The only way to win your NCAA tournament office pool is by correctly picking the inevitable upsets and Cinderella stories that are bound to occur.
While those games are incredibly difficult to predict accurately, there are a handful of contests that are relatively easy picks when it comes to the round of 64.
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Clearly, selecting the four No. 1 seeds to advance to the round of 32 over the No. 16 seeds is as safe as it comes. After all, in the storied history of the NCAA tournament, a No. 16 seed has never upset a No. 1 seed.
With that in mind, the No. 1 vs. No. 16 seed matchups are exempt from this exercise. Here are some other safe picks in the round of 64 that will get your bracket off to an impressive start.
No. 4 Michigan State vs. No. 13 Delaware
You can make the argument that the Michigan State Spartans are under-seeded as a No. 4 seed.
Tom Izzo’s squad steamrolled to a Big Ten tournament title in Indianapolis with victories over No. 2 seeds Wisconsin and Michigan. What’s more, you can count the number of teams across the country with more talent than the Spartans on one hand.
Were it not for injury problems all season, Michigan State likely would have played its way to a No. 1 seed.
Keith Appling, Adreian Payne and Branden Dawson all missed significant time during the regular season, which is a recipe for disaster in the treacherous Big Ten. Now that the Spartans are finally at full strength, they will advance deep into the NCAA tournament, and No. 13 seed Delaware isn’t standing in their way.
Izzo thinks his team is talented enough to reach the Final Four, as he told reporters during his postgame press conference following the Michigan game:
You don't get many teams that are talented, have inside and outside, show toughness, are together, have great chemistry. I've said three times in my career that I thought we were good enough to get to a Final Four. I thought this team was next in line.
If the Spartans stay healthy, there aren't many teams capable of stopping them this year.
No. 4 Louisville vs. No. 13 Manhattan
Much like Michigan State, Louisville ended the season by impressing in its conference tournament and making up for some early season losses (not that the mere five losses Louisville had all season are anything to be ashamed of).
The defending national champions won 12 of the last 13 games and have one of the best tandems in the country in Russ Smith and Montrezl Harrell.
What’s more, the Cardinals are one of only two teams in the country that finished the season ranked in the top 10 in Ken Pomeroy’s pace-adjusted offensive and pace-adjusted defensive efficiency ratings. The only other one was Wichita State.
Manhattan is certainly skilled, but it can’t match up with a motivated Louisville team that feels it was under-seeded at a No. 4.
The only power conference squad the Jaspers beat this year was an underwhelming South Carolina team, and they lost to Fairfield, Quinnipiac (twice) and Fordham among others.
If the Jaspers couldn't beat Quinnipiac, they simply aren’t going to beat Louisville.
No. 3 Duke vs. No. 14 Mercer
If we are basing our picks solely on talent, there are very few teams in the tournament that can match up with Duke. Mercer is not one of those teams.
Jabari Parker was the best freshman in the incredible class of freshmen this season, and USA Basketball congratulated him for his achievement:
Parker isn’t the only cog in Mike Krzyzewski’s system though. Rodney Hood could end up being a lottery pick himself in the upcoming NBA draft, Rasheed Sulaimon is a dangerous three-point shooter and more than capable of slashing to the lane, Andre Dawkins is a terrific long-range shooter and, while inconsistent, Quinn Cook has the talent to control games from the point guard spot.
That's not even taking into account Amile Jefferson down low, who turned into one of the better big men in the entire ACC in the season's second half.
Mercer simply doesn’t have the athletes to match up with Parker and Hood in particular.
Both are lengthy forwards who can score down low against smaller defenders, shoot over the top if given too much space or beat bigger opponents off the dribble.
Duke struggled on the glass and on the defensive side of the ball at times this year, but it will score far too many points for Mercer to win this game.
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