I don’t know about you, but I was glued to the computer last night as word of the official seeding for March Madness was released. I began slotting teams into spots on my own personal bracket soon thereafter, after shaking my head that Temple somehow didn’t make the big dance. If you’re like me and you get overly emotional about the bracket, I’m here to tell you that it’s okay. We somehow survived the end of football, which won’t be around again until fall, not really, so we need to reward ourselves with something. Why not March Madness?
Now, this year is categorized by many overachievers and underachievers. Kentucky of course is the number one seed, and deservedly so, but who can make a long run in this tournament besides them? And can anyone take out number one? I think many teams are poised for a long run, and a few of those teams may just surprise you. My job is to get you informed enough for you to fill out your own brackets, to pick those upsets correctly, and to get you on top of your own bracket challenge.
The two biggest bracket games online are the CBS Bracket Challenge, and the ESPN Tournament Challenge. I have exactly one bracket filled out in each one. Why? Because when you fill out more than one bracket you’re just daring yourself to second-guess your decisions. Make your informed choices and stick with them. CBS Bracket Challenge also offers a Round-by-Round option, but again, it inspires second-guessing, and I never recommend it. Too many times it just leads you to make choices your rational mind would never make.
Okay, so now on with it. We have 32 contests coming over this long opening weekend, starting Thursday, and I’m going to break down each and every one of them for you, to help you make an informed decision, starting in the South bracket and ending up in the Midwest.
Duke (1) vs. Robert Morris (16) – Don’t get me wrong. I like both Robert Morris and North Florida, but I just don’t see either one (and my money’s on Robert Morris advancing) to cause much troubles for Duke in this one. A #16 seed has never beaten a #1 and that won’t happen here. Duke is too imposing in the paint, even if I’m not sure they should be a #1 seed. Pick: DUKE.
San Diego State (8) vs. St. John’s (9) – These games are generally a toss-up if the seeding committee actually got it right in the first place, and this matchup qualifies as a dead heat. San Diego State has the recent tournament experience on its side, which will give it a slight edge. What will push the Aztecs over the edge and give them the win will be their defense, which will stifle St. John’s. Pick: SAN DIEGO STATE.
Utah (5) vs. S.F. Austin (12) – Speaking of defense, Utah’s will have to be decidedly better against an offensive juggernaut like S.F. Austin, a team that is peaking at the right time. On the other side, the Utes have looked sloppy coming into the big dance, and will have to turn it around offensively themselves to even hang. While this one may be the popular upset pick, I’m still picking the upset. Pick: S.F. AUSTIN.
Georgetown (4) vs. E. Washington (13) – This might qualify as another upset special considering Georgetown’s recent struggles come Madness time, and East Washington’s ability to shoot the 3, but these Hoyas are better defensively than in recent years, and I think they can limit the opportunities for the lower seed. Pick: GEORGETOWN.
SMU (6) vs. UCLA (11) – Don’t let anyone fool you into thinking that UCLA is a true #11 team. They just haven’t played like it this season and should probably thank the selection committee for valuing their body of work so highly. That being said, SMU has been hot of late, taking home the AAC title this year, and Nic Moore is a beast on both ends of the floor. I don’t see UCLA having anyone who can hang with him, and SMU should take this one easily. Pick: SMU.
Iowa State (3) vs. UAB (14) – Don’t just look at the number next to its name, this Iowa State team is legitimately the third best team in the South. Offensively they can hang with anyone (including Duke and Gonzaga), and they have Georges Niang, who can exploit any matchup. UAB doesn’t have anyone who can slow down that Iowa State offense, so this one could be over early. Pick: IOWA STATE.
Iowa (7) vs. Davidson (10) – These games are traditionally just as tough to pick as the 8/9 contests, and for good reason. Usually not much separates a 7 from a 10 seed, and that’s the case here. Davidson matches up well with Iowa, and if they can keep on form eliminating turnovers they have a good shot to pull this one off. What Iowa does well is getting to the offensive glass, so Davidson will have to get physical underneath. I like Davidson to take a close one here. Pick: DAVIDSON.
Gonzaga (2) vs. ND State (15) – Read my lips. Gonzaga is the best team in the South. They’ve played solidly all season long. They only have two losses on their resume, and they have the squad that can make a deep run in this year’s dance. It starts here with a tuneup against an ND State team that will be overmatched on both sides of the ball. This one might be over quickly. Pick: GONZAGA.
