NCAA TOURNEY PREDICTION: Houston Cougars to roar


The Torch predicts the Houston Cougars will flex their muscle on their way to claiming the 2023 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament championship.

March Madness is back and better than ever, and The Torch’s Co-Sports Editor Brayden Schultz and Managing Editor Mason Silverstein are back with their predictions and expectations for the most chaotic tournament in modern sports.


South Region:

Schultz: 9 West Virginia over 8 Maryland –This pick hurts my soul as a Maryland fan, but this team is not beating West Virginia. The Terps, for whatever reason, are not the same team away from College Park. They finished the year 21-12 with only five road wins against Minnesota (twice), St. Louis, Louisville, and Miami. Maryland may have the best player on the floor in star guard Jahmir Young, but he’s wildly inconsistent, causing veterans Donta Scott and Julian “JuJu” Reese to find themselves in trouble quite often. 

This West Virginia team is, as college basketball insider Jon Rothstein describes them, “tougher than a long weekend at your in-laws.” The analytics favor the Mountaineers here as well, as they rank higher in adjusted tempo, pace, SRS, NET, RPI, and strength of schedule. West Virginia also has a coaching advantage in seasoned veteran Bob Huggins, while Maryland is headed by first year coach Kevin Willard. Willard isn’t necessarily a bad coach, but first year head coaches don’t have the greatest track record in the tournament. At the end of the day, I do not trust Maryland to get the job done in Birmingham, and I think that the Mountaineers will keep climbing. 

Silverstein: 10 Utah State over 7 Missouri – In the South Region, the Utah State Aggies will attempt to make a run as they face Missouri in the first round of the tournament. They finished off the season in a close game that ended with a loss to San Diego State in the Mountain West Championship game. This is a very experienced team with senior forward Taylor Funk and junior guard Steven Ashworth both adding to the dynamic threat that the team poses from around the arc. 

Utah State took down Boise State recently, another team that slid into the dance this year. The Missouri Tigers had a great season and ended with a 24-9 record, but they are up against a team with a lot more experience. They have also struggled with rebounding this season, meaning that if the shots do not fall at the beginning of the game, Utah State will leave with a big win in Sacramento to kick off the tournament. 

East Region: 

Schultz: 12 Oral Roberts over 5 Duke – Just two years ago, 15 seed Oral Roberts led by sophomore guard Max Abmas busted brackets and made a run to the second weekend. Well Abmas, now a senior, and the Golden Eagles are back in the big dance and just might bust some brackets again. 

It’s no secret that this season was not Duke’s best, but they caught fire in the ACC tournament and are starting to look more put together. Oral Roberts enters on fire as well, coming into the tournament on a 17-game winning streak. Unlike Duke, Oral Roberts shoots the ball consistently well. They play fast, being top 40 in pace and adjusted tempo as well as top 25 in adjusted offensive efficiency, according to KenPom. They’re also top-15 in free throw percentage, a very important statistic. 

Duke center Kyle Filipowski can wreak havoc in the paint, but ORU employs a 7-foot-5 monster of their own in Connor Vanover, who averages more than three blocks per game. Many avid college basketball watchers acknowledged before Selection Sunday that this Oral Roberts team can win a tournament game or two, but when it was revealed they would have to go through Duke, they all lost faith. After their run in the ACC tournament, and considering the weakness of the East region, there are a lot of people putting Duke in the Final Four, but don’t be surprised if Oral Roberts proves everyone wrong, or in my case, right.

Silverstein: 11 Providence over 6 Kentucky – Last season, Kentucky fell to Saint Peter’s in the first round of the tournament. This year, they sit in the East region as a 6 seed, and history is doomed to repeat itself. The Wildcats will not move past the first round. The team is extremely fraudulent and easily gets off track due to mistakes, leading to losses. 

Providence will win this game with head coach Ed Cooley running a powerhouse of an offense. Since 2014, 11 seeds have won 14 of their 24 face-offs with 6 seeds. The trend will continue in this game, as Kentucky will likely have too many turnovers and mistakes that they will be unable to overcome. 

