Breaking Down the Brackets: Midwest and East
The NCAA tournament tips off Thursday with 16 games and another 16 on Friday. Today we will take a look at the first round in the East and Midwest regionals, as well as breaking down the winner, followed by the West and South regionals tomorrow.
East Regional, Round One
1. Pittsburgh vs. 16. East Tennessee State
I actually thought that East Tennessee State got snubbed with the 16 seed and that it should have gone to Cal State Northridge. Not that it would have made much difference, as Levance Fields and Dejuan Blair will look to jump out to an early lead to get some rest for round 2 as Pittsburgh will roll in this one. Pittsburgh 84, ETSU 55
8. Oklahoma State vs. 9. Tennessee
This is a fantastic 8-9 matchup because Oklahoma State has been a much more consistent team all year, but when Tennessee is on they are better than Oklahoma State. It will be interesting to see which team comes out stronger here, but I think this Tennessee team will come out strong in such a meaningful game and win in a shootout. Tennessee 84, Oklahoma State 80
5. Florida State vs. 12. Wisconsin
I don’t think that Wisconsin played well enough to earn a tourney spot this year and I don’t think they will upset the Seminoles in the dreaded 5/12 matchup that everyone talks about every year. Florida State has been playing great with Toney Douglas at the helm and as a team, the Seminoles are holding teams to .386% from the field. Florida State 64, Wisconsin 58
4. Xavier vs. 13. Portland State
Portland State loves to run the floor and shoot the 3 ball which could set up a potential upset here, and with a win over Gonzaga this year and a loss to Washington by 1, I smell upset. Yes, size has been an issue all year for Portland St. and Xavier has one of the bigger starting lineups in the tourney, but they have struggled as of late and Portland State is red hot right now. Upset special: Portland State 75, Xavier 74
6. UCLA vs. 11. VCU
I think this matchup will end up being one of the best and one of the closest games in Round 1. On one hand you have a Virginia Commonwealth team that has all the qualities of an 11 seed poised for an upset (72 points per game and a winning margin of more than 6 at 8.6) and then you have one of the most experienced teams in the tournament with UCLA. The few times I have seen them play, the Bruins have not looked all that great and I think guard Eric Maynor and center Larry Sanders will knock off the Bruins. VCU 78, UCLA 75
3. Villanova vs. 14. American
14 seeds averaging under 76.5 points per game are just 2-55 in the tournament and after this game it will be 2-56. Villanova is too strong for a small American team that almost upset Tennessee last year. Scottie Reynolds and his back court counterparts will come out firing and crush the Eagles, especially because this game will be played in Philadelphia. Villanova 76, American 57
7. Texas vs. 10. Minnesota
Texas has been one of the most inconsistent teams all year but I like the talent that they have on this team and think they can put it all together and make a little run in the tournament. Minnesota was lucky to get into the tournament and, although I like their defense, I don’t think they can score with Texas. Texas 72, Minnesota 65
2. Duke vs. 15. Binghamton
If you are looking for a 2/15 upset anywhere in this year’s bracket, this is it. And no, not because I think Duke will have a letdown like they almost did last year vs. Belmont. Rather, Binghamton is playing the best basketball of any of the 15 seeds, winning 11 in a row. Still, this Duke team is loaded this year and much better than last year and will win this one, but not as easily as most think. Duke 72, Binghamton 58
Who Wins the East Regional and Why? The East Regional features a lot of inconsistent but talent-heavy teams such as Oklahoma St., Florida St., Tennessee, Texas, Duke, and UCLA. A lot of these games were tough to pick because of the talent the losing teams had. As is the case in most tournament games, seeing which team comes to play in certain games will make all the difference. As for the winner, it came down to a Big East match up for me between Pittsburgh and Villanova. Pitt will breeze its way to the Regional Final, while Villanova will have its hands full with a veteran VCU team and an always dangerous Texas team (and if not that, Duke). In the end, I think Villanova will take the cake in the final and move to the Final