Grab Some Popcorn, It’s March Madness Time! | Mateen Cleaves
Former NCAA Champ, Mateen Cleaves, his insights on which teams he thinks will make it to the Final Four of the 2023 March Madness tournament.
March Madness is my favorite time of the year! It’s never easy to pick your Final Four teams but I will give it an attempt.
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I am picking Alabama to come out of the South. They have a really good defensive team that has the ability to score in bunches. No matter what team they play, they will most likely have the best player on the floor with Brandon Miller, who averages 19 points and 8 rebounds per game. He is a projected lottery pick who can score on all three levels (3-point, midrange, and attacking the rim). He’s a match-up nightmare for all opposing teams.
Jah Quinerly is a veteran point guard who is getting back to his true form. He scored 22 points and was 4-8 from three point range in his last game. Mark Sears is a 3-point shooter who stretches the floor. Noah Clowney is a 6’10 skilled freshman who impacts the game on both ends of the floor. Coach Nate Oats also has one of the best rim protectors in the nation in Charles Bediako, who had 5 blocks in the SEC conference championship game.
I have Duke coming out of the East and here’s why. Duke is one of the hottest teams in the country right now riding a nine game winning streak. They have strength in numbers and have reliable role players in Tyrese Proctor, Mark Mitchell, and Dariq Whitehead.
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Jeremy Roach is a super solid lead guard who does a great job running the team but the game changer is their fabulous freshman, Kyle Filipowski. He averaged 15 points and 9 rebounds during the season and is shooting 64% from the field while scoring over 20 ppg over his last four games. The 7’0 star freshman is super skilled and will be a headache for any team they play.
I have a feeling the Houston Cougars are coming out of the Midwest. The Cougars might just be the best defensive team in college basketball. They take pride in outworking opponents and testing their toughness. On the offensive end they get it done by committee. Houston has a three-headed monster at the guard spot (Marcus Sasser, Jamal Shead, and Tramon Mark) who can all create off the dribble.
Sasser was the key to the offense this year by averaging 17 ppg, but he didn’t play in the conference championship game because of a groin injury. We will all have to keep our eyes on that situation.
Coach Kelvin Sampson also has two solid bigs (Jarace Walker & J’Wan Roberts) who can both match up well with any other bigs they might face. Walker is an athletic big and a capable mid-range shooter. Roberts is a great rebounder and a good finisher around the basket. I want to put this on the table as well– if Sasser is not able to play, I am picking Texas to come out of that region.
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The safe pick would probably be Kansas out of the West (assuming Bill Self is healthy enough to coach) but my gut keeps telling me to go with UCLA. They check a lot of the boxes. Jamie Jaquez has a lot of experience in the PAC-12 and was just named conference Player of the Year. He averaged 17 points and 8 rebounds this year and played a big role on that 2021 UCLA team that beat Michigan State (!) in a play-in game and then went onto the Final Four.
Senior PG Tiger Campbell is the ultimate floor general (3-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio) who competes hard on both ends of the floor. The Bruins also have an anchor on defense with the PAC-12 Freshman of the Year, Aden Bona. Shooting 66% from the field, Bona is a good finisher around the rim, but his best attribute is protecting the rim.
Amari Bailey seems to be coming around at the right time by averaging 18 points in his last three games. Another reason I really like UCLA is Mick Cronin, who has an old-school coaching style and holds his players highly accountable.
Let’s all grab some popcorn and get ready for some action packed college basketball baby!
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