Ah, yes...March Madness is finally upon us! As an avid college hoops fan, I will be doing what every die-hard loves to do: predicting the outcomes. Will this year be upset-ridden? Or will all four No. 1 seeds survive just as they did last year?
First off, let me start by predicting Alabama St. will defeat Morehead St. in the play-in game. Even if I'm wrong, though, there is no way either team is beating Louisville, so please save the drama of criticizing my play-in pick.
No. 1 Louisville/No. 16 Alabama State
Louisville is the No. 1 overall seed, winning both the regular season and tournament championships in the Big East. That's no easy feat considering it's the best conference in college hoops. Alabama State has had a fine season, going 22-9 and winning the SWAC Championship, but unfortunately they will be embarrassed in the first round by the Cardinals.
Louisville 86, Alabama State 57
No. 8 Ohio State/No. 9 Siena
Ohio State is a tough team, and they have a stud in G/F Evan Turner (17.1 pts, 7.0 reb). Seven-footer B.J. Mullens is also a huge presence down low for the Buckeyes, but Ohio State simply cannot win track-meet shootouts. Unfortunately for them, that's exactly the type of game Siena plays.
Averaging 77.6 points per game, the Saints love to play a fast-paced game and return almost everybody from last year's team that destroyed Vanderbilt in the first round. Technically, this game will be an upset, even though 8 vs. 9 matchups typically aren't classified as so.
Siena 75, Ohio State 63
No. 5 Utah/No. 12 Arizona
Many question how Arizona got in the tournament in the first place, and with the emergence of new mid-major-friendly tournaments such as the CBI and now the CIT, many are claiming the committee is discriminating against smaller deserving teams in favor of traditionally successful schools.
Arizona went 9-9 in Pac-10 play, and even with sharpshooters Chase Budinger and Nic Wise, they aren't the most efficient team in the land. They shoot tons of three-pointers but are defenseless in a slow-paced half-court game.
Because of seven-footer Luke Nevill, Utah is forced to play a half-court style game, and the inside-out action works very well for them since they have three solid shooters from beyond the arc in Lawrence Borha, Shaun Green, and Luka Drca. No upset here, boys.
Utah 68, Arizona 62
No. 4 Wake Forest/No. 13 Cleveland State
This is a very intriguing matchup for many reasons. First, Wake Forest is averaging 81.3 points per game, while Cleveland State allows only 58.9 points per game. The old cliché tells us that defense wins out, but Wake Forest is just too darn good, in my opinion.
Cleveland State did beat Syracuse on the road, as well as Butler in the Horizon League championship. However, Wake Forest beat Florida State, Duke, and North Carolina this season. J'Nathan Bullock and the Vikings will put up a fight, but I think the Demon Deacons will survive at least one round.
Wake Forest 72, Cleveland State 69
No. 6 West Virginia/No. 11 Dayton
West Virginia is a solid offensive team behind Alex Ruoff and Da'Sean Butler, but have had ups and downs all season long in the toughest conference in the land. Dayton was cruising along in the A-10 prior to losing guard Rob Lowery for the season in February. Since then, they are 4-4.
I really want to pick the upset in this one and go with Dayton, and something tells me I will regret this, but I'm gonna play it safe and go with the battle-tested Mountaineers in a close one.
West Virginia 68, Dayton 66
No. 3 Kansas/No. 14 North Dakota State
Don't be too quick to write this one off for the Jayhawks. They have struggled against good shooting teams, and North Dakota State has four starters that combine to average above 40 percent from behind the arc. One of four starting seniors, Ben Woodside has proven that he is the real deal, averaging 22.8 points and 6.8 assists per game.
Although Kansas was among the best in the Big 12 all season, they lack experience as the lost four starters from last season's championship team. Sherron Collins and Cole Aldrich will be key if the Jayhawks wish to avoid being upset in the first round, and simply because I have picked it safe so far, I'm going to go way out on a limb here and say the Bison will prevail in this shocker (*runs off stage avoiding thrown objects*).
North Dakota State 84, Kansas 79
No. 7 Boston College/No. 10 USC
Both Boston College and USC showed signs of brilliance at times during the season, but both also faltered late in the season. USC is the hotter of the two teams, having just streaked through the Pac-10 tournament to clinch a berth with their championship win. However, Tyrese Rice is a legitimate threat to lead the Eagles past the shallow Trojans.
This is a very tough one to pick, but ultimately I don't see either team winning more than one game. USC in a toss-up.
