Well, one of the biggest three weeks in sports is here. March Madness, the Big Dance, whatever you wish to call it, the NCAA Tournament is here. Each year I write about the teams to watch......the ones who could make a deep run in the tournament or the teams that are most likely to pull off an upset or two. For Tennessee fans, this Volunteer squad has the best chance of any team in recent memory to make the school's first Final Four. Whether they actually are playing on the final weekend of the season remains to be seen but having a team this good to pull for makes this year's Big Dance extra special.
Top seeded Duke is the clear cut favorite, but there are a couple of teams who could make a real splash.
Mississippi State is one. The Bulldogs are well coached and have the talent to make a deep run. MSU faces Liberty in round one and most likely fourth seeded Virgiina Tech in round two. The path is well laid out for a trip to the Sweet 16. Also keep an eye on Belmont. The Bruins won the first NCAA tournament game ever for veteran Coach Rick Byrd on Tuesday night in the First Four play-in game, 81-70 over Temple. Belmont catches Maryland in Jacksonville, FL in round one. Despite some really good competition Duke will advance from the East Region, though they may not face #2 seed Michigan State in the region finals.
Gonzaga is the top seed but I don't see them advancing to the Final Four. If you're looking for a first round upset, look no further than the match up between Murray State and Marquette. The Racers from the OVC have one of the three best players in the country in point guard Ja Morant and in the game of college basketball one player can make a huge difference. As far as a Final Four representative I look for 2nd seed Michigan to advance but this region could be full of upsets. #10 Florida could also make a run. Most SEC fans think the Gators were hosed in the league semi-finals in their loss to eventual champ Auburn and they likely were.
North Carolina is one of three ACC teams in the tournament that is a top seed. In the Midwest, there are several teams that can and will challenge the Tar Heels for a spot in the Final Four. 2nd seed Kentucky is one, as well as 4th seeded Kansas. There is really no pressure on the Jayhawks as they failed to win the Big 12 for the first time in fourteen years, and no one is really expecting much. The Auburn Tigers are also in the Midwest, seeded fifth. The Tigers are fresh from winning
the SEC Tournament in high style with a twenty point win over Tennessee in the finals. though I'm picking Carolina to make the Final Four, it wouldn't surprise me at all to see the Tigers advance.
Virginia is number one but Tennessee is second. The Volunteers have a clear shot to the Sweet 16 with wins over Colgate and the Cincinnati-Iowa winner. Colgate is a very good three point shooting team and so is Cincinnati. The Vols have had trouble matching up with perimeter teams with speed and quickness. If the Vols can make the proper adjustments, they will easily advance to the Sweet 16 but that's where it starts getting really tough. Tennessee will most likely face either Villanova or Purdue in the Sweet 16, then if they win there will face Virginia in the region finals. Look for Old Dominion or Oregon to possibility pull off the early upsets. I'm picking Tennessee to advance to the Final Four along with North Carolina, Duke and Michigan. and Duke will win the National Championship. This has been a magical exciting season for Tennessee basketball but the best could be yet to come in 2020. Now, let's tip it up and get after 'em.
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Randy Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org