March 9, 2012; Atlanta, GA USA; North Carolina Tar Heels guard Reggie Bullock (35) dunks during the second half of the game against the Maryland Terrapins in the quarter-finals of the 2012 ACC Men's Basketball Tournament at Philips Arena. Mandatory Credit: Paul Abell-US PRESSWIRE
"Fortes fortuna adiuvat."
In contemporary, Twittering, 24-hour news cycle America, people put a lot of value on boldness. We tend to admire those willing to take risks and we lavish them with praise when they succeed (and hammer them when they fail). It's why we meticulously dissect a football coach's decision to go for it on 4th down. It's why Evel Knievel became a celebrity. It's why we collectively revere Kobe Bryant for taking the last shot every time (even though the numbers say he's not actually very effective) and roundly criticize LeBron James for passing to open teammates in the same situations. "Fortune favors the bold," a Latin person once said, and I am nothing if not bold.
One way to express boldness is to predict the results of things. It's not as cool as it used to be, but it's still big-time sports media currency. I mean, hell, you can't watch a single segment of SportsCenter without the host asking the analysts for their predictions on everything. Most predictions are just noise, filler for a reactionary audience, ammo for message boards. Not these predictions though, these predictions are pure gold*. Last year, while writing for Field Gulls, I predicted the results of every NFL football game, and did pretty well. Now I am putting my prognostication skills out in the open once more.
*They are not.
Nothing is more superfluously predicted than the NCAA Men's Basketball tournament. According to BookofOdds.com, more than 40 million brackets are filled out each year. Not counting the play-in games, there are 9,223,372,036,475,775,808 different potential results. That number is not the result of exaggeration or a mid-typing seizure. There are literally six commas worth of possible outcomes.
You will never pick a perfect bracket.
Stop-- no, stop it. It will never happen. All of that being said, here's as good of a shot as I can take. Never before have I put as much thought into my picks as I am about to. For you. I am doing this for you, out of the altruism resting snugly in the cockles of magnanimous heart.
The first step most people take in filling out their brackets is to pick a strategy. There's the senior-heavy stratagem, the which-mascot-would-win-in-a-
That's it! It's so simple...
First of all, don't give me any crap about this actually being called the second round. I know the play-in games exist, but no one cares. They're broadcast on TRU TV. You know what else is on TRU TV? Lizard Lick Towing. Those games don't count enough to be called the first round. They're the zeroth round. Some people escape the semantical nightmare by calling this the Round of 64, but I refuse to do that. This is the first round.
#1 Kentucky vs #16 Mississippi Valley State or #16 Western Kentucky
Kentucky is the best team in this field. They are the best team in the last few fields. Kentucky has more raw basketball talent than almost any team I can remember watching. They went 32-2, including wins over Kansas (#2 seed), North Carolina (#1 seed), Vanderbilt (#5 seed) twice, Louisville (#4 seed), etc etc. Their whole starting lineup will probably be in the NBA. One of their bench guys, too. This is essentially an NBA team. True freshman Anthony Davis is coach John Calipari's latest one-and-done phenom and will likely be his third #1 overall pick in the last five years (Derrick Rose, John Wall). Think about that.
The Wildcats have two possible first round opponents. One of them, MVSU, had Jerry Rice graduate from there, and Western Kentucky has a rejected Muppet as a mascot.
#8 Iowa State vs #9 Connecticut
It's weird to see UConn as a 9-seed, seeing as they're the reigning national champions, and the country is overwhelmingly picking them to win this game, likely as a result of how they did last year. I am tempted to do that myself, but the thing about college basketball is that due to the insanely high roster turnover on good teams, a team that is excellent one year often struggles the next, as they're relying on a whole new band to carry the tune. In 2009, North Carolina put on one of the most dominant tournament performances in modern history, winning their six games by 43, 14, 21, 12, 14, and 17, respectively. The next year they didn't make the field. It happens.
UConn has struggled this year, going 1-6 against the top 25 and stumbled into the tournament with a .500 record over their last dozen contests. Meanwhile, iowa State boasts a team that has beaten Kansas (#2 seed) and Baylor (#3 seed), and they control the three-point game by shooting well from behind the arc and keeping their opponents from dong the same -- strong indicators of tournament success. ISU will struggle to win this one, but win they shall.
