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Brackets are out – NBA & NHL Monday

Consider a March Madness weekly package for the first big week of the NCAA Tournament!

Nelly’s has hit 65% in the past three NCAA Tournaments including great Round of 64 results! We’ve also won 10 of our last 15 in the NBA.

Bobby Dalton is on a 23-10 NHL run – check out tonight’s hockey play!

CONTENDER CONCERNS

Here are a few quick reactions to the bracket with some possible concerns for an expected contender in each region:

WEST REGION

Iowa Hawkeyes: Plenty of NCAA Tournament previews will cite that having a top 20 defense is a common trait of most recent national champions. There have been teams that have started the tournament outside that benchmark and got there by the end of the six-game title run but teams in Iowa’s range simply do not cut down the nets. The past eight NCAA champions have all finished the season in the nation’s top 11 in defensive efficiency and Iowa enters the tournament at 50th, not even cracking the top six in the Big Ten.

Losing Jack Nunge in late February also weakens the team compared to the season numbers and much of the glowing offensive efficiency statistics were boosted with four non-conference wins outside the nation’s top 300. Illinois, Michigan, and Ohio State had only one win outside the nation’s top 300 combined as Iowa’s placement in the quartet of national contenders on the #1 or #2 line from the Big Ten is the most suspicious. Iowa also benefited from one of the weakest schedules in the Big Ten and in the six toughest games the Hawkeyes faced, they picked up only one win.

WAC champion Grand Canyon is not a simple draw in the 2/15 pairing and in the last tournament appearance for the conference New Mexico State lost by just one-point against Auburn, a team that wound up making the Final Four in the 2019 tournament. The Antelopes grade as nearly a top 100 squad and beat Nevada while playing close with Arizona State and Colorado in non-conference play. They are coached by Bryce Drew, who knows a few things about NCAA Tournament upsets. Kansas is also lurking in the bottom half of the West bracket and the Jayhawks were looking like the best team in the Big XII down the stretch, winning eight of the past nine games before having to withdraw from the Big XII tournament. The path for the Hawkeyes looks difficult while Fran McCaffrey will need to top his total Iowa NCAA Tournament wins in the previous 10 seasons to get to the Final Four.

SOUTH REGION

Baylor Bears: The Bears team that started the season 17-0 seems to have lost something in the three-week layoff in February. Since returning to action the Bears went just 5-2 and struggled in several close games even with teams at the bottom of the Big XII. Baylor finished as the nation’s top 3-point shooting team at nearly 42 percent, but they have shot almost five percent below that average in those last seven games.

Scott Drew deserves a ton of credit for building this program to a national contender after stepping into the aftermath of an ugly situation but after Elite Eight runs in 2010 and 2012, the Bears have not made it back that far despite being a top six seed four different times including taking recent losses to teams seeded at #7, #12, and #14 in three of his last four tournaments. Baylor’s offense has amazing numbers, but the Bears also played a softer non-conference schedule than most this season with seven wins outside the nation’s top 150 while the Bears do not have a championship caliber defensive pedigree even with the acclaimed individual performances of Mark Vital and Davion Mitchell.

Hartford does not figure to be a threat in the opening round, but Baylor is not likely thrilled with the 8/9 pairing adjacent to them, as usual heavyweights North Carolina and Wisconsin face off. The Tar Heels seemed to be peaking late in the season with several notable wins while Wisconsin humiliated Baylor in the 2014 tournament and feels a bit underrated as a #8 seed given that the 3-7 run to close the season featured six losses vs. #1 and #2 seeds, most of them coming in competitive games.

EAST REGION

Texas Longhorns: Winning just two games in the Big XII tournament by a combined total of six points made Texas the Big XII champion and boosted the Longhorns to a #3 seed. Texas has plenty of quality wins on the resume beating Kansas twice as well as some of the other quality Big XII teams, plus a non-conference win over North Carolina. The Longhorns did lose seven games this season and can struggle with turnovers and free throw shooting, things that generally come into play when the lights shine brighter.

The efficiency data has Texas outside the top three in the Big XII on both sides of the ball while also suggesting that Texas played the weakest schedule of all ten Big XII teams. Shaka Smart is yet to win a NCAA Tournament game for Texas as the Longhorns lost in the Round of 64 in both of his appearances and both losses came to smaller conference teams as Texas could again be at risk for an early exit.

Abilene Christian is an imposing opening draw for Texas as the Wildcats did not look out of place in competitive December losses at Texas Tech and at Arkansas. This is an appealing draw for this veteran team facing the marquee program in the state of Texas and Abilene Christian was in the NCAA Tournament more recently than the Longhorns were. The Round of 32 draw of either BYU or the Michigan State/UCLA winner will be a challenge while Alabama, Connecticut, and Maryland are all formidable teams in the bottom of the East bracket where Texas sits.  

MIDWEST REGION

Houston Cougars: Houston has incredible numbers and routinely produced blowouts this season but still lost three games to mediocre American teams. All three losses came on the road as Houston did not produce a top 50 road win all season and did not have a single top 20 win all season. Kelvin Sampson has rebuilt the Cougars into a juggernaut, but they have been bounced by power conference teams in the past two tournaments.

The 2019 squad that made the Sweet 16 before a narrow loss to Kentucky had produced several notable non-conference wins on the way to a 33-4 record. This year’s team did not get that opportunity or experience with only a narrow win over Texas Tech in November standing out, and a key player for the Red Raiders missed that game. The AAC was not as strong this season as in 2019 and the regular season path for Houston was the weakest of those 11 teams as they only played Memphis once.

Clemson and Rutgers do not look overly intimidating, but both were accustomed to battling through much tougher paths in major conference play while West Virginia and San Diego State will be considered Elite Eight threats in Houston’s path in the bottom of the Midwest region. Add that Illinois has looked like arguably the best team in the country in recent weeks and this is a difficult draw for a Cougars team that will face the pressure of being a #2 seed for the first time since 1984.