8 LSU vs. 9 Butler (Greensboro, 12:20pm)
I love how the NCAA committee gave no respect to the SEC...frankly, the SEC did not earn respect. I like this Butler team. They are young, but they have showed a lot of promise.
8 BYU vs. 9 Texas A&M (Philadelphia, 12:30 pm)
Another 8 vs. 9 matchup between a mid-major and power conference team. I like Texas A&M in this game, but I always like to see the non-power conference get a win, and BYU certainly has a solid squad.
5 Purdue vs. 12 Northern Iowa (Portland 2:30 pm)
The Missouri Valley has traditionally been a tough out in the NCAA tournament. Northern Iowa is not particularly athletic, but they play smart basketball and can shoot the ball.
As everyone knows by now, 12 seeds almost always beat a five seed at least once in the NCAA tournament. I do not think this is the matchup, not because Northern Iowa is not capable, but because Purdue is really playing well right now. Purdue with a healthy Robbie Hummel is a fine basketball team and can make a nice run.
7 California vs. 10 Maryland (Kansas City 2:55 pm)
Both of these teams have top-notch coaches. Maryland made the necessary run they needed late in the year to make the dance. On their best night the Terps are capable of beating anyone. Cal has been more consistent throughout the season...still, I like the ACC over the Pac-10 in this one.
4 Washington vs. 13 Mississippi State (Portland 5 pm)
With their backs to the wall, Mississippi State made it happen. They won four games in four days to earn their way into the Big Dance. My favorite part of March every year is almost every team in America gets to play until they lose, so in that sense the conference tournaments are an extension of the NCAA tournament...everyone is alive.
Anyone who has not seen Jarvis Varnado play is missing out. He reminds me of Kenyon Martin. Though he does not have the offensive skill Kenyon displayed, he is a better shot blocker...the best in the country.
7 Texas vs. 10 Minnesota (Greensboro 7:10 pm)
The first of the games featuring a mediocre Big Ten team. Minnesota has had their moments this year, but I do not think they are good enough to beat Texas when they play well.
7 Clemson vs. 10 Michigan (Kansas City 7:10 pm)
Clemson has been really falling apart down the stretch. I also have no confidence in any Clemson team to win anything. John Beilein is a heck of a coach. This is a game I think Michigan can win.
4 Gonzaga vs. 13 Akron (Portland 7:25 pm)
I think Gonzaga is capable of making a nice run this year, but I am always interested in seeing the Ohio teams. The MAC has not won an NCAA tournament game in years, I believe since Antonio Gates was killing it at Kent State. I expect that trend to continue.
6 UCLA vs. 11 VCU (Philadelphia 9:50 pm)
Two years ago Eric Maynor lit up Duke as VCU pulled a big first round upset (also as an 11 seed). Maynor is averaging 22 points per game in his senior campaign, and he is aided by sophomore big man Larry Sanders. VCU is certainly capable of a big upset.
5 Illinois vs. 12 Western Kentucky (Portland 9:55 pm)
Another possible 12/5 upset. Western Kentucky was in the Sweet 16 last season. They are probably not as good this time around, but Illinois has been a bit up and down. They will likely be without or at the very best with the limited services of their starting point guard. (And that concludes day one.)
8 Oklahoma State vs. 9 Tennessee (Dayton 12:25)
Another 8 vs. 9 battle, and this could be a high-scoring game. Both of these two teams like to run. Tennessee has been very inconsistent, but they have the talent to give teams trouble.
Quick tangent here...the sound at wherever I watch the games in Vegas needs to be on the Dayton Regional where Bill Raftery is doing color commentary. Raftery is the Babe Ruth of sports announcing: He defines the position.
Whether he’s telling you what defense a team is starting in (MAN TO MAN) or telling you how clutch a player is for making a huge play (ONIONS) or announcing a game as a Pitt player breaks the backboard (“Send it in Jerome!”), Raftery brings this flair to the job that is fun, but not over the top. Raftery understands the game but does not annoy you with his own personal agendas.
Bill Simmons can have Gus Johnson...I’ll take Bill Raftery every time.