Midwest Region:

Schultz: 12 Drake over 5 Miami (Fla.) – The Hurricanes are back again after last year’s Elite Eight run. Even after losing starters Kameron McGusty and Sam Waardenburg, the Canes have not skipped a beat offensively. This team plays small, led by guards Isaiah Wong and Nijel Pack, who can shoot lights out. Despite their small-ball approach making them vulnerable defensively, their offense is good and consistent enough to win them a lot of games. However, their best rebounder Norchad Omier was hurt in the ACC Semifinal game against Duke and hasn’t practiced all week. This team is not the same without him. 

On the other side of the court is a very experienced team, ironically led by their youngest player, Missouri Valley Conference player of the year Tucker DeVries. DeVries averages 19 points per game and shoots 38.7% from beyond the arc. Coupled with senior point guard Roman Penn, who’s assist-to-turnover ratio is nearly 3 to 1, you’ve got a bracket-busting 1-2 punch. Drake will move on. 

Silverstein: 13 Kent State over 4 Indiana – Over the years, most 13 vs. 4 seed games are decided by a single digit difference. This is going to be an extremely close one, but the Golden Flashes can pull the upset here with their starting point guard Sincere Carry. He averaged 17.6 points per game this season and could make it difficult for the Hoosiers to stop the Kent State

Although Indiana might have a strong defense and All-American center Trayce Jackson-Davis, anything can happen in March. Kent State proved that they can get it done after beating Toledo in the MAC championship game to win the conference tournament. A close game with Houston earlier in the season shows that they are a big threat to almost any team, and they have an opportunity to make a run this year, first by beating Indiana at MVP Arena in the round of 64. 

West Region: 

Schultz: 12 VCU over 5 St. Mary’s – Most of the advanced analytics for this matchup favor St. Mary’s, but both these mid-majors play very similar brands of basketball. These teams rely heavily on defense and slow-paced games. Only six teams combined have scored 70 or more points against these squads. Neither team is very good at actually putting the ball in the basket, with not a single player averaging over 15 points per game. This is going to be a gritty, close game from start to finish, which I believe favors VCU as the underdog. 

The only other game in the round of 64 with a lower total score line is 1-seed Houston taking on Northern Kentucky. It’s worth noting that VCU was a popular upset pick back in 2021, before a COVID-19 outbreak forced them to forfeit the game. Surely, they’ll be playing with a chip on their shoulder. Also, St. Mary’s is entering the tournament coming off their worst performance of the season: a 26-point loss to Gonzaga in the West Coast Conference tournament championship game, while VCU enters on a 9-game winning streak. Despite my earlier high regard for teams favored by analytics, in the case of VCU, fade the analytics, and take the team that feels like they have some magic in them. 

Silverstein: 10 Boise State over 7 Northwestern – Boise State had a solid season overall, going 24-9. They had major wins against San Diego State and Texas A&M during the regular season, and they have a lot of offensive power that can lead them to score big points. 

The Northwestern Wildcats might be a team that beat both Indiana and Purdue this season, but they continue to fail to do much with the defense they don’t have. Northwestern is 4-1 against top 25 wins, meaning the remainder of losses in their 21-11 record comes from unranked teams. If the offense fails to show up in this game, it will be hard to come away with a win in the first round for the Wildcats. 


South Region:

Schultz: 6 Creighton – The South may be the most wide open region in this tournament. It would not surprise me in the slightest if Creighton made a Final Four run. They’ve been a favorite of mine since the preseason and are loved deeply by analytics due to how balanced they are. They can beat a team in every way. 

On offense, guard Baylor Scheierman is a sharp-shooting transfer from South Dakota State who I’ve been a fan of since last year’s tournament. On defense, Ryan Kalkbrenner is a two-time Big East Defensive Player of the Year who runs the court from the interior. Alabama’s superior coaching and star power worries me a little bit, but out of fear of being a chalk eater and in support of some fun and chaos, I’ll ride with my preseason favorites. 

Silverstein: 5 San Diego State – Coming off of a championship win in the Mountain West tournament, I feel that the Aztecs will pull off the biggest shock in the tournament. This team has star power with players such guards Matt Bradley and Lamont Butler. They rank at the top in the nation in defensive efficiency, and they have only allowed 63.6 points per game. If they get hot in the tournament, a Final Four appearance can definitely come true for the Aztecs. 