Villanova (1) vs. Lafayette (16) – This is one of the most dynamic teams in the tournament this year, and if it weren’t for Kentucky they would be getting much more love to win the dance than they are. If there is going to be a 16 to beat a 1 this year it won’t be Lafayette, which will struggle just to score points against a ‘Nova team that has aims on its first Final Four since 2009. Pick: VILLANOVA.
NC State (8) vs. LSU (9) – Remember what I said about 8/9 matchups? Well, this one also fits perfectly in that paradigm. Both teams are good from the perimeter, both take good care of the ball, and both are inconsistent when it comes to scoring points. The stars are good for both teams, but it will be the supporting cast that will decide this one in the end. Pick: LSU.
N. Iowa (5) vs. Wyoming (12) – If you’re looking for a potential upset bid, this one is simmering in the East. A confident Wyoming team that just won its conference looks to upend a N. Iowa squad that has lost just once in 2015. On paper it looks like a win for the higher seed, but don’t disregard the fight in this Wyoming team. I like for it to be close, even though I’m still going with the Panthers in this one. Pick: N. IOWA.
Louisville (4) vs. UC-Irvine (13) – Another possibility for an upset here because Louisville has been maddeningly inconsistent, especially during the second half of the year. They’re lucky they were able to pull down a 4-seed, but they were unlucky to face a UC-Irvine team that has a defense that can stymy the Cardinals, and a big man down under the rim that can force them outside. I think Pitino has answers for all of them, though, because this is tournament time. Pick: LOUISVILLE.
Providence (6) vs. Dayton (11) – I too am shocked that Dayton even has to go the First Four route, but they’re essentially playing what amounts to a home game. I fully expect them to move on, and this pick is based on that. Providence doesn’t shoot well from beyond the arc, and the Flyers stack up well against them defensively. Dayton can put up points, and they will take care of business down the stretch to prove the committee wrong. Pick: DAYTON.
Oklahoma (3) vs. Albany (14) – While I like Albany, and they’re truly a success story, I don’t think they have the firepower to compete with Oklahoma in crunch time, which is when this game will be won. Believe me, I think Albany will make it tough on the 3-seed, but I think the consistency of Oklahoma will win out. Pick: OKLAHOMA.
Michigan State (7) vs. Georgia (10) – Let me get one thing straight right from the start. Like Louisville, this isn’t the same Michigan State team from previous years. They still have Tom Izzo, but there’s a reason they’re a 7-seed here, and it’s because they have a poor field goal percentage. And guess what Georgia’s strength is? You got it, they’re great at holding teams to low field goal percentage. While it won’t count as an upset most people will see it that way. Pick: GEORGIA.
Virginia (2) vs. Belmont (15) – There’s not really much to say in this one. Belmont should feel lucky that they’re in the field, but they got rather unlucky facing a tough team like Virginia. Yes, the Cavaliers have had three bad losses this season, but they only lost those three games all season. They’re tough in the paint, and from the arc, and they have a solid defense to back that up. Pick: VIRGINIA.
Wisconsin (1) vs. Coastal Carolina (16) – Wisconsin is perhaps the most overlooked team in the tournament, with the popular notion being that they won’t be able to close out games based on their history. But they’re a 1-seed for a reason, and they will flex their muscles in this one, dispelling the notions of their inadequacy right from the start. Pick: WISCONSIN.
Oregon (8) vs. Oklahoma State (9) – One fact just makes it impossible for me to trust Oklahoma State to win this game. They lost 6 of their last 7 games to end the season. That doesn’t make for good momentum playing against a Ducks team that has been here and thrived in this format before. I like the Ducks to take it. Pick: OREGON.
Arkansas (5) vs. Wofford (12) – Of late, 5-seeds haven’t had all that much success against 12s. Maybe it’s because too many 12-seeds have been mis-seeded, or perhaps they just feel they have a chance based on recent history. Regardless, this matchup favors Arkansas in a few ways, not the least of which is their ability to move down the court and keep the tempo going. They’re a bigger team so they can physically intimidate as well. Pick: ARKANSAS.
North Carolina (4) vs. Harvard (13) – Harvard has proven in years past (including last year) that they belong with the big boys, but facing a red hot North Carolina team in the round of 64 is a tough test for anyone. I do see this one being tough, though, because Harvard is confident, and North Carolina might take them for granted. In the end, though, I don’t see UNC losing this one. Pick: NORTH CAROLINA.
