The following slides contain my picks for the eight matchups in the Round of 64 in the South Region. This region is ridiculously tough, from No. 1 overall Kentucky to 14-seed South Dakota State, which makes for a scary amount of parity in the tournament. But that's what we love about March Madness.
That unpredictability is why I'm picking certain upsets that common sense would cry out against. I have one of the top four seeds going down in the first round in this region, because that's the kind of thing that usually happens in the NCAA Tournament.
Accordingly, I'll be putting out an updated set of picks every round, rather than picking all of them now, because I'll get some of these wrong.
To make my picks, I look primarily at the season statistics for each team, then go with my gut for the rest.
It's appropriate that the in-state Kentucky/Western Kentucky game is taking place at Louisville.
That way, Western Kentucky won't have far to travel after they lose to the No. 1 overall seed.
Kentucky is far too dominant in every aspect of the game, from shooting to scoring to defense, and they won't let this game get close. The Wildcats will close this out early and use it to warm up for what will be a big test in the Round of 32.
This is one of the more interesting 8-9 matchups, especially since the winner will have to take on Kentucky in their own backyard. UConn is the defending national champion, while Iowa State is making their first tournament appearance since 2005.
The Cyclones will be too much for the Huskies to handle.
Connecticut has great defense in the paint, but Royce White is going to push them to their limit, and beyond. While they're busy trying to stop him, their weak three-point defense will be exploited by such talented Iowa State shooters as Scott Christopherson, who's shooting 45 percent from behind the arc.
For more on this matchup, see my full article on the subject.
VCU's Final Four run last year was the stuff of legend, but I don't see them repeating the feat this time around.
Wichita State is possibly the most dominant mid-major in the field. Their shooting is great, their rebounding is great, they score a lot of points, and they don't put themselves in bad situations with fouls. I just don't see how Virginia Commonwealth is going to take out the Shockers, who could be a good surprise pick to take the South.
It wouldn't be impossible for the Aggies to pull off an impressive upset, but it would be an uphill battle.
New Mexico State has a big advantage in rebounds, averaging six more per game than Indiana, but that's about where their luck ends. The Hoosiers have a ridiculous three-point percentage (over 43 percent), and they shoot well from both the field and the line. They don't turn the ball over as much as the Aggies, and a high-fouling game on both sides favors the Hoosiers' talented free-throw shooters.
The Aggies have to go after rebounds to keep themselves in the game, and they will, but the Hoosiers will pull this one out.
Colorado managed to snare the automatic bid in their first season in a weak Pac-12, but that's pretty much where their run will end.
I'm not crazy about UNLV's chances in the tournament overall, but they should be able to put away their first game. The Rebels score more, rebound a bit better and are feisty on defense. UNLV has big-game experience, defeating major opponents early in the season. Colorado is on a run, and they'll give this game their all, but it's just not going to be enough to down the Rebels.
I have to admit, I'm a little nervous making this call. Baylor is not a bad team, and they may not even be the weakest third seed.
But I predict that South Dakota state will snare one of the biggest upsets of the first round of the tournament. They can keep up with the Bears. Both teams shoot well, both teams steal the ball, both teams can put points on the board. Baylor even has a slight edge in rebounding.
So, what makes me think they can separate themselves from a strong Big 12 team? I think turnovers will be key in this matchup, with the Jackrabbits holding a major advantage in that category. If they capitalize on steals and turnovers, South Dakota State will get the close upset over Baylor.
This is another close one. Both teams are pretty evenly matched, and it'll be a fun game to watch. I think Xavier will use their slight edge in shooting and rebounding to fight their way through the Fighting Irish. Notre Dame, for their part, will try to capitalize on Xavier's tendency to foul and turn the ball over. This is one of those games that could easily go either way, but the Musketeers will hold on in a wild one.
This game is not as much of a mismatch as it seems. At least on paper, Lehigh can stack up well enough to give Duke a scare.
The Blue Devils are notorious for tournament collapses, but it won't happen this time, at least not in the first round. Duke needs to hit the three, and keep hitting it, in order to get a good lead over the Mountain Hawks. If it gets close in the end, Duke has to avoid fouling if at all possible, because Lehigh's 77 percent from the line will be more than enough to capitalize on the opportunities that their opponent provides.
Still, Duke will get the job done, and they'll use this potential scare to make themselves buckle down for later games and avoid their usual early exit strategy.