Greensboro, North Carolina
(1) North Carolina vs. (16) Radford
Why the Tar Heels will win: While the Heels haven't lived up to their unanimous preseason pick as number one, they've still been very, very good.
North Carolina has the depth in the post between Tyler Hansbrough, Deon Thompson, and Ed Davis to stop Radford's only real threat—Artsiom Parakhouski, the Big South Player of the Year. If Parakhouski can actually cause enough trouble to give North Carolina a game, the Tar Heels will have 15 fouls to attack the 65.5 percent free-throw shooter.
Even if Ty Lawson isn't healthy in the first round, Radford doesn't have strong defensive guards, so Wayne Ellington and whatever UNC gets out of Lawson should toy with the Highlanders. UNC ranks first in offensive efficiency and plays some of the fastest basketball in the country.
Why the Highlanders will win: Radford needs Ty Lawson to be very ineffective with the injured toe, but with about a week of rest, his injury shouldn't be much of a factor. Parakhouski has to have the game of his life on both ends of the floor, and shut Hansbrough down. He's a good defensive center and a very good rebounder. Radford has had success beating teams that run up and down the floor—they beat Virginia Military Institute twice.
Who will win: North Carolina. Duh. It doesn't really need to be repeated, but will be anyway: a 16-seed as never beat a 1-seed. This game won't be the first.
(8) LSU vs. (9) Butler
Why the Tigers will win: LSU has the advantage of being a team from a major conference. Typically major conference teams have better pure athletes than mid-majors, with the exception of Gonzaga and Memphis. Butler only played two major conference teams all year—Ohio State and Northwestern—and split those two games.
The Tigers are a very old team. They may not have a lot of NCAA Tournament experience (only Tasmin Mitchell and Garrett Temple were critical parts of the Final Four team three years ago), but LSU has seven upper classmen, including five seniors in the rotation.
Butler likes to shoot a lot of threes, 45 percent of their field goals are trifectas, but LSU is very strong at defending the three-point line. Tiger opponents hit just 31.1 percent of their threes, which is 28th in the country.
Why the Bulldogs will win: Butler may have only played two major conference teams, but Brad Stevens' squad has five wins over very talented mid-major squads. Butler beat Cleveland State twice, who is almost as athletic and long as many major-conference teams, as well as Xavier, a four-seed in the NCAA Tournament, Davidson, and UAB.
Butler ranks 14th in the country in effective field-goal percentage defense, while LSU is 145th in shooting the ball. If Butler can force turnovers on top of keeping LSU to its normal shooting rate, the Bulldogs will have a good shot at winning. Look for Butler to gamble a bit more defensively knowing LSU doesn't have a lot of pure shooters that can knock down open looks.
The Tigers are also struggling down the stretch, losing three of their last four games.
Who will win: LSU's list of reasons to win is longer and more impacting reasons. Butler is a good team, but will be at a disadvantage against the Tiger's more athletic roster.
(4) Gonzaga vs. (13) Akron
Why the Zags will win: Gonzaga is one of the longest teams in the nation, ranking fifth in the country in effective height. 6'10'' Austin Daye is athletic enough to guard three different positions and shut down dangerous wing players. The Zags' size will also play a role in exploiting Akron's biggest weakness—allowing offensive rebounds.
Akron is very good at holding teams to a low shooting percentage and forcing turnovers, but ranks almost 300th in the country in allowing offensive rebounds. With Gonzaga's size, Mark Few's team should be all over the boards. If Akron sends an extra player to the glass to try to neutralize Gonzaga's rebounding, it will open up the three-point shot.
Gonzaga ranks 14th in the country in three-point percentage and five different Zags shoot over 35 percent.
Mark Few's Zags will also have a significant home court advantage playing in Oregon.
Why the Zips will win: The Mid-American Conference has a decent history of producing upsets, but typically those teams were great teams. Akron is not, but the Zips have been put through a tough conference schedule and tournament.
