There aren't many gimmes when it comes to filling out a bracket for the NCAA tournament. You can safely pencil in all four No. 1 seeds, sure, and this year the No. 2 seeds all seem talented enough to avoid major upsets. And yes, there are plenty of No. 3 and No. 4 seeds that are legitimate title contenders.
But after that, every selection is fraught with uncertainty. And some matchups in particular seem almost impossible to project.
Maybe one of the teams is underrated. Perhaps, the lower-seeded team comes into the tournament red hot. Or, differing styles between the teams makes for a really enticing matchup.
Whatever the case may be, the following three matchups have certainly caused me plenty of headaches. Let's break down the toughest games to pick in the round of 64.
All Your Bracket Essentials:
East Region: No. 5 Cincinnati vs. No. 12 Harvard
This is such a tough call. On one hand, I love the defense the Bearcats bring to the table and the fact that they went 15-3 in the American Athletic Conference. And Sean Kilpatrick (20.7 PPG, 4.4 RPG) is a stud.
On the other hand, it worries me that Cincy is so limited on offense and really only has one player in Kilpatrick that creates shots for himself and is capable of putting the offense on his back.
Contrast that to Harvard, which has five players who averaged double-digits in points this season and not only offer a balanced attack on offense, but play solid defense as well. But the Crimson aren't nearly as battle tested as Cincy, a major concern.
As you might expect, there are mixed reactions to this matchup. Seth Davis of CBS loves Harvard:
But Brad Evans of Yahoo! Sports isn't sold:
I tend to side with Evans here. This is a physical, gritty battled-tested Cincy team that has beaten Louisville, UConn, Pitt and Memphis (twice). Harvard will give them all they can handle, for sure, but expect Cincy to grind out a tight win.
East Region: No. 7 UConn vs. No. 10 St. Joe's
Both of these teams are coming into the tournament pretty hot. UConn went 15-5 down the stretch (and 15-2 against teams other than Louisville). Meanwhile, St. Joe's just stormed through the Atlantic 10 tournament, emerging as champs, and have won 15 of 19 down the stretch.
The main reason to side with UConn is Shabazz Napier (17.4 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 4.9 apg), a player capable of going all Kemba Walker on this tournament. But St. Joe's counters with Phil Martelli's adorable grandson, who has been imitating the coach on the sideline.
I kid, I kid. St. Joe's counters with a gritty team and a superior frontcourt to UConn, which is where it'll make its money in this game. Napier might go off, sure, but if his teammates aren't making shots, St. Joes's will dominate on the glass and grind out the win.
Plus, St. Joe's has a pretty good guard of its own, Langston Galloway, leading the way with 17.5 points per contest.
For UConn, the key player will be Ryan Boatright, not Napier. If Boatright has a big game and all of the onus isn't placed on Napier, UConn will handle St. Joe's. But if Napier is a one-man show, St. Joe's gritty senior class will lead them to the win.
Prediction: St. Joe's
Midwest Region: No. 7 Texas vs. No. 10 Arizona State
Do you prefer a dominant frontcourt or superior guards? How you answer that question will inform your pick between Texas and Arizona State.
Texas dominates near the basket with Jonathan Holmes (13.0 PPG, 7.2 RPG, 1.3 BPG) and Cameron Ridley (11.2 PPG, 8.1 RPG, 2.2 BPG).
Arizona State's great guard play from Jahii Carson (18.6 PPG, 4.5 APG), Jermaine Marshall (15.0 PPG) and Shaquielle McKissic (9.0 PPG, 5.4 RPG).
Texas has the stronger resume, going 3-3 against top-25 teams this year while boasting wins over Kansas, Iowa State, North Carolina and Baylor (twice).
But working against Texas is a history of bowing out in the first weekend of the NCAA tournament. The Longhorns haven't gotten past the Round of 32 since the 2007-08 season, and head coach Rick Barnes admitted to Chuck Carlton of the Dallas News that the team's recent history in the tournament puts a bit more pressure on them:
Everybody would be lying if they didn’t look around and know the teams with the white jerseys had a little more stress on them, especially in the first rounds. You got to handle it. You have to embrace this opportunity and not take anything for granted and that’s the biggest key.
For Texas, the key to this game will be strong perimeter defense, dominating on the boards and scoring easy buckets around the basket. The uglier this game is, the better their chance of winning. But if Arizona State's guards get hot early, it's hard to see the Longhorns keeping up in a shootout.
It's hard to predict which team will ultimately dictate its style of play. Either way, expect a good one.
Prediction: Arizona State
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