By: Brendan DarrBy Brendan Darr

In my eyes, it’s the most wonderful time of the year. A time when every Cinderella has a chance and any Goliath can be slayed. I’m mixing stories here, but you get the point.  It’s time to recognize the players and teams you’ll be talking about for the next 3 weeks.

5 Players to Watch:

1A and 1B) Jimmer Fredette (BYU) and Kemba Walker (UConn) – I feel like neither of these two need an introduction.  They were first and fourth, respectively, in scoring this season.  Both are dynamic players asked to carry their squads.  It’s a long-shot, but a Kemba v. Jimmer Final would have everyone excited.

3) Ben Hansbrough (Notre Dame) – Hansbrough actually won the Big East Player of the Year over Walker, after leading a surprise Notre Dame team to a 2-seed.  Hansbrough is the heart and soul of Notre Dame, his shooting is unmatched in College Basketball, but his ability to find his teammates is what makes him special.

4) Derrick Williams (Arizona) – Watch him while you can.  Williams is likely a top-3 pick in this years NBA Draft and leads an Arizona team that surprised some in the Pac-10.  Williams is an under-sized Power Forward, but has worked on his mid-range game.

5) Harrison Barnes (UNC) – The last month Barnes has been playing like Kevin Durant.  I’m not exaggerating in the least with this statement.  His 3-point shot has come on strong down the stretch, and even when his team doesn’t play great, he does. Kendall Marshall has been a huge key to UNC’s strong finish, but he’s really opened up the floor for Barnes to go to work night-in and night-out.

5 Players You May Not Have Heard Of:

1) Justin Harper (Richmond) – He’s not a traditional Power Forward, he’s more like a Rashard Lewis-type. His emergence has really fueled Richmond this season.  Everyone knew about Point Guard Kevin Anderson, but Justin Harper has come on and added a very consistent 3-point shot to his arsenal and stretched defenses.

2) Kenneth Faried (Morehead State) – AKA the Human Double-Double. The last 3 seasons you can count on three things: The sky being blue, the sun rising in the east and Kenneth Faried getting a double-double just about every night. This year he averaged 17.6 points and 14.5 rebounds. He’s a legit NBA prospect, so enjoy him while you can against Louisville this afternoon.

3) Kawhi Leonard (San Diego State) – I’m sure a lot of NBA draft buffs know about Leonard, but to the casual NCAA Tournament fan who may not get Versus (and therefore has little chance to see Leonard) this may be your first chance. Pay attention. Some people consider him the Mountain West’s best NBA prospect (Yes, even over my man-crush, Jimmer Fredette).  Leonard, like Faried, is a double-double threat every time he steps on the court.  San Diego State could make a deep run, and Leonard will be the reason why.

4) Keith Benson (Oakland) – I’m not exactly against the idea of picking Oakland to upset Texas.  Oakland was definitely one of my sleepers coming in to the NCAA Tournament – before I saw their match-up against Texas, and Benson is the reason why.  Another legit mid-major NBA prospect. Another double-double threat (noticing a pattern?) on every night.  Benson will be the key to an upset over vastly under-seeded Texas.

5) Tu Holloway (Xavier) – Playing in the A-10 isn’t exactly a recipe for overnight fame. Holloway, like David West, Drew Lavender and Jordan Crawford before him, has led Xavier to the NCAA Tournament and can put his team on his back.  Holloway always has a green light and will not shy away from taking the shot in crunch time.

Bracket Breakdown:

East Region

Second Round Winners

1 Ohio State over 16 UT – San Antonio

8 George Mason over 9 Villanova

5 West Virginia over 12 Clemson

4 Kentucky over 13 Princeton

6 Xavier over 11 Marquette

3 Syracuse over 14 Indiana State

7 Washington over 10 Georgia

2 UNC over 15 Long Island

Third Round Winners

1 Ohio State over 8 George Mason

4 Kentucky over 5 West Virginia

3 Syracuse over 6 Xavier

2 UNC over 7 Washington

Sweet 16 Winners

1 Ohio State over 4 Kentucky

3 Syracuse over 2 UNC

Regional Winner

1 Ohio State over 3 Syracuse

Very Chalky in the East Bracket. It was a very well seeded bracket and I expect Syracuse making the Elite Eight the only upset in the regional. George Mason upsetting Ohio State has been thrown around quite a bit, but I don’t see it.  I’d like to see it, but I’m not holding my breath.

