NCAA Bracket 2012: Predictions for All 32 First Round Games

Ian StancatoContributor IIIMarch 12, 2012

NCAA Bracket 2012: Predictions for All 32 First Round Games

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    The 2012 NCAA Men's Basketball tournament field of 68 teams has officially been set. Bubbles have burst, prayers have been answered, and now the real madness ensues.

    The NCAA tournament is one of the most exciting events on the American sports calendar. The tournament's opening round is a two-day adrenaline binge for sports fans, with constant drama fueled by the heartlessness of the final buzzer. No matter how valiantly a David fights one of the sport's Goliaths, victories in the tournament are measured only by the numbers remaining on the scoreboard when the final buzzer sounds.

    Win and play on; lose and go home.

    While teams are carefully seeded according to their perceived strength and ability to win the tournament's ultimate crown, the first round of games always serves as a stark reminder that in college basketball teamwork and dedication can overcome any disparity in talent and potential between two teams as they take the floor.

    With the field of 68 set in stone, millions across America have begun to pour over their brackets, trying to predict upsets, find sleepers, and avoid being losing the money by the end of the first weekend.

    While some are content to choose their winners based on team colors, mascots, or nicknames, the most surefire way to coast through the first weekend with your Sweet Sixteen, Elite Eight, and Final Four still intact is to know which first round matchups could produce unexpected results and identify which teams were seeded too low or too high.

    Technically now labeled the tournament's "second round", thanks to the four play-in games scheduled to be played on Tuesday and Wednesday being labeled the "first round", the slate of 32 games set to begin on Thursday and continue on through Friday are, for all intents and purposes, the first true round of the tournament.

    Here are predictions for all 32 of the games that will help you identify which favorites will fall, which underdogs will prevail, and which picks will make you look like a genius in front of all your friends.   

No. 1 Kentucky vs No 16. Mississippi Valley State/No. 16 Western Kentucky

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    Since the NCAA Men's Basketball tournament field expanded to include 64 teams in 1985, no No. 16-seed has ever defeated a No. 1-seed. 2012 will be no different than every other year.

    No matter who wins the play-in game on Tuesday night, whether it be the Mississippi Valley State Delta Devils (21-12), champions of the SWAC, or Western Kentucky (15-18), surprise Sun Belt tournament champions, penciling the Kentucky Wildcats into the next round of games is about as safe a bet as you can make.

    Kentucky will enter Thursday's contest with a 32-2 record, having torched their competition throughout the 2011-2012 season. Led by Player of the Year-candidate Anthony Davis and boasting the most talented top-to-bottom lineup in all of college basketball, the Wildcats will be favored by many to be the last team standing when it's all said and done. 

    John Calipari's team has lost only twice this season, and in both losses, it seemed the Wildcats tripped over their own feet more than they were tripped up by their opponent. With a starting lineup that features three freshmen and two sophomores, Kentucky's youth will be its biggest obstacle to claiming the program's eighth national title.

    Wherever Kentucky's season is destined to end, whether it's on the podium in New Orleans or well short of their goal, that end will not come Thursday. Look for Kentucky to roll over their opponent.

    KENTUCKY over Mississippi Valley State/Western Kentucky

No. 8 Iowa State vs. No. 9 Connecticut

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    Connecticut's 2011 tournament run was one of the more improbable title runs in recent memory. The Kemba Walker-led Huskies came together at just the right time and reeled off win-after-win when a loss would have ended their season.

    The 2012 Huskies (20-13) were expected to be in the national title discussion throughout the season, but chemistry and leadership issues have plagued the defending champions all season. A 3-9 stretch from late-January through February had many wondering if this team was on the bubble, but a good showing in the Big East tournament solidified UConn's place in the field of 68.

    Where UConn has been largely disappointing in 2012, the Iowa State Cyclones (22-10) have been a revelation.

    In just his second season at the helm in Ames, Iowa State head coach Fred Hoiberg has led a rag-tag bunch of transfers and JUCO players to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2005. Iowa State plays a steady, disciplined brand of basketball, guided by the steady hand of Royce White, who, at 6'8" and 270 lbs, is easily one the biggest point guards in the land.

    While White is officially listed as a forward, the former Minnesota recruit has earned the trust of Hoiberg to run the Cyclones offense and this unconventional deployment has proved to be very effective throughout the year, as Iowa State surprised many by finishing fourth in the Big 12.

    While Connecticut seemed to right the ship late in 2012, their efforts will be too little, too late and Iowa State will prevail in a close, physical matchup. 

