It’s March Madness, the greatest time of the year. Looking for some help with your bracket? Don’t know which teams to believe in, in this crazy college hoops season? We’ve got your back. We’re breaking down every first-round game in the field of 68, plus looking ahead at which teams will make the run to the Final Four.
4. California (23-10, 12-6/Pac-12)–We may take a look back at this Cal team in a few years and think, ‘wow.’ All of those NBA guys were on the same team? That’s how talented this group is, though they’re very young. 6-7 freshman Jaylen Brown gets the most hype, and for good reason, as the highly-recruited forward averages 15 points and 5.5 rebounds per game. Brown is a powerful swingman who already has an NBA body, and he can get to the rim with ease. His jump shot needs a little work, but he’s projected as a top-three pick on NBADraft.net.
As talented as Brown is, he might not even be the best freshman on this team. That could be Oakland native Ivan Rabb, who’s averaging 12.5 points and 8.5 boards per game. The 6-11 forward is perhaps the best local recruit to go to Cal since Jason Kidd. He’s also projected as a top-10 pick when the NBA Draft rolls around.
Despite all of the freshman talent, it’s senior Tyrone Wallace who leads the team in scoring. The 6-5 guard averages 15.3 points, 5.4 boards and 4.4 assists per game. Don’t sleep on 6-3 junior guard Jordan Matthews (13.2 ppg, 3.4 rpg) or 6-6 junior Jabari Bird (10.4 ppg) either.
On paper, this is one of the most talented teams in the nation. But they’re also inexperienced. Cal hasn’t reached the Sweet 16 since 1997, or right around the time some of these guys were born.
67.0 points allowed (60th)
40.0 rebounds per game (30th)
75.1 points per game (132nd)
13. Hawaii (27-5, 13-3/Big West)–Alright, we’ll admit it. We haven’t seen much of Hawaii this season. But hey–the only reason we’re sleeping on the Rainbow Warriors is because–well, we’re usually asleep when their games come on. We’re definitely not alone on that front–the Warriors have flown under the radar all season long, and probably wouldn’t have gotten an NCAA bid if they hadn’t won the Big West tournament.
Still, this is a dangerous team–one that played Oklahoma to a three-point game early in the season on the island. The Sooners needed 27 points from Buddy Hield and a generous late foul call to stave off Hawaii, pulling away to win late, 87-84. This is a balanced club with four players averaging in double figures in scoring, led by junior Stefan Jankovic (15.2 ppg). 6-5 junior guard Aaron Valdes also puts up points (14.6 per), and 6-3 senior points guard Roderick Bobbitt does a nice job running the offense, at 13.3 points and 5.5 assists per game.
15.8 assists per game (38th)
66.5 points allowed (50th)
PREDICTION: We respect the Rainbow Warriors, but we’ll take Cal’s talent here. Their frontcourt is just too good, and having an NBA wing and an NBA big is a good recipe for success in the NCAA Tournament. We’re taking Cal to beat Hawaii and Maryland, before falling to the much more experienced Kansas Jayhawks in the Sweet 16.