Now that the 2014 edition of the Big Dance is cemented, fans can begin to peruse the bracket and carefully (or not) pick winners for each contest.
Given the scope of Round 2, better known and less confusing as the "round of 64," those who excel in the early goings of the bracket set themselves up for later success as the tournament progresses.
Some picks are simple. No top seed is going to fall to a No. 16. Don't get cute. But also make sure not to overthink the tough matchups. Use smart analysis, make a pick and stick with it. Sounds easy enough, right?
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No. 8 Gonzaga vs. No. 9 Oklahoma State (West)
Sometimes the consensus is correct.
In this case, it seems most are content to roll with Oklahoma State in an upset over Gonzaga. Jerry Brewer of the Seattle Times agrees that things don't look good for the Bulldogs:
Gonzaga gets a No. 8 seed, will face Oklahoma State on Friday in San Diego. Bad matchup for Zags.— Jerry Brewer (@JerryBrewer) March 16, 2014
It is unfortunate for Gonzaga, the WCC champs, which had the look of a serious sleeper before the bracket was announced. The team plays smart defense and ranks in the top five in field-goal percentage.
But the Cowboys are a scrappy team that played a tougher schedule and are led by Marcus Smart, who averages 17.8 points, 5.7 rebounds and 4.7 assists per game. Gonzaga is just as big, if not bigger, but Oklahoma State is more athletic and has a deeper bench.
Prediction: Oklahoma State 77, Gonzaga 74
No. 8 Kentucky vs. No. 9 Kansas State (Midwest)
Are these Wildcats for real?
The question can be asked of either side, but it is mostly aimed at John Calipari's team, which did certainly not live up to expectations for most of the season—hence the poor seed for such a prestigious program.
Unlike most, Calipari is not one to fret about the seed, as he told the media after the fact according to Kyle Tucker of the Courier-Journal:
We’d have been an eight if we won this game. Why are you laughing for? It’s the truth. We’d have been an eight. They made their minds up that that’s what this team was. The only way you can prove them wrong is go play ball, and we played today. I’m proud of the guys, and we’ll go play, go to St. Louis and play.
There's no way to sugarcoat it—Kentucky has been rather mediocre this year. But Kansas State has not been much better, especially after ending the season with three straight losses.
Meanwhile, Kentucky has somewhat turned things around thanks to a deep run in the SEC tournament, and a team with an explosive player like Julius Randle (he averages a double-double at 15 points and 10.5 rebounds per game) should never be discredited.
Fun fact: Kentucky is 8-0 against Kansas State. Calipari's squad is littered with future NBA stars and will rise to the occasion in Round 2.
Prediction: Kentucky 75, Kansas State 65
No. 5 Cincinnati vs. No. 12 Harvard (East)
Go ahead and label this one a tossup.
On paper, this looks like a mismatch thanks to the almighty seeding system, but as CBS Sports' Jon Rothstein points out, it is anything but:
Very difficult opening game for Cincinnati. Harvard is patient, poised, + an excellent passing team. Bearcats are in for a fight - as usual.— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) March 17, 2014
For many, Cincinnati embodies the alleged disrespect thrown the AAC's way by the selection committee. After a 27-6 year, the Bearcats are forced to hit the road with a questionable seed.
Coach Mick Cronin even took the selection process to task after Selection Sunday, as captured by Bill Koch of the Cincinnati Enquirer:
Which team wins?
"I thought the American Athletic Conference as a whole, I think it would be very obvious to say didn't get a lot of respect from top to bottom," said Cronin.
The Bearcats now have a chance to prove the world wrong by downing what appears to be one of the hottest upset picks.
Harvard is a great team for all the right reasons, but Cincinnati is led by one of the nation's most prolific scorers in Sean Kilpatrick (20.7 points per game) and touts one of the best overall defenses in the tournament.
It'll certainly be a nail-biter, but the Bearcats have what it takes—not to mention a massive chip on their shoulder—to slip past the Crimson and help give the AAC some semblance of footing in the collegiate basketball realm.