3 Kansas vs. 14 North Dakota State (Minneapolis 12:30)
Two of the last three years Kansas has been eliminated in round one (by Bucknell and Bradley). North Dakota State is a great story, making the NCAA tournament in their first year of Division I college basketball. They redshirted this year’s senior class a few years back so they would be available for their first year in Division I. Ben Woodside is scoring over 22 per game and has gone for 60 this year.
I do not think North Dakota State will do it, but I am very intrigued by this game (particularly since Kansas has lost to Texas Tech and Baylor in the last two weeks).
6 Marquette vs. 11 Utah State (Boise 12:30)
People think Marquette is done without Dominic James. I know they have lost five of six, but those games were to one seeds and three seeds (yeah, every loss), and three were ridiculously close. I think they are getting their act together. I am anxious to see them come to play against Utah State (and in the next round I think their guards are too good to be bothered by the Missouri press).
I also do not know what it is about the Boise location, but it always seems to produce the best NCAA tournament early round games. I swear one of these years I am going to make a trip to Boise for the opening rounds.
6 Arizona State vs. 11 Temple (Miami 2:45 pm)
Another 6/11 game of intrigue. James Harden vs. Dionte Christmas will be a really good matchup.
6 West Virginia vs. 11 Dayton (Minneapolis 3 pm)
West Virginia has really been valued this year by guys like Ken Pomeroy who calculate offensive and defensive efficiency. They are one of six teams in the country to be in the top 20 nationally in offensive and defensive efficiency (every champion since 2005 has had that trait).
Bob Huggins is 13-3 in his career in first round games and has not lost an opening round game as anything higher than an eight seed. I think WVU makes a statement here, and I look for them to make a run.
5 Utah vs. 12 Arizona (Miami 7:10 pm)
I think a five seed was very generous for Utah (I had them as a seven). Many people do not think Arizona earned their way in, but they have some big time quality victories. With Arizona it always depends on which team shows up. I think they have a great set to pull the “upset.”
7 Boston College vs. 10 USC (Minneapolis 7:20 pm)
Boston College is another team with some great wins and bad losses. The USC Trojans have been facing elimination since Pac-10 tournament play began. I like their chances to continue their run of success.
4 Xavier vs. 13 Portland State (Boise 7:25 pm)
Reading up on Portland State, they are a much more dangerous team for Xavier than I originally thought. I think they are going to really pressure Xavier’s point guards, which tends to result in turnovers for X. The key for Portland State will be hitting threes. Xavier has lost five of their last 10 and at times to teams not as good as Portland State. This could be another game where the magic of Boise shines through.
4 Wake Forest vs. 13 Cleveland State (Miami 9:40 pm)
I thought Wake Forest earned a three seed, but the committee thought differently. A three seed would have produced a much more favorable matchup. Cleveland State is very good, having already beaten Syracuse and played WVU pretty tough this season. If Wake Forest shows up and plays their best, they will win, but they have struggled against lesser teams from time to time this year.
8 Ohio State vs. 9 Siena (Dayton 9:40 pm)
Can Siena overcome the home court advantage that Ohio State will have? Siena is a very good basketball team that as a 13 seed last year was able to advance to the second round. This year they get a better matchup, but in a tougher venue. Ohio State seems to be playing their best basketball. I expect them to move on, but Siena should give them a fight.
5 Florida State vs. 12 Wisconsin (Boise 9:55 pm)
I think Florida State was very under-seeded. They are a really good team. The more I have looked at Wisconsin’s résumé, the less impressed I have been. Bo Ryan’s teams are always dangerous, but I think the Seminoles take care of business.
Most Likely First Round Upsets in order of likelihood...I think you will see four or five (11 seeds and below)
12 Arizona over 5 Utah
11 VCU over 6 UCLA
11 Temple over 6 Arizona State
12 Western Kentucky over 5 Illinois
13 Mississippi State over 4 Washington
13 Cleveland State over 4 Wake Forest
11 Utah State over 6 Marquette
12 Wisconsin over 5 Florida State
14 North Dakota State over 3 Kansas
13 Akron over 4 Gonzaga
11 Dayton over 6 West Virginia
Sleeper Teams that can make the Sweet 16 and beyond, in order of likelihood (seeded six and below...I think there will be three to five)
Six Final Four Sleepers (Three seeds and Below)
My Final Four
Pitt over U of L