Ready for the Madness to begin? Here are four bold predictions for the NCAA Tournament:
This year’s March darling
VCU will bust your bracket with an Elite Eight run, and Mike Rhoades will be this year’s March flavor as the hotshot coach who parlays a big March into a better job.
The last four VCU coaches — Will Wade, Shaka Smart, Anthony Grant and Jeff Capel — have gone on to bigger jobs.
Rhoades, who is believed to want to move up to a power-conference school, could be next after this month.
He’s been successful there, reaching three NCAA Tournaments and putting together three 20-win seasons.
The 12th-seeded Rams, deep and defensively stout, enter the tournament red-hot, winners of 11 of their last 12 games, seven by double figures.
They will knock off No. 5 Saint Mary’s, No. 4 Connecticut and top-seeded and defending national champion Kansas before falling short in the West Regional final to No. 3 Gonzaga.
The East Regional at the Garden has it all: Blue Blood and No. 6 Duke; recent Big East Tournament champion Marquette, the second seed; No. 8 Memphis and Penny Hardaway, and No. 3 Kansas State and its core of New Yorkers.
Memphis, far more talented than a typical No. 8 seed, stuns No. 1 Purdue in the second round, as star guard Kendric Davis has his way with the Boilermakers backcourt.
After edging No. 12 Oral Roberts and Max Abmas in the opening round, Duke continues its recent exceptional play — it has won nine straight and 12 of 14 — by knocking off No. 13 Louisiana, an upset winner over fourth-seeded Tennessee.
Kansas State topples Duke in the regional final, behind a brilliant performance from point guard Markquis Nowell, the diminutive Harlem native who plays so much bigger than his 5-foot-8 frame.
Chants of “Har-lem, Har-lem” ring out from the crowd as Nowell cuts down the final strand of Garden net.
Big Ten woes
It has become a March tradition for this league to come up short this time of year.
As written above, Purdue disappoints again as a top seed, failing to get out of the first weekend.
In fact, the Big Ten doesn’t produce a single Sweet 16 team despite eight tournament bids.
Indiana comes the closest, dropping a nail-biter to Miami in a 4-5 second round game in the Midwest.
Eight-seeds Iowa and Maryland fall in the first round, as does No. 7 Northwestern, while No. 7 Michigan State, No. 9 Illinois and No. 10 Penn State get crushed by favored top seeds in the second round.
The conference hasn’t produced a national champion since Michigan State in 2000, and it won’t come close this year.
Creighton carries the Big East
Back in October, Creighton was the Big East’s best team on paper by a wide margin. It didn’t work out as expected.
The Bluejays finished third in the league and were overwhelmed by Xavier in the conference semifinals.
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But they are healthy and primed to make an Elite Eight run.
The draw is favorable for the No. 6 seed in the South Region: Underwhelming No. 11 N.C. State in the first round and slumping No. 3 Baylor after that.
That would set up a Maui Invitational rematch in the Sweet 16 against No. 2 Arizona.
The Jays pull the upset, becoming the Big East’s lone team to be among the final eight after No. 3 Xavier falls to No. 2 Texas in the regional semifinals and second-seeded Marquette is taken down by Kentucky at MSG.