Southwest Region Breakdown: Will Bill Self’s Jayhawks Choke Again?
Louisville should be the hardest test for Kansas because their make-up is similar to the 2005 team that reached the Final Four by using incredible defensive pressure and knocking down a shit load of threes. Coach Pitino will have a whole week to prepare for Kansas, which sets up in his favor, but one thing he won’t be able to fully prepare for is Kansas’s size in the front court. The Morris twins and Thomas Robinson can absolutely destroy a Louisville team that’s lost their two starting power forwards due to injury. It’ll be up to Self to prepare his guards for defensive pressure they haven’t seen all season. That would require him to actually coach, something he’s never been able to do. There’s just something about this Kansas team that doesn’t fill me with confidence, so I’ll go with Pitino, who really deserves Coach of the Year after unleashing such a strong performance from an average group of players.
Elsewhere in the region, Purdue just suspended reserve guard Kelsey Barlow for the remainder of the season. Barlow was a very versatile player for Purdue and served as their best perimeter defender, so he will be missed. Without him, Purdue will need their other role players to step up and support their dynamic duo of Johnson and Moore on a possible Elite Eight run. Notre Dame isn’t known for playing defense, but their offense is incredibly effective. The potential match-up against Purdue is a classic duel of offense vs. defense, something defense historically wins in tournament play. Both teams have outside shots at Final Four runs if the others falter.
First round upset that will happen: Richmond over Vanderbilt
Both teams shoot and defend the three very well, negating each other’s strength. Vanderbilt comes into the tournament without much momentum, however, having lost four of their last seven games. They lack leadership and should be vulnerable to the upset here. Kevin Stallings hasn’t prepared his team well in recent years, having lost in the first round in their last two tournament appearances.
First round upset that won't happen: Illinois over UNLV
It’s embarrassing how Illinois has performed this year with the talent on their roster. Some writers thought they were good enough to make the Final Four before the season started, but now they look destined to fall in round one. They’re 6-10 in their last 16 games and had the season been a few weeks longer, they’d be headed to the NIT. UNLV can be taken advantage of on the interior, but Illinois’s bigs don’t play well enough near the hoop to make the difference.
Best Non-Bracket Bets:
St. Peters (+14) over Purdue — Purdue’s not playing that well right now and St. Peter’s is 20-7 against the spread this year (best of any team in the tournament who have 10 or more games with spreads).
UNLV (-2) over Illinois — I’ll take Lon Kruger vs. his former team for the reasons mentioned above.
Louisville (+400) to make the Final Four — If you’re a doubter of Bill Self, Louisville has the next best team of the group.
Louisville (+3500) to win the National Championship — Once you make the Final Four, anything can happen.