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The Rider Online | Legacy HS Student Media

Covering the Bronco Nation.

The Rider Online | Legacy HS Student Media

Bronco Minute 4-19
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Bronco Minute 4-19
Boys’ 4×4 Relay Advances to Regionals
Bronco Minute 4-12
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Matched Up in March Madness: Predictions for the Championship

Preview
Another March brings sports fans favorite time of year around with the NCAA March Madness tournament. Even for those who aren’t deeply invested in college basketball, filling out a bracket is an exhilarating and immersive experience. I love March Madness and the narratives that play out throughout the tournament. As recently as last year, we witnessed a 16-seed FDU beating number one Purdue with nine-seed FAU reaching the final four. There is always an insane upset which is nearly impossible to predict, but you know they’re going to happen somewhere. That said, this year of the tournament is just as wide open as ever if the regular season was any indication. This year, I tuned into the most regular season college basketball games than I ever have in preparation for the tournament knowing that it most likely won’t do me any good with the unpredictability March Madness brings. If you haven’t watched much I’m going to give you some of my predictions to potentially help out your bracket. (Don’t blame me if they’re all wrong)

Notable First Round Matchups:
Mississippi St. (8) vs. Michigan St. (9)
This 8/9 matchup looks to be one of the best in the first round with two very competent teams up against each other. Michigan St. is my pick in this game, as Tyson Walker will lead them to victory over Josh Hubbard and the Mississippi St. Bulldogs. This game will be close, but every year Michigan St. manages to win at least a game in the tournament and I don’t think they will stop that this year, especially with the leadership of coach Tom Izzo. 

Texas Tech (6) vs. NC State (11)
Red-hot NC State faces Texas Tech in a tough matchup for both sides. NC State just won the ACC tournament with wins over UNC and Duke, giving them the 11 seed. Even with that, if healthy, Texas Tech team will win this game. Tech has too many shooters and finished 11-7 in the hardest conference (Big 12) in the country. Pop Issacs and Darrion Williams need to perform well for Grant McCasland’s Red Raiders to come away with the win. While NC State is hot, the couple days off may plague them, leading to a Tech victory. 

Wisconsin (5) vs. James Maddison University [JMU] (12) 
JMU is poised to get the upset win in this game. While they haven’t played the same level of competition that Wisconsin has, JMU has a potent offense and a switchable defense that could very welllead to an upset. Every 5/12 matchup is really up in the air this year in my opinion.

Gonzaga (5) vs. McNeese State (12)
Gonzaga is not the same team they’ve been in recent years and they got matched-up with a very solid McNeese State team. With this being only their third appearance in tournament history, this team is going to be hungry for the win and they have the means to beat this Zags team. Gonzaga hasn’t looked like its usual self this year and while they could still make a run in this tournament, McNeese State is my pick. 

Kansas (4) vs. Samford (13)
If you told me at the beginning of the year that this Kansas team would’ve been a four-seed come tournament time I would have laughed in your face. This Kansas team was practically unbeatable… until their two best players got injured. Hunter Dickinson and Kevin McCuller were both first-team all-big 12 and the loss of these two players hurt Kansas so much in the final stretch of the season. As of right now, it is unclear if McCuller and Dickinson will play, but if not Samford has a good chance of winning. Samford is led by 6-foot 9-inch Achor Achor who averages about 16 points a game for the Samford Bulldogs. Without the defensive prowess of Kansas’ two stars, a big performance out of him would nearly be certain. I have Samford in this one.

St Mary’s (5) vs. Grand Canyon University [GCU] (12)
Another 5/12 matchup that I believe will be a good battle. GCU is led by Tyon Grant-Foster who is an absolute offensive weapon averaging 19.8 points a game with shades of Kevin Durant in his game. Grant-Foster could very well lead this team to a win BUT St. Mary’s performance this year leads me to believe a tournament win this year will happen. I like St. Mary’s in this game and they are my pick. 

My Final Four & Championship Predictions
Uconn (1) 
As the number one seed in the east, Uconn could very well repeat as champions this year. Led by fifth-year senior Tristen Newton, who averaged 15 points per game to go along with six assists and seven rebounds a game, Uconn sat atop the AP rankings for most of the year and entered the tournament as the overall one seed. 25% of users on the ESPN tournament challenge selected Uconn to win it all and with the way they have played this could be a probable champion. 

Arizona (2)
It’s so fun to watch Arizona play with their high-scoring offense led by transfer Caleb Love. Arizona averages 87 points per game, the most of any team in this tournament. I expect a deep run out of this team with a potential championship appearance if they can get past Uconn in this final-four matchup, which will be no easy feat.

Houston (1)
On the other side of the bracket, I have Houston making it to the final four this year. Led by their star-studded backcourt of all-Big 12 first-teamer Jamal Shead and all-Big 12 second-teamer LJ Cryer, Houston has what it takes to go far in March. Houston’s main calling card this year has been their stellar defense in the toughest conference in the country. While they fell to Iowa St. in the Big 12 tournament, Houston is going to be hungry to avenge this loss and potentially go all the way. 

Tennessee (2)
Even though Tennessee hasn’t been hot as of late, I believe this team will catch fire come tournament time leading to a deep run. Led by the 21 points a game of Dalton Knecht and point guard Zakai Zeigler Tennessee garnered many impressive wins throughout the year. Their run to the final four will be tough, potentially coming across Purdue and Creighton, but this team will catch fire at the right time prompting a final-four appearance

My Championship Prediction
Houston (1) vs. Arizona (2)
The Houston Cougars will be the 2024 national champions. Their combination of stellar defense and consistent offense gives Houston all the tools to win this tournament. As I mentioned, Jamal Shead and LJ Cryer are probably the best backcourt in all of college basketball, but this team is also pretty deep. Emmanuel Sharp is another scorer who can shoot the ball well from three-point range which is something head coach Kelvin Sampson emphasizes in his team. Sampson has been one of the best coaches the past few years ever since he’s come to Houston, and this year I believe he’ll bring a championship home for the Cougars. Big man J’Wan Roberts contributes to the defensive mentality this team brings averaging a block a game and a positive defensive rating. As I’ve touched on with Houston, their defense will win them this championship. Uconn is another really good defensive team, but having to watch Houston terrorize the Big 12 all year with this smothering defense and strong shooters from everywhere on the floor leads me to believe that this is their year. My pick is for Houston and Arizona to face off in the championship game having Houston walking away as champions with a score of 73-68. 

Final Thoughts 
Every single one of these picks could be wrong, but that’s just the beauty of this tournament. It’s nearly impossible to be perfect in predicting who will win, yet I can’t help but spend excessive time on my bracket every year knowing that I may lose the perfect bracket on the first game of the tournament. Regardless of what my bracket ends up like, this is my favorite time of the year and I can’t wait to see the narratives we are blessed with this year. Good luck with your brackets and happy March Madness.

About the Contributor
Cameron Hooper
Cameron Hooper, Staff Writer
It's all about the details.
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