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March Madness Preview

todayMarch 17, 2015 1

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Andrew Nogay

Web Content Contributor

My probably awful bracket.
This is my bracket. I already regret it. Photo by Andrew Nogay.

The NCAA Tournament is one of my sacred things as a sports fan. For the first round especially, few things come close. I’m not the only one who loves March Madness. Few American sports outside of football get the interest or ratings that the NCAA tournament gets. College basketball has a lot of inherent flaws, and the quality of play isn’t the greatest. NBA players are much more skilled than their college counterparts, and NBA coaches are mostly just as superior when it comes to X’s and O’s (Byron Scott excluded, of course). Casual plays in the NBA would be amazing, top 10 highlights for college. For example, last weekend I was watching a Clippers game and J.J. Reddick threw a half-court alley-oop to Matt Barnes that he put down with ease, and it was just another play. Or just watch anything Anthony Davis does, or the million subtle things the Atlanta Hawks do to get Kyle Korver an open three. It’s incredible.

So why do people love March Madness? Because it is the most perfect playoff system for any sport. It allows for more games than college football or the NFL, and every moment has win-or-go-home meaning and intensity, something that the NBA, NHL and MLB playoff formats don’t have. Each game has an craziness that no other sport can match for quality nor quantity. Plus, there’s always the chance you can watch something memorable, like a great play, an unlikely upset, or the revered buzzer beater. For the round of 64 especially, nothing comes close to the drama of March Madness.

For this preview I’m teaming up with my old high school friend Shyam, one of the only people I know who likes sports as much as I do, to write this. You see, for the first time since we were in high school, the first days of the NCAA tournament coincide with our spring break. We’re going through every first round game, including the play-in games, basically by transcribing our conversations about each game. It’s great, he is cold and calculating and I’m passionate and not as smart. It makes for great chemistry. Then for Thursday and Friday I’m going to be live-blogging the games, and expect a whole lot of Shyam for that too.

Play-in Games

16. Manhattan vs. 16. Hampton

Shyam: We were trying to do some research on this game, but ESPN locked up on us. I take it as a sign that this game isn’t going to be very meaningful.

Andrew: Hey the winner of this game gets to be destroyed by Kentucky by 50, so there’s some meaning here. I think Manhattan is going to win this one, they’ve gone 11-3 in their last 14 games, with all of those loses being close. They’re as hot as a team from the MAAC can be heading into the tournament. Hampton only went 8-8 in MEAC conference play, and are the only team with a losing record in the field.

Shyam: These games tend to be close, but for all the wrong reasons. I guess I’ll take Manhattan.

11. BYU vs. 11. Ole Miss

Andrew: A matchup of the ghosts of Jimmer Fredette and Marshall Henderson. Who would you take in a game of 1-on-1 between them, Shyam?

Shyam: Marshall Henderson. He’s playing professional basketball in Iraq man.

Andrew: That’s hardcore. Anyways, I like BYU here. Tyler Haws and Kyle Collinsworth can score. A lot actually, they’re second in the country in scoring. They also beat Gonzaga in Gonzaga, so there’s that.

Shyam: I’ll take Ole Miss, SEC teams tend to recruit and play very physical, and when in doubt I feel like that will be a deciding factor in these play-in games. Coaches want to play conservative in these situations, which plays into the Rebels’ hands.

16. North Florida vs. 16. Robert Morris

Shyam: Another sacrificial lamb, this time for Duke. The last memorable mid-major from Florida we saw was Florida Gulf Coast, and they were worth the price of admission by far. I have no basis for this, but I could see North Florida recreating that, if only for one game. But again, they’re going to lose to Duke.

Andrew: That’s fair, and FGCU and UNF are even in the same conference. However, while FGCU was located in south, party-crazy Florida, UNF is in *shivers* North Florida. I’m from that insane state, and the northern part of Florida is a near wasteland. Mostly because of that, I’m going with Robert Morris. They’re one of the top teams in the NCAA in steals, so there’s that.

