March Madness Bracket 2011: Pick-by-Pick Analysis of the SouthEast Region
The other three regions appear to be fairly simple.
Kansas and Ohio State have a fairly manageable route to the Final Four, and Duke should be able to make the Sweet 16 without having to exert themselves more than 70 percent.
Then there's the East region. Contained within these 16 teams are two teams from last year's Final Four, this year's national player of the year, the Big East regular season champion, a team with six top 15 wins and enough upset picks to ruin your bracket by the end of the first weekend.
The East region will hold the most chaos in the next couple weeks and I look to sort out the mess for you before the madness begins.
Pittsburgh Vs. Play-in-Game
I refuse to predict the play-in games. Even if the NCAA adds 15 more of these seemingly meaningless contests, I will never start tracking my bracket until Thursday.
Therefore, "fill-in-the-blank" will advance out of the play-in round to get their doors blown off by Pittsburgh.
Butler Vs. Old Dominion
I liked both of these teams to get out of the first round and be my sneaky upset picks.
However, the NCAA put me in a tough situation by pairing them together.
On one end, Butler returns Shelvin Mack and Matt Howard, two essential parts of their starting lineup that made it to the championship game last season. The Bulldogs have won nine games in a row entering the tournament and appear poised to make a run.
On the other hand, Old Dominion has proven themselves against half-a-dozen tournament teams this year and is also riding a nine game winning streak. Leading scorers Frank Hassell and Kent Bazemore, can score on anyone in the country.
This is an important pick, because the winner may knock out Pittsburgh in the second round. My suggestion is not to get caught up in the Butler magic from last year and instead advance Old Dominion to the second round.
Kansas State Vs. Utah State
Kansas State got an extremely unlucky draw with having to play Utah State in the first round.
I think the NCAA tournament has fallen in love with the No. 12 seeds upsetting No. 5 seeds trend so much that they think it's fair game to drop a 30-3 team four seeds below where they should be (30 wins should at least land you a No. 8 or No. 9) in hopes of capturing some Cinderella footage.
Do not get too excited by Utah State's record. Their only significant win on the year was at St. Mary's, who did not make it into the field of 68. They lost their other two major tests against BYU and Georgetown and their third loss was a complete head-scratcher against the 18-13 Idaho Vandals.
Stick with Kansas State in this one.
Wisconsin Vs. Belmont
As if putting a 30-3 team as a No. 12 seed was not enough, the selection committee decided to put the 30-4 Belmont Bruins as a No. 13.
Belmont will grab the upset. They have won 21 of their last 22 games and play an even more controlled offensive style than Bo Ryan's Badgers. This will be an extremely low scoring game (we're talking 40-38 range) and could end on a buzzer beater.
Wisconsin usually is a safe pick to win one or two games in March, but this team really has not had many big wins. Yes, they won when Ohio State came to Wisconsin (an incredibly tough arena to play in), but in their most recent battle, the Buckeyes won 93-65. The Badgers followed up this lackluster performance with an anemic 36-33 loss to Penn State.
Penn State almost held Wisconsin in the 20's and that should scare anyone away from advancing them too far. Go with the upset pick in this one.
St. John's Vs. Gonzaga
If St. John's can get past Gonzaga, they will make it to the Elite Eight. The problem is, Gonzaga will be not be an easy first round matchup.
The Bulldogs have started to gel as a team at the perfect time. They played a tough out-of-conference schedule early on and had a rough patch of games toward the end of January. From February on, they have been nearly perfect.
This is a crucial pick, because the winner plays a slumping BYU squad followed by either an overrated Florida team, underachieving Michigan State team or an average UCLA squad. Basically, the winner of St. John's/Gonzaga has a very good chance at making it all the way to the Elite Eight. A wrong pick in this game can really hurt your bracket whereas the right choice can give you a few crucial points that your conservative friends will not have the courage to gamble on.
Go with St. John's. There's a level of magic to this team and Steve Lavin has an impressive history in the first round of the big dance.
BYU Vs. Wofford
He's the best player in the country for a reason. There is no way Jimmer will not get his team at least one post-season victory.
UCLA Vs. Michigan State
This is another nightmare game to try and predict.
Both teams have great coaches who have proven they can take their team to the Final Four. Both have had their moments, although few this year, when they looked to be competitive with anyone. Both would have a great chance to upset Florida in the next round.