    IOWA STATE over Connecticut

No. 5 Wichita State vs. No. 12 VCU

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    In one of the more cruel first round matchups the NCAA seeding committee set up, a team many have picked to be this year's ultimate bracket-buster, Wichita State, is set to battle last year's ultimate bracket-buster, VCU, whose improbable Final Four run was one of the best storylines in tournament history.

    While the 2012 VCU Rams' lineup is very different from that of last year's Final Four team, Shaka Smart's squad (28-6) is very capable of pulling off a first round upset. Employing Smart's frenetic defensive scheme, aptly called "Havoc", the Rams' march to the tournament included knocking off another mid-major sleeper, Drexel, in the CAA tournament championship game.

    If VCU plans to be the Cinderella of the 2012 Big Dance, just as they were last year, they will need someone to step up on the offensive end in the first round because their opponent, the Wichita State Shockers (27-5), can hang points on the scoreboard in bunches.

    Led by offensive catalyst Joe Ragland, Wichita State has power-conference talent hidden behind a mid-major mask. The Shockers are a fast-paced, high-scoring machine that few teams in the country have the weapons to keep up with.

    This game will ultimately be decided by whether or not VCU's defensive pressure can force the Shockers off their game. If VCU can hold Wichita State under 65 points, they may have a chance to pull the upset.

    That, however, is a big if.

    Look for Wichita State to begin their tournament march with a win over the Rams.

    WICHITA STATE over Virginia Commonwealth

No. 4 Indiana vs. No. 13 New Mexico State

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    The job Tom Crean has done to get the Indiana program back on track has been nothing short of incredible. After years of mediocrity in Bloomington, the Hoosiers (25-8) are well on their way back to finding themselves among the nation's elite. 

    The 2012 season has been a wild ride for Indiana, highlighted by one of the year's best moments—Christian Watford's buzzer-beating three-pointer to down No. 1 Kentucky. 

    Unfortunately, every wild ride includes lows just as it does highs, and Indiana's lowest low may have come late in their Big Ten tournament opener against Penn State when they lost senior leader Verdell Jones III to a torn ACL. Jones' leadership and locker room presence cannot be discounted and, without him, the going just got tougher for Indiana 

    New Mexico State (26-9) comes into the tournament riding high, boasting an 11-2 record since the beginning of February. Head coach Marvin Menzies has his Aggies operating on all cylinders, as they are among the nation's most prolific offenses. 

    While New Mexico State will most certainly not back down from a fast-paced, run-and-gun affair with the Hoosiers, they simply don't have the talent to matchup with Cody Zeller down in the paint. Indiana's dominance around the basket will prove to be the difference in this game as the Hoosiers pull out a close one.

    INDIANA over New Mexico State

No. 6 UNLV vs. No. 11 Colorado

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    The underdog Colorado Buffaloes (23-11) come into this first round matchup riding a hot streak of late. The Buffaloes, whom few had given a chance to make the Big Dance just a few weeks ago, stole the Pac-12 tournament title and earned the automatic bid that came with it.

    Their fairy tale run through March is about to come to a screeching halt.

    Waiting for them in the NCAA tournament is UNLV (26-8), a team loaded with talent, and capable of putting together a run deep into March.

    Led by UCLA transfers Mike Moser and Chace Stanback, the Runnin' Rebels put the "running" back in their name in 2012.

    One of the highest scoring teams in the country, UNLV has size, solid guard play, and is capable of slowing even the most elite teams in the country defensively, as evidenced by their November upset of then-No. 1 North Carolina. 

    Despite their potential, UNLV was relegated to a No. 6 seed as the result of their occasional tendency to play to the level of their opponents on the road. Late season road losses to TCU, Colorado State, New Mexico, and, most troubling of them all, Wyoming, were the result of the Runnin' Rebels allowing the environment and their opponent to dictate the style of the play.

    Dave Rice won't allow his team to fall into a similar trap in the tournament, especially not in round one. Look for UNLV to put Colorado away early.  

    UNLV over Colorado

No. 3 Baylor vs. No. 14 South Dakota St.

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    There have been times in 2012 when Baylor (27-7) looked like they could be among the best teams in the nation, solid in the frontcourt, and loaded with talent and athleticism in the backcourt. 

    There have also been other times when Baylor has looked soft and terribly overrated.

    Before falling to a red-hot Missouri team in the Big 12 tournament final, it seemed as though the Bears had finally exorcised its demons in a semi-final beat down of a physical Kansas squad. How far Baylor makes it in the 2012 NCAA tournament will depend on whether they can continue to handle teams that play them physically, and their ability to do so hinges on the efforts of 6'11" Perry Jones III.