East Region: 

Schultz: 2 Marquette – The top of the Big East was very strong this year, and Marquette finished the strongest with a win in the Big East Tournament championship. The Golden Eagles are the best team in the East Region, who appear to be putting the puzzle pieces together at the right time. Tyler Kolek is a double threat night in and night out, and Kam Jones is one of the most prolific scorers in the tournament. I expect that 1-2 punch to carry them far. Also, Marquette is headed by coach Shaka Smart, who led 11 seed VCU all the way to the Final Four back in 2011. He’s fun, the team is fun, and I love fun. Marquette is coming out on top in the East. 

Silverstein: 2 Marquette – The Golden Eagles are currently one of the scariest teams in the tournament, as they have Tyler Kolek, who was just named the Big East Player of the Year. They have a fast-paced offense and have had some big wins over the course of the season against Baylor, Connecticut, and Creighton. They will take down Kansas State and Purdue to get to the end of the East Region. The Golden Eagles could definitely be the ones to get it done. 

Midwest Region: 

Schultz: 1 Houston – I’m very confident Drake and Texas A&M will surprise a lot of people in this region, but this Houston team is just DIFFERENT. Superior guard play takes teams far in the tournament, and the Cougars might have the best guard tandem in the country in Marcus Sasser and Jamal Shead. Both of these guys, led by head coach Kelvin Sampson, were part of the 2021 Houston team that made it to the Final Four where they lost to eventual champion Baylor. Houston was maybe the quietest 30-win team in the country this season because they just steamrolled almost everybody they played. Their average margin of victory was 20.9. TWENTY POINT NINE. This team is well coached, they have star power, they have experience, they have confidence, they have an easy path, and they just might be my pick to win the whole thing.

Silverstein: 1 Houston Marcus Sasser and the Cougars have been unstoppable this season, with a record of 31-3. Their ability to stop opponents and dominate the ball on the offensive side gives them a great opportunity to be able to make a run this year as expected. They should have a good chance of doing this as a result of playing teams such as Kent State and Texas A&M in a region that will be full of upsets. They have recorded 75.0 points per game and were 17-1 in conference play this past season. 

West Region:

Schultz: 1 Kansas – If Jaylen Clark were healthy, my pick would be UCLA, but sadly, he’s not, so Kansas it is. Even losing three out of five starters and star sixth man Remy Martin, this team is still somehow one of the best in the country. If Bill Self had coached in the Big 12 Championship and the Jayhawks had won it, they might’ve been the number one overall seed. Jalen Wilson, Gradey Dick, Dajuan Harris Jr., and Kevin McCullar Jr. lead one of the most prolific offenses in college basketball. Barring major upsets, they’ll likely have to beat both UConn and UCLA in order to get to the Final Four, which is by far the toughest path in this year’s tournament. But if I had to pick one team to be able to do it, it would be the Jayhawks. I don’t think they repeat as champions, but two Final Four appearances in a row is surely something to be proud of. Rock, Chalk, Jayhawk!

Silverstein: 2 UCLA – The Bruins had a big season even with the loss of guard Jaylen Clark. Seniors Jamie Jaquez Jr. and Tyger Campbell have helped this team record 73.9 points per game. Many doubt their chances because of the Clark injury, not knowing what they can expect from a team that still displays championship caliber talent. Kansas and UCLA are the clear powerhouse teams in the West region, but Kansas will not repeat this season as they will fall short in a close game, giving the Bruins a chance to win it all as they advance to the final four. 


Schultz: 1 Houston – I cannot stress enough how game-changing home court advantage is in college basketball. If Houston gets to the Final Four as I predict they will, it’s their tournament to lose. Kelvin Sampson finally gets to cut down the nets and the Cougars get their One Shining Moment in their home city.

Silverstein: 1 Houston – The final four games will all be very close, but Houston and Marquette will continue their hot season by facing off in the national championship game. Houston is practically playing at home in these final four games if they do make it as predicted. This will give them a huge advantage to come away with a win. Opponents this season recorded 27.8 percent from the three line against them and 43.1 percent on two point shot attempts. This offensive and defensive ability to win is the reason they will win it all this season.