I'm off to a flying 12-4 start, even though I boldly stated that Memphis would rout Northridge (I mean, 81-70 qualifies as a rout in my book) and that LSU would almost certainly lose. I regret nothing. I did after all call that Western Kentucky upset, and NOBODY saw that one coming.
No. 7 Boston College v. No. 10 USC
I haven't been sold on this Eagles team all season, even after they beat UNC, even after they beat Duke, even after they almost beat Duke again. USC, with DeMar DeRozan actually playing up to his potential, is playing its best ball of the season, and will squeeze by BC--just like the Trojans did in 2001. SoCal, 68-64.
No. 1 Louisville v. No. 16 Morehead State
Morehead State is another pretty good No. 16 whose strength lies on the glass. Unfortunately, the Cardinals' will speed the Eagles up and run away from Phil Simms' alma mater. The 'Ville gets the 'vin, 84-59.
No. 5 Utah v. No. 12 Arizona
The NIT-quality 'Cats are another trendy upset pick, mainly because their roster includes two lottery picks in Jordan Hill and Chase Budinger. Arizona is certainly more talented than Utah, but it's been more talented than most teams it's lost to this season. The Utes' discipline and patience wins out in the end. Utah, 68-64.
No. 4 Xavier v. No. 13 Portland State
The Vikings and star 5-foot-6 guard Jeremiah Dominguez had the makings of a really good No. 14 seed. They're not the best No. 13, and Xavier's athleticism will win out over Portland State's crowd in Boise. The Muskies pull away after the half, 77-61.
No. 5 Florida State v. No. 12 Wisconsin
I can't imagine what the over/under is for points in this game: 110? Neither team plays great offensively, and in that case, you have to go with the team with Toney Douglas. 'Noles get their first Tourney win since '98, 60-50.
No. 8 Ohio State v. No. 9 Siena
Everyone's picking the Saints as a Cinderella. Look, unless you're picking Siena to beat Louisville, a nine over an eight isn't a "Cinderella." The Saints, a guard-oriented team led by Kenny Hasbrough, may be more athletic than the Buckeyes. If they shoot to their potential, the Saints get to the second round for a second straight year, 7 6-72.
No. 2 Michigan State v. No. 15 Robert Morris
Bobby Mo is back in the Tournament for the first time since 1992, but the Colonials are a poor No. 15 and probably won't stick with the Spartans much past the first 10 minutes. Sparty marches on, 76-50.
No. 4 Wake Forest v. No. 13 Cleveland State
Danger! The Vikings have knocked off Syracuse (at the Carrier Dome), and the Demon Deacons have an ugly tendency to play down to their opponent. Wake has lost to teams worse than Cleveland State--in the Tourney for the first time since its Sweet 16 run as a No. 14 in 1986. But, you have to think the significance of the game will Wake the Deacons up, and their talent will win out in the end. WFU, 76-64.
No. 3 Syracuse v. No. 14 Stephen F. Austin
There's a lot of dissenting opinion on the Orange, whose stock skyrocketed with its performance in the Big East Tournament but also opened questions of fatigue. The Lumberjacks are a better-than-usual team out of the Southland, but that's not saying much. SFA can keep it close--Syracuse's zone allows teams to stay in it if they can hit shots--but the Orange will roll, 81-62.
No. 3 Kansas v. No. 14 North Dakota State
Bison Fever! There's a few reasons this is the biggest upset on my board: 1) Kansas is slumping lately, losing to Texas Tech and Baylor--two teams that aren't much better than NDSU; 2) Ben Woodside, the 5-foot-11 guard for the Bison, scored 60! earlier this season against Stephen F. Austin, including a 30-for-35 performance from the foul line. That's just crazy; 3) Woodside and his fellow seniors redshirted their freshman years so they could play one season when the Bison were eligible for the Tournament (this is the first year they could make it), and a win would be a great story; 4) I was going to pick West Virginia to beat Kansas in Round 2 anyway. The Jayhawks have had trouble with 14th-seeded Bison before, and the questions about Bill Self return immediately. North Dakota State rocks the chalk and the Jayhawks, 66-65.
No. 6 Marquette v. No. 11 Utah State
I had the Golden Eagles as a Final Four team; then they lost PG Dominic James for the season, and fell in five of their next six games--which is why a lot of people have them losing to the Aggies today. But, those five losses came to, in order, UConn, Pittsburgh, Louisville, Syracuse in overtime and Villanova at the buzzer. Those teams are better than Utah State, which already lost once this season to a team missing its star point guard (Saint Mary's). The Aggies will be in the game, but Marquette's seniors are too good to go quietly into the night. The Golden Eagles survive and advance, 74-68.
No. 8 Oklahoma State v. No. 9 Tennessee
Maybe the most even matchup of the first round. It's going to be an uptempo game, and the score should be in the 80s or even 90s. The Cowboys are playing their best ball of the season, but again, in a close matchup, you look at coaching. Bruce Pearl's been to two Sweet 16s; Travis Ford has coached one game in the Tournament as a No. 15 seed. Rocky Top lassoes the Cowboys, 91-85.
No. 6 Arizona State v. No. 11 Temple
Sit back and enjoy two of the nation's best guards: All-American James Harden and Atlantic-10 Tourney MVP Dionte Christmas. The secondary players will be crucial, and the Owls have the shooting to exploit the Sun Devils' zone defense. I liked it last year in the first round; I like it even more this time around: Temple takes a tight one, 63-60.
No. 6 West Virginia v. No. 11 Dayton
The Mountaineers have hit their stride in the postseason, largely because freshman Devin Ebanks is showing the potential that made him such a highly-touted recruit. With Ebanks as a third option behind DaSean Butler and Alex Ruoff, West Virginia has a more balanced attack and more than enough to overcome a Flyers' squad that has struggled down the stretch. WVU, 74-60.
No. 3 Missouri v. No. 14 Cornell
If this were last year's Big Red, I would have thought about the upset. But this year's Cornell team hasn't been as consistent. As poised as the Big Red is, it hasn't faced a team with anything resembling Mike Anderson and Mizzou's "40 minutes of hell" pressure. The Tigers are an inexperienced team, but that will affect them more on offense. Expect Cornell to struggle to score much of the game, and Missouri to pull away around halftime. Tigers, 72-53.
No. 1 Pittsburgh v. No. 16 East Tennessee State
If a No. 16 is going to beat a No. 1 this year, this is it. The Bucs are easily the best of the 16s, and the Panthers can struggle enough offensively to keep bad teams in the game. BUT, a No. 16 isn't going to beat a No. 1 this year. Pitt rolls, 79-53.
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