11. Dayton vs. 11 Boise State

Andrew: I’m taking Dayton here. They were impressive in the Atlantic-10, coming close to winning that conference tournament. As an aside, the A-10 is the ultimate hipster basketball conference. They have likeable and enigmatic teams that hustle like crazy and shoot threes equally so. Not everybody watches their games, but their teams always make an impression. Their conference tournament takes place in Brooklyn for goodness sakes. Top to bottom, they’ve been one of the best conferences in college basketball the past few years period. Dayton should’ve been a higher seed in my opinion.

Shyam: I’ve actually seen Boise play this year against SDSU, and I was impressed. However, I still think Dayton’s going to run away with this one. They have a quality coach, and they made a deep run last year, getting to the Elite 8. They beat some quality teams on the way there too, all of whom were major conference teams. Frankly it’s a joke that they’re in the play ins, and teams like UCLA aren’t, expect to see them potentially make a deep run springing off a big win here.

Andrew: That time VCU made the final four, they had to play in a play-in game. Dayton could do something similar this year.

Midwest Region

1. Kentucky vs. 16. Manhattan/Hampton

Shyam: Kentucky’s gonna kill em. If you’re looking for a 16 seed to pull a big win, this is the wrongest place unless it all goes horribly wrong. Look to see Calipari have his team get off to a fast start and build some momentum before getting into the meat and potatoes of the tournament, and Karl-Anthony Towns to assert himself early before we get to see some fringe guys get some minutes.

Andrew: I’m not crazy about Kentucky’s guards, especially the Harrison twins, but Towns and Willie-Cauley Stein are too much. Having two legit 7-footers that are as versatile as them is such an advantage every game. The way to catch Kentucky off-guard is to not let them get fast breaks, make your 3’s and hope their shooters are off. I don’t think either Manhattan or Hampton can do those things.

8. Cincinnati vs. 9. Purdue

Andrew: Cincinnati and Purdue actually rank 13th and 14th in the country in blocks per game, respectively. The difference is that Cincinnati is focused on defense (they’re only allowing 55 points/game) while Purdue has a lot of size. I’m going with Cincinnati, because I feel that legitimate great defense can overtake size, and they’ve made the last four tournaments, so experience isn’t an issue.

Shyam: Mediocre B1G teams tend to float up into the tournament every season only to go down in less than memorable fashion. I’ll take Cincinnati here, they have a solid program that’s consistently in the conversation, but neither team inspires a great deal of confidence on first glance.

5. West Virginia vs. 12. Buffalo

Shyam: I had an opportunity to watch Buffalo in their conference tournament, and they had a fantastically athletic game, and definitely passed the eye test. I can see Buffalo going on a run stemming from a win here, but this is a tough region to go deep in.

Andrew: I’m picking Buffalo here. I love the games of Leamonte Bearden and Shannon Evans, their two guards. Both can seemingly drive the ball at will, and West Virginia’s press defense is going to pick up some cheap fouls against them I think. West Virginia is a more talented team, I mean they did go 11-7 in the toughest conference in America, but there’s always a 5-12 upset, and this looks like a good candidate.

4. Maryland vs. Valparaiso

Andrew: Maryland seemed underseeded as four seed. Their resume is really good, with non-conference wins over Iowa State and Oklahoma State. Melo Trimble not only has an amazing name, but is also one of the best freshman in the country. Are you down with the Trimble?

Shyam: Absolutely. Maryland’s a super explosive team with some fantastic wins this season. A real boom or bust candidate in this tournament, they could very easily just click and make a deep run, one of the few teams I can see potentially knocking out Kentucky. If nothing else though, they’ll be exciting to watch on a national stage.

6. Butler vs. 11. Texas

Shyam: Texas was thoroughly underwhelming this season, and arguably couldn’t have done less with the talent they had coming into the season, but made the tournament despite a really rough patch. They pass the eye test, but Butler is a quality team that can exploit their shortcomings, and Texas is prone to imploding anyways behind inconsistent guard play. Butler’s my pick here.

