Here we are, on the cusp of yet another March Madness, and just like with the past 10 I’m as excited as a little kid on Christmas morning. No, I have no idea what presents I’m going to be getting, but just knowing that there will be presents is motivation enough to spring out of bed and dive under that tree. So when Thursday hits the madness truly begins, and I will be glued into any and every screen I can get to to monitor as many games as is humanly possible.
I’m sure you will be too, but before then I know you’re wrestling with your bracket. I’ve shown you my Preliminary Bracket, but as I said before, things can change, and they have for me after doing more research and thinking more about matchups. My Final Bracket features three of my Preliminary teams to make the Final Four — Kansas, Oregon, and Virginia. My one change was to switch out Notre Dame for Xavier in the East.
But for my Round of 64 I’ve made some subtle changes as well, and I’m going to explain every single one of my picks for the opening 32 contests, starting with the South and ending in the Midwest.
(1) Kansas vs. (16) Austin Peay – I’m sure you know the refrain by now. No 16-seed has ever defeated a 1-seed in tournament action, but there is more parity this year than in years past so maybe this is the time for a 16 to shine. While it may be, in no way is Austin Peay a threat to defeat a team that hasn’t lost in its last 14 times out. Pick: KANSAS.
(8) Colorado vs. (9) UConn – The Huskies come in as arguably the hottest team right now, having run the tables in the AAC conference tournament after a thriller over Cincy, dispatching Temple in the semis, and rolling in the final against Memphis. But Colorado matches up well in this one, and I think Josh Scott wills them to the win in a close one. Pick: COLORADO.
(5) Maryland vs. (12) S. Dakota St. – S. Dakota St. has never won an NCAA tournament game, but they come in on a roll, having won their conference tournament, and to be honest, Maryland has disappointed in big spots this season. They are certainly not a lock to move on against a feisty Jackrabbits team. I think they take care of business but it will be a lot closer than it should be. Pick: MARYLAND.
(4) California vs. (13) Hawaii – Cal’s defense is the best unit on the floor in this one, by far. While their offense isn’t dynamic, it can hang with Hawaii’s, but the defense will make the difference in a battle of underwhelming teams otherwise. Cal sets up a much anticipated match against Maryland in the second round. Pick: CALIFORNIA.
(6) Arizona vs. (11) Wichita State – So many are automatically penciling in the Shockers here, but there’s a reason they’re in the play-in game. With that being said, though, I do think they wake up here, if only because they’ve been playing under their talent level for too long this season. I think they will face Arizona, and they match up too well to overlook it. I think they pull the upset. Pick: WICHITA STATE.
(3) Miami vs. (14) Buffalo – I like Buffalo. I really do. I think they’re a solid team with a good resume, but Miami is a complete team. They can score from both outside and inside, they have a good defense, and they shoot for a high percentage. I just don’t see Buffalo hanging with them if they play their style of play. Pick: MIAMI.
(7) Iowa vs. (10) Temple – Yes, the Owls lost their focus in the loss to UConn in the AAC semis, but they’re not to be taken lightly in this matchup because Iowa also stumbled down the stretch. Temple has beaten teams with a similar resume throughout the season, and they seem to play their best when seen as an underdog. Pick: TEMPLE.
(2) Villanova vs. (15) UNC-Asheville – The Wildcats have a penchant for losing in big time situations. As usual they come into the tournament as a high seed, but I just don’t know how much I can trust them after their track record. This should be an easy opener, though, as they are superior to UNC-Asheville in every respect, but the next round will be the real test against a feisty Temple team that will be looking for blood. Pick: VILLANOVA.
(1) N. Carolina vs. (16) Florida Gulf Coast – As much as I think North Carolina is a weak 1-seed, I don’t see them being the one to go down to either one of the schools involved in the play-in game. I think Gulf Coast will present more of a challenge, but in the end I think the Tarheels will pull away with more than enough time to spare. Pick: N. CAROLINA.
(8) USC vs. (9) Providence – This could honestly play as a toss-up as both teams are really 8-seeds in my book. But I think Providence is the stronger team just simply because they will have the two best players on the court (and they will also have the two best players on the court in the next round against N. Carolina — watch out). When push comes to shove, in crunch time, they can rely on Dunn and Bentil to get it done. Pick: PROVIDENCE.