The Zips do play a lot of defense in the halfcourt, turning teams over on more than one out of every four possessions. Akron will also force teams into very tough shots, but don't crash the boards. If the Zips can clean up the boards without allowing Gonzaga to get easy shots, they'll have a chance to keep things close.
Gonzaga has also put up its three worst defensive performances in terms of efficiency against mid-majors from the West Coast Conference. The Bulldogs can play down to their opponents, which is always a possibility in the NCAA if they are looking ahead to round two.
Who will win: Gonzaga is clearly the better team and playing extremely well after struggling in December. The chances the Zags look past the opening round aren't very good since they are playing in front of what should be a boisterous home crowd.
(5) Illinois vs. (12) Western Kentucky
Why the Illini will win: Illinois finished third in the Big Ten, winning games against Purdue and several other strong teams from the league. The Illini are one of the best defensive teams in the country, allowing a mere .86 points per possession.
They defend the three-point extremely well, which will be key since Western Kentucky is a solid three-point shooting team whose offense doesn't exactly revolve around the three-pointer, but the three opens things up for the Hilltoppers.
Western Kentucky also struggles on the defensive end of the floor. Illinois isn't very good offensively, but in a defensive minded Big Ten, it will be nice for the Illini to be able to get out and score against a bad defensive team.
Western Kentucky hasn't exactly beaten anybody this year. The Hilltoppers caught a Louisville team in November that was as dysfunctional as a team gets in the halfcourt offense. Western Kentucky has numerous bad losses and aren't nearly as good as last year's team that gave eventual Final Four bound UCLA a run for its money in the Sweet 16.
Why the Hilltoppers will win: Western Kentucky's hopes ride on two factors. The first is the trend that has developed that a five-seed almost always loses to a 12-seed. That will be a possibility because Western Kentucky has been fairly hot winning 11 of 12 games, while Illinois has lost three of four. Bruce Weber's team also lost starting point guard Chester Frazier, who will likely miss the tournament with a broken hand.
Frazier is solid distributor and a decent shooter who will connect if left open. Illini struggled to put points on the board against Purdue without Frazier in the lineup.
The Illini are already a poor offensive team and should struggle even more without Frazier. If Western Kentucky can manage to put points on the board against the stout Illini defense, then the Hilltoppers will stand a great chance of winning the game.
Who will win: The Hilltoppers. This will be that trendy 12 over 5. Illinois started the year off well, but have been struggling down the stretch. Not having Frazier really hurts and should stall an already bad offense.
(3) Syracuse vs. (14) Stephen F. Austin State University
Why the Orange will win: For anyone who has been cut off from SportsCenter the past three days, the 'Cuse finally won marquee games, showing the heart that the team has lacked at times. The 2-3 zone has been as good over the last eight games (seven Syracuse wins) as its been basically since the 2004 Sweet 16 team.
Jonny Flynn is an energizer bunny and Eric Devendof has been almost as clutch lately as Gerry McNamara was in 2006.
Stephen F. Austin State doesn't have much of an offense (that's an understatement). With the Lumberjacks struggling from the field on a regular basis, the chances SFASU shoot better than about 30 percent from the field are slim to none.
Why the Lumberjacks will win: SFASU slows the tempo down dramatically, and if they can establish their style of play, SU might have trouble scoring without getting easy transition opportunities. The Lumberjacks don't turn the ball over a lot which will also limit the Orange's opportunities in transition.
Who will win: Syracuse has a history of losing to very low seeds, but that won't be the case this time around. STASU isn't the kind of team that can beat the zone or stop the 'Cuse offense enough to make the game even close.
(6) Arizona State vs. (11) Temple
Why the Sun Devils will win: Arizona State plays a lot of zone defense which can give a team like Temple fits. The Owls will rely on Dionte Christmas to lead them to victory, but the zone defense may make him shot happy. Any decent look he'll get, he'll take. If ASU knocks him out of his rhythm early, Christmas could be well on his way to a terrible offensive day.