Andrew: I grew up a Longhorn fan, so be prepared for a tiny rant here. You’re completely right. From the point when Texas was 10-1, this is just about the worst their season could’ve turned out. Sure, they’ve had injuries, but the blame should go right on Rick Barnes. It’s going to be hilarious in four years when Myles Turner, Isiah Taylor and others are doing well in the NBA to think that UT this year had a losing conference record. Some of Barnes’ decisions are so boneheaded that he nearly gave me aneurysm during the last Iowa State game. Texas has arguably the deepest big man rotation in the NCAA, with a solid backcourt, and on paper should’ve been a top four seed. I mean UT was the first team to give Kentucky a game this year, and that was without Taylor, so UT at their best is as good as any team in the country. Having an incompetent head coach with a championship-caliber roster is like driving a Ferrari on the highway with the parking break on. There’s always a limit to how far you can go before it breaks down. It’s going to be hilarious when Butler goes on a 20 point run in the last seven minutes to win this game. I’m already depressed about it. On the bright side, this inevitable stomach-punch loss isn’t going to be nearly as bad as when we couldn’t even make the Sweet 16 with Kevin Durant. Ugh. Never forget.

3. Notre Dame vs. 14 Northeastern

Andrew: Somehow Notre Dame won the ACC, and they actually have one of the best offenses in the country. Is this basketball season karmic reparations for the awful losses their football team has had the past couple of years?

Shyam: Well, it’d be especially hilarious if they went out to an SEC team in embarrassing fashion, but as far as this matchup goes they shouldn’t have too much trouble after a strong showing in their conference tournament.

Andrew: There’s always one upset every year that nobody sees coming, and this is a candidate for this year. That said, Notre Dame’s probably going to win by 30.

7. Wichita State vs. 10. Indiana

Shyam: For whatever reason, Indiana seems like a team that could pull an upset, but everybody’s pulling for Wichita State to meet Kansas in the next round. Wichita State isn’t coming with the same hype it had last season, but is still a very solid team who could feasibly make a run from here. I’d love to see the matchup with Kansas, so I’ll take Wichita State in this one.

Andrew: Me too. It’s destiny that Wichita State finally plays Kansas, and loses in heartbreaking fashion. I’m going with Wichita State because Tom Cream isn’t a great coach, to put it lightly. Wichita State has too much experience and ambition to lose here.

2. Kansas vs. New Mexico State

Andrew: I can’t talk about Kansas rationally. I hate them more than any other basketball team, and like television taught me, if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all. That said, f*** Kansas. They’ll probably win the national championship to spite me.

Shyam: From the limited bits I’ve seen from New Mexico State historically, their offense isn’t pretty but gets the job done, and tends to be based around a physical game. That approach could lead to a close game versus a shaky Kansas team without a lot of momentum, but expect Kansas to outlast the Aggies on the basis of sheer talent. This might be the most intriguing 2 seed matchup in the field for me.

Andrew: If New Mexico State can pull off the upset, I’d pray to my Sim Bhullar statue much more frequently.

East Region

1. Villanova vs. Lafayette

 Andrew: Nova is like the Atlanta Hawks of the NCAA: they play fluid team basketball, shoot lights out, have a deep rotation, don’t have a go-to player and are way under the radar. It’s been two months since they lost, and I don’t think Lafayette is going to break their streak. However, on the plus side, their team name are the Leopards, which is beyond solid.

Shyam: Villanova is the team that seems to have hype every year leading into the tournament, before fizzling out against opposition of varying qualities. This year they come with a ton of depth and variety in their squad, but I’m still not convinced they’ll go as deep as they should. But they will beat Lafayette.

8. NC State vs. 9. LSU

Shyam: NC State is coming with some momentum from a strong showing in the ACC tournament, but overall had a middling season. LSU also had a rough year at times, but put it together when it counted, and has starters with the skillset to back up a potential run in what could be a weak half of the bracket with some niche teams. This should be a very good matchup regardless of the outcome, but I’ll take LSU on the balance of talent.

