As we close in on the round of 64 in this year's NCAA Men's Basketball Championship tournament, pundits of varying experience and intelligence continue to make their Final Four picks up to the very last minute. As always, top seeds are heavily favored to make it to Atlanta.
But to make it to the Georgia Dome, those top seeds still need to get by the lower seeds they'll face early on. Last year, two No. 2 seeds were eliminated in the round of 64 for the first time in tournament history, meaning that this weekend's initial games cannot be taken for granted. Still, some of the sport's top teams should have no problem getting through at least their first two games without much of a struggle.
Indiana has the benefit of the first seed in the East and four players averaging over 10 points per game, suggesting that they should have no problem making it through to the Sweet Sixteen. Even in one of the most unpredictable years in college basketball history, it's unlikely that the Hoosiers will drop their first game, which will take place against the winner of Wednesday's play-in game between LIU Brooklyn and James Madison.
In the second round, Indiana will face either North Carolina State or Temple. NC State upset No. 1 Duke on January 12 but failed to beat a ranked team after that, falling to Miami (FL) and Duke in a rematch in a six-game span. They then fell once again to the Hurricanes in the ACC semifinals. Temple showed great resolve in their victory over No. 3 Syracuse on December 22 but were shaken in the Atlantic 10 quarterfinals when UMass beat them 79-74 to end a seven game winning streak.
Georgetown, the second seed in the South, appears poised to make up for their Big East tournament loss to hated rival Syracuse by making a quick run through their first two games of the tournament. Their first game comes against No. 15 seed Florida Gulf Coast, who lost to Duke by 19 points in their only matchup against a ranked team all season.
From there, the Hoyas will face either seventh seeded San Diego State or 10th seeded Oklahoma in the round of 32. SDSU went a dismal 1-5 against ranked teams this year, their only win coming against New Mexico—who then proceeded to take the rematch and bounce the Aztecs from the Mountain West tournament. Oklahoma matched SDSU's 1-5 record against ranked teams but comes into the tournament with the added detriment of a two-game losing streak after dropping their regular season finale to TCU and Big 12 tournament opener to Iowa State.
Perennial tournament favorite Duke also should have two favorable matchups as the second seed in the Midwest bracket. After being upset by Maryland in the ACC tournament quarterfinals, their first game of the Big Dance comes against the America East champion, 24-10 Albany (NY).
Expect the Blue Devils to take out their frustration on the Great Danes before moving on to the winner of Creighton's battle with Cincinnati. The No. 7 seed Blue Jays only lost one game before January 19, but lack scoring depth behind forward Doug McDermott. Meanwhile, the No. 10 seed Bearcats failed to win against a team ranked better than 24th in the AP poll all season, and were blown out 62-43 by Georgetown, a second seed themselves, in the early stages of the Big East tournament.
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