The conference tourneys are completed, the teams are seeded, and the brackets are set. Whether you were crying tears of joy with Belmont and Head Coach Rick Byrd (and others) on Selection Sunday or crying foul with NC State and their NET ranking of 33 not getting an invite to the dance… It’s time to move away from the bubble and onto the brackets! Welcome to the greatest 3 weeks in sports, also known as the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament!
Eight (8) different cities will be hosting the first weekend of tourney games as Bracket Madness engulfs the country from coast to coast. The 1st & 2nd Rounds are arguably the most exciting of all the levels of the tourney, as you’ve got the most teams, the most games, the most buzzer beaters and, if you’re like me, the most opportunities to bust your own brackets. Who is locked & loaded to make it out of the madness and into the Regional Semis? Who is ready to create some madness and make themselves the Mayors of Upset City this weekend? Let’s take a quick look at each Region’s most intriguing scenarios:
DUKE: Michigan State overcomes several massive injuries to take both the Big 10 regular season title and then the conference tournament in impressive fashion. Their reward? A 2-seed in Duke’s bracket. And this is absolutely Duke’s bracket. As the overwhelming #1 team in the country coming into the tournament, expect easy double-digit wins for Coach K & Company against whomever they play.
MICHIGAN STATE: Speaking of Michigan State, a potential 2nd round issue could await them as Louisville poses a definite threat to Tom Izzo reaching the Sweet 16 for the (seemingly) 300th time in his career. And yes, Louisville will be waiting for them in the 2nd Round. Many people are looking at the potential “poetic justice” of Richard Pitino Jr. and his Minnesota squad taking on UL… The school that fired his legendary dad less than 18 months ago. Don’t buy into the hype… The Gophers are overmatched and underqualified to stay with the Cardinals.
VIRGINIA TECH: Look for Virginia Tech to run through the first 2 rounds, as one of the best shooting teams in the country also gets Justin Robinson back just in time.
BELMONT: A chic pick here, but worth the popularity. They should dispose of Temple easily in Dayton (tip of the cap to Fran Dunphy and his fantastic career coming to a close) before taking on a turnover-riddled Maryland (coming off of a horrible Big 10 tourney loss to Nebraska) and a once-formidable LSU team who has looked like a completely different team after their head coach was recently suspended indefinitely.
GONZAGA: They looked tired and outworked against St. Mary’s in Las Vegas last week. Don’t expect to see the same from a Mark Few-coached team. No issues for the Zags until a potential FSU matchup in the Sweet 16.
FLORIDA STATE: One of the best and most underrated defenses in the country, FSU should have no problem booking their trip to Anaheim for the West Regionals. This includes the winner of the Marquette/Murray State game, which basically is going to be a one-on-one match as two of the most prolific scorers in the country in Markus Howard and Ja Morant will likely go shot-for-shot.
FLORIDA: Nevada has looked suspect without Jordan Caroline and the issues with his achilles tendon aren’t going away anytime soon. That, plus Florida’s insatiable desire to cause turnovers should push them through the Wolfpack and make Michigan’s offensive life miserable in the 2nd Round.
TENNESSEE: An SEC final loss to a good Auburn team aside, the Vols landed an incredibly favorable matchup with both Colgate along with the winner of Cincinnati/Iowa. Iowa has plummeted recently, and Cincinnati is unproven outside of its AAC schedule.
VILLANOVA: Even with a “down” Big East this season, the defending national champions should push through to the Sweet 16 once again. Saint Mary’s spirited victory over Gonzaga was due to more of a bad showing by Gonzaga than a finally-realized capability of the Gaels. And Purdue, even with its share of the Big Ten regular season title, has shown recently that if Carsen Edwards has a bad game, it spells doom for the Boilermakers.
OREGON: The Ducks benefit being on the West Coast for the first weekend of the tournament and are finally playing up to their potential that was seen back in November, at just the right time. An 8-game winning streak (yes, even in the horrendous Pac-12) shows well for a team firing on all cylinders right now (even after losing Bol Bol). Wisconsin, earning a 5-seed after no real “bad” losses in league play this season, also played their worst against their “best” opponents this year (2-7 vs. Michigan, Michigan State, Maryland and Purdue in conference, Marquette & Virginia out of conference). Of note: It’s been 80 years since the first ever NCAA Basketball Championship. The winner in 1939? Oregon.
HOUSTON: One of the most well-rounded teams in the tournament, Kelvin Sampson and the Cougars will have little trouble with Georgia State and will head into a likely matchup with Iowa State in the 2nd Round. While the Cyclones are deep and talented (as evidenced by their impressive Big 12 tourney championship run), they are incredibly inconsistent and lack the defensive efficiency to withstand Houston’s balanced attack.
AUBURN: A trendy Final Four pick in early-January, the Tigers have regained the momentum and seem primed to make a strong run in March. Forcing more turnovers than any team in the country combined with their tenacity to score a ton of points in transition, Bruce Pearl and his team will make quick work of New Mexico State and a rare “down” Jayhawk team this year.
SETON HALL: Wofford might be the popular pick this week; however, Seton Hall brings a brand of tough, in-your-face basketball that many teams have problems matching their intensity. Pounding their will into the likes of Villanova and Marquette (twice) over the past 2 weeks, combined with a leader in Myles Powell creating matchup nightmares, and there is a great chance that Seton Hall makes it 2-for-2 this season against John Calipari and his young Kentucky team next Saturday.
We’ll be posting updates about the tournament each Monday, so make sure to check back with us next week after the Rounds finish!
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