(1) Indiana vs. (16) James Madison
(1) Indiana Hoosiers
In a season like this one where things are as wide open as they’ve ever been, the Hoosiers (27-6, 14-4) may be the team most deserving of the favorites label. The Hoosiers have had their stumbles through the regular season, proving that they are very beatable, but this is a team that has had their mind on one goal and one goal only: winning a national championship. They were Kentucky’s toughest challenge last year and are focused solely on reaching the heights that the Wildcats did. In sophomore center Cody Zeller, the Hoosiers have the nation’s best big man. Zeller is the kind of talent that can put a team on his back and carry them a long way, but he doesn’t have to do it alone. Junior wing Victor Oladipo has developed into just as big of a star with his incredible defense and offensive efficiency that tops even Zeller. Senior forward Christian Watford doesn’t get the same kind of pub they do, but has proven his worth time and time again. The Hoosiers finished the regular season with an RPI and strength of schedule in the top seven; against the RPI top 25 they were an impressive 8-3. Teams looking to upset Indiana will have to play in the high 70s or limit their stars as much as possible, but this is a team that will look far different next year so they’re really going to play with a high sense of urgency and desire.
(16) James Madison Dukes
Representing the well-respected Colonial Athletic Association is the Dukes (20-14, 11-7), who are dancing for the first time since 1994. This year’s team will be looking to turn back the hands of time to the early 80s, when the Dukes pulled off major first round upsets in three consecutive years. The Dukes are a disciplined team. They take great care of the basketball, giving it up just 11 times on average. While Rayshawn Goins leads the team in scoring (12.7) and rebounds (7.4), the Dukes have three other players in A.J. Davis, Devon Moore and Andre Nation who are also very capable of leading the way offensively. They’d be even more well-rounded if they didn’t lose Andrey Semenov, a fifth-year senior who averaged 10 points in seven contests this season, for the year with an ankle injury. In their lone game against a RPI top 50 team, the Dukes fell by 30 to UCLA. They were an underwhelming 20-11 against teams outside the RPI top 100. To get the program’s first NCAA tourney win in three decades, they will have to really focus on rebounding and have an offensive explosion unlike anything they’ve had this season.
HOOPSWORLD’s Pick: Indiana. The Dukes beat the Blackbirds, but they’ll only serve as a warm up for the Hoosiers in their potential run to the national championship.