In a season full of upsets and mid-major-power 6 equality, the March Madness bracket is presenting itself as the most unpredictable tournament in recent memory. As I look through the bracket and read each first round match up, seeding is meaningless in many of them. Oklahoma State is a 5-seed playing the Pac-12 Tournament champions, 12th seeded Oregon. Oregon plays in a power conference, has many quality wins, and even has two more wins than the Cowboys. UNLV earned a 5-seed, while fellow Mountain West foe Colorado State earned a 9-seed. CSU finished a game ahead of UNLV in the conference and they split the season series. What separates Oklahoma State from Oregon and UNLV from Colorado State? Absolutely nothing.
Every team in the nation’s weaknesses have been exposed at some point during their low point in the season. There are no teams who have broken off from the pack, and isolated themselves as the dominant team in college basketball. Nobody is safe this weekend. Not Indiana, not Louisville, not Gonzaga. Everyone has exposed themselves this season and shown they can be beaten, which is why every game is a must watch.
Ironically, with all of the parody that I think will take place in the tournament this year, the one region where the higher seeds may be in control is the East Region. The low seeds in this region don’t look to be as dangerous as the other regions, making the higher seeds look better than they are. Although I don’t foresee a lot of upsets in this region, with the parody in college basketball this season, who knows how much knowledge of the teams playing will actually matter when filling out a bracket.
Kansas (1) vs. Western Kentucky (16)
I’m not going to sit here, write a paragraph trying to break down Western Kentucky, and lie that I’ve watched them play this season. I haven’t watched them play and frankly it doesn’t matter. Kansas has proven to be one of the most balanced teams in the nation and are coming off a phenomenal Big 12 Tournament showing. The key to beating the Jayhawks is having a big-bodied, talented front court that can score the rock, but unfortunately Western Kentucky doesn’t have that. There’s no reason to assume the Hilltoppers can make this a game since they have not beaten a team in the 68 team field all season, and they only have five wins against teams above .500. They lost to Louisville by 23 earlier in the season so anything better than that would be a good result.
Prediction: Kansas 80, Western Kentucky 59
North Carolina (8) vs. Villanova (9)
As a huge supporter of Villanova over the past seven seasons, this match up brings up some frustrating memories for me. UNC knocked Villanova out of the 2007 tournament in a game full of late game controversy, and then obliterated them in the Final Four in 2009. But the big difference this year is neither of these teams are considered threats in the tournament, since most people having the winner lose to Kansas in the third round. UNC has underachieved this season in the ACC, and Villanova has overachieved with the strangest team Jay Wright has put on the floor in years. Although the Tar Heels have 10 losses, only two of them were to non-tournament teams, Texas and Virginia, and Virginia was on the bubble. They’ve beaten down on the middle of the pack ACC teams, Maryland and Florida State, who are about the same level as Villanova. On the other side is a Wildcat team who’s beaten Syracuse, Louisville, and Georgetown, but lost to Providence, Columbia, and Seton Hall. There’s just no telling which Villanova team will show up, which means the edge has to go to UNC who played their best basketball at the end of the regular season and is bringing a lot of momentum into the tournament. The three ball has killed Villanova all season and with P.J. Hairston‘s increased play over the past few weeks and Reggie Bullocks‘ range, UNC has to like its chances.
UNC 75, Villanova 66
VCU (5) vs. Akron (12)
Want to see two very talented teams with completely different strengths duke it out for 40 minutes? This is your game. I haven’t seen much of Akron, but I’ve been impressed with the few games I’ve watched. VCU on the other hand plays the same style as they did two years ago in their Final Four run, and has been extremely successful. Both of these teams can score the ball, but in very different ways. Akron’s two leading scorers are 6’7″ forward Demetrius Treadwell and 7’0″ center Zeke Marshall. This is an efficient basketball team that moves the ball extremely well and gets these big men good looks, while also playing sound defense. Their opponent, VCU, has a run and gun, up-tempo, high pressure mentality that Shaka Smart has smothered opposing teams with. He uses a 10-man rotation with four guys who average 10+ points per game. This high risk-high reward style is only 4-7 against tournament teams this season, but their press is a handful for teams that have never seen it. Their only non-conference losses were to Duke, Missouri, and Wichita State, by a combined 14 points. Good guard play has given the Zips trouble all year and VCU’s pressure will be a tall task for the Akron guards to beat, so the edge is to VCU. Although I would not be surprised if Akron steals this game if they are able to keep it low scoring.