    In this first round matchup, however, physicality will be the least of the Bears' worries as they take on a South Dakota State (27-7) team that makes up for its lack of size with its ability to shoot the three, and its ability to score in transition.

    Provided Baylor comes into this matchup ready to play, this game shouldn't be close, but if the Bears are caught looking ahead in their bracket, they could be in for a long afternoon. Look for South Dakota State to put a scare into Baylor early, but run out of gas in the second half as the Bears win going away.

    BAYLOR over South Dakota State

No. 7 Notre Dame vs. No. 10 Xavier

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    The Notre Dame Fighting Irish (22-11) were one of the biggest surprises of the 2011-2012 season. Few expected Mike Brey's squad to even finish above-.500 this season, let alone make the NCAA tournament.

    Xavier (21-12), on the other hand, has been one of this season's biggest disappointments.

    Since their notorious brawl with players from Cincinnati at the end of what would have otherwise been a great non-conference win, the Musketeers seem to have lost their capacity to play with the feisty energy that has been the hallmark of Xavier basketball over the last decade.

    This game will be one of the more interesting matchups to watch in the first round of the tournament. Xavier's Tu Holloway and Co. will look to reclaim what was supposed to have been one of the best seasons in school history, while Notre Dame will be looking to put an exclamation point on a surprising year.

    Holloway is one of the country's most dynamic guards, capable of creating his own shot or getting to the rim at will thanks to his quickness. He's also capable of knocking down open looks if the defense tries to minimize his ability to create.

    Junior Mark Lyons, Holloway's backcourt mate, is also a very dynamic scorer.

    Look for the two of them to torture a less talented group of Irish guards and, with their fragile confidence slowly returning thanks to an A-10 tournament run that featured a solid semi-final victory over fellow tournament qualifier Saint Louis, Xavier will post the upset over Notre Dame.

    XAVIER over Notre Dame

No. 2 Duke vs. No 15 Lehigh

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    A classic David vs. Goliath matchup, Duke (27-6) will play Lehigh (26-7) in a first round game on Friday.

    While at first glance, this should be an easy win for the Blue Devils, Lehigh could pose some problems for Coach K's crew.

    Led by C.J. McCollum, one of the nation's leading scorers at 21.9 points per game, the Mountain Hawks are a solid team. McCollum and forward Greg Knutson team to create a formidable inside-out combination that battled the likes of Iowa State and Michigan State closely before bowing out late during the regular season.

    If Duke wants to turn their first-round matchup into a shooting exposition, Lehigh certainly has the guns to keep it close.

    In the end, however, Duke simply has too much size and talent. Austin Rivers, Seth Curry, and Co., should roll on into a weekend matchup with the winner of the Xavier/Notre Dame game.

    DUKE over Lehigh

No. 1 Michigan State vs. No 16. LIU Brooklyn

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    The talent gap between Big 10 tournament champions Michigan State (27-7) and NEC tournament titleholders LIU Brooklyn (25-8) is astronomical.

    Draymond Green and Co. should have no problem disposing of the Blackbirds, who make their first NCAA tournament appearance since 1997, based on size alone.

    Look for Michigan State to win big over LIU Brooklyn on Friday.


    MICHIGAN STATE over LIU Brooklyn

No. 8 Memphis vs No. 9 Saint Louis

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    For being such quality teams, the Memphis Tigers (26-8) and Saint Louis Billikens (25-7) have received very little attention from the media over the course of the season.

    Memphis is led by point guard Joe Jackson and dynamic shooting guard Will Barton. Both are top-tier talents and, since dropping a few close, winnable games to nationally ranked teams early in the season, Memphis has been on a roll since opening conference play.  

    Josh Pastner's Tigers are long and athletic, enough so that should they win this matchup. They would certainly be no easy out for Michigan State in the second round. Every player in Memphis' lineup can attack the basket, and when their shots are falling, they can be nearly impossible to defend. 

    Saint Louis, for its part, is not an easy out either. Rick Majerus' squad is a tough, defensive-minded group that will not back down from anyone. Led by Brian Conklin and Kwamain Mitchell, the Billikens are efficient on offense and look to wear their opponents down over the course of the game.

    Possessions will be at a premium in this first-round matchup, and if Memphis gets too careless with shot selection or sloppy with the ball, Saint Louis can put them in a deep hole rather quickly. In the end, however, the Tigers are simply more talented than the Billikens on a matchup-to-matchup basis and should have no problem creating space for themselves offensively.

    Look for Memphis to pull away late in a physical, hard-fought battle that will prepare the winner well for what lies ahead in the second round.

