by Ryan of The Sportmeisters
(1) Connecticut vs. (16) Chattanooga
About Connecticut: Another No. 1 seed from the Big East, every time the Huskies hit No. 1, they seemed to falter, and now have lost two of their last three, including the six-overtime marathon against Syracuse in the Big East Quarterfinals. Junior Hasheem Thabeet is the stud of the team with Jerome Dyson out, averaging a double-double of 13.7 points and 10.9 rebounds, along with 4.6 blocks.
About Chattanooga: The Southern Conference Champions, the Mocs return to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2005. Senior Stephen McDowell paces the team with 18.6 PPG.
The Pick: UConn. Would you really expect the 18-16 record of the No. 16 seed to make a difference here?
(8) BYU vs. (9) Texas A&M
About BYU: 9-2 since the start of February, the Cougars fell short in the Mountain West Conference Semifinals, but still earned an At-Large bid. Junior Jonathan Tavernari is one of the leaders with 15.9 points and 7.3 rebounds.
About Texas A&M: Following a three game losing streak, the Aggies have won six of their last seven to sneak into the tournament as an At-Large, despite losing in the first round of the Big 12 Tournament. Senior Josh Carter leads the team with 14.1 PPG
The Pick: A&M, it just feels right.
(5) Purdue vs. (12) Northern Iowa
About Purdue: Preseason Big 10 favorites, the Boilermakers lived up to the hype and won the Big 10 Tournament for the first time. This is their third straight NCAA Tournament appearance. Sophomore E’Twaun Moore leads Purdue with 13.9 PPG.
About Northern Iowa: Winners of the Missouri Valley regular season and conference tournament championship, the Panthers return to the tournament for the first time since 2004. Junior Adam Koch leads the team with 12.3 PPG and 5.2 RPG.
The Pick: Northern Iowa in the 12-5 upset.
(4) Washington vs. (13) Mississippi State
About Washington: Winners of six of their last seven, the Huskies fell short in the Pac-10, losing in the semifinals. Senior Jon Brockman is averaging a double-double with 14.9 points and 11.2 rebounds.
About Mississippi State: They’ve won six in a row, including clinching the SEC Conference Championship to send ripple waves and knocked out a potential At-Large candidate, and now are trying to keep that Cinderella magic alive. Junior Jarvis Varnado paces the team with 13.1 points and 9 rebounds.
The Pick: Washington, breaking Cinderella’s glass slipper.
(6) Marquette vs. (11) Utah State
About Marquette: They’ve lost five of their last six to limp into the tournament, the final blow coming in the Big East Quarterfinals. They have four players averaging double-digit points, led by Senior Jerel McNeal’s 19.7 PPG.
About Utah State: They’ve won four out of five, including taking home the Western Athletic Conference Tournament to cap a 30-4 season. Senior Gary Wilkinson leads the team with 17.1 points.
The Pick: Utah State in the upset.
(3) Missouri vs. (14) Cornell
About Missouri: Big 12 Tournament Champions, the Tigers are back in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2003. Senior DeMarre Carroll leads the team with 16.8 points and 7.3 rebounds.
About Cornell: Winners of four of their last five, the Ivy League Tournament Champions are in the tournament for their second straight year. The Big Red are led by Junior Ryan Wittman’s 18.5 PPG.
The Pick: Missouri, riding the hot streak.
(7) California vs. (10) Maryland
About California: Losing three of their last four, the Golden Bears fell short in the Pac-10 quarterfinals, but still clinched an At-Large bid. They live and die behind junior Jerome Randle’s 18.4 PPG.
About Maryland: Winning two of their last three helped the Terrapins clinch an At-Large bid, despite a 7-9 ACC record and a 20-13 overall record. The streaking Maryland group is led by Junior Greivis Vasquez and his 17.2 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 5.2 assists.
The Pick: California, as Maryland is too inconsistent.
(2) Memphis vs. (15) Cal State Northridge
About Memphis: They haven’t lost in 2009 yet, running a streak of 25 straight, including the Conference USA regular season and tournament title. Freshman Tyreke Evans is the star of the Tigers, averaging 16.6 points and 5.5 rebounds.
About Cal State: Big West Tournament Champions, the Matadors are back in the NCAA tournament for the first time in eight years. Senior Tremaine Townsend leads the team with 10.9 points and 8.4 rebounds.
The Pick: Memphis isn’t losing in 2009 yet.