Andrew: NC State seems to do really well in seasons were they have low expectations, and disappoint when they have high expectations. They could be a surprise team here. LSU is a young team that could be a national championship contender next year (they have a great recruiting incoming class, led by the top high player of his class, Ben Simmons), but this game is just added experience for LSU. I’ll take NC State.

5. Northern Iowa vs. 12. Wyoming

Andrew: This game is going to be close I think, just on the basis of both teams having great defenses. Northern Iowa has played some quality competition this year, and out of their two loses one was in double overtime against VCU and the other was against Wichita State, who UNI beat earlier in the year. A cool thing about UNI is that they have a big guy who shoots 3’s at better than 40%, and his field goal percentage is better than 60% on a fair amount of shots. That’s pretty d*** efficient.

Shyam: Northern Iowa is getting a lot of hype entering the tournament, with an excellent record backed up by high quality losses, and potentially an aggressive seeding. I had an opportunity to watch Wyoming win their conference tournament, but I’ll ride the momentum on this one and take Northern Iowa.

Andrew: Yeah, I think this is a dangerous game for Northern Iowa but they’ll end up winning by a score of like 44-40 I’ll say.

4. Louisville vs. 13. UC Irvine

Shyam: UC Irvine comes in with 7’6″ Mamadou N’Diaye, as well as solid play on the floor, but Louisville puts out a high quality product as always, despite the distractions this season. This could be a fun matchup with N’Diaye hitting double digit blocks, but expect Louisville to game plan accordingly and exploit UC Irvine’s weaker facets.

Andrew: I could see N’Diaye just dominating Louisville inside, or him getting in foul trouble early and only being able to play like ten minutes. This game will depend on how the refs call it. I’m honestly not impressed with Louisville, even though Pitino is a great coach he hasn’t figured out how to mold a solid offense this year. I’m going with UC Irvine, in an upset. Of course, Montrezl Harrell might actually stop shooting jumpers and attack the rim this game, which would be difficult for UC Irvine to deal with.

6. Providence vs. 11. Boise St./Dayton

Shyam: Providence brings a very solid team to the tournament, albeit without any standout perimeter shooting, but the expectations are justified. I expect big things out of a Dayton team that’s entering with a chip on it’s shoulder from being shunted into a play in game, and has the intangibles to make a run. If Dayton makes it I’ll expect them to win this game, but Providence should handle Boise St without issues.

Andrew: Providence had gone ten years without making the tournament before making the last two, so perhaps a lot of the big name schools leaving the Big East created a vacuum that the Friars were able to fill. I’m uneasy about them. I agree with you; if they play Dayton, I think they’ll lose, but if they play Boise, they’ll win.

3. Oklahoma vs. 14 Albany

Andrew: Oklahoma lost in last year’s tournament in the first round as a fifth seed, and they could be in danger here as well. Albany are the Great Danes, and you should never count out Scooby-Doo-related things. After all, Cartoon Network is still pumping out Scooby-Doo series and movies. Does that have anything to do with college basketball? Not really…this was a terrible tangent. Sorry everybody. Although I think they’ll win, Oklahoma is so inconsistent that a loss here isn’t out of the question.

Shyam: Albany is actually making the tournament for the third consecutive year, but has consistently been a sacrificial lamb. Oklahoma has run hot and cold this year, giving Albany an opening, but I would expect to see the Great Danes exit in this round yet again. This could be a springboard game for Oklahoma to make a deep run, but it’s really a crapshoot with them.

7. Michigan State vs. 10. Georgia

Shyam: Michigan State took Wisconsin to overtime in the B1G tourney final, but a combination of a missed call and poor executing led to them coming up short. The committee later mentioned that Wisconsin had locked up a 1 seed regardless of the result, but you wonder what the impact was on a very solid Michigan State team’s seeding was. Izzo is one of the best coaches around, and has proven success at this level, but a talented Georgia team will pose a threat. One of the most interesting second round matchups, but I pick Michigan State to pull away late in a competitive game.