PICK: Iowa State
#5 Wichita State vs #12 Virginia Commonwealth
Wichita has been an excellent team this year, compiling 27 wins in 32 tries and outscoring their opponents by over 15/game. They are led by an experienced group of seniors and there are half a dozen reasons to believe they're poised for a Sweet 16 run. They shoot better than 97% of the teams in the country and rebound well when they miss. I would hate to play this team.
...Which is why it sucks that they draw VCU in the first round. Remember them? They're the team that got hosed with a play-in game last year and then flipped the middle finger to the system and made the Final Four anyway, screwing over every bracket in the country in the process. Scary thing is, they might have had an even better regular season this year than last. They won 28 games this season and their cool-ass coach, Shaka Smart (seriously, look at that name!), has them believing that anything is possible. They play insanely hard defense and shoot a lot of threes, meaning that if they're on, you'll not only lose, you'll be frustrated as shit while it happens. If you ask me, it's a shame that these two relative unknowns have to play each other right away. Might be the best game of the entire first round.
PICK: Wichita State
#4 Indiana vs #13 New Mexico State
Most people leave the #1 through #3 seeds alone in the first round, but once we get into #4s and lower, we begin to get upset-hungry. A lot of people are eying some upheaval in this one, as the loss of Verdell Jones III leaves them far more vulnerable than their fans would like. NMSU scores an impressive 78.4 points per game, but their level of competition hasn't been great and they don't have a signature win to hang their hat on. Indiana is one of only two teams to beat Kentucky this year and are outscoring opponents by 12/game. They're not back to Bob Knight-era elitism yet, but they're on their way to sniffing it. I don't see this one being close.
#6 UNLV vs #11 Colorado
UNLV caught the country's attention when they handed then-#1 UNC their first loss of the season. Armed with a couple of standout transfers and a talent-enabling coach, the Runnin' Rebs cruised to 28 wins. Colorado, on the other hand, weirded their way into the Pac-12 conference title. UNLV has laid some a couple of pretty big eggs this season, and I want to pick them to lose this game, but Colorado is by far the worst 11-seed in the tournament and don't do anything particularly well. I think UNLV shows up strong in this one and advances, following the chalk to the second round.
#3 Baylor vs #14 South Dakota State
Baylor is one of the most talented teams in the country and head coach Scott Drew is one of my favorites. Forward Perry Jones II entered the season in the conversation for the first overall pick in the NBA draft and he's backed by three sensational guards. You may remember SDSU as the team that housed Washington by 19 earlier this season. The Jackrabbits get up and down the court in a hurry and can burn an undisciplined team, which Baylor is. That said, Baylor has so many skilled players that even an off game should be good enough to advance.
#7 Notre Dame vs #10 Xavier
Look, I want to pick an upset as badly as you do, but Notre Dame rarely turns the ball over and comes into the game hot (9-3 over last 12 games) and are the first of just two teams to beat 1-seed Syracuse. They've got some scars on their resume (blowout losses to Marquette and Missouri), but they've played very clean lately. Xavier has name value and tournament cache, having reached the Sweet 16 twice in the last three years, but even Tu Holloway's substantial skill set likely won't be enough to overcome ND if the Irish are on their game, and I suspect they will be.
PICK: Notre Dame
#2 Duke vs #15 Lehigh
What do you want me to say? Duke is good. Duke is always good. I hate Duke, even though hating Duke is so ubiquitous that it's become passe. Whatever.
#1 Syracuse vs #16 UNC-Asheville
Syracuse is really good. It's almost weird how little positive press the Orangemen have gotten this year, considering they've only lost twice and that half of ESPN's staff graduated from their journalism school. This probably had something to do with it. Anyway, while that situation has been playing itself out, center (and All-Name Team member) Fab Melo has led this team to a dominant run through the Big East. If it's possible to go quietly about your business while under the cloud of a sexual abuse scandal, Syracuse has done it. Jim Boeheim's 2-3 zone hasn't changed much in the last 20 years, but teams still can't figure it out. I can tell you this much, UNCA won't be the team that cracks the code.
#8 Kansas State vs #9 Southern Mississipi
Kansas State's coach Frank Martin might be the single most Soprano coach in all of sports. His intensity and ferocity consistently have is players playing near the top of their collective game, if for no other reason than they're afraid of receiving a piano-wire necklace. Kidding! I think! Southern Miss is a stingy team that regularly controls the turnover game and is capable of smothering an opponent. This game is a true pick-'em, but KSU has gotten up for big games like few others have, beating Missouri (#2 seed) twice and winning on the road versus Baylor (#3 seed). They'll be up for this one.