    MEMPHIS over Saint Louis

No. 5 New Mexico vs. No. 12 Long Beach State

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    Every year, there seems to be a 12-seed that knocks off a 5-seed, and 2012 will prove to be no different.

    Dan Monson's Long Beach State (25-8) team was specifically built to be a Cinderella in March, and their first-round matchup is a favorable one. The 49ers played anyone and everyone on the road this season, meaning star guard Casper Ware and his crew are battle tested and, most importantly, confident in their ability to play with anyone in the land.

    New Mexico (27-6) is lead by UCLA-transfer Drew Gordon. Head coach Steve Alford's team favors an efficient, grind-it-out style that plays to Gordon's strengths. If left unchecked, Gordon is capable of turning the tide of any game in his team's favor as he can easily control the boards and patrols the paint.

    Having said that, Ware and his 49er teammates can score in bunches and don't necessarily need to control the paint or glass to keep a game close, as evidenced by tight losses to Kansas and North Carolina.

    Look for Ware to exploit New Mexico's guards and push the tempo, minimizing Gordon's impact on the outcome of the game, and carry Long Beach State to the upset win over the Lobos.

    LONG BEACH STATE over New Mexico

No. 4 Louisville vs. No. 13 Davidson

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    Rick Pitino's Louisville Cardinals (26-9) are yet again riding a wave of momentum into the NCAA tournament, having put on a tantalizing display of physicality, finesse, and suffocating defense en route to the Big East tournament crown. 

    If Davidson (25-7) were anything like the Wildcats of yesteryear, they could pose a threat to upset Pitino's Cardinals, but, alas, Stephon Curry is not walking through that door.

    Peyton Siva, Kyle Kuric, and Gorgui Dieng simply pose too many matchup problems for Davidson, who was exposed by Wichita State on BracketBusters Saturday as being incapable of handling the speed that top teams can push the tempo towards. While they were able to upset Kansas in Lawrence, that feat was completed before Kansas had developed any consistency at guard, so they were forced to play the type of half-court game that Davidson favors.

    Look for Louisville to force Davidson into early mistakes in the backcourt, and keep them from finding their outside stroke by simply out-muscling the Wildcats, punching their ticket to the second round with relative ease.

    LOUISVILLE over Davidson

No. 6 Murray State vs. No. 11 Colorado State

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    Given Colorado State's solid in-conference play this season and Murray State's relatively low profile, many will look for the Rams (20-11) to pull off the upset against the Racers (30-1), and many will be wrong.

    Colorado State is a fundamentally sound basketball team that takes care of the ball on offense and tries to keep teams from finding their comfort-zone on defense. While this can be an effective brand of basketball against a team that lacks an assertive, smart point guard, Murray State has an assertive, smart point guard.

    Isaiah Canaan was one of the top players in the country this season, and he keeps the Racers racing. It is his ability to crack a defense wide-open that has made Murray State such a difficult team to beat this season.

    While Colorado State has had a nice season, they simply do not have an answer for what Canaan brings to the court. It will be a close game, but Murray State will pull this one out and move on to the second round. 

    MURRAY STATE over Colorado State

No. 3 Marquette vs. No. 14 BYU/ No. 14 Iona

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    Depending on what happens in the play-in game, this matchup could be either one of the best opening weekend games we'll see, or a complete snooze-fest.

    Marquette (25-7) is a very solid basketball team. Well-rounded, tough, solid defensively, and explosive offensively, the Golden Eagles are just the type of team that could very conceivably make a run to New Orleans. 

    But if Iona (25-7) takes care of business in their play-in game against BYU (25-8), the Gaels are most certainly capable of keeping pace with Marquette, making for a very interesting game. 

    Iona is led by the power trio of Scott Machado, Michael Glover, and MoMo Jones, who was last seen leading Arizona's surprising tournament run of a year ago. The Gaels are incredibly explosive offensively, leading the nation with an 83-points-per-game scoring average. 

    Machado, Glover, and Jones aren't small either. Marquette cannot expect to control the game simply by bringing a level of physicality the Gaels surely haven't seen in the MAAC. 

    If BYU is able to outclass Iona in Dayton, look for Marquette to easily advance to the next round. If Iona is able to get past the Cougars, this could be the 2012 NCAA tournament's biggest upset.

    Look for Iona to steal a close one, 89-84.


    IONA over Marquette

No. 7 Florida vs. No 10 Virginia

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    In a matchup between two teams that ultimately backed into the tournament, this game will come down to how well Florida's guards are able to handle Virginia's unique defensive scheme.

