Well, the bracket is out, and whether you love it or hate it, it’s time to make some gut-wrenching decisions. I mean, you could win a million dollars if you have the perfect bracket. Of course the odds of that are about as long as you breaking the house in any Vegas casino. Can it be done? Sure. Should you count on it? No. Your best bet is to look at each matchup one at a time and make those individual decisions based on what you know of the teams, on what the matchup tells you, and yes, on your gut when it comes down to it in the end.
My job is to help you make informed decisions, so bear with me. I’m going to walk through the bracket step by step, starting with the Southern region and taking you all the way through each game in the round of 64. That’s 32 matchups that could very well make or break your bracket. But don’t stress. Tomorrow I’ll take you through the rounds of 32 and 16, then give you my thoughts for who will make the Elite 8, the Final 4, and the national championship game.
Just remember that, when faced with a tough choice, go with your gut. It will be easier for you to live with yourself that way. And away we go…
1 Florida vs. 16 Albany – Albany looked good in beating Mt. St. Mary’s tonight, but they will need a whole other gear to become the first 16 seed to beat a number 1. It’s not going to happen. This should be the easiest selection for you in this round.
8 Colorado vs. 9 Pittsburgh – Pittsburgh is underrated here. They played solid down the stretch, and they were a hair’s whisper of beating this bracket’s #3, Syracuse. Colorado is not a true #8 and should be ranked lower. I think Pitt wins a relatively easy one to advance.
5 VCU vs. 12 SF Austin – What a winning streak SF Austin is on, but they haven’t played a team as tenacious on defense as VCU during that remarkable run. The problem for VCU comes on offense, and that should make this game a close one. VCU has the tournament experience, though, and that should be the deciding factor in one that goes down to the wire.
4 UCLA vs. 13 Tulsa – Tulsa is getting absolutely no love from people making brackets, or even from the oddsmakers in Vegas, and that’s for good reason. UCLA is on fire right now, and I don’t see Tulsa having the tenacity to keep up with that train in this round.
6 Ohio State vs. 11 Dayton – These 6 vs. 11 matches are usually so much fun to watch because not too often do they end up as blowouts. In fact, some of the best matchups in this entire tournament are the 6-11 splits. But Ohio State has Aaron Craft, and he makes the difference here.
3 Syracuse vs. 14 W. Michigan – After losing 5 of the last 7 games, and falling to schools like Boston College, do the Orange have what it takes to make a good run? They have a good draw here, against a school that should struggle against the unfamiliar 2-3 defensive scheme. But who knows which Syracuse will show up? I’m choosing based on the tournament experience and crossing my fingers.
7 New Mexico vs. 10 Stanford – Beware the Lobos. Seriously, they’re on a very good run. They just won their conference tournament, and they’re hungry to prove themselves worthy of that 7-seed. I honestly think they should have been a 5 just based on recent performance, but they have enough firepower to take out Stanford.
2 Kansas vs. 15 E. Kentucky – Do I even need to analyze this one? Kansas is a veteran squad that knows how to win when March comes around. They will shake off that loss in their conference tournament and get back to business by thumping an E. Kentucky squad that is just happy to be here.
1 Arizona vs. 16 Weber State – Arizona’s defense should lock down this one early and the offense will do all it needs to do to keep the streak of #1’s beating #16’s intact.
8 Gonzaga vs. 9 Oklahoma State – This is the first real tossup that I see in the bracket so far, and it is an honest-to-goodness tossup. Both teams are quality, but I see Oklahoma State taking this one at the very last second because Gonzaga has no wins this season against ranked opponents.
5 Oklahoma vs. 12 ND State – Here is your first legitimate upset of the tournament for two huge reasons. 1) ND State has been playing lights out, and they generally play up to their opponents. They have a great defense that will confuse Oklahoma all game. It will still be close, but I think ND State pulls it out.
4 San Diego State vs. 13 NM State – After the upset I just predicted, we’re back to the predictable. San Diego State is playing better than a #4, and even as a #4 they have the offense and defense to annihilate NM State. This one won’t even be close.
6 Baylor vs. 11 Nebraska – This one will be as close as the Ohio State/Dayton game, but Baylor has the inside presence to get those rebounds down the stretch and take this one to the bank.
3 Creighton vs. 14 LA-Lafayette – Just like with the Kansas game, this one I shouldn’t even have to talk about. Creighton is a dynamic team that should win quite handily against LA-Lafayette who are just grateful to have made the dance. McDermott will lock this one down early.
7 Oregon vs. 10 BYU – How in the world is BYU a 10 seed? I’m still flummoxed about that one. After Oregon’s run during last year’s tournament, they definitely belong, and they still have the pieces to make them a real contender in this one too. BYU will not be able to hang with the Ducks, and really shouldn’t even be a 10 seed. This one goes to Oregon.
