We’re this close to yet another pulse-pounding, heart-stopping NCAA Tournament. So, what (and whom) can we count on? Where is our Cinderella hiding? We conclude by discussing what’s up out East.
Josh Hart, Villanova
Josh Hart started his Villanova career as one of the best sixth men in the nation. He’ll end his career as one of the best overall players in the nation. Hart’s rise to greatness wasn’t always a lock to happen, seeing as he was outside of the top 90 in ESPN’s recruiting rankings back in 2013. Since that time, he has made teams who overlooked him, like Duke, Kansas and Kentucky, regret that they hadn’t thrown this young man a scholarship at the time.
Now, already with one national title under his belt, Hart will look to help lead the Wildcats to their second straight championship. Villanova would be the first team to be back-to-back National Champions since the 2005/2006 and 2006/2007 Florida Gators.
Jayson Tatum, Duke
Tatum has become Duke’s rock. Yes, Luke Kennard had a fantastic year, and likely launched himself into the top 20 of the NBA draft. Yes, Grayson Allen (when healthy and focused) is an All-American level player. But Tatum, the freshman who is a lottery lock, has turned himself into Duke’s go-to player in the past month or so. His point totals in the four ACC tournament games the Blue Devils played were: 20, 25, 24 and 19. He is on fire right now.
Coach K will look to ride his hot hand, along with all of the other talent he has, back to the Final Four.
London Perrantes, Virginia
A four-year starter, Perrantes may be the most experienced guard in the country. He isn’t flashy Like Lonzo Ball and he doesn’t have the blazing speed of De’Aaron Fox. But, he controls the offense as well as either of them. Out of the four UVA teams that Perrantes has played on, this is likely the worst. That has nothing to do with him, however. And I doubt that will phase a player of his caliber.
He has had a dream career at UVA, and he’ll look to end it with an appearance in the Final Four.
Sindarius Thornwell, South Carolina
I wouldn’t be surprised if you haven’t heard of Thornwell. He plays in the SEC, but not for Kentucky. That usually means most people haven’t heard of him. Well, start doing your research, because you may be hearing his name a lot this month. Averaging 21 points per game, Thornwell was the best scorer in the SEC not named Monk. Hell, I think he’s just as good as Monk. But like I said, the attention never goes his way. He went off for 44 points and 21 rebounds against Alabama back in early February, and I’d say that’s more impressive than Monk’s 47 against UNC.
Thornwell should help the Gamecocks make quick work of Marquette. Then a blockbuster showdown looms in Round Two against Duke. Thornwell versus Tatum? Sign me up.
Searching For Cinderella
New Mexico State
The 28-5 Aggies of New Mexico State dominated their conference tournament, only to find themselves sitting as a 14-seed ready to face menacing Baylor. But maybe Baylor isn’t so menacing after all. Remember, they have been knocked out of the tournament in the first round the past two seasons. You could say they are hungry to break through, but I say they are shaking in their boots, afraid of another first round failure.
New Mexico State needs to stay ready and play with confidence. Baylor isn’t as good as the seeding says.
At the start of the season, I said that Coach K had turned himself into John Calipari. Load up on young recruits, watch them go pro and do it again the next season. This year didn’t go exactly how Coach K planned. Grayson Allen’s suspension, Harry Giles’ injury and Coach K’s health issues of his own were all distractions for the team. Yet here we are in March, and Coach K may have his team right where he wants them—a two-seed coming off an ACC tournament victory that may have been more difficult than reaching the Final Four will be.
With the loads of talent and legendary coaching, this region is Duke’s to lose. Even with the defending champions are in their bracket.