    Florida (23-10) boasts one of the deepest, most talented backcourts in the nation, led by Bradley Beal, Kenny Boynton, Erving Walker, and Mike Rosario. That group will be called upon to crack the code of Virginia's suffocating defense that simultaneously takes away open looks from the outside while preventing penetration.

    Even though Virginia (22-9) will give Florida fits in this first-round matchup, the Cavaliers simply don't have the offensive firepower to take advantage of the opportunities their defense will create for them.

    Look for Florida to shoot their way out of this one, winning a close, low-scoring affair.

    FLORIDA over Virginia

No. 2 Missouri vs. No. 15 Norfolk State

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    Missouri (30-4) has had one of the best seasons in school history in 2011-2012, head coach Frank Haith's first season at the school.

    Led by dominating guard play, the Tigers are coming into the tournament with a chip on their shoulder after being denied a No. 1-seed, despite having won the Big 12 tournament in dominating fashion.

    Look for Marcus Denmon, Kim English, Phil and Matt Pressey, and Michael Dixon to run circles around Norfolk State (25-9).

    MISSOURI over Norfolk State

No. 1 Syracuse vs. No. 16 UNC-Asheville

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    Syracuse (31-2) earned a No. 1-seed despite falling to Cincinnati in the Big East tournament.

    The Orange's biggest advantage is their depth and balance. With so many players capable of shouldering the load, it is hard to defend the Orange by taking away their strengths, simply because there are so many.

    Speaking of defense, the Orange are long and suffocating on defense, forcing turnovers and bad shots that fuel an explosive transition offense. Often, teams find themselves keeping close with Syracuse until a series of bad possessions lets the Orange build some momentum and then they almost can't be stopped. 

    The first to try in the 2012 NCAA tournament will be UNC-Asheville (24-9), and they will fail mightily. While UNC-Asheville does like to push an up-tempo pace and can fill it up from the outside, they lack the size they will need to get over and around Syracuse's defenders.

    'Cuse will run away with this one.

    SYRACUSE over UNC-Asheville

No. 8 Kansas State vs. No. 9 Southern Mississippi

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    File this matchup under the "tough to call" category.

    Both teams thrive on physical play. Frank Martin's Kansas State Wildcats (21-10) came into their own as the season wore on, working themselves off the bubble since early-to-mid February. Having said that, take one look at the results of their games and it is easy to see that they struggle against teams with effective big men.

    Southern Miss (25-8) does have an effective big man in Maurice Bolden, but he plays a lot on the perimeter as opposed to exclusively in the post, where Kansas State is most vulnerable. Darnell Dodson is a big guard who can score as well, but again, his game doesn't necessarily exploit Kansas State's weaknesses. 

    While the matchup may not indicate a likely winner in and of itself, a quick look at the recent trend each team is following does. Since the beginning of February, Southern Miss has been a relatively average team, losing twice to Marshall, and once each to Houston, UAB, and UTEP.

    In that same time span, Kansas State has only lost to the likes of Baylor, Kansas, Texas, and Iowa State, all of whom are dancing.

    Finally, Larry Eustachy may have resurrected his career in Hattiesburg, but before he trashed it in the first place at Iowa State, his Cyclone teams were notorious tournament underachievers, once being eliminated in a 2-seed vs 15-seed matchup.

    This game may be an all-out brawl and a nail-biter all at once, but expect Kansas State to avoid the mini-upset.

    KANSAS STATE over Southern Miss

No. 5 Vanderbilt vs. No. 12 Harvard

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    This matchup sounds more like an argument you would hear between members at an exclusive country club than an NCAA tournament matchup, but both teams came into 2011-2012 with high expectations.

    Harvard (26-4), which squeaked out of the Ivy League when Penn fell to Princeton, seemed to be a trendy pick for a tournament Cinderella at the peak of the non-conference schedule, but appeared to hit rough water in the relatively weak Ivy League.

    Vanderbilt (24-10) had quite the opposite season, performing terribly at the start of the year, but coming on strong towards the end as their team got healthy and began to gel.

    Now it is Vandy that is the trendy pick to dance well beyond what their seed would indicate and that is not without merit. The Commodores rely heavily on senior leadership, sharp shooting from the outside, and solid rebounding and defense on the interior.

    Lance Goulbourne, Festus Ezeli, Jeffery Taylor, and John Jenkins form a nucleus that is as talented as it is experienced. Since the calendar rolled into February, Vanderbilt's only losses have come at the hands of Tennessee, Florida, and Kentucky, none of which are especially troubling.

    When you factor in how effective the Commodores had become at both ends of the floor by the end of the SEC tournament, it's easy to see why many have Vandy in their Final Four.