VCU 76, Akron 70
Michigan (4) vs. South Dakota State (13)
South Dakota State has nothing going for them in this match up, except they have Nate Wolters and they beat a 3-seed New Mexico earlier in the season. They have no other quality wins and got blown out by 11 seeds Minnesota and Belmont. Michigan has struggled this season against teams with an inside presence. Their big men are average and inconsistent, so the top teams in the Big Ten have beaten up on them. Fortunately for SDSU, they’re second and third leading scorers play in the post. If Jordan Dykstra and Tony Fiegen can establish themselves as threats on offense early in the game, it will open up the floor for superstar Nate Wolters to go to work. If Wolters can get hot, this game could go in any direction. But the numbers to look at here is how Michigan has fared against unranked teams this season. They have beaten up on every average and bad team they’ve faced, with the exception of Penn State. As much as I want to believe Nate Wolters will be this year’s Jimmer Fredette, he won’t be. The SDSU guards will not be able to keep up with the pace of Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr., and those two will have a field day.
Michigan 76, SDSU 62
UCLA (6) vs. Minnesota (11)
This match up is by far the most interesting and toughest game to pick a winner for in this region. Minnesota comes into the tourney having lost seven of their last 10 games, while UCLA has won eight of their last 11. The Golden Gophers are a very talented basketball team that has lost its scoring touch of late, averaging just 58 ppg in that 10-game stretch, but they beat Memphis, Michigan State, Wisconsin, and Indiana this season. For this team to win, they need to out-rebound their opponent and their guards need to be knocking down open shots. The Bruins have been up and down team all season because they heavily rely on freshman to carry the scoring load. 45 of their 75 points per game come from freshman, but Jordan Adams who produces 15 of those is sidelined with an injury. UCLA has been dominated by big men all season and Trevor Mwakbe is an absolute force in the paint. He will be the difference maker in this game, as UCLA will have no answer for him. Once he gets going, the floor will be opened up for Andre and Austin Hollins to go to work. Also, Minnesota starts two seniors, a junior, and two sophomores, while UCLA starts one senior, a junior, a sophomore, and two freshman. Minnesota’s players are more prepared physically and mentally for a gritty battle having a lot of Big 10 experience. This is going to be a down to the wire finish and could go either way, but I give the edge to Minnesota.
Minnesota 69, UCLA 66
Florida (3) vs. Northwestern State (14)
N’Western State is another team I can admit that I have not watched, but Florida is experienced enough to handle whatever is to come. Billy Donovan has a mature team that showed their weaknesses late in the season, but is still as good as any team in the country. The Gators shoot an astounding 48.4% from the floor and average 15 assists per game. It’s tough to stop a team that shares the ball and has five different players that can lead them in scoring every night. Because they don’t score a ton of points, when they shoot poorly it poses a very big problem for them. On the other side is a Northwestern State team who can flat out score the basketball. They are first in the country with 81 points per game, 13th in rebounds per game, 24th in assists per game, and 48th in field percentage. Could they have given Florida a worse match up? Although the Demons lost to Arkansas and LSU, they have most definitely gotten better and are much tougher mentally at this point in the season. Will they beat Florida? Probably not. But it could be an interesting match up if they are able to slow down Florida’s offense.
Florida 78, Northwestern State 72
San Diego State (7) vs. Oklahoma (10)
This match up is between two teams in tough conferences who each have one win over a ranked opponent, but for the most part just beat the teams they were supposed to beat. One of the best post presences and one of the most versatile players in the country will both be on display on Friday. SDSU doesn’t do anything special, they just are solid in every aspect of the game. They play sound defense, effective offense, and battle on the glass. Jamaal Franklin carries the load, leading the team in points, rebound, assists, and steals. Chase Tapley always helps out with the scoring, but this team is best when a third player contributes. Oklahoma is also built around one player, a force in the paint in Romero Osby. If Osby is shut down, the Sooners chances of winning a game drop immensely. This team can’t shoot and doesn’t have guards with aggressive scoring mentalities. It’s pretty simple. If SDSU shuts down Osby then they win. If they don’t, they could be in trouble.
SDSU 68, Oklahoma 63
Georgetown (2) vs. Florida Gulf Coast (15)
On November 13, Florida Gulf Coast beat current 2-seed Miami 63-51. Whatever magic was in the air that night in Alico Arena needs to make its way to Philadelphia on Friday. Georgetown is one of the hottest teams in the country, having won 13 of their past 15 games behind the outstanding play of All-American Otto Porter. The Hoyas don’t score at a high rate or beat you with flashy basketball, but they can knock down the three and have one of the best defenses in the country. Florida Gulf Coast has a couple talented guards and a lot of size down low, and a key for them this game is going to be the three ball. If they are able to knock down the three, stretch the defense, and be dangerous from behind the arc, their chances of winning certainly increase. If they allow Georgetown to play their smothering zone or compact man-to-man defense without posing any threat from deep, their big men will disappear. Georgetown is too fundamentally sound and talented to lose this game.
Georgetown 69, FGCU 51
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