Beyond the Arc: Saturday Picks

After the first round and a stellar 9-7 mark yesterday (I'm like the Arizona Cardinals of March Madness predictions), I stand at a sparkling 21-11, or, somehow, a game ahead of last year's anemic 20-12 pace. Oh, and I only lost one Final Four team, Wake Forest, who I had beating West Virginia in the Elite 8. Neither loss really bothers me.

We've gotten to the part of the bracket where I get to change my mind and pretend like I got every first-round game correct. So, just for the sake of full disclosure, I'll stick my "original" picks in parenthesis.

No. 3 Villanova v. No. 6 UCLA (original: Villanova over VCU)

UCLA survived Eric Maynor and VCU Thursday night, largely because Darren Collison played much better defense on Maynor than the Blue Devils were able to muster two springs ago. Villanova got everything it could handle from American--I feel like I was pretty accurate on that one--with the Philly homecourt helping propel a second-half run. I'm not sold on the Bruins, though, and the Wildcats' quick guards should be able to exploit UCLA's aggressive hedging on the perimeter. 'Nova heads from Philly to Boston, 74-66.

No. 2 Memphis v. No. 10 Maryland (Memphis over California)

The game intrigues me because Maryland was able to effectively zone up Cal, who I thought would shoot the Terps into man-to-man. Memphis is definitely easier to contain with a zone--CS-Northridge once again showed that--so I can see Maryland hanging in this one. The Tigers needed 35 points from Roburt Sallie to survive the Matadors Thursday, and they'll need his hot hand to take advantage of the zone. On the flip side, Eric Hayes has been playing really well for the Terrapins lately. I mean, really well. It's a lot closer than I would have thought going into the Tournament, but the Tigers get out alive, 73-63.

No. 1 Connecticut v. No. 9 Texas A&M (UConn over BYU)

The Aggies got BYU for the second straight year, and let's not forget they were a dubious call away from getting top-seed UCLA in the second round last season. A&M has the bigs to contend on the glass with the Huskies, and Donald Sloane and Josh Carter are capable guards (watch out if Carter gets hot). That said, even with the Big 12 at 6-0 in the Tournament, I trust the Big East and the Huskies a lot more. A&M doesn't start this game 9-for-9, and UConn runs away in the final six minutes. Huskies, 79-64.

No. 4 Washington v. No. 5 Purdue (UW over Purdue)

Easily the most even matchup of the day, which means it should be a pretty good game. UW looked much more impressive in disposing of Mississippi State Thursday than Purdue did in its win over Northern Iowa, and the home crowd in Portland will greatly benefit the Huskies in an otherwise tight one. Plus, I really want to see UConn and Washington battle it out, hoping for a third epic game and a fulfillment to that Jordan commercial. UW rides the crowd, 71-66.

No. 1 North Carolina v. No. 8 LSU (UNC over Butler)

If Ty Lawson doesn't play, this game all of a sudden becomes interesting. The Tigers put a lot of pressure on the ball, and Bobby Frasor has about as much hope of handling that well as Butler's freshmen did Thursday afternoon. LSU's hope is to force turnovers in the backcourt and that its big men are long and athletic enough to bother Hansbrough in the post. The problem with that second key? They weren't long long and athletic enough to bother Matt Howard Thursday, and UNC is a whole lot more athletic than Butler on the perimeter. Without Lawson, the Tar Heels win by about a dozen. With him, it's decidedly less close. I'll compromise: UNC, 82-63.

No. 2 Oklahoma v. No. 10 Michigan (Michigan over Oklahoma)

This is as much a vote against Oklahoma as it is for Michigan. The Wolverines will need to shoot well again, and just as importantly, they need to clean the defensive glass out of their 1-3-1 zone. Well, they're going to lose the rebounding battle; they just can't get killed in it. But, I still don't trust the much-improved Austin Johnson in the backcourt, and I like the idea of Blake Griffin having to move out and play someone on the perimeter. Plus, this is a major test for Jeff Capel: How does he prepare his team, on short rest, for a team that plays such a unique style? It's Beilein in the Tournament, which means it's Upset Time. Hail to the Wolverine Victors, 74-70.

No. 4 Gonzaga v. No. 12 Western Kentucky (Gonzaga over WKU)

Come on, Mark Few; now's the time to show that you can coach in the postseason. Few has made three Sweet 16s as the headman in Spokane, but only one since 2001 (and only one when he was favored to do so). The Hilltoppers held on late against Illinois, but this still isn't as dangerous a team as last year's version. And come on, Western Kentucky in back-to-back Sweet 16s; that would almost be as weird as, well, when Gonzaga did it in 1999-2000. 'Zags get their shot at Carolina, 79-70.

No. 2 Duke v. No. 7 Texas

Holding off until the big preview.


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