    As the Vanderbilt train gets rolling out of the station, Harvard will be nothing more than a small bump in the tracks. Look for Vandy to roll in this one.

    VANDERBILT over Harvard

No. 4 Wisconsin vs. No. 13 Montana

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    The Montana Grizzlies (25-6) roll into the tournament having just snatched the Big Sky's automatic bid from the hands of Weber State, a team many had pegged to make some noise in the Big Dance. That doesn't mean, however, that Montana should be expected to make any noise themselves. 

    Wisconsin (24-9) comes into the tournament led by senior guard Jordan Taylor. The Badgers are consistent, defensive-minded, patient, and very physical. The Wisconsin roster is loaded with good shooters, so a cold-shooting night is unlikely to derail the Badgers this early in the tournament.

    When your opponent has so many obvious factors leaning in their favor, you must be able to do something exceptionally well in order to beat them.

    Unfortunately, Montana does not.

    They are a solid basketball team, with a good record against weaker competition. They do not have the size or speed to force Wisconsin to do anything it isn't comfortable doing.

    If Montana can catch fire from beyond the arc, they may keep this one interesting past halftime, but the only victories the Grizzlies are going home with will be moral.

    Wisconsin marches on. 

    WISCONSIN over Montana

No. 6 Cincinnati vs. No. 11 Texas

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    Cincinnati comes into the NCAA tournament having just reeled off consecutive upset victories in the Big East tournament, where they eventually fell to Louisville in a tight one in the final.

    Texas enters the tournament having posted just one bad loss since the beginning of February, and have the look and feel of a young team finally figuring out how to compete at the college level.

    Which trend will prevail?

    Given the recent tournament history of Big East teams that put together improbable runs in the conference tournament, which, aside from UConn's miracle run of 2011, is not very good, Texas is in good shape to pull off the upset.

    Rick Barnes' squad is exceptionally young and exceptionally talented. Of the Longhorns top nine players in terms of minutes per game, six are freshmen. For most teams across the country, outside of the Duke-Kentucky-UNC-trifecta, having that many freshmen on the floor at once would surely lead to some growing pains, as it has in Austin.

    For all their inexperience, the Longhorns are that much bigger, faster, and stronger than a scrappy Cincinnati squad that would have been no higher than an 8-seed if not for their late tournament run. 

    Look for the Longhorns to win a close game, with J'Covan Brown doing his best Kemba Walker impression. 

    TEXAS over Cincinnati

No. 3 Florida State vs No. 14 St. Bonaventure

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    While the seeding associated with these teams surely doesn't indicate it, this is a far more dangerous matchup for the Seminoles (24-9) than most would expect, especially considering their run through the ACC tournament. 

    That run, however, needs an asterisk next to it.

    John Henson sat out the title game for the Tar Heels in order to rest his injured wrist for the NCAA tournament. Bid already in hand, Roy Williams was not going to risk his shot at the national title for a shot at the ACC title. Florida State beat a North Carolina squad desperately in need of a rest.

    St. Bonaventure (20-11), on the other hand, is among the hottest teams in the country.

    The Bonnies charged into the A-10 tournament having seized a first round bye over the course of the last few weeks, and rode the momentum all the way to the NCAA tournament. So, does a team that has spent the better part of the last two weeks beating bubble-team after bubble-team sound like a 14-seed?

    Led by their dynamic 6'9" senior forward, Andrew Nicholson, the Bonnies are far better than the 14-seed the NCAA tournament committee pegged them with. St. Bonaventure is clearly better than Montana (13-seed), Harvard (12-seed), Davidson (13-seed), etc. 

    The list goes on.

    The team that pays the ultimate price for the tournament committee's oversight? Florida State.

    Instead of coasting through a well-deserved directional-school cupcake in the first round, Leonard Hamilton's Seminole's must now summon the energy to beat a team that is gaining confidence like a steam-roller going downhill.

    Will they do it? Yes, but just barely. Florida State has become some people's hot Final Four pick, and they will surely be sweating out the final minutes of this one.

    FLORIDA STATE over St. Bonaventure

No. 7 Gonzaga vs. No. 10 West Virginia

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    The WCC used to be, without question, a one-bid conference. With the recent success of school's like Gonzaga and St. Mary's, and the recent addition of perennially competitive BYU, the conference has suddenly found itself in the midst of its own renaissance.

    Despite the increased exposure and respect the league is now getting on a national level, its teams are still getting the shaft when it comes to seeding in the NCAA tournament.