West Region

Second Round Winners

1 Duke over 16 Hampton

9 Tennessee over 8 Michigan

5 Arizona over 12 Memphis

4 Texas over 13 Oakland

11 Missouri over 6 Cincinnati

3 UConn over 14 Bucknell

7 Temple over 10 Penn State

2 San Diego State over 15 Northern Colorado

Third Round Winners

1 Duke over 9 Tennessee (Sorry Pam)

4 Texas over 5 Arizona

3 UConn over 11 Missouri

2 San Diego State over 7 Temple

Sweet 16 Winners

1 Duke 4 Texas over 4 Texas 1 Duke

3 UConn over 2 San Diego State

Regional Winner

1 Duke 4 Texas over 3 UConn

Our first “real” upset with Missouri over Cincinnati, although this bracket could see quite a few upsets in the first two rounds.  The return of Kyrie Irving for Duke has changed my mind, I originally had Texas coming out of this bracket. I think Irving is a game changer that could take pressure off of ACC Player of the Year Nolan Smith and lead Duke back to the Final Four after winning last year’s Championship.

Southwest Region –

Second Round Winners

1 Kansas over 16 Boston University

9 Illinois over 8 UNLV

12 Richmond over 5 Vanderbilt

4 Louisville over 13 Morehead State

6 Georgetown over 11 VCU

3 Purdue over 14 St. Peter’s

10 Florida State over 7 Texas A&M

2 Notre Dame over 15 Akron

Third Round Winners

1 Kansas over 9 Illinois

12 Richmond over 4 Louisville

3 Purdue over 6 Georgetown

2 Notre Dame over 10 Florida State

Sweet 16 Winners

1 Kansas over 12 Richmond

2 Notre Dame over 3 Purdue

Regional Winner

2 Notre Dame over 1 Kansas

Welcome to the ball, Cinderella. Richmond breaking through to the Sweet 16 isn’t unexpected, it’s not a terrible draw for the Spiders, who probably should have been an 8 or 9 seed, rather than a 12.  Notre Dame’s combination of Hansbrough and Tim Abromaitis could probably out-score some teams alone, but as long as they can get by the length of Florida State this team could stay hot in to the Final Four.

Southeast Region –

Second Round Winners

1 Pittsburgh over UNC – Asheville

9 Old Dominion over 8 Butler

12 Utah State over 5 Kansas State

13 Belmont over 4 Wisconsin

11 Gonzaga over 6 St. John’s

3 BYU over 14 Wofford

10 Michigan State over 7 UCLA

2 Florida over 15 UC – Santa Barbara

Third Round Winners

9 Old Dominion over 1 Pittsburgh

12 Utah State over 13 Belmont

3 BYU over 11 Gonzaga

2 Florida over 10 Michigan State

Sweet 16 Winners

9 Old Dominion over 12 Utah State

3 BYU over 2 Florida

Regional Winner

3 BYU over 9 Old Dominion

Yes, BYU is without Brandon Davies. Yes, Pittsburgh won the Big East (the best conference in the nation, for those wondering). Yes, Old Dominion is Pittsburgh-light. Yes, Kansas State has one of the nation’s best players in Jacob Pullen.  I don’t care.  This region has given me nightmares for three days now.  This is the region you wish never existed.  I thought everyone who was seeded 1-7 was a seed or two higher than they should be, and everyone 8-14 was a seed or two lower than they should be.  At the end of the day, BYU has the region’s best player in Jimmer Fredette.  Fredette could be looking at a Stephon Curry-esque tournament run here.  Pittsburgh is very talented, I just think Old Dominion can ugly it up with the best of them, and could be the type of buzz-saw that Northern Iowa was to Kansas last year.  This region is wide open. I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if you told me Pitt, ODU, Utah State, Gonzaga, BYU, Michigan State or Florida won this part of the bracket. I think Wisconsin and St. John’s just don’t match-up well against other teams (especially now that Kennedy is done for St. John’s) in this region to advance past a game or two, at best.  This is the region I’m looking forward to most.

Final Four Winners

Ohio State over Duke Texas

Notre Dame over BYU

NCAA Champion

Ohio State over Notre Dame

At the end of the day, Ohio State can beat you inside or out, and while depth can be a huge issue for the Buckeyes, their top 7 is the best in the country.  I expect a great tournament, it’s very wide open this year.  I honestly believe this could be one of those years where a team like a Notre Dame, Texas, Louisville, San Diego State or UNC could come out of the shadows and win the Championship.

Enjoy the Tournament everyone, and don’t forget to sign up and register for 106.7 The Fan’s Bracket Challenge here. The winner will receive an iPad valued at $499!


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