Lancer Media Madness: Top predictions from our experts
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Welcome to Lancer Media Madness! For the length of the NCAA Tournament, we will be analyzing and predicting the big games, the upsets, and the sports phenomenon that is March Madness. Below, we have made our picks for our champion to cut down the nets in Glendale, Arizona for the Final Four. Who do you think will win? Tweet your answer at @lhsjournalism, ethanhart1331, @CNOL_LHS, and @GelhardMatthew, or let us know in the comments section below!
Christian Nolan’s Case for UCLA
The UCLA Bruins are ranked third overall in their conference Pac-12, going 28-3 on the season down to the wire. With March Madness coming up, the Bruins have the 7th highest percentage chance to win it all. I chose this team specifically because this team has the #1 offense, according to independent analysis at Team Rankings.com out all thirty-two teams competing in March Madness. However, they need to work on their defense. Of 32 teams in the postseason, the Bruins most likely hold the worst defense sitting at #90.
UCLA’s roster recently recruited three freshmen, and currently start two, Lonzo Ball and TJ Leaf.
Lonzo Ball, a point guard from Chino Hills High School in California, averaged 19 points per game, along with 7 assists and rebounds in his senior year. When he came to UCLA as a freshman, he averaged almost 15 points, 6 rebounds, and leads the country dishing out 8 assists per game.
The freshman from Foothills Christian High School in California, TJ Leaf, put up big numbers in his high school career. Leaf averaged 26 points per game, along with 12 rebounds, and 5 assists. With UCLA Leaf is averaging 16 points, and 8 rebounds per game. He is the second best in scoring this season behind Senior guard, Bryce Alford (almost 17 points per game).
In early March, Leaf injured his left ankle against Washington early in the first quarter and did not return. If the Bruins stay strong and balls to a Sweet 16 or Final Four spot, Leaf would be able to play again.
Over the season, the Bruins have had key wins and losses in their match ups. If they want a spot in the National Championship, they need to make sure they don’t back down from any team. Some tough matchups for the Bruins were against Oregon (5th seed) and Arizona (7th seed). Oregon beat them by 2, and the worst of the Bruins losses was against Arizona and they lost by 11 points.
In the whole season, they faced both teams (Oregon and Arizona) twice and they are tied in the season series at 1-1.
The Bruins have a strong chance of winning the NCAA National Title. Lonzo Ball needs to continue leading the team, until they have TJ Leaf fully recovered. Even with Leaf back, they can’t ease up on the gas peddle. Expect a strong march from the Bruins.
Ethan Hart’s pitch for Villanova:
For any team of any sport, winning back-to-back titles is quite a feat. In college basketball, it hasn’t been done since the Florida Gators won two straight titles in the 2006 and 2007 March Madness tournaments. Now, ten years later, I strongly believe Villanova will capture their third title (and their second in two years), due to their astounding efficiency and their experience and discipline.
It’s hard to win over 25 games in a season, and much more difficult to be a mainstay in the Associated Press Top 25 polls. Villanova has accomplished both this season, and a whole lot more. They currently sit comfortably at 31-3 in the Big East conference and have clinched their position at the top of the Big East. They have also stayed within the top 5 in all 18 of the AP Top 25 polls, and were listed at number 1 for 7 of those 18 weeks.
Their losses at first sight are a concern, but can be attributed to poor games played, and certainly not a lack of skill. The Wildcats dropped games to their Big East rival Butler, and another close game to their other conference foe Marquette. Butler has been a consistently solid team this entire season, holding their own in the Big East and AP Top 25. They have demonstrated to be the only team in college basketball that has Villanova’s number. The Wildcats’ loss at Marquette was the result of Marquette getting hot from the 3-point arc, hitting 47% from deep compared to Villanova’s 17%. The Wildcats ultimately blew a 17-point and gave the game away to Marquette, 74-72.
This epic meltdown is a concern, but the Wildcats have been extremely consistent as a team this season. They rank in the top 10 of Division 1 in field goal percentage, knocking down nearly 50% of their shots. There margin of victory is also a good indicator of success, as they rank 11th in the country by winning their games by an average of 14.5 points.
I also like their experience heading into the tournament most likely as a #1 seed. Their roster of 14 players includes 7 juniors and seniors, including star guard and Player of the Year candidate Josh Hart. Along with Josh Hart comes Wildcat hero and sharpshooting senior Kris Jenkins, forever remembered among fans for his buzzer-beating shot to win the national championship a year prior.
Hart’s leadership and performance has forced Villanova into the national spotlight for the last two seasons. His per-game averages of 18.3 points and 6.3 rebounds this season are all career highs, and he leads this team into the tournament with great expectations. His oft-forgotten partner in crime Jalen Brunson is a crucial part to the Wildcat’s success this year. Averaging 14.8 points per game and dishing out 4.3 assists per game in an increased role this year as a sophomore, he imposes a lethal threat on opposing defenses.
Defense wins championships, and the Wildcats prove solid in that facet of the game. Ranking in the top 20 in the country in both opposing field goal percentage and opposing points per game, they have proven that they stand formidable on the defensive end.
With a plethora of talent, a disciplined and smart offense, and a solid defense, don’t be surprised to see the Wildcats cutting down the nets in April.
Matt Gelhard is sure about Arizona
It may be mid-March and cold in most places, but the Arizona Wildcats are cranking up the heat all the way from the Mid-West. They have traveled the windy roads of the Pac-12 and earned a #2 seed in the tournament, and a big win against Oregon to obtain the Pac-12 championship.
The Wildcats may not be undefeated, but all their losses came to top-16 teams on the RPI. All have been within 7 points other than the breakdown against Oregon. Oregon and UCLA were their biggest losses early in the season, but the biggest wins have been against these same tournament competitors.
Recently the team have been out rebounding, not relying on one man by spreading points around the starting five (4 of 5 average more than 10 points a game), and not falling under the pressure against high power offenses in comeback situations.
The groundbreaking discovery during the season wasn’t someone who started on the court. This player had a starting spot on the bench until a fateful night in the Pauley Pavilion. On January 21, the Wildcats ran into one of the toughest opponents in the NCAA–the UCLA Bruins. Alonzo Trier tightened up his laces and stepped on the court to eventually score 12 points and grab 7 rebounds to upset the #3 ranked Bruins.
Once that win was set into stone, Trier averaged a solid 17.3 points per game. This was a big push for Arizona to move up in the rankings and the creation of the duo of Trier and Markkanen, who also had 29 points in the UCLA game.
In the West region, the biggest matchup for Arizona in the bracket Gonzaga. The Bulldogs have faced 6 top-25 teams (including the three games against Mount Saint Mary’s who is sitting at a 16 seed) and also a win over a lethargic tempo Arizona before its discovery of Trier. The Bulldogs, of course, will be highly ranked and have a scoring margin of 23.4 against opponents when their schedule was a majority of teams than 50 RPI.
An efficient team, the Wildcats rank 33rd in the nation for field goal percentage, stroking 48% of their shots per game. Additionally to that offensive efficiency, they rank in the top 15 in college basketball in 3-point percentage, shooting a shade under 40%. Where they stand strongest as a team is in the rebounding category. The Wildcats pull down 37 rebounds per game, good for 8th in the nation.
Through grit, guts, and chemistry this Arizona team is the team to beat. This sleeper team may not get as much props for being high in the polls, but the comeback kids of Arizona will be talked about for decades after the championship run that they will have in Glendale, Arizona.
Who is your pick to win it all? Tweet to @lhsjournalism, @ethanhart1331, @CNOL_LHS, and @GelhardMatthew.