Andrew: Yeah, this feels like one of those games that is close at the end, but Michigan State’s grit and coaching will have them prevail. I just love that Georgia’s leading scorer is named Marcus Thornton. Hopefully he’ll be picked up by whichever NBA team that employs the shooter Marcus Thornton and they’ll have a reality show called Marcus Thornton Squared.

2. Virginia vs. 15. Belmont

Andrew: Belmont has never won a game in the NCAA tournament, and their first isn’t coming against Virginia. They lost handily to the only two tournament-quality teams on their schedule, and Virginia isn’t a team that’s likely to make the mistakes that leads to upsets this big.

Shyam: Belmont is coming into this game with a great deal of momentum, but that’s not going to help them enough to get over UVA, who excel at executing the fundamentals. If Virginia shows the offensive ineptitude we saw during some of their conference games this year though, we could see Belmont stay competitive, but I would be shocked if the Bruins managed a win.

West Region

1. Wisconsin vs. 16. Coastal Carolina

Shyam: Coastal Carolina is memorable to me for producing NFL fullback/tailback hybrid, and touchdown vulture Mike Tolbert, and not a whole lot else. They face a Wisconsin side fresh off a big, if controversial, win over Michigan State in the B1G tourney final. I can’t see Bo Ryan’s Badgers losing here.

Andrew: Me neither but I wish they did. They’re painfully deliberate on both sides of the ball. Frank Kaminsky is the likely player of the year in college basketball, and he could probably take out a 16 seed single-handedly.

8. Oregon vs. 9. Oklahoma State

Andrew: I like Oregon here. Joseph Young is an elite scorer, and Oklahoma ended the season on a pretty bad slide. Momentum points towards Oregon here.

Shyam: Oklahoma State lost a ton of talent to the draft last season (Marcus Smart, Markel Brown), but has had a solid season in a competitive season behind Le’Bryan Nash. Oregon made the PAC-12 tourney finals before getting destroyed by Arizona in the final. I’ll take Oregon, but it’s an intriguing matchup as the 8 v 9 games tend to be.

5. Arkansas vs. 12. Wofford

Shyam: Another team that got destroyed in their conference tourney final, Arkansas brings a solid resume to the table, and has the talent to back up this seeding. The Wofford Terriers are making the NCAA Tournament for the fourth time since 2010, but haven’t had any success up to this point. While Arkansas may present the most viable matchup to date, I still expect Arkansas to come out ahead.

Andrew: Arkansas is a physical and athletic team, and have potential to make a Sweet 16 run, similar to Tennessee last year. However, I’m high on this Wofford team. They played good opponents in their non-conference. Although they lost to Duke and West Virginia by large margins, they actually beat NC State. They’ve only lost one game in the past two months, and I like their chances to win here as well.

4. North Carolina vs. 13 Harvard

Andrew: I’m not convinced by this North Carolina team, although they went on a good run in the ACC tournament. It just seems like Marcus Paige is the only player who can consistently create offense for them. I see this game being closer than most expect, but UNC pulling away late. Sometimes, talent prevails despite not fitting together perfectly.

Shyam: Harvard’s another team with a rising program, making the tourney for the third consecutive year, and has looked competitive every year. However, a powerhouse like UNC shouldn’t have any trouble with them in this matchup, with Marcus Paige and JP Tokoto looking better and better down the stretch. I have UNC making a deep run in the tournament this year, if not on the basis of form, then on sheer talent level.

6. Xavier vs. 11. BYU/Ole Miss

Shyam:  Andrew and I split on our picks on the winner of this play in game, but I’ll take Xavier beating either. The Musketeers have made it out alive and kicking after a tough conference schedule, and should have the poise and composure to pull this one out.

Andrew: My middle name is Xavier, so I normally pick them to go farther in the tournament than they actually go. But I really think they’re in a solid position to make a run this year. They’re battle tested, and I’m not convinced either BYU or Ole Miss are well-rounded enough to beat my middle-namesake.