    Really, should Gonzaga (25-6), whose worst out-of-conference loss came at the hands of Illinois before the Illini's epic mid-season meltdown, who lost to Michigan State by only 7 points, and who just lost their conference title game to the 18th best team in the country according to the polls, be a 7-seed?

    The Zags reward for a job well done this year? A first-round date with Bob Huggins' rugged West Virginia Mountaineers (19-13).

    West Virginia is led by Kevin Jones and Darryl "Truck" Bryant, two seasoned veterans who have shone under the bright lights of the tournament before. Despite not posting a win worthy of note since January, the Mountaineers are a nightmare matchup for an undersized Gonzaga team that relies heavily on its ability to get open looks at the basket to keep their offense moving.

    Look for West Virginia to post the mini-upset of the Zags, beating up on Gonzaga's guards to disrupt their tempo and rhythm.  

    WEST VIRGINIA over Gonzaga

No. 2 Ohio State vs. No. 15 Loyola (MD)

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    Jared Sullinger and the Ohio State Buckeyes (27-7) were one win away from being a No. 1 seed, dropping a tight game to Michigan State in the Big Ten tournament final. Despite not actually getting that No.1 seed, the Buckeyes still get a No. 1 vs No. 16-type matchup here.

    The Greyhounds of Loyola (24-8) stole a bid by winning the MAAC, a league that many expected Iona to walk away with. While they will have something to decorate the rafters with from this season, there won't be anything else.

    Ohio State is the far superior team in this matchup and the only question is, at which point do you rest Sullinger and his fellow starters? Halfway through the first half? Halftime? This game won't even be close.

    OHIO STATE over Loyola (MD)

No. 1 North Carolina vs. No. 16 Lamar/No. 16 Vermont

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    Not too long ago, Vermont (23-11) was a team that no one wanted to see opposite them in the bracket. In 2005, the then-No.13 seeded Catamounts shocked No. 4 Syracuse, and the world, with their first-round upset.

    Well, Vermont fans, you may want to cue that game up on your DVR because, if Vermont can win their play-in game, they will face a beat down of epic proportions.

    For Pat Knight, son of Bobby Knight, and his Lamar Cardinals (23-11), the prospects aren't much better. While Knight earned himself some notoriety with a post-game rant that obviously stirred his troops in recent weeks, his team just doesn't have what it takes to compete with the North Carolina Tar Heels (29-5).

    North Carolina wins big, regardless of who they play. 

    NORTH CAROLINA over Lamar/Vermont

No. 8 Creighton vs No. 9 Alabama

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    Creighton (28-5), led by star forward Doug McDermott, son of head coach Greg McDermott, can score nearly at will, but struggles to defend with consistency.

    Alabama (21-11), guided by one of the hottest young coaching prospects in the game today, Anthony Grant, can defend the best teams in the country, but struggles to find the bucket on the offensive end of the floor.

    Something's gotta give, right?

    Creighton has far too much firepower for the Crimson Tide to handle. They may be able to disrupt what the Blue Jays want to do on the offensive end of the floor, but they will still not be able to score when they have the ball, giving Creighton the comfort of "room-for-error" in this first-round matchup.

    Unfortunately for Tide fans, not only could they lose their season, but their coach may be headed to greener pastures as well. Anthony Grant's name will surely be connected to every big job that comes available this offseason.

    CREIGHTON over Alabama

No. 5 Temple vs. No. 12 California/No. 12 South Florida

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    Temple (24-7) was rewarded by the seeding committee for a dominating run through their A-10 regular season with a matchup that favors their strengths regardless of who they will face.

    California (24-9) lacks any semblance of toughness, mental or physical, and would struggle to get going offensively against Temple's rugged, stubborn Philly-style defense. South Florida (20-13) plays much of the same style as the Owls, but doesn't have nearly the offensive firepower as the No. 5-seed in the South Region.

    Led by a trio of guards, Ramone Moore, Khalif Wyatt, and Juan Fernandez, the Owls can score in the transition game, from the perimeter, or by taking it to the basket hard, making them a very undesirable opponent in the NCAA tournament.

    There isn't any one way to definitively slow the Owls attack and, while they try to figure that out, they still have to figure out how to establish themselves offensively against a team that can play shut-down defense.

    Temple beat then-No. 3 Duke at home, and beat Wichita State on a neutral floor. They destroyed Xavier in their most recent game that saw any kind of hype. While Fran Dunphy's Owls have taken some bad losses, they are very well-rounded. This team will be dangerous as long as they are alive.

