by Evan Wildey
Now that we’ve previewed the whole field, let’s take a closer look at our local teams and their chances in the “Big Dance.”
Western Michigan University Broncos – #14 Seed – South Region
How they got here: 23-9, MAC Tournament Champions
Players to watch: David Brown, Shayne Whittington
Game: Thursday, March 20, 2:45 p.m. vs Syracuse
Forecast: First off, congratulations to the Broncos for getting into the tournament. That is a great accomplishment. However, even though I will cheer for them to win, I don’t see it happening. Syracuse started out the year 25-0 before faltering to a 2-7 finish to the season. Despite their lackluster finish, Syracuse has too many weapons that the Broncos cannot overcome. WMU does not shoot the three-pointer well, or rebound, two things that have to happen if you want to beat Syracuse’s vaunted 2-3 zone defense. Unfortunately, it looks like the Broncos’ stay in the NCAA Tournament will be a short one.
Michigan Wolverines – #2 Seed – Midwest Region
How they got here: 25-8, Big 10 Regular Season Champions
Players to watch: Nik Stauskus, Caris LeVert, Jordan Morgan
Game: Thursday, March 20, 7:10 p.m. vs Wofford
Forecast: Michigan enters the tournament after getting thoroughly beaten by Michigan State in the Big 10 Tournament. However, to the Wolverines, that should not matter any longer. Michigan was placed as the #2 seed in the toughest of the four regions. The other top seeds include undefeated Wichita State, Duke, and Louisville. Michigan should easily beat Wofford and should be able to take care of either Arizona State or Texas. That would set up a probable Sweet Sixteen matchup with Duke, a very tough draw. This may be the “homer” in me, but I believe Michigan can take Duke down. The serious basketball fans among you may have questioned why I included senior center Jordan Morgan as a player to watch. The Duke game is precisely why. Neither Michigan nor Duke has strong interior players, so if Morgan can control the glass, Michigan can win. Although I can see the Wolverines making it to the Final Four and even the final game if they have their three-point stroke going, a more likely scenario is a Sweet Sixteen trip with a strong chance to beat Duke and make the Elite Eight.
Michigan State Spartans – #4 Seed – East Region
How they got here: 26-8, Big 10 Tournament Champions
Players to watch: Keith Appling, Adreian Payne, Branden Dawson, Gary Harris
Game: Thursday, March 20, 4:40 p.m. vs Delaware
Forecast: This team was beset by injuries for the entire Big 10 season. For many, that was the reason they suffered so many losses. Now, it appears that the team picked by many as the preseason favorite is finally healthy. MSU is led by Gary Harris, but for me, it is all about Branden Dawson. As an athletic wing player, he is at his best when he can bully smaller forwards down low (just ask Michigan’s Glenn Robinson). Now that Dawson is back from a broken hand, the Spartans are ready to go. With a #4 seed in what many are saying is the easiest region, the Spartans are being picked by many to reach the Final Four. In fact, seven ESPN analysts all picked MSU to win the entire tournament. And in Las Vegas, oddsmakers have given MSU the second best odds to win the tournament after Florida. So now that they are healthy, the pressure is on. I’m not sure I see a title-winning team here, but it wouldn’t shock me, and a Final Four birth seems likely.
Fun Fact: Since MSU’s Tom Izzo has been head coach (18 years), no senior class has ever graduated without making a Final Four appearance. For Appling and Payne, this is their last chance to keep that streak alive.