Xavier (6) vs. Ole Miss (11) – This one is another popular upset pick because, simply put, there is absolutely no way the Minutemen are a 6-seed, in no way, shape, or form. While BYU didn’t care of Ole Miss in the setup game, Xavier still doesn’t match up well even against Ole Miss. That’s why it’s a popular upset pick, and also why I agree that Xavier is in for a rude awakening, a one and done in the round of 64. Pick: OLE MISS.
Baylor (3) vs. Georgia State (14) – In a game that might well come down to who shoots the 3 better, this is really a battle of poor defenses. Whichever one steps up will likely win this game. For Georgia State, that means getting physical in a way they haven’t all season, and for Baylor it means keeping the advantage on the boards, particularly the offensive boards. I think Baylor will be more physical, and that will seal this victory. Pick: BAYLOR.
VCU (7) vs. Ohio State (10) – Wow. Maybe this is some sort of theme. First Louisville, then Michigan State, and now Ohio State. All formerly great teams that have begun to fade for whatever reasons. Look at that 10 by Ohio State’s name, and you can see what I’m talking about. They’re a legitimate 10-seed, but I think they still have enough left in the tank to beat an overachieving, but still inconsistent, VCU squad. Pick: OHIO STATE.
Arizona (2) vs. Texas Southern (15) – Do I even need to tell you why Arizona will demolish Texas Southern? The Wildcats only lost to non-tournament teams this season, so they’ve proven they step up when they face stiff competition. I definitely see them moving through the West bracket to set up a rematch with Wisconsin in the Elite 8, unless something crazy happens. Pick: ARIZONA.
Kentucky (1) vs. Hampton (16) – We all know Kentucky will be the prohibitive favorite in every single game during the tournament, and for good reason. They like to race out to a big lead and sit on it, but they can also scrap when they have to in crunch time and turn a close game into a blowout. This one won’t even be close, regardless of which team they end up facing in the round of 64. Pick: KENTUCKY.
Cincinnati (8) vs. Purdue (9) – Consistency is the name of the game, and Cincinnati has been pretty consistent all year long. When they’ve been favored they’ve taken care of business. On the flip side, when they’ve been underdogs they have generally performed like it. In this case they’re the higher seed, and that’s for a reason. It’s all about being consistent, and that’s one thing that sets them apart from an inconsistent Purdue. Pick: CINCINNATI.
West Virginia (5) vs. Buffalo (12) – This is another potential upset. West Virginia is a team that thrives on forcing turnovers, but Buffalo takes good care of the ball. Something’s got to give here, and I think it will be the Bulls in the end. It’s their first trip to the dance, and I think it will show here. Pick: WEST VIRGINIA.
Maryland (4) vs. Valparaiso (13) – Alec Peters. That’s all I have to say. Maryland has no one who can match up against him, and he may well be the difference in this game. Valparaiso is savvy, strong on both ends of the ball, and Maryland has been playing above their heads. This is a big time setup for them to come crashing down to earth. The defense of Valpo (bolstered by Peters in the paint) will be the difference. Upset special. Pick: VALPARAISO.
Butler (6) vs. Texas (11) – I think Texas is peaking at the right time. Add that to the mis-seeding of a Butler team that really is no higher than an 8, and you can see why this is another upset pick by many bracket managers. While I like Butler as a team, they don’t have the offensive firepower to dominate the tough Texas defense that has only gotten better as the season went on. Pick: TEXAS.
Notre Dame (3) vs. Northeastern (14) – This has all the makings of a shootout, with both teams amazing offensive squads. Most experts have Notre Dame moving on easily, but I wouldn’t be so quick to write off this Northeastern team that can get hot and hang with just about anyone. I think this one will be a lot closer than most people think, and might even come down to the last possession or even overtime, but in the end Notre Dame will pull it off. Pick: NOTRE DAME.
Wichita State (7) vs. Indiana (10) – The Shockers come into this one with a lot less fanfare than they had a year ago, but this team is solid from top to bottom. In fact, I think they rate as a 5-seed instead of the 7 they’ve been given, which also means I think this game is a mismatch. Wichita State has the tournament experience now to hang with the big dogs, and I think it starts here with a dismantling of an inconsistent Indiana team. Pick: WICHITA STATE.
Kansas (2) vs. NM State (15) – This Kansas team makes me nervous because just when I write them off they come back stronger than ever. But they did lose too many games they should have won this year. It’s the reason they’re a #2-seed instead of a #1. Even as a #2-seed, though, they still have the chops to win the games they should win, and this is one of them. Pick: KANSAS.
The Fantasy Ace