By Ryan Sjoberg, Colton Molesky, and Colt Johnson
The tournament is here, the madness is upon us, and the brackets are busting. The NCAA Men’s Division-I Tournament kicked off this weekend with the first two rounds going down around the country, as 64 teams entered and now only 16 remain. For the madness that is the tournament, we needed three writers to cover the highlights. So this week, we are bringing you our stand-out player, game and then we collaborate on the biggest upsets and what to expect for next weekend. First, we give our thoughts on the top-three players from this past weekend.
Colt – Dillon Brooks, guard, Oregon Ducks
Since his return, the Pac-12 Player of the Year has averaged 16.3 points per game, 2.9 rebounds and 1.1 steals per game, according to espn.com. He’s been most impressive on the offensive side of the ball, where he has been lights out in his scoring efforts. Brooks has shot at an impressive clip, making 51.4 percent from the field and 41.3 percent from behind the arch, which is nearly an eight percent increase from the season before. There may not be a single player in the nation that can body him up and match his offense, defensively. Whether he’s too big for a guard or too fast and athletic for forwards and big men, Brooks continuously finds a way to get the ball in the hoop one way or another at an almost unstoppable rate.
Colton – Tevon Bluiett, guard, Xavier Musketeers
The 11th seeded Xavier team was expected to lose to the 6th seeded Maryland Terrapins. Then they were supposed to get smoked by the three seeded Florida State Seminoles. But here they are in the Sweet Sixteen, and Bluiett is a big reason they are here. He is the bigger guard on a team that starts four and usually plays the two spot or three spot. But his size make and defensive motor make him more than just an offensive threat. He had four rebounds and four steals in a tight game against Maryland, giving his team extra possessions to help lead to a 41-point second half. In the round of 32, he grabbed six boards against an FSU squad that is second-tallest in the country to only the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks. On the offensive side, he pairs perfectly with pass-first point guard Quentin Goodwin, helping him get to 21 and 29 points and 8-15 from downtown. Xavier will continue to ride his dynamic playmaking to the Sweet Sixteen and maybe further.
Ryan – Bronson Koenig, guard, Wisconsin
Putting the ball in the basket has not been overly difficult for the Badgers point guard in tournament play. In fact, senior Bronson Koenig set the Wisconsin Badger record for most three’s in an NCAA tournament game with eight in the first round vs. Virginia Tech. Scoring 28 points by games end and essentially delivering the dagger to the Hokies with a barrage of threes late, Koenig gave Wisconsin the edge it was looking for to advance to the next round. In the Round of 32, Wisconsin had itself a date with the nation’s top team, the Villanova Wildcats. Frustrated by foul trouble, Koenig had to sit on the bench more than usual. The senior guard entered the game late with fresh legs and never looked back. Helping the Badgers knock off the defending champions, Bronson Koenig scored 17 points including a couple late threes to give the Badgers the momentum to ultimately win. Watch for no. 24 as they take on the fourth seed in the East in the Florida Gators on Friday, March 24.
TEAMS TO LOOK OUT FOR
Ryan – Michigan Wolverines
If any team in March Madness is “destined” to win the tournament, look no further than Michigan. While attempting to fly to the east coast for the B1G Ten tournament, Michigan’s plane slid off the runway and it resulted in a plane accident. Luckily, no one was injured other than a couple stitches needed here and there. There is something to be said about a team that endures a life and death situation together. After the plane incident, Michigan went on to win four games in four days for the right to be called B1G Ten tournament champions. Michigan has since taken full advantage of rising up a few seed lines by defeating 10-seeded Oklahoma State 92-91 in what many have considered to be the most entertaining game of the tournament thus far. Two days later, Michigan busted even more brackets when they took down perineal power, two-seeded Louisville in a thriller 73-69. The Wolverines present problems for defenses as they have scorers at all five positions, led of course by senior point guard Derrick Walton Jr. Walton is essentially the engine that makes this team go. He leads the team in scoring, assists, steals, and he’s second on the team in rebounds which is impressive considering he only stands 6’0. If the Wolverines are looking to hit a big shot or need someone to step up, look for them to go to Walton as he has killed opponents lately in the second half of games.
Colton – West Virginia Mountaineers
Can we say ‘Press Virginia’? After going 12-6 in the in the Big-12, this full-court press defense only received a four seed, but had some people questioning their ability because of puzzling road losses. They put those questions to rest early. They traded jams with an underrated Bucknell team, riding Nathan Adrian’s double-double (12 points, 10 rebounds), and the Mountaineers had 37 points come off the bench and 17 offensive rebounds in an impressive performance. Then against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, the full-court press forced their offense to stumble and break with 14 turnovers from Notre Dame. Jevon Carter lead the team with 24 points but they had five players score double-digits. This team has the best full-court press in the game, phenomenal turnover differential and four players who can score.
Colt – Oregon Ducks
In their first game, the Ducks beat Iona handily by a score of 93-77. In their dominating victory, Oregon’s sharp-shooter Tyler Dorsey lead the Ducks in points with 24, on 9 of 13 shooting, hitting two of his four three-point attempts. Along with his hot shooting night, Dorsey came down with five rebounds, putting his mark on the game. Right behind Dorsey in the scoring column was Brooks with 18 points, four rebounds and four assists. They also finished with four players who put up 16 or more points in their dominating offensive performance.
The Ducks’ second game was against the No. 11 seed, Rhode Island Rams. In their 75-72 victory they squeezed past the Rams, Dorsey lead the way once again; this time leading the team with 27 points, five rebounds and five assists. He also shot 9 of 10 from the field and four of five from three-point range. He also wreaked havoc on defense, forcing Rhode Island to turn the ball over and come away with three steals in the game.
His right-hand-man in this game was once again Brooks, who scored 19 points with seven rebounds on 7 of 20 shooting. Though Oregon’s duo did not see the kind of help they did in the first game, the Ducks managed to pull away with a victory after the game-winning three-pointer with 40 seconds left in the second half to seal the victory. Now the Ducks have reached the Sweet Sixteen and are in search of their second title in school history since they first won it back in 1939.
After upsets to top seeded teams like Duke and Villanova, along with tight wins for others like North Carolina and Baylor, it is hard to know what to expect from the Sweet Sixteen this weekend.
The teams that are looking strong going forward are Wisconsin, Xavier and Michigan, all teams who can play inside-and-out while rolling with a ridiculous amount of momentum heading into the third round. West Virginia gets a weak one seed that almost lost to Northwestern (watch out Gonzaga), and Kansas gets to play a Purdue team with only one real superstar up against their three headed monster of Frank Mason III, Devonte’ Graham and Josh Jackson. Baylor has had their problems and almost dropped the game to USC, but are by far the deepest team in the tournament and get South Carolina. North Carolina will have a tough game against a Butler squad that has played very consistently but the pure talent advantage is in the Tar Heels’ corner. The best game will be Kentucky vs. UCLA. Fox and Monk against Ball will be a lot of fun, but at the end of the day Edrice Adebayo, Derek Willis and Dominique Hawkins make Kentucky a deeper team and their defense is far stouter. Enjoy the madness yet to come.