USC 66, Boston College 61
No. 2 Michigan State/No. 15 Robert Morris
No upset here. Michigan State is tough down low and dominates the boards, while Robert Morris relies heavily on perimeter shooting from guard Jimmy Langhurst to power their offense. The Spartans are very deep, and Robert Morris simply can't hang with what they bring to the table.
Michigan State 72, Robert Morris 56
No. 1 Connecticut/No. 16 Chattanooga
This one has blowout written all over it. Although the Mocs have Stephen McDowell shooting at an alarming rate from deep, the Huskies answer with one of the best guards in the nation in A.J. Price and the most talked about big man around in Hasheem Thabeet.
It can even be argued that Chattanooga's tournament appearance was sealed when Davidson was eliminated from the SoCon tournament, allowing them to step into the limelight for a brief period of time. But even without guard Jerome Dyson, the Huskies are poised to make a deep run into this year's tournament. On to round two for Calhoun.
Connecticut 75, Chattanooga 54
No. 8 BYU/No. 9 Texas A&M
It's games like these that make picking these tournaments so hard. On one side you have a good shooting team in BYU that struggles against teams that outsize them, and on the other side you have a Texas A&M team that doesn't shoot well but dominates down low. Who to pick?
Either way, neither team is likely to get past UConn, so I'm gonna go ahead and declare this one a toss-up. No disrespect to any Aggie fans out there. Remember, I could be (and probably am) wrong.
BYU 69, Texas A&M 58
No. 5 Purdue/No. 12 Northern Iowa
If the teams were seeded by how hard it was to pronounce their starters' names, Northern Iowa would be the overall No. 1. With guards Kwadzo Ahelegbe and Ali Farokhmanesh, along with the 7'1" Jordan Eglseder, the Panthers could play spoiler to any team they face in the middle of the bracket.
However, now that Robbie Hummel is healthy, Purdue seems to be rolling again. Big man JaJaun Johnson can handle Eglseder down low, while E'Twaun Moore plays complement to Hummel as the far more experienced Boilermakers just avoid the upset.
Purdue 64, Northern Iowa 62
No. 4 Washington/No. 13 Mississippi State
The Huskies have a knack for forcing teams to shoot one-and-done, as they are one of the top rebounding teams in the nation. They also have a couple guards who can fill it up pretty nicely in Isaiah Thomas (yes, that's his name) and Justin Dentmon, balanced by the inside play of junior Jon Brockman.
However, the Mississippi State Bulldogs can shoot the lights out of the arena as well with Ravern Johnson and Barry Stewart, and they led the SEC this season in three-point shooting percentage. Junior center Jarvis Varnado also led the SEC in blocks and seems to be the driving force for this team. Upset alert, as the Bulldogs knock off the Huskies in a thriller.
Mississippi State 76, Washington 71
No. 6 Marquette/No. 11 Utah State
I feel bad for the Golden Eagles, I really do. Since losing Dominic James, Marquette has been at a size disadvantage in almost every game. Jerel McNeal is now the leader of this team, and a formidable one at that, but he tends to try and do too much in the absence of James.
Utah State, on the other hand, has a great inside game, doesn't commit turnovers, and could possibly force Marquette to play outside of their comfort zone. Gary Wilkinson and the Aggies pull off the upset, as Marquette fans (and myself) sit and wonder what could've been had James not gone down.
Utah State 71, Marquette 64
No. 3 Missouri/No. 14 Cornell
This is simply no contest, in my opinion. If Cornell is able to counter the attack of DeMarre Carroll and Leo Lyons, it would be without a doubt the biggest upset foreseeable.
Battle of the brains? Cornell, no doubt. Battle of the baskets? Mizzou.
Missouri 82, Cornell 69
No. 7 California/No. 10 Maryland
I honestly cannot tell you what will happen in this game with any amount of confidence. Cal is the best three-point shooting team in the nation, but Maryland has wins against UNC and Michigan State, who are No. 1 and No. 2 seeds, respectively. Both teams are 6-6 heading into the tournament, and both teams have three wins against ranked opponents.
I give the slight edge to Maryland simply because they play in a tougher conference with Duke, UNC, Wake Forest, and Florida State. Please don't shoot me, Cal fans.
Maryland 70, California 61
No. 2 Memphis/No. 15 Cal State Northridge
Um, who? I'll take Memphis.
