Look at the bracket carefully, and you'll see it—there don't appear to be many bracket busters in this year's tournament.
Part of that is the fact that eight to 10 teams seemingly could win this tournament. Perhaps it's that there is a ton of parity between the next 25 schools.
Whatever the case may be, you could see more chalk than usual this year. But that doesn't mean there won't be upsets. Below, I'll break down the ones I believe are most likely to take place.
All Your Bracket Essentials:
No. 12 Stephen F. Austin over No. 5 VCU
No. 11 Dayton over No. 6 Ohio State
I really think this tournament will evolve into a chalk-fest after the round of 64, and Stephen F. Austin is the one lower-seeded team that I think will sneak into the Sweet 16.
For starters, Melvin Johnson—VCU's best perimeter shooter—will miss the round of 64 game, according to Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports. VCU's defense is swarming, yes, but if they can't score the rock, it won't do them much good.
And Stephen F. Austin won't make things easy for them, as they force 16.4 turnovers per game. They also really crash the offensive boards, so they'll look to rack up the gimme points in the paint.
Oh, and they've also won 28 straight games coming into the tournament, so there's that.
As for Dayton over Ohio State, well, it's the normal critique—for as well as the Buckeyes defended, putting the ball in the hoop is often akin to yanking out teeth. Ohio State will try to win with deliberate possession, by pounding the rock down low and by playing stingy defense, but I don't think it will be enough.
Plus, Dayton has other motivations. Despite being in the same state, Ohio State and Dayton never meet. From Ari Wasserman of Cleveland.com:
You can't duck 'em anymore, Thad. That's what one of the broadcasters said on the Selection Show telecast, referring to Ohio State's hesitance to play in-state rivals in nonconference play. The last time the Buckeyes had a series with Dayton was from 1984-1988, and each team won twice.
With that motivation and a balanced offense, I expect the Flyers to move on.
No. 10 St. Joe's over No. 7 UConn
Mostly chalk in the round of 64 here, but yes, I like St. Joe's over UConn and Shabazz Napier.
St. Joe's is fresh off an Atlantic 10 conference tournament title and is led by a gritty senior class that prides itself on toughness and working hard on the defensive end.
Here's head coach Phil Martelli talking about those seniors, via Dom Amore of The Hartford Courant:
These guys have been driven since last May to leave a mark. They've been kicked around, whether it was a decision I made about a transfer a couple of years ago, they were collateral damage. They were picked to win the A-10 title and they finished seventh, 'what's wrong with this player? … what's wrong with the coach?' They know it, they heard it, they lived it. They just joined forces and said, 'we're not going to go out that way.'
The Hawks will have a pretty major advantage on the boards and have a solid scorer of their own in Langston Galloway, averaging 17.5 points per contest.
Yes, Napier has the ability to absolutely go off and lead UConn to the next round. Hell, he could go all Kemba Walker on the field and lead UConn right to the Final Four. But I like this St. Joe's team, and I think they'll overcome Napier's one-man show.
No. 12 Xavier over No. 5 Saint Louis
No. 11 Tennessee over No. 6 UMass
No. 10 Arizona State over No. 7 Texas
The Midwest Region is easily the most loaded, with five teams (Wichita State, Michigan, Duke, Louisville, Kentucky) that are legitimate contenders to reach the Final Four if they play up to their potential.
But ironically, it's also the region where I see the most round of 64 upsets taking place.
Saint Louis is limping into this tournament, having lost three of four down the stretch. At least they were the Atlantic 10 regular-season champions, however.
The same can't be said for UMass, arguably the most over-seeded team in this tournament, somehow earning a sixth seed despite finishing fifth in the Atlantic 10 (St. Joe's, which finished fourth and won the conference tournament, is a No. 10 seed).
UMass will hang its hat on wins over New Mexico and VCU—and Chaz Williams is a stud—but either Tennessee or Iowa seem primed to take down the Minutemen.
But hey, you don't have to take my word on picking against Saint Louis or UMass. Consider the following, from Ben Cohen of The Wall Street Journal:
For the last three years, The Wall Street Journal has published the results of John Ezekowitz's regression, which identifies the underdogs worth betting on. This year, he says, No. 5 seed Saint Louis and No. 6 seed Massachusetts are in trouble, even though they don't know their opponents yet.
Iowa has a 71% chance of getting past UMass, according to the model, assuming it wins its play-in game Wednesday against Tennessee, which also would have a 58.2% chance in its next game.
The other First Four matchup between at-large bids has just as much at stake. North Carolina State would have a 60.9% chance of knocking off Saint Louis, the model predicts, as long as it beats Xavier on Tuesday.
Of course, I just had to pick Tennessee and Xavier to win the play-in games. Either way you go on those, however, avoid picking Saint Louis and UMass to advance.
As for Arizona State over Texas, I think the superior guard play of the Sun Devils will overwhelm a Texas team that is completely reliant on dominating in the post.
"Guard play is important in March" is definitely a popular cliche, but I don't see Texas slowing down Jahii Carson (18.6 PPG, 4.5 APG), Jermaine Marshall (15.0 PPG) and Shaquielle McKissic (9.0 PPG, 5.4 RPG).
Yes, Arizona State has lost five of their last seven, but I think Texas overachieved this season. They'll be exposed against the Sun Devils.
Yes, the fact that I have an entire region going all chalk in the round of 64 worries me, too. If you want an underdog out of that region, however, look for North Dakota State, a team that has the shooters to take advantage of Oklahoma's mediocre defense.
In my opinion, Oklahoma will beat the Bison in a shootout. But I could see this one going either way.
Hey you crazy bracketeers, follow me on Twitter @TRappaRT. We can tear apart our brackets in anger together.
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