Arizona State is also one of the most efficient teams in the country on the offensive end of the floor. The Sun Devils will use all 35 seconds of a possession regularly in order to get the open look they want. Their patience in Herb Sendak's offense pays off usually as the Devils have the second highest field-goal percentage in the country.
With ASU's tempo of play, falling behind by four or five possessions is difficult to overcome because they won't let teams push the basketball and get quick scores. ASU is used to running down the shot clock and getting good shots, so in late game situations, the Sun Devils are more likely to be able to still put points on the board.
ASU also has James Harden, who is arguably the best player in the country not named Blake Griffin.
Why the Owls will win: Dionte Christmas single-handedly beats teams when he's on fire. When his jumper is falling, the slasher can get to the hoop when defenders guard him closer to stop his outside shot. If Christmas gets going early with open looks that ASU's zone might provide, then he might be able to carry Temple to victory.
Temple is used to playing at a slow tempo, so ASU's grueling slow pace shouldn't phase the Owls as much.
Arizona State is not a very deep team. The zone defense typically keeps teams out of foul trouble, but Temple gets to the line frequent enough that the Owls have a decent chance to work ASU into foul trouble.
Who win will win: Arizona State is the better team on both ends of the floor. The Sun Devils have a unique style of play that Temple won't be able to figure out in time to knock off ASU. An upset here is definitely not out of the question since ASU hasn't been playing well while Temple has been hot.
Kansas City, Missouri
(7) Clemson vs. (10) Michigan
Why the Tigers will win: Clemson is a tenacious defensive team that pressures teams from the second the ball goes through the hoop on one end until it's in the air heading towards the hoop 94 feet away. Clemson is surprisingly efficient on the offensive end of the floor as Oliver Purnell's club picks up a lot of points in transition.
Clemson has the parts to effectively pick apart Michigan's 1-3-1 zone if Jim Beilein chooses to go zone. Rebounding isn't part of the Wolverines' repertoire as grabbing misses coming out of a zone is tough to do. Clemson is the 22nd best offensive rebounding team in the country; if the Tigers do start chucking threes over the zone, they should have no trouble getting second opportunities off of misses.
Clemson's frenetic defense forces the pace of the game, so Michigan probably won't be able to dictate the tempo to its liking. The Wolverines sometimes need the full 35 seconds to get a good shot, but with the pressure defense, that amount of time Michigan will have to get a shot will be cut down.
Why the Wolverines will win: Michigan hasn't had any trouble knocking off very good, athletic teams. The Wolverines already have wins this year over Duke, UCLA, and Purdue, three teams that have excelled defensively.
Michigan is one of only a few teams that have enough depth that will allow it not tire out late in a game against Clemson. The Wolverines also have Manny Harris, who can beat the press on his own with superior athleticism and ball handling skills. He can explode against good defenses and is a pro prospect after the season.
Beilein's 1-3-1 zone also can give teams fits. Even though Clemson should have the parts to beat it, teams can inexplicably struggle against defenses they aren't used to seeing. The unknown factor could be in play here.
Who will win: This one is really tough to call. Both teams have been terribly inconsistent since conference play began so picking either team isn't a bad idea. Clemson is more athletic and better offensively; if this game becomes more of a shoot-out Clemson has the advantage.
(2) Oklahoma vs. Morgan State
Why the Sooners should win: Oklahoma will be favored by at least 20 points for good reason. In the non-conference schedule that was filled with under-sized cupcakes, Blake Griffin tore teams a new one. He should do the same against the Bears who don't really play anyone taller than 6'8''.
Oklahoma should be hungry after losing early in the Big XII Tournament; coming out flat against Morgan State isn't likely with the kind of competitor Griffin is.
Why the Bears should win: Morgan State has two wins over major-conference teams: DePaul and Maryland. The Bears have shown they can at least compete a bit with the athleticism of major-conference teams.
Who will win: Oklahoma in a land slide. There really isn't much more of an explanation needed.
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