With the First Four beginning tonight in Dayton, NCAA Tournament season is officially upon us. There’s been plenty of discussion since Selection Sunday about whether the committee got the seeding right, which teams will make a run and who will travel to Phoenix to play in the Final Four.
CBS Sports college basketball analyst Brendan Haywood joined us to break it all down.
CBS Local Sports: The tournament is upon us. As you look at the bracket, what’s the most intriguing first-round match-up?
Brendan Haywood: There’s a lot of good first-round match-ups but, I’m really intrigued by the Minnesota-Middle Tennessee State match-up. That’s going to be a very good game. I really like Middle Tennessee. A lot of people remember them from last year when they upset Michigan State, who a lot of people thought was going to win the national championship. They just have a good mix of talent. They have Giddy Potts, [Reggie] Upshaw, those guys are able to cause problems. Potts is a very dangerous three-point shooter, and Upshaw is dangerous as well. They do a lot of different things and create a lot of match-up problems.
Minnesota, with the loss of Akeem Springs, might be ripe for the upset, so it will be a very interesting match-up.
CBS Local Sports: Villanova is the number-one overall seed after winning the title last year on Kris Jenkins’ memorable last-second shot…
Haywood: We’re not talking about that, as a Carolina fan, we do not talk about Kris Jenkins’ shot. That shot never happened. (laughing)
CBS Local Sports: Fair enough, we won’t talk about the shot, but Nova’s the number-one overall seed and as such, what chance do you give them of becoming the first repeat champion since Florida in ’06/’07?
Haywood: Villanova’s going to have a very tough road, because they probably have the toughest two-seed in the whole bracket in Duke. Duke, right now, is playing excellent basketball, and they’re looking like the team that a lot of people thought they were going to be going into the season. They struggled early, they were young, they were injured, even Coach K was injured, but now they’re starting to put it together. Duke has the best collection of wing talent in all of college basketball.
It’s going to be very interesting to see how Villanova handles that. It’s going to be a very tough match-up for them. I’m not sure that they can win that game, but Villanova is gritty. I like Josh Hart and Jalen Brunson. They have the championship pedigree, along with Jenkins as well. Jenkins hasn’t played as well as he did last year, but he can get hot at any moment.
That said, Villanova has a tough road ahead, because Duke is absolutely loaded. We saw how capable they (Duke) were in the ACC tournament when they beat Louisville, North Carolina and Notre Dame in back-to-back-to-back nights.
CBS Local Sports: One of the biggest storylines coming out of Selection Sunday was Wichita State as a 10-seed and whether they were seeded properly. What are your thoughts on that? And what kind of damage can they do in a loaded South region?
Haywood: The South region is definitely loaded, and I don’t think that Wichita State was seeded properly. Kentucky, in the second round, if Wichita State is able to make it there, Kentucky is going to be in for a dog fight.
This is a team that plays excellent defense, and they’re built the way you want a team to be built from an offensive and defensive perspective. They can score the ball, averaging 82 points per game, but they only let opponents score 62 points per game. They have great half-court defense, but they’re prepared for any style of basketball game, because they also trap you, they do some full court things. I’ve seen a couple games where they were trapping teams three times in the back court. Who does that? They were able to trap the ball once, trap it again and then get another trap at half court.
This team can play great defense, they’re able to score the ball, and they’re able to spread you out, because they have a lot of three point shooters. If you look at this team, they have four to five guys who shoot over 40 percent from three, and they shoot 40 percent from three as a team. Anytime you have a team that can defend and knock down the three pointer… that’s a dangerous team in the tournament.
CBS Local Sports: I know you’re a Tar Heels guy, and they’re the top seed in that loaded South region. Do you have them coming out of the South? If not, which team are you picking?