2 Wisconsin vs. 15 American – See Arizona vs. Weber State. Wisconsin might be mis-seeded as a #2, but about a month ago they would have been seen as a #1. As it is, they have more than enough to beat an American team that isn’t very talented either offensively or defensively.
1 Virginia vs. 16 Coastal Carolina – Virginia is a worthy number 1, but they are still the lowest number 1, in my opinion. Luckily for them they ended up with a good draw. The round of 64 is no exception, as they face a Coastal Carolina team that shouldn’t be spoken in the same breath as them. They handle this one easily to advance.
8 Memphis vs. 9 George Washington – George Washington is playing well, but they’re just 1-3 vs. ranked teams, and the kicker is that they lost those 3 games by an average of 14 points per game. I think that’s too bad a history to overcome in this one.
5 Cincinnati vs. 12 Harvard – Kilpatrick is a one-man wrecking crew for Cincinnati, and their defense does the rest. Harvard is a trendy pick as a 12 against a 5, but I don’t see it happening in this one. I think the Cincy defense does enough to give Kilpatrick the chance to win the game offensively. And he will.
4 Michigan State vs. 13 Delaware – Michigan State is a trendy pick to make the Final Four, but this very first matchup is tricky enough for them to take notice. Delaware is a solid team that is 19-2 since the beginning of January, but they haven’t played anyone with the resume of Michigan State. Tom Izzo’s squad will get through this one, but it won’t be as easy as everyone else is predicting.
6 UNC vs. 11 Providence – North Carolina is also a trendy pick to at least win their first round matchup, but they have been hit-or-miss this year. Providence has played lights out of late, and they’ve beaten Creighton twice, which are very good credentials. This is the perfect recipe for an upset, and I’m picking it.
3 Iowa State vs. 14 NC Central – See Kansas vs. E. Kentucky. Seriously, Iowa State is that strong right now that really only a highly ranked team will be beating them this tournament. NC Central doesn’t even remotely fit the bill. This one will be a walkover.
7 UConn vs. 10 St. Joseph’s – St. Joe’s has looked tough of late, but UConn has the firepower to shut them down, particularly with the disparity from the foul line where UConn excels and St. Joe’s is dismal (including in the conference tournament). I like the idea of St. Joe’s winning, but it’s not going to happen.
2 Villanova vs. 15 Milwaukee – Too many people are discounting Villanova for the long run just because of one bad loss to Seton Hall in the conference tournament, but they’re forgetting that it was their only bad loss on the season. Villanova had a serious case for a #1, and they will play like one in this game, dispatching Milwaukee quickly.
1 Wichita State vs. 16 Cal Poly / Texas Southern – In the hardest side of the bracket to pick, this one is easy to pick. Wichita State hasn’t lost all year, and it’s not going to happen here, regardless of who emerges from the First Four to play them.
8 Kentucky vs. 9 Kansas State – Here’s the start of those difficult matchups in this side of the bracket. Kentucky is the trendy pick, but watching them this season was a tale of Jekyll and Hyde. Which one shows up here? I think they’ve played too well of late, and it’s time for a letdown, personally. You can flip the coin if you’d like, but I’m all in on Kansas State in a close one.
5 St. Louis vs. 12 NC State/Xavier – Honestly, I don’t have any clue how St. Louis is even ranked this highly. Besides, there is a recent history of at least one team from the First Four being the Cinderella team. I could see either NC State or Xavier fitting the bill here. This one is ripe for an upset, and I see it happening.
4 Louisville vs. 13 Manhattan – Keeping with the theme of #4’s being solid contenders in this tournament, Louisville (who shouldn’t be ranked this lowly) should pull away early in this one against a Manhattan team that is lucky just to be here.
6 UMass vs. 11 Iowa/Tennessee – I’m still confused on how a play-in game could be worth a #11 seed, but I guess I’ll go with it. Both Iowa and Tennessee match up well against a UMass squad that hasn’t been playing its best ball. I think either one should be able to take out the Minutemen. I’m going with the upset.
3 Duke vs. 14 Mercer – It’s Coach K in the first round. He’s a pro at doing just enough to win the ones you’re supposed to win (except a couple of years ago in the second round). Losing that tournament championship game to Virginia will keep the Blue Devils’ fire burning, and they win a surprisingly close one.
7 Texas vs. 10 Arizona State – Another close one brewing here, and I’m going with the lower seed again. I just don’t think Texas has the energy to hang with Arizona State down the stretch where balanced scoring and solid defense will be needed. Arizona State has what it takes from the foul line late to hang on, as well.
2 Michigan vs. 15 Wofford – See Wichita State vs. Cal Poly / Texas Southern. Nothing to see here, folks. Michigan is angry after losing one that wasn’t even close to their rivals last week, so they’ll come out swinging here. They could have easily been a #1 (just like Nova), and they take this one going away.
And don’t forget, tomorrow I’ll take these teams further with my round of 32 and sweet 16 picks.
The Fantasy Ace