Memphis 71, Cal State Northridge 48
No. 1 Pittsburgh/No. 16 East Tennessee State
Upset alert! Just kidding, Pitt fans. Although the Buccaneers are led by Kevin Tiggs and his 21.5 points per game, the Panthers bring too much to the table for most teams in the country, let alone a team from the Atlantic Sun. I'm a fan of the upset, but I'm also not retarded (at least in this pick...go easy on me).
With DeJuan Blair, Levance Fields, and Sam Young, Pitt has got to be a favorite to go to Detroit. This team has more balance than a tightrope walker.
Pittsburgh 75, East Tennessee State 63
No. 8 Oklahoma State/No. 9 Tennessee
These two teams are nearly identical, as they both can fill it up but have yet to learn the meaning of the word "defense." It's like choosing between Coca-Cola and Pepsi, really. Tennessee is a deeper team, but Oklahoma State did beat Oklahoma earlier this season. Ugh, the more and more I do this, the more I start to feel like the sorting hat from Harry Potter. Let's see, hmmm...Oklahoma State!
Oklahoma State 82, Tennessee 76
No. 5 Florida State/No. 12 Wisconsin
I have always been a fan of the past Wisconsin teams for their ability to knock off bigger, unsuspecting opponents. However, Florida State is fresh off a victory over North Carolina in the ACC semifinals, and they play suffocating defense. They are a decent all-around team, and their ACC Championship appearance opened many eyes.
On the other hand, Wisconsin plays even better defense, while limiting mistakes and not turning the ball over. Even without a premier scorer, the Badgers could possibly walk away with this one.
Despite what my gut instincts are telling me, I'm going to go with the hot team in this one.
Florida State 65, Wisconsin 61
No. 4 Xavier/No. 13 Portland State
Sorry, Vikings fans. Cinderella isn't going to show her ugly face here, no matter how bad 5'6" guard Jeremiah Dominguez wants her to. Xavier boasts wins against Memphis, Missouri, and LSU. B.J. Raymond and Brad Redford are a good combo beyond the arc and they don't miss often, so if they can limit their mistakes, they could very well be a dark horse. X-Men win big here.
Xavier 74, Portland State 55
No. 6 UCLA/No. 11 Virginia Commonwealth
Anybody else remember "the dagger?" This year, Eric Maynor and the Rams look to shock the world again by knocking off Darren Collison and UCLA. It's not as easy as it sounds, though, and in order to do it they are going to need Larry Sanders and his 2.7 blocks per game to stay out of foul trouble. This VCU team is young and inexperienced, but trust me, they can hang with any team out there because of their defense and the leadership of Maynor (22.4 ppg).
Collison, Josh Shipp, and Alfred Aboya are a fantastic trio and are always on the same page, but something tells me this one will be a fun game to watch. Upset alert, Rams shock the world (again).
Virginia Commonwealth 68, UCLA 66
No. 3 Villanova/No. 14 American
The experts say not to take American lightly because they play phenomenal defense and have an all-senior starting lineup. However, a little common sense and losses to Oklahoma, Maryland, and Georgetown by 29, 16, and 24, respectively, say otherwise.
Any team that goes 13-5 in the Big East when it is filled with teams like it was this year should be almost immune to any upset (knock on wood). Nova is a team that does almost everything right, and they can drive opposing teams insane with their patience and shot selection. Oh yeah, I almost forgot; the game is being played in Philadelphia. Is someone on the selection committee a Wildcat alumnus?
Villanova 65, American 51
No. 7 Texas/No. 10 Minnesota
For some reason No. 7 seeds always seem to be upset-prone. Texas is a team that hasn't found its identity all season long, and Minnesota can't score to save their life. Both teams have turnover issues, and both teams are very inconsistent.
However, Texas has more raw talent than their counterpart, so if they get hot they can easily advance to the next round. Minnesota is going to have to raise its game higher than its floor in order to play more than one game this year. I'm going with the hotter team.
Texas 69, Minnesota 58
No. 2 Duke/No. 15 Binghamton
This year Duke is just too disciplined to go one-and-done. Guard Jon Scheyer has elevated his game recently, and Gerald Henderson continues to convince me that he is actually an alien from outer space. Binghamton is a tough team, but their size doesn't give them the advantage as it does for other teams when they play against Duke.
Perimeter defense for the Blue Devils is strong enough to avoid the upset this year, but once they get past the Bearcats they are on their own. I don't think Duke has what it takes to make a deep run, but they could win two games to make it to the Sweet 16.
