Well, there were hits and misses in Round 1, as usual, but after it’s all over I am tied for first place in my Bracket Challenge, so overall I’m okay. The key to remember, and I remind myself of it after every game is done, is that as long as every single one of my Elite 8 teams is still in the tournament I still have a chance.
So I still have a chance. And you do too if you’ve been following along. Here’s my final Round 1 tally:
Chalk choices – Kansas, Maryland, Miami, Villanova, N. Carolina, Kentucky, Notre Dame, Wisconsin, Xavier, Oregon, Texas A&M, Oklahoma, Virginia, Iowa State, Utah.
Upset losses – UNC-Wilmington, Chattanooga
Upset wins – Wichita State, SF Austin, N. Iowa, Little Rock, Gonzaga
Overall, I picked up points with SF Austin (only one in my Challenge to pick them), with N. Iowa (only three in my Challenge picked them), and with Little Rock (only two of us picked them). But how many of these Cinderella darlings do I have moving on to the Sweet 16? Here are my picks for the Round of 32…
(1) KANSAS vs. (9) UConn – Many point to UConn’s tremendous run through their conference tournament, but they were losing big to Colorado in the first half. They can’t let that happen against Kansas. The problem is that Kansas is a much more dynamic offensive team than Colorado, and UConn will have no choice. Jayhawks march on. Pick: KANSAS.
(5) MARYLAND vs. (13) Hawaii – Does the slipper fit these Rainbow Warriors? They got the gift of a lifetime against Cal as everything went their way even before the game started, but Maryland played lights out against South Dakota State, and that will carry over into this one. Hawaii’s road ends. Pick: MARYLAND.
(11) Wichita State vs. (3) MIAMI – The Shockers looked amazing in dispatching Arizona with little trouble, while Miami struggled in taking care of business vs. Buffalo. Experience can be huge, and this Wichita State team has it in spades. That will be the factor as VanVleet and Baker keep their collegiate careers alive. Pick: WICHITA STATE.
(7) Iowa vs. (2) VILLANOVA – I’m going to say what I’m sure everyone else is thinking right now. Nova should have been a 1-seed going into this tournament, and Nova knows they should have been a 1-seed (throwing it away by losing in their conference tournament finale). They played like a 1-seed in the first round, and they will come with it in the second as well. Watch out. Pick: VILLANOVA.
(1) N. Carolina vs. (9) PROVIDENCE – Originally I picked Providence to spring the upset here because I’m not sold on N. Carolina as consistent enough to take care of a pesky team like Providence. And they’ve shown their tenacity in that incredible win over USC in the first round. They will give the Tar Heels everything they can handle, and more, in an upset special. Pick: PROVIDENCE.
(5) INDIANA vs. (4) Kentucky – All the experts are torn over this one, which is understandable because there are two monster programs who never play each other anymore. Get the popcorn ready, but I hate to be the one to tell you that it won’t play out the way they’re expecting. Kentucky won’t play Indiana because they know what I know. The Hoosiers are a better team. They will win easily. Pick: INDIANA.
(6) Notre Dame vs. (14) SF AUSTIN – I was the only Lumberjack believer in my Bracket Challenge when they easily dispatched the 3-seed in round 1, and if I believed completely in them before, I do so even more now. I had them beating Notre Dame in my Final Bracket, and I see absolutely no reason to change that assessment now. Pick: SF AUSTIN.
(7) Wisconsin vs. (2) XAVIER – Wisconsin was lucky to beat a Pittsburgh team that held them below 50 points, but if they don’t score more than 50 against the Musketeers it will be a long game indeed. I see them topping that mark, but only because Xavier keeps a fast pace going, but it won’t save the Badgers in this one. Pick: XAVIER.
(1) OREGON vs. (8) St. Joseph’s – What a great win for St. Joe’s to get to this point, taking out an underachieving Cincinnati team, but now it’s time to swim with the big boys, and Oregon definitely qualifies. The Ducks are the strongest 1-seed outside of Kansas, in my opinion, and they will flex their muscle here. Pick: OREGON.
(12) YALE vs. (4) Duke – No, I’m not a believer in Duke this year, but I wasn’t last year either, and look where that got me? But there’s something about this Yale team that keeps fighting and getting past obstacles, and they have no fear. That will stead them well against the understaffed Blue Devils in another upset no one will see coming. Pick: YALE.
(11) N. IOWA vs. (3) Texas A&M – The trick is to know how far to take a Cinderella team, and while I knew N. Iowa was capable of taking out Texas, I wasn’t sure they had the firepower to defeat a solid A&M team. But after seeing them both yesterday I can honestly say I’ve changed my mind. In fact, in my one Round-By-Round Bracket Challenge I am picking N. Iowa to take out A&M. Pick: N. IOWA.
(10) VCU vs. (2) OKLAHOMA – The Sooners got their hiccup out of the way against that methodical Cal-State Bakersfield team, and they began heating up at the end of that game. It will carry over into this one against a VCU team that isn’t quite as good as ones they’ve brought to the dance before. Pick: OKLAHOMA.
(1) VIRGINIA vs. (9) Butler – Everyone is talking about how Virginia’s path is now easier to the Final Four, but I guarantee you the Cavaliers are thinking about what happened to Sparty, and how they don’t want a letdown for themselves. They will be focused on this game, and on this opponent, and they are the better team. Pick: VIRGINIA.
(12) Little Rock vs. (4) IOWA STATE – This begs the question once again about how far you can take a bracket buster. I picked Little Rock against the trend to win, and they got it done in the first round, but how do they stack up against Iowa State? This is a step up in class from Purdue, and it took a desperate effort down the stretch for them to win that one. Iowa State won’t be caught with its pants down. Pick: IOWA STATE.
(11) Gonzaga vs. (3) UTAH – Don’t get me wrong. I like the Bulldogs, and they’ve had good runs in the past. Heck, they had a quality win against Seton Hall in the first round, but this Utah team is stacked top to bottom with talent. In fact, I have them going all the way to the Elite 8, which means I’m picking them to send the Zags home. Pick: UTAH.
(10) Syracuse vs. (15) MIDDLE TENNESSEE – I want to believe in the indomitability of this Middle Tennessee team, and they remind me of the ultimate Cinderella from a few years ago — Florida Gulf Coast. They have grit and tenacity, and they have no fear. Syracuse is nowhere near as good a team as Michigan State, so I’m not sure why so many experts are now calling this a walkover for the Orange. I don’t see it. Pick: MIDDLE TENNESSEE.