College Basketball’s Big Dance: Finding Your Way Through the First Week
There’s not much work getting done in offices around the United States today. Rather than giving their full attention to their particular duties, many people across the nation are scouring their NCAA Tournament brackets, looking to win their particular pools or even Warren Buffett’s billion dollar challenge (we won’t even get into the odds of picking all 67 games correctly there!). A few notes first, however, on the teams that got the shaft from the NCAA selection committee before we get to picking out the teams who will survive the first weekend.
Wichita State Now Has a Challenge
Even though they rampaged through the Missouri Valley Conference and became the first team to enter the NCAA Tournament undefeated since the early 90s, Wichita State got no respect from the selection committee on Sunday. Sure, they got the #1 seed in the Midwest, but the path to Arlington at the beginning of April isn’t going to be easy for the Shockers.
Two of the teams that joined them in last year’s Final Four, #2 seed Michigan and #4 seed (and defending champion) Louisville (another criminally low seed) were put in their region and Wichita State will have to defeat either Kentucky or Kansas State to even reach the Sweet Sixteen. If the Shockers wanted a challenge, they now have one.
Does Villanova Have Some Incriminating Information?
How the Villanova Wildcats secured a #2 seed in the East is a mystery to most people. The team was squashed two times by the Doug McDermott-led Creighton team and was beaten in the quarterfinals of the Big East Conference tournament by lowly Seton Hall. Sure, they only have four losses for the season, but they haven’t exactly had a “wow” factor that you want out of a potential National Champion. Either #3 seed Iowa State (champions of the Big 12) or #4 Michigan State (champions of the Big Ten) would have been a better #2 choice.
Tough Start to Your Tournament Run
The games on Tuesday night are normally an afterthought, but there are two matchups that should provide some interest. The #12 seeds North Carolina State/Xavier and #11 Iowa/Tennessee games should be exciting, but it puts the burden of an extra game on those teams if they are to make a run at the NCAA title. After they get past beating on each other, though, the road gets a bit easier to reach the Round of 32; the #12 seed will get a reeling St. Louis team and the #11 seed will get UMass.
OK, with that out of the way, let’s take a look at the first weekend of the tournament!
Overall #1 seed Florida should have little trouble getting through to the Sweet Sixteen, although if they face Pittsburgh in the Round of 32 there could be some excitement. #4 seed UCLA may have won the PAC-12 tournament championship, but I believe that head coach Shaka Smart’s Virginia Commonwealth team puts an end to the Bruin season and the Rams move on to the Sweet Sixteen.
On the bottom of the South bracket, there are a myriad of possibilities that depend on which team shows up. #3 seed Syracuse hasn’t exactly been impressive of late and, while they should get past Western Michigan, they will probably be looking at #6 Ohio State in the Round of 32. Ohio State gets my vote there. #7 New Mexico is a team that you should keep an eye on as #2 Kansas, without their freshman sensation center Joel Embiid, just isn’t the same team.
Onto the Sweet Sixteen: #1 Florida, #5 VCU, #6 Ohio State, #7 New Mexico
The selection committee didn’t make it easy for #1 seed Virginia, either. Although they should get through to the Sweet Sixteen, they have a potential matchup there with a full-strength #4 Michigan State squad that is hitting their stride at the right time. Many are picking the #5/#12 upset of Harvard over Cincinnati, but I don’t see that happening. Whoever wins that game, however, will get mowed down by the Spartans.
On the bottom of the bracket, #2 Villanova will have an easy first game against #15 UW-Milwaukee, but I am predicting they will lose to either UConn or St. Joseph’s in the Round of 32. The Wildcats just haven’t impressed me with their play in a weakened Big East. The potential North Carolina/Iowa State showdown will be interesting and I am leaning towards UNC moving onto the Sweet Sixteen, but just barely.
Onto the Sweet Sixteen: #1 Virginia, #4 Michigan State, #6 UNC, #7 UConn
The West Region is by far the weakest of the four that the NCAA selection committee set up. Any of the top six seeds has the potential to reach Arlington come April, but there may be a couple of surprises along the way.
#1 Arizona will have no trouble with their first game, but I see them running into a #9 Oklahoma State team that has a chip on their shoulder. This (along with Wichita State) could be the first chance we see of a #1 seed going down and I believe it will happen. I’d like to take the #12 North Dakota State team over Oklahoma, but that’s a bit risky. #13 New Mexico State is a team I am watching in this bracket as they could easily defeat #4 San Diego State and the OK/NDSU winner to reach the Sweet Sixteen.
On the bottom end, everything is laid out for the top two seeds to make it through to the Sweet Sixteen. Both #3 Creighton and #2 Wisconsin have relatively easy routes, especially if #11 Nebraska (playing well of late, going up against #6 Baylor) and #10 Brigham Young (against #7 Oregon but playing without guard Kyle Collinsworth, who was injured in the West Coast Conference final and will not be available) win their games. I am taking Nebraska but not BYU, sending Creighton and Wisconsin on.
Onto the Sweet Sixteen: #9 Oklahoma State, #13 New Mexico State, #3 Creighton, #2 Wisconsin
By far this is the most difficult of the regions. #1 Wichita State will roll over their first round opponent but then face either Kentucky or Kansas State in the Round of 32. I’m picking KSU over Kentucky (their inconsistency is their downfall), setting up an in-state rivalry game that should be outstanding. In one of the big upsets I’ll predict, I see the winner of the NC State/Xavier “First Four” matchup getting by St. Louis, while Louisville will beat them in the Round of 32 to move on to the Sweet Sixteen.
In the bottom bracket, I will also predict the winner of the Iowa/Tennessee “First Four” game will beat UMass, but they will be beaten over the weekend by Duke. #7 Texas (young and inconsistent) and #2 Michigan will be a great game, but the Wolverines will prevail there.
Onto the Sweet Sixteen: #1 Wichita State, #4 Louisville, #3 Duke, #2 Michigan
There you have it, your Sweet Sixteen for this year’s NCAA Tournament. Who will win? Let’s see how we do with the first weekend before we head off into that abyss!
Conference Tournament Picks: A bit disappointing in going 1-4, but we were so close. Kentucky (lost to Florida), Arizona (lost to UCLA) and Duke (lost to Virginia) were all one victory from making us 4-1 (OK, we missed big time on Oklahoma State winning the Big 12). The Michigan State pick in the Big Ten saved us from a complete blanking.
Season: 22-16-1, still respectable. We’ll see how that plays out after this upcoming weekend!
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