3. Baylor vs. 14. Georgia State

Andrew: Baylor has skill and athleticism, and even though Scott Drew is a much better recruiter than he is a coach, they have the pieces to go far. On the other side, I’m mostly excited about Georgia State because that’s the school Kevin Ware went to after his leg disintegrated against Duke. I’m just saying, it would be incredibly dramatic if Kevin Ware gets the game-winning dunk in this game, then breaks his leg again when he comes down from the rim. I never root for somebody to get injured, but if that happens the irony would be so intense we would all be transported back to the mid-’90s.

Shyam: Watching Georgia State play Georgia Southern in their conference tournament final was rough viewing, a low scoring affair without a whole lot of flow. That’s the opposite of Baylor’s game, and they should win this with relative ease.

7. VCU vs. 10. Ohio State

Shyam: Shaka Smart’s havoc philosophy makes another appearance here against a Buckeye team led by top point guard De’Angelo Russell. Russell can carry Ohio State against most teams, but as a whole the Rams are the better team. This matchup could easily swing either way based on if the Buckeyes can give a team performance, but I’ll take VCU to pull this one out late.

Andrew: This might be my favorite matchup of the first round. Both teams have the ability to make a deep run. De’Angelo Russell is averaging 19-5-5, insane for anybody, let alone a freshman. Sometimes the tournament comes down to having a guard who can get a shot off any time he wants (see: UConn their last two national championships), and OSU has that. VCU on the other hand are pressing demons who turn opponents over at incredible rates. Their ceiling is limited a bit by Briante Weber’s season-ending injury, but even if VCU can’t overcome that in later rounds I feel they’ll get the better of Ohio State.

2. Arizona vs. 15 Texas Southern

Andrew: I’m high on this Arizona team. They have NBA talent across the board, and Sean Miller is a great coach. Texas Southern is surprisingly solid, they did beat Michigan State earlier this year, but I don’t think the Tigers will prevail against the Wildcats.

Shyam: Arizona absolutely destroyed Oregon in their conference tournament final, and should carry that momentum into this one. Texas Southern’s actually a decent team that could put up a fight, but I can’t see this one being competitive either.

South Region

1. Duke vs. 16. UNF/Robert Morris

Shyam: Duke’s built their season behind Jahlil Okafor, but their entire team has emerged down the stretch to where Okafor doesn’t have to exclusively carry the load. I have no expectations for UNF or Robert Morris from the play in game, but similar to Kentucky this will be an opportunity for Duke to create some additional momentum for themselves in a plausibly easy region.

Andrew: The Blue Devil’s freshman trio of Okafor, Justise Winslow and Tyus Jones made Duke surprisingly fun to watch, and this is coming from a Duke hater. The past few years, Duke has oscillated between making deep runs and losing in the first round, and I don’t think they’re losing in the first round this time. When they’re on their game, Duke can beat any team.

8. San Diego State vs. 9. St. John’s

Andrew: SDSU is making the tournament for the fifth straight year, and this might be the most offensively-challenged group Steve Fisher has had to mold. Their defense is stunning as usual though. St. John’s on the other hand has a significantly better offense and significantly worse defense. In this ying/yang matchup, I’m going with St. John’s ability to create offense in what could turn out to be a close game.

Shyam: SDSU has fielded better teams over the years, but Steve Fisher is an established coach who should be able to get at least one win out of his personnel this year against a St. John’s team that’s coming off two very bad losses to Villanova and Providence. SDSU for me.

5. Utah vs. 12. SF Austin

Shyam: I haven’t had an opportunity to watch much of Utah this year, but their record is very solid, with losses only to Arizona, Kansas, SDSU, Oregon, UCLA, and Washington, all of which but the last made the tournament. SF Austin makes it to the big dance by winning the Southland Conference Tournament after a rough start to the season. They looked decent in that game, but nothing to suggest them making an actual run, even though anything is possible this time of year. Utah should be the safe pick.