PICK: Kansas State
#5 Vanderbilt vs #12 Harvard
There have been a lot of jokes made (mostly bad ones) about this being the smartest matchup in tournament history. Well, this is also a game of two really good teams. The weakness of the Ivy League is the main reason Harvard is seeded as low as they are, and Jeremy Lin's alma mater* is capable of making a run in this tournament. Their goal is going to be to impose a classic, claw-your-eyes-out-because-
#4 Wisconsin vs #13 Montana
Montana rides the nation's longest winning streak into this game, thanks largely to Derek Selvig, their Sabonis-esque center with a great feel for the game. Their back-court has outplayed just about everybody on their schedule and they probably enter this game feeling damn near invincible. You know who they haven't played though? Jordan Taylor. Jordan Taylor might be the most efficient point guard the college game has seen in a while. He just simply does not make the wrong decision, and his nigh-untouchable assist-to-turnover ratio reflects that. This is the most popular 13-over-4 pick in the tournament so far, but I don't get why.
#6 Cincinnati vs #Texas
You want an upset? Here you go. Cincy is a tough team from a tough conference, but they don't shoot well and they lack the game-changing player to turn it over to when the team goes cold. Texas' J'Covan Brown has shouldered more of his team's burden than perhaps any other player in the tournament, and I'm banking on him being up to the challenge. If the Longhorns don't shoot well, however, Cincy's dominant rebounding will mean trouble.
#3 Florida State vs #14 St. Bonaventure
FSU's no-nonsense coach Leonard Hamilton has earned a reputation for fielding one of the best defensive teams in the country year in and year out. Never has that tenacity been more evident than this season, when they became the first team in like, a bazillion year to beat both Duke and North Carolina twice in the same season en route to an ACC Tournament title.
St. Bonaventure is a quaint name.
PICK: Florida State
#7 Gonzaga vs #10 West Virginia
Congrats on getting a #7 seed, Mark Few! Your reward is playing a slightly inferior team... in their own freaking backyard. That'll teach you to have a Jesuit school on the near the border of two states most east coast high school students couldn't identify on a map! Gonzaga has long since relinquished the mantle of tournament darlings, but they're good enough to overcome the fact that they're playing a Bob Huggins WVU team in Pittsburgh. Talent wins out here.
#2 Ohio State vs #15 Loyola
Of all the non-16 seeds, Loyola has the worst chance of advancing, in my opinion.
PICK: Ohio State
#1 Michigan State vs #16 Long Island University (Brooklyn)
MSU's Dramond Green is the grimiest double-double threat in the country and he'll spend the whole game letting you know about it. The only way this game is within 15 is if the Spartans rest their starters with more than six minutes left.
PICK: Michigan State
#8 Memphis vs #9 St. Louis
Memphis' boyish coach Josh Pastner has been a recruiting dynamo ever since he took over for Calipari, notching a string of top-10 classes going back to his first year at the helm. Turning that talent into on-court success has been his biggest challenge however, and his squad struggled early on this season as well. Something clicked a couple of months ago, however, and the Tigers come into this one winners of 20 out of their last 23 games, with their worst loss in that stretch being three points. St. Louis is worthy of their #9 seed (remember Rick Majerus? He coaches St. Louis now), but their talent level is no match for Memphis. They'll need Pastner's squad to have a letdown in order for them to advance. Don't see it.
#5 New Mexico vs #12 Long Beach State
I really want to say Long Beach wins this one. After all, why not? Casper Ware is a ballsy shooter, they dominated their league, and they play a carefree style of ball that's easy on the eyes when everything is clicking. And who cares about New Mexico anyway? Has there ever been a more non-descript 5-seed in the history of the modern tournament? There are reasons for talking yourself into this upset, but here are some reasons to abstain: New Mexico is 6-3 against tournament teams, while LBSU is 0-4 and the Lobos have automatic double-double Drew Gordon, who should have fun against Long Beach's interior.
PICK: New Mexico
#4 Louisville vs #13 Davidson
The only way Davidson wins this game is if Steph Curry comes back to suit up for them again. Rick Pitino has his Cardinals peaking at the right time and, fresh off of winning the Big East Tournament, are poised to hold serve.
