Last year, I went an incredible 38-25 in my round-by-round picks for the NCAA Tournament (n.b.: the "incredible" is a bit of what we in the business call "editorializing"). This year, the goal is to top that number, and I'm off to a good start with my choice of Morehead State in the play-in Opening Round Game Tuesday night.
No. 4 Washington v. No. 13 Mississippi State
The Bulldogs are a trendy upset pick, and I'd agree if this game weren't being played in Portland. The long flight coming on the back of a four-game-in-four-day run to the SEC title will leave Mississippi State just a little short in the end. Huskies survive, 72-64.
No. 7 Texas v. No. 10 Minnesota
One of my friends asked me the other day why we didn't spend any time discussing a possible Duke-Minnesota matchup in our video preview of the East region the other day. My response: We didn't spend time discussing the possible Oklahoma State-East Tennessee State matchup, either. The Longhorns are a lot better, as long as they show up. 'Horns hook 'em, 71-55.
No. 4 Gonzaga v. No. 13 Akron
Zips are a little overseeded here, and Gonzaga has hit its stride following the ugly loss to Memphis in February. 'Zags over Zips, 76-59.
No. 3 Villanova v. No. 14 American
The Wildcats see a mid-major version of themselves in American, who hung tight with Tennessee a season ago. If this weren't in Philly, I'd consider the underdogs. Too bad it is. Super 'Nova pulls away late, 84-66.
No. 7 Clemson v. No. 10 Michigan
Game of the Round, folks, which means it probably won't live up to expectations. Clemson's a better team, Michigan's a streakier one. But in a game like this that can go either way, you look at coaching. Oliver Purnell's NCAA Tourney record? 0-4. John Beilein's? Considerably better. Michigan wins a wild one, 74-72.
No. 2 Duke v. No. 15 Binghamton
We'll save this for the full preview.
No. 2 Oklahoma v. No. 15 Morgan State
Wouldn't surprise me to see the Bears, a team that won at Maryland and is coached by former Cal headman Todd Bozeman, stick with the Sooners--kind of like Cal State-Northridge did to Memphis earlier (I predicted that, right?). In the end, though, not many teams have an answer for Blake Griffin, especially ones from the MEAC. Sooners survive, 74-58.
No. 6 UCLA v. No. 11 VCU
Everyone's picking the Rams, with good reason. I said it very early in the season: the Bruins didn't look like the same kind of team they've been the last three years. And as much as I enjoy Darren Collison, he's been given trouble by quick guards in the past (like Taurean Green, Justin Dentmon and Tywan Brazelton). Eric Maynor may be the best of that bunch, and Larry Sanders down low is the best post player in the game. VCU may just be the better team, 69-63.
No. 5 Illinois v. No. 12 Western Kentucky
I was thinking of picking against the Illini--a team that has scored 33 and 36 points in two different games this season!--even before the injury to Chester Frazier. That loss, and a matchup with an experienced Hilltopper team, cements it. Wave the towel: WKU doesn't need the buzzer beater, 71-60.
No. 2 Memphis v. No. 15 Cal State-Northridge
Word on the street is that CS-Northridge has a pretty good journalism school, which means they'll cover the hell out of this rout by Memphis. Tigers, 82-54.
P.S. How wrong was it of the Committee to schedule the Matadors' first Tournament game in eight years on the first day at 9:20 a.m. local time?
No. 8 LSU v. No. 9 Butler
I can't imagine an SEC team that went 13-3 in conference has ever been seeded this low, but on the plus side, when Joe Alleva's squad loses in the first round--which it was going to do almost certainly regardless of matchup--it doesn't look that bad. Watch out for Butler freshman forward Gordon Hayward, who reminds me of a young Adam Morrison. The Bulldogs get their shot at UNC, 65-58.
No. 8 BYU v. No. 9 Texas A&M
VENGEANCE! The Aggies knocked out the Cougars in an 8-9 game last season, but Lee Cummard, Jonathan Tavernari and BYU will strike back this afternoon. Plus, don't be surprised if the Cougs give Connecticut a run in round two. BYU, 74-66.
No. 1 North Carolina v. No. 16 Radford
Three years ago, after the four No. 1 seeds moved to 88-0 by winning by an average of just 14.5 points, I boldly proclaimed that No. 1 seeds would not get to 100-0. That looks stupid this year. Even without Ty Lawson, the Tar Heels can take care of the Highlanders, 88-59.
No. 1 Connecticut v. No. 16 Chattanooga
The Moccasins--although they go by Mocs now more often--are the last No. 14 seed to make the Sweet 16, and they did that with a team-oriented and future two-time NBA celebrity All-Star Game MVP Terrell Owens on the end of the bench. This year's UT-C team didn't even have to beat Davidson to win the SoCon, letting Charleston do its dirty work. UConn's three losses in 2009? Pitt, Pitt and Syracuse in six overtimes. I'm not worried about the Huskies or Jim Calhoun's salary. UConn, 82-60.
No. 5 Purdue v. No. 12 Northern Iowa
The Missouri Valley has a proud tradition of upsets in the Tournament, but it's been a down year in the Valley and UNI doesn't have the Cinderella potential of the typical MVC champ. This doesn't mean, however, that I'm as high on the Boilermakers as most. Purdue won the Big Ten Tournament with Robbie Hummel supposedly healthy again. That should be tested in a second-round matchup with Washington. Purdue, 68-56.
No. 7 California v. No. 10 Maryland
Is it just me, or is Cal always a 6-10 seed when it's in the Tournament? The Golden Bears haven't been to the Sweet 16 since Tony Gonzalez was wearing navy, but they'll get their shot at Memphis by continuing to hit their threes against Maryland. Cal leads the nation in 3-point percentage, and the Terrapins won't be able to zone it up like they did Wake Forest. Jerome Randle will show that he, and not Greivis Vasquez, is the best point guard in this matchup. Plus, Jamal Boykin knows how to beat Maryland. Cal, 73-67.