(5) Indiana vs. (12) Chattanooga – Hopefully Indiana doesn’t get caught up looking ahead to a possible second round matchup with Kentucky because they can’t afford to get caught sleeping on this game. Chattanooga is a well-balanced team that has stepped up to every challenge they’ve been faced with this season and come out better for it. They will be a tough out, and I don’t think Indiana will take care of business. Pick: CHATTANOOGA.
(4) Kentucky vs (13) Stony Brook – Seawolves! Seawolves! Seawolves! If you’ve never heard of them until this week then you’re in the majority around the country. On the opposite end there is perennial powerhouse Kentucky, but they’ve been inconsistent this season while the Seawolves have not. Just as with I said about the Mocs above, this Seawolves team is dangerous. But unlike what I said with Indiana, Kentucky is playing too well coming in, and won’t take them for granted. Pick: KENTUCKY.
(6) Notre Dame vs. (11) Michigan/Tulsa – I still will never understand how a play-in game can produce a seed as high as 11th, but they don’t pay me to figure out all of that. What I do know is that this Tulsa team is being second-guessed for being unworthy of inclusion in the field at all, and they’ll wear that as a chip in the play-in and beat Michigan. The Hurricane has one of the best backcourts in the country, and they will play Notre Dame hard in the second round, but will fall barely short. Pick: NOTRE DAME.
(3) W. Virginia vs. (14) SF Austin – Wow. If I thought they were the ultimate Cinderella team when they beat Duke two seasons ago in March Madness, I have to double down on my bets this time out. They sport a 20-game winning streak, and W. Virginia comes into this one off a loss in their conference tournament. Austin is a turnover machine, forcing them at a rapid clip, which will be the difference in this upset. Pick: SF AUSTIN.
(7) Wisconsin vs. (10) Pittsburgh – I have to admit after Pitt beat Syracuse that I thought I finally saw the real Panthers team. They play their best in adverse situations, and this one qualifies, against a tough defensive team in the Badgers. I think the Panthers will play well, but they will ultimately fall short against a weather-tested higher seed. Pick: WISCONSIN.
(2) Xavier vs. (15) Weber State – For some reason the Musketeers aren’t getting as much love as some of the other 2-seeds (see: Michigan State). And the loss to Seton Hall might be the main reason why, but Xavier has been one of the top teams in the country all season long, and Seton Hall is no slouch so they’re not going to get hung up on that one. They will easily dispatch of Weber State. Pick: XAVIER.
(1) Oregon vs. (16) Holy Cross/Southern U. – Contrary to popular belief, I think Oregon is a strong 1-seed, definitely better than an up-and-down N. Carolina team, or a Virginia team that some feel shouldn’t even be a 1-seed. The Pac-12 is much tougher than it used to be, and Oregon is the cream of the crop in the Pac-12. This one won’t even be close, no matter who they face. Pick: OREGON.
(8) St. Joseph’s vs. (9) Cincinnati – While St. Joe’s is the higher seed, the Bearcats have been scrappy during the second half of the season. They do have two losses to Temple on their resume, though, and St. Joe’s is a tough matchup. I think this one will come down to the final moments, but DeAndre Bembry will step up and propel St. Joe’s into the second round. Pick: ST. JOSEPH’S.
(5) Baylor vs. (12) Yale – Yale is the trendy pick for a 12-seed to topple a 5 but I think that’s more about how little people value Baylor as a 5-seed, not how much faith they have in Yale. With that being said, there is a lot to admire about the Bulldogs in their own right. They’re a very balanced team that can hang around. I think they will hang around, but in the end Baylor will take care of business. Pick: BAYLOR.
(4) Duke vs. (13) UNC-Wilmington – There’s no way the defending National Champion loses in the first round to a 13-seed, right? Well… the Seahawks play very punishing, physical basketball, and Duke has a tendency to get into foul trouble early. That’s a bad combination as they will try to keep all their guys on the floor. But Duke is too thin, and I think it gets exposed early and often. Upset Special. Pick: UNC-WILMINGTON.