#6 Murray State vs #11 Colorado State
The most under-seeded team in the tournament is Murray State. 30-1. I don't care what conference you play in, 30-1 is ridiculous. It includes wins against Memphis and St. Mary's which, while not mind-blowing, shows they can play up to their competition when necessary. CSU is worse than both of those teams and I don't see them being in this one late.
PICK: Murray State
#3 Marquette vs #14 BYU or #14 Iona
No team got as many people upset about their inclusion as Iona and BYU, so I suppose it's fitting they have to play each other on the network formerly known as Court TV. Regardless of who wins that one, playing the Big East's second-best team two days later will be WAY too tall of an order.
#7 Florida vs #10 Virginia
One of the most evenly-matched games in the entire first round, I expect the winning team's score to be in the 60s. Virginia plays relentless defense under the guidance of former Washington State coach Tony Bennett and are one of the few double-digit seeds capable of going possession for possession with the Gators. The game will be played at a true neutral site, in Omaha, and I don't expect either team's fan base to travel well, so this is the rare opportunity to see two comparable teams compete with home-court advantage stripped from the equation.
Virginia has more depth than Florida, and makes more talented teams earn everything, but Florida's best players are better than Virginia's best players and that's good enough for me.
#2 Missouri vs #15 Norfolk State
I honestly thought Missouri should've been a #1 seed this year. I do not feel the same way about Norfolk State.
#1 North Carolina vs #16 Lamar or #16 Vermont
I'm not going to say a ton about North Carolina here, because I'll be saying a lot about them as this goes on. Hint hint.
#8 Creighton vs #9 Alabama
I think Creighton is really good. Alabama has played better teams, and done okay, but Creighton has been mavelous. I've often thought that I'd rather be a #10 or #11 seed than an #8 or #9, since you don't have to run into a #1 so early in the tourney. I can see either team winning this one, but I'm taking the chalk, if for no other reason than to exasperate those of you who are (unreasonably) upset with me for not picking more upsets so far.
#5 Temple vs #12 California or #12 South Florida
If there's one play-in team that I can see making a bit of a run, it's Cal. But picking "play-in winner X" is lame, since you don't actually get to choose a particular squad and if I picked Cal to upset Temple, and USF did it instead, that'd be super lame. Going with Temple here for a few reasons, not the least of which is that I watched the shit out of this show while growing up.
#4 Michigan vs #13 Ohio
Look, it's 3:06am on a Monday night / Tuesday morning. What possible insight do you expect from me at this hour? It's Michigan against a team you always forget exists until you see them playing mediocre football on ESPN2 on Wednesday nights.
#6 San Diego State vs #11 North Carolina State
PICK: North Carolina State
#3 Georgetown vs #14 Belmont
Did you know that the Vegas sharps are only giving Belmont 3.5 points in this one? That's gotta be the lowest spread for a 3/14 game in history. Belmont's razor-sharp shooting makes this a drool-worthy upset pick, but despite what your hubris tells you, first-round upset picks don't win bracket pools. That's just the stone-cold truth of the matter. Belmont isn't going to sniff an offensive rebound in this one.
#7 St. Mary's vs #10 Purdue
Robbie Hummel is finally healthy for an NCAA tournament and I don't think he's going to go one-and-done. Matthew Dellavedova has crazy game, but Purdue is uber-efficient and will make enough shots to carry through to the second round.
#2 Kansas vs #15 Detroit
Butler coach Doogie Howser, er, Brad Stevens said Detroit is the best #15 seed ever. He's probably right, and they probably deserve a better draw, but ain't much going Detroit's way these days (hey, Prince Fielder!). Kansas' Thomas Robinson is the most man's-game player in the country and he's gonna feast big time in this one. There's no better future matchup in the eyes of network execs than an Elite Eight showdown between Kansas and North Carolina, and that won't get derailed here.
So there you have it. You wanted more upsets? Make 'em yourself. Sure, the odds say there will be more surprises than I picked here, but good luck figuring out what those are. Like I said before, bracket pools aren't won with first-round upsets, so be picky with the ones you choose. I'll be back tomorrow with my second-rounders, but for now, I'm going to pass out in a Crown-Royal-and-cigar-induced coma. Until next time, cheers!
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