Duke 75, Binghamton 61
No. 1 North Carolina/No. 16 Radford
Let's not kid ourselves here. I mean, it's fun to predict big upsets, but Radford? I will say it with 100 percent confidence: Radford has no chance in hell at beating North Carolina. End of story.
North Carolina 94, Radford 65
No. 8 LSU/No. 9 Butler
More Butler magic this year? Possibly. LSU did very well in conference play, but Butler's defense is among the best in the nation. Not to mention they can fill it up from deep and are very patient on offense to make sure they take the shot they want. Matt Howard is one of the best big men you've never heard of, and LSU is going to need a lot more than the athleticism of Marcus Thornton to keep from going home in the first round.
LSU has a pretty good team, but unfortunately their seed doesn't bid them well at all this year. Pistol Pete will not be happy with the outcome in this one.
Butler 65, LSU 63
No. 5 Illinois/No. 12 Western Kentucky
Mike Davis and Mike Tisdale will need to be at the top of their game in order for the Illini to avoid falling victim to Western Kentucky. Western Kentucky isn't exactly a "scary" team to play, but with guards Orlando Mendez-Valdez and A.J. Slaughter, they were able to beat overall No. 1-seeded Louisville. Ouch.
Not to mention the Hilltoppers are 11-1 heading into the tournament, and don't forget they went to the Sweet 16 a year ago behind a buzzer-beater by Ty Rogers against No. 5 Drake and a second-round win over San Diego.
Western Kentucky 69, Illinois 67
No. 4 Gonzaga/No. 13 Akron
Gonzaga is a team that has had its woes this season, no doubt. But with an explosive offense like the one they have, it's not impossible for them to make a very deep run. Josh Heytvelt, Austin Daye, and Jeremy Pargo lead the way for this talented Bulldog team, and Mark Few has said that this is the best team he has coached since coming to Gonzaga. The poor-shooting Akron Zips are in trouble if they don't fill it up early.
Gonzaga 83, Akron 69
No. 6 Arizona State/No. 11 Temple
Dionte Christmas and the Temple Owls are red hot coming into the tournament, boasting a 10-2 record in their last 12 games. However, they lack any other options besides Christmas to put the ball in the hoop. Meanwhile, Arizona State is full of young talent, and guard James Harden is averaging 20.8 points per game.
The only disadvantage Arizona State faces is the fact that they are in the East region and the time difference can play tricks on them if they aren't careful. I think Arizona State can make a significant run, but they need to be more consistent than they have most of the season.
Arizona State 71, Temple 59
No. 3 Syracuse/No. 14 Stephen F. Austin
Stephen F. Austin is a very big team that rallies around its defense, but even Hasheem Thabeet and A.J. Price couldn't stop Jonny Flynn and Eric Devendorf in the Big East Championship. They simply ran out of gas against Louisville in the final, having played a total of 115 minutes of basketball in the previous two days. 155 minutes of basketball in 72 hours is impossible for anybody, even Barack Obama.
Personally, I think Syracuse is hot at the right moment and can really make a run to Detroit if they keep it up. As for their opener against the Lumberjacks of Stephen F. Austin, the Orange should have no problems as long as they remember the time and location of their game.
Syracuse 82, Stephen F. Austin 62
No. 7 Clemson/No. 10 Michigan
Both Clemson and Michigan have had inconsistent seasons filled with triumphs and tragedies, and both are 6-6 coming into the tournament. Michigan clicks behind the scoring of Manny Harris and DeShawn Sims, while Clemson goes to Trevor Booker, Terrance Oglesby, and K.C. Rivers when in need of a basket.
Booker is an absolute beast down low, but teams with a good amount of size have been able to handle him and the Tigers with ease. It's too bad the Wolverines play primarily a four-guard team.
Clemson 74, Michigan 69
No. 2 Oklahoma/No. 15 Morgan State
Sorry, Kevin Thompson, but you've got to guard POTY candidate Blake Griffin. This game doesn't even merit much more of an explanation.
Oklahoma 93, Morgan State 57
So that does it for the first round. All in all, this tournament looks like it could shape up to be a good one. A good mix of blowouts and upsets always makes for a memorable March, and there's no reason so far to believe that 2009 will be any different.
Please feel free to leave your comments and criticisms, and I will be back to both brag and accept defeat after the first round is over, as well as spit out some predictions for the second round.