(6) Texas vs. (11) N. Iowa – Maybe I’m just upset minded, but as I took a look at the bracket for the first time this game, and the one above, just stood out to be as ripe for an upset. N. Iowa comes in on a 6-game winning streak, and they beat N. Carolina AND Iowa State this season. Those are quality wins. I like Shaka Smart, but this one will be even most of the way, with Texas coming up the loser, possibly in overtime. Pick: N. IOWA.
(3) Texas A&M vs. (14) Green Bay – I have never watched a Green Bay game, and I’ve seen Texas A&M play plenty, so I don’t have much of a comparison to make between the two. What I do know, though, is that A&M is angry after losing the final of their conference tournament, and they’re a 3-seed for a reason. Pick: TEXAS A&M.
(7) Oregon State vs. (10) VCU – You know, I really like Oregon State. They’re like the little engine that could, playing hard defense and taking high percentage shots. The Beavers are opportunistic, and Gary Payton II is a force to be reckoned with. While I think the Rams will hang, I don’t think it will be enough in the end. Pick: OREGON STATE.
(2) Oklahoma vs. (15) Cal State Bakersfield – Meep meep! These Roadrunners should be fast up and down the floor, right? Wrong. They’re a methodical team that is patient, which is good for them. The problem is that Oklahoma forces the issue, and this game will be played at their faster pace. They like to dictate tempo, and being the more physical team I think they get things their way. Pick: OKLAHOMA.
(1) Virginia vs. (16) Hampton – If there’s a chance for a 16-seed to beat a 1-seed this is it, right? Uh, no. While Virginia might not be a “true” 1-seed, they’re no worse than a 2, and none of the 2-seeds in this tournament would lose to Hampton, so Virginia isn’t losing to Hampton. Follow my logic? Good. Pick: VIRGINIA.
(8) Texas Tech vs. (9) Butler – The Bulldogs score early and they score often, and I just don’t see Texas Tech having a defense that can pressure them enough to get them off their mark for this one. Pick: BUTLER.
(5) Purdue vs. (12) Little Rock – This is another one of those trendy upset picks, but unlike Baylor, Purdue is not balanced, relying way too much on its defense. Little Rock’s strength is its defense, but its offense is no slouch either, and if they’re on then watch out Boilermakers. I think Little Rock comes to play and pulls the upset, trendy or not. Pick: LITTLE ROCK.
(4) Iowa State vs. (13) Iona – In my opinion, Iowa State is a legitimate Final Four contender, if they can just get past Iona in the first round. If I’ve said it once I’ve said it a hundred times — it’s all about matchups, and Iowa State matches up well with every other team in the Midwest… except for Iona. This one could come down to the wire, and I think Iowa State slips through, then watch out. Pick: IOWA STATE.
(6) Seton Hall vs. (11) Gonzaga – The Zags slipped into this tournament by the back door, and make no mistake about it, they aren’t the same team we’ve seen in tournaments past. They’ve got pride, yes, but Seton Hall has some huge wins on its resume that Gonzaga just can’t touch. So it’s experience vs. what-have-you-done-for-me-lately, and I think experience wins. Pick: GONZAGA.
(3) Utah vs. (14) Fresno State – Be glad you got a chance to be here and soak up the atmosphere, Fresno State, but I wouldn’t get too comfortable if I were you. The Utes are pretty hot coming into the tournament, and I don’t see them cooling off in this matchup. Pick: UTAH.
(7) Dayton vs. (10) Syracuse – I’m still surprised the Orange made it to the big dance with their late season resume. Sure, they didn’t have Boeheim for a few games, but he was around at the end when they lost 5 of 6, so why give the team any favors? Of course I don’t think this counts as a favor, playing a Dayton squad that is fearless and doesn’t turn the ball over. Thanks for coming, Syracuse. Pick: DAYTON.
(2) Michigan State vs. (15) Middle Tennessee – Do I even have to talk about this one? The Spartans come in with a chip on their shoulder. They believe they should have been a 1-seed, and to put those questions to rest they have to get to the Elite 8 to take on Virginia and prove their gravitas. Pick: MICHIGAN STATE.