Andrew: Delon Wright is one of the best players in basketball, so even if all else fails, he should be able to lift Utah over Stephen F. Austin. SF Austin has only played three tournament teams this year, and lost to all three. However, they do play great team ball. As a team they lead the NCAA in assists per game, and their off-brand style could make this game closer than some anticipate.

4. Georgetown vs. 13. Eastern Washington

Andrew: The only losses Georgetown has had this year have been to tournament teams, but they don’t have any fantastic wins either. They strike me as a vulnerable team, maybe even to Eastern Washington, who is third in the NCAA in scoring. Unless Georgetown gets carried hard by D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera, this will likely be a close game.

Shyam: I can’t say anything about Eastern Washington, they come out of the Big Sky Conference, and did beat Indiana this year, but there’s not a whole lot else on their resume. However, Georgetown is seeded very aggressively here as the third best team from the Big East, but have the talent to be successful. I’m not too high on Georgetown’s prospects for the entirety of the tourney, but I’ll pick them to win this one handily.

6. SMU vs. 11. UCLA

Shyam: Larry Brown’s Mustangs make the tournament, and face a team that likely shouldn’t even be in the field, never mind seeded this aggressively in UCLA. The Bruins might pull this one off just to further annoy everybody who got snubbed, but I’ll pick SMU to pull this one off.

Andrew: I think SMU wins this one easily. It’s too bad that Emmanuel Mudiay elected to play in China instead of SMU. He’s going to one of the top picks in the NBA draft, and his closest pro comps are Russel Westbrook and Derrick Rose. This basketball season would’ve been that much more interesting if he was playing. It’s indicative of how dangerous SMU would’ve been with him that they’re a sixth seed without him.

3. Iowa State vs. 14 UAB

Andrew: Iowa State is one of the best teams in the country in my opinion. I wouldn’t have batted an eye if they got a second seed. They’re tough, athletic, skilled and have a very good coach. Winning the Big 12 tournament this year is no joke. UAB has struggled against the quality competition they’ve faced this year, and I don’t expect them to succeed in this game.

Shyam: UAB won the Conference USA tournament and gets their automatic bid, only to be thrown into a tough game against a hot Iowa State team. The Cyclones have had a fantastic run down the stretch this season including beating Kansas in their conference title game, and should take care of the Blazers without any issues. Honestly, the first thing I thought of when seeing UAB in the field was how their FBS team got killed off…

7. Iowa v 10. Davidson

Shyam: I don’t think I’ve seen either of these teams play this year, but I’ll take Iowa in this matchup. Their wins against North Carolina, Ohio State, and Maryland give them a solid resume after a tough schedule. Davidson has wins against Dayton and VCU, but this admittedly could be a close one either way.

Andrew: Iowa has some versatile big men, like Jarrod Uthoff, who are handy to have in matchups with opponents who are unfamiliar with their style of play, but I’m leaning towards Davidson in this game. They have a high-octane offense, and winning the Atlantic-10 regular season title holds a lot of weight with me.

2. Gonzaga vs. 15. North Dakota State

Andrew: Gonzaga is probably my pick to win this region, and I expect them to beat NDSU relatively easily. NDSU just doesn’t have the offense to contend with a team as talented as Gonzaga. My favorite Gonzaga subplot this year is how Kyle Wiltjer reinvented himself from the awkward guy on Kentucky who never played to one of the most important players in college basketball. He was a five star recruit, so his talent was never in question. He just needed an opportunity. It’d be hilarious if Gonzaga ended up being the one to beat Kentucky.

Shyam: I’m not convinced by Gonzaga in terms of making a deep run this year, but they should be able to handle NDSU with relative ease. The Zags are a good team absolutely, and have the top coaching and talent to back it up, but there’s something about them that doesn’t really inspire confidence in me. Haven’t watched any of NDSU this year either, looks like they won the Summit Conference Tourney over South Dakota State, and did beat a 5th seeded Oklahoma last year, but I don’t have any basis here to predict an upset.

 

Well, there you have it. Come back on Thursday and Friday for the live-blogging. It’ll probably start promptly with the start of the games.

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