Haywood: I’m so torn between my heart and my head. My heart says take UNC, but my head says take UCLA. I really like what Lonzo Ball has done. I really like how he leads this team, and I like how Alford has them playing. They’ve beaten some very good teams. They beat Kentucky already this year, they beat Oregon, they beat Arizona, so this is a very tough ball club. They have probably the best collection of offensive talent of any starting lineup in all of college basketball. You look at Lonzo Ball, Alford, Hamilton, Thomas Welsh — I don’t think I’ve seen Thomas Welsh miss a 15-footer in any game, the kid just doesn’t miss the mid-range jumper. Oh, and they also have TJ Leaf, who’s going to be a first-round pick as well. They’re absolutely loaded. They’re deep off the bench. I really like what UCLA does, and they score the ball. So I’m scared for Carolina, because if they get into an offensive battle, which Carolina likes to do, it could possibly favor UCLA, because they have slightly more-talented players.
CBS Local Sports: Does the defense for UCLA concern you? That seems to have been their Achilles heel this year.
Haywood: Yeah, you have to be concerned about that, because in the NCAA Tournament, if you have a game where you come out there sleepwalking on defense, it could definitely cost you. You have to be geared up and turned on at all times. In the tournament, you can’t come out there and have a five to 10-minute stretch when you’re not playing your greatest defense. Everybody has to be locked in on defense.
Defense in basketball is the same thing as defense in football. It travels. It can win you games when your offense isn’t playing well. UCLA, sometimes, earlier in the season, it looked like defense was optional. Now, they’ve gotten to where they’re a middle-of-the-pack-type of defense. It has to be a concern, but when they are defending? This is a very scary ball club, because we all know they can score.
CBS Local Sports: In the West region, there’s some big-name coaches looking for their first Final Four appearance, which one makes it?
Haywood: The head coach set to make his first Final Four appearance is Sean Miller. When you look at Arizona winning the Pac-12 and then coming back and winning the Pac-12 tournament, they’re playing great right now. Some of the losses they had earlier in the year they didn’t have all their players. They didn’t have Allonzo Trier due to suspension and now they have him back. They have [Lauri] Markkanen, who stretches the floor. This team can defend, they can get up and down. I really like their talent level.
They play with a little bit of an edge too, so I like Arizona to win this region. Gonzaga is the weakest of the number-one seeds. Notre Dame can shock some people as well. I really like what Bonzie Colson does inside, he’s 18 and 11 every night. He’s undersized, but he plays big. That said, I think Arizona has the talent to get out of this region.
CBS Local Sports: For the past several years, we’ve seen a 7-seed or higher make a run to the Final Four. Last year it was Syracuse. Is there a team you think is capable of doing that this year?
Haywood: Those teams… [it’s] so hard to determine who they’re going to be. It’s hard because, for example, I think Middle Tennessee can make the Sweet 16, I don’t know that they can make the Final Four. I think Wichita State can make the Sweet 16 possibly. But, as far as making a Final Four run, looking at teams seeded seven and under? That would be a very tough call right now.
I really can’t see it this year, because the one, two and three lines are so strong. The threes could all be ones. UCLA could be a one-seed. Oregon, before the [Chris] Boucher injury, they could have been a one-seed. So, when you look at some of these threes and twos and ones, they’re all the same type of ball club. And this is the first time we’ve seen that. We’ve seen some talent before, but we haven’t seen it like this. There’s arguably 10 teams that could win this whole thing this year. So, I’m not sure I see a seven-seed making it that far. But there are some teams that can make it to the Sweet 16, possibly the Elite Eight.
However, if there’s any seven-seed or lower that’s going to make a run to the Final Four, it’s going to be Michigan. I like the way the team’s playing. Walton Jr. is playing like the best point guard in the whole Big Ten. This team has looked like they’ve bonded because of the whole plane incident. So, if there’s a seven-seed or lower that’s going to make it to the Final Four, it’s Michigan, you heard it here first.
The tournament got underway tonight, when 16-seed Mount St. Mary’s beat fellow 16-seed New Orleans for the right to play Villanova in the Round of 64.