    TEMPLE over California/South Florida

No. 4 Michigan vs No. 13 Ohio

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    The Ohio University Bobcats (27-7) will look to continue their run into March against the Michigan Wolverines (24-9). After knocking off two higher-seeded opponents in the MAC tournament, the Bobcats will try to make it three in a row. Unless Michigan is caught looking ahead at possible second-round opponent Temple, they will fall well short.

    Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway, Jr., and Co., put together a stellar Big Ten regular season after overcoming some early-season jitters.

    Much like Temple, the Wolverines have really grown into their style of play, a hallmark of a Jon Beilein-coached team. Driven by their perimeter players, Michigan displays both patience and explosiveness on the offensive end.

    This first-round matchup should be a breeze for the Maize and Blue.

    MICHIGAN over Ohio

No. 6 San Diego State vs. No. 11 North Carolina State

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    Before their ACC tournament run, few even expected NC State to be here. The Wolfpack (22-12) were able to string together some late-season victories and played North Carolina extremely close in their ACC semi-final matchup to find themselves with a comfortable No. 11-seed in the NCAA tournament.

    Hopefully, they aren't getting too comfortable.

    NC State is the definition of a mediocre team in 2011-2012. They lost to the teams they were supposed to lose to, often by wide margins, and beat most of the teams they were supposed to beat.

    Facing a talented, long, and athletic San Diego State team in the NCAA tournament first round, expect that trend to continue.

    San Diego State (26-7) has the length and athleticism to defend NC State from end-to-end, force them into turnovers and create easy transition baskets for themselves. NC State doesn't have the ability to flip that statement around. 

    Look for Jamaal Franklin and the rest of the Aztecs to regain their form of late, before their conference tournament loss to New Mexico, and fight their way through to round two.

    SAN DIEGO STATE over NC State

No. 3 Georgetown vs. No 14. Belmont

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    What a year to be a No. 3-seed!

    The Belmont Bruins (27-7) are one very good basketball team. After narrowly dropping their tournament game last season, when many picked them to pull a monster upset, they began this season with a one-point loss at Duke. After getting whipped in their second game, a loss to Memphis, Belmont has been beaten by more than five points only once.

    The Bruins can shoot. They distribute the ball well among themselves, always making the extra pass that buys the shooter the extra split second he needs to be sure his aim is true. They don't defend or rebound particularly well, but they can cause enough of a nuisance that their offense can keep them hanging around just long enough to pull an upset.

    The Georgetown Hoyas (23-8) play a very contrasting style to that of Belmont. Where Belmont shoots early in the shot clock, the Hoyas grind out the clock. Where Belmont can score a lot of points very quickly, Georgetown can find themselves in trouble if the score gets above 65. John Thompson III's squad, unlike Belmont, comes into the game having been somewhat inconsistent of late.

    Ultimately, this game will quickly wrangle itself free from Georgetown's grasp. The three-point line is the great equalizer in college basketball and the Bruins are built to take advantage of it. After last year's near miss, when expectations and a very tough Wisconsin defense got the best of them, Belmont will come into this matchup with the same fearless energy that nearly carried them to an upset win over Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

    That energy, their ability to light up the scoreboard, and Georgetown's inability to respond in kind will lead to another huge upset in round one.

    BELMONT over Georgetown

No. 7 Saint Mary's vs. No. 10 Purdue

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    This game will be very fast-paced, high-scoring, and exciting.

    Robbie Hummel takes his final shot at NCAA tournament glory, while Matthew Dellavedova tries to steal the spotlight.

    Purdue (21-12) may not be able to keep up with Saint Mary's if the Gaels are shooting well from the get-go and, unfortunately for Purdue, their best chance to win is to keep the tempo moving, and avoid getting into a free-throw shooting contest. In doing that, they will play right into Saint Mary's strengths.

    Saint Mary's (27-5) could find themselves in trouble if their big men get into foul trouble quickly, but otherwise, the Gaels should have no problem outscoring the Boilermakers in a game that their style of play fits with nicely.

    SAINT MARY'S over Purdue

No. 2 Kansas vs. No. 15 Detroit

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    In this matchup, the most interesting subplot will be to see how many rebounds Thomas Robinson can gather in 20 minutes, because the Jayhawks (27-6) won't be needing much out of him in the second half to beat the Horizon League champions, Detroit (22-13).

    Detroit pulled off an improbable upset going away against Valparaiso in their conference tournament championship game to punch their ticket to the Big Dance. However, unlike Horizon League rival Butler, don't expect the Titans to pull off any shockers.

    The fact that they've made it this far is shocking enough.

    Kansas will win big.

    KANSAS over Detroit.

    For your printable bracket for the 2012 NCAA tournament, click here