the NCAA tourney with a 32-2 overall record. Their last loss was on December 2nd, a one-point loss at #12 UCONN. Kansas enters the NCAA tourney losers of three of their last five games, but we’re without Embiid, their dominant 7-foot impact center, for four of those games. Assuming Embiid is back I like the Jayhawks.
My pick: Kansas
Creighton (3) vs. Duke (3)
Talk about a shootout. Phew! Creighton enters the NCAA tourney averaging 79.5 points per game (23rd in NCAA) behind the nation’s leading scorer, senior Doug McDermott (26.9 PPG). McDermott enters the tournament with 94 three point field goals made, shooting 45.4% from beyond the arc.
Duke averages 79.1 point per game entering the tournament (27th in NCAA) and their best shooter, Rodney Hood, enters the tournament with 69 three point field goals made, shooting 42.1% beyond the arc.
Both the Blue Jays (1st) and Blue Devils (5th) are top-five in the nation in three point field goals made. Creighton leads all of college basketball in three point shooting percentage (42.1%). Duke is tied for 22nd (39.1%).
First to 100 wins.
My pick: Duke
Duke (3) vs. Kansas (2)
Maybe I’m picking with my heart here, but come on, who isn’t rooting for a Parker vs. Wiggins, Duke vs. Kansas, Who’s Going-To-Be-a-Sixer National Championship Showdown?
I sure am. I’m also a Wiggins over Parker (slightly) guy.
My pick: Kansas
Andrew Porter is the Audio Roadshow Coordinator for SportsRadio WIP, editor and writer for The School Philly, and a contributing sports blogger for CBS Philly. You can follow him on Twitter @And_Porter.