Choose Michigan State to win this game. No coach is better than Tom Izzo at getting his players to forget the regular season and focus all their attention on the six games ahead. He has been known in the past to take a baseball bat to game film from the season as a motivation tool.
At the end of the day, the Spartans return most of the same core guys that reached the Final Four each of the last two seasons. Draymond Green plays his best basketball in the tournament and the combination of Kalin Lucas and Durrell Summers has proven to be enough to win multiple games in the tournament.
I think the Spartans have been pulling a practical joke on us all season long. The 19-14 record means nothing now and expect Izzo to have his team ready to play Thursday night.
Florida Vs. UCSB
Florida can breathe a sigh of relief with an easy first round victory.
The road will get much harder.
Second Round: Pittsburgh Vs. Old Dominion
This is the biggest upset pick I have in the entire tournament.
The Pittsburgh Panthers have burnt me too many times in my history with brackets. When they're a No. 5 seed, they seem to lose to the No. 12, when they're a No. 3, they'll get bounced by the No. 6 or No. 11 in the second round.
I refuse to ride them too far and watch my bracket go up in flames again.
I'm going with Old Dominion over Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh had an impressive Big East run, but their challenging games out of conference against Texas and Tennessee resulted in a two point win and a seven point loss. Too often, a conference like the Big East—or in the past the ACC—will bring a lot of teams into the tournament and we assume that being the best team in the best conference means guaranteed postseason success. Pittsburgh will struggle with Old Dominion's style of play and will be the first No. 1 seed to exit the tournament this year.
Think this is crazy, see Northern Iowa over Kansas last year.
Kansas State Vs. Belmont
Jacob Pullen and Kemba Walker will be the two most entertaining players to watch in this year's tournament.
After an exciting upset win, expect Belmont to come into this game somewhat drained and be victim to a 30 point Pullen performance.
Kansas State has showed flashes of last year's brilliance and I think Frank Martin will have his team more than prepared for this game. They will already know how good one of these 30 win mid-major teams can be from their battle with Utah State so there will be no shock factor.
St. John's Vs. BYU
This will be the game when BYU wishes they would have had a more liberal honor code.
Brandon Davies presence will be severely missed as St. John's will rack up offensive rebounds and second chance points.
Dwight Hardy and Jimmer Fredette may put on a show for us like we saw in last year's multiple overtime thriller between Jordan Crawford of Xavier and Jacob Pullen of Kansas State.
Go with St. John's to reach the Sweet 16.
Michigan State Vs. Florida
Part of me hates putting this much faith into a 19-14 team, but the rest of me feels fully confident that one of the best coaches in college basketball, Tom Izzo, will figure out how to get this veteran team into the Sweet 16.
Florida is the weakest No. 2 seed and therefore should be the first one to exit the tournament.
Third Round: Kansas State Vs. Old Dominion
Old Dominion's magical run ends here.
In the NCAA tournament, the week in between the first two games and the next two gives coaches a chance to go through hours of game tape of the opposition and map out their plan of attack. This is when Frank Martin is at his best.
Kansas State will need to perfectly execute Martin's game plan to get past Old Dominion. Old Dominion is not some type of streaky shooting Cinderella who comes out cold in the second week and loses by twenty. They will challenge the Wildcats for all 40 minutes.
Ride Pullen for one more game.
St. John's Vs. Michigan State
St. John's has a much greater chance of getting this far than Michigan State. The Spartans could be bounced in the first round against UCLA or the second against Florida. The Johnnies, on the other hand, should be locks for the Sweet 16.
Since Michigan State remains a risky pick, go with St. John's in this one. Even if these two teams do matchup, St. John's has proven they can beat anybody in the county and will show why developing chemistry throughout the year rather than jump-starting the process in the tournament will always be the better option.
Trip to the Final Four: Kansas State Vs. St. John's
This game will have it all.
Two talented coaches.
Two of the nation's best players.
Two teams that combine for three wins over the four No. 1 seeds.
Once again, go with who is more likely to be there. Kansas State will have to get past Old Dominion or Pittsburgh and with the way they have played sometimes this season, a first round exit to Utah State is not out of the question.
For St. John's I like their chances both to get to this point and to beat whoever is in front of them. Kansas State and Pittsburgh will both challenge the Johnnies and make them wish they still had a healthy D.J. Kennedy, but in the end, Steve Lavin will have his team in the Final Four.