Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports
Akron, without its point guard, got an unlucky matchup against VCU.
1. Kansas vs. 16. Western Kentucky: The Jayhawks in Kansas City is almost unfair for the Hilltoppers, but it’s worth the watch just to see their mascot, whatever that thing is. Kansas should destroy Western Kentucky in the paint on both sides of the floor behind a dominant performance from Jeff Withey. Jayhawks advance.
8. North Carolina vs. 9. Villanova: This is easily the best No. 8 vs. No. 9 matchup of the tournament. Carolina’s offense has been rolling since the addition of P.J. Hairston into the starting lineup and the Tar Heels have lost to two teams (Duke and Miami, both twice) since Jan. 26. I love the activity of 6’7’’ ‘Nova forward JayVaughn Pinkston, but Carolina’s perimeter shooting (37 percent) will be the difference. Tar Heels advance.
5. Virginia Commonwealth vs. 12. Akron: Absolutely horrible draw for the Zips, who’ll have to deal with Shaka Smart’s havoc defense minus point guard Alex Abreu. However, the Rams could get caught looking ahead to their potential second-round opponent, Michigan. On VCU’s website, the top basketball link reads, “Michigan or Bust.” Rams advance.
4. Michigan vs. 13. South Dakota State: As much fun as NBA prospect Nate Wolters is to watch (22 points per game, 5.6 rebounds, 5.8 assists), Michigan got a great matchup in Auburn Hills. The Wolverines won’t get beat inside (one of their lone weaknesses), and the Jackrabbits defense will be spinning in circles trying to contain Trey Burke. Wolverines advance.
6. UCLA vs. 11. Minnesota: I get why people want to call this upset given Jordan Adams’ recent injury along with Minnesota’s few sparking victories, but the Gophers have looked atrocious in the final month, having lost seven of their last 10 games. Minnesota’s Andre Hollins has the potential to go off, but the Gophers turn the ball over way too much and the Bruins’ athletes will take advantage of those miscues in transition. Bruins advance.
3. Florida vs. 14. Northwestern State: There’s not much to see here. The Gators are huge with frontcourt towers Patric Young and Erik Murphy and the Demons, are, um, not. They’re also awful from the perimeter, which was about their only hope of scoring. Northwestern State’s numbers look great but only because it hails from the Southland Conference. Gators advance.
7. San Diego State vs. 10. Oklahoma: The Sooners aren’t particularly great at anything, and they recently lost to TCU, the same team that sprung the upset of the year over Kansas. The Aztecs’ Jamaal Franklin is a natural scorer who can fill it up in a variety of ways, and he’s relentless on the glass (9.5 rebounds). SDSU held its own against Mountain West foes Colorado State, UNLV and New Mexico. Aztecs advance.
2. Georgetown vs. 15. Florida Gulf Coast: The Hoyas will never blow anyone out (save for a Syracuse team that shoots 31 percent), but their defense is among the best in the country. According to ESPN’s Myron Medcalf, the Eagles will push Georgetown to the limit behind guards Sherwood Brown and Bernard Thompson. FGC has beaten Miami and won five games in a row, but Big East Player of the Year Otto Porter is too versatile to let his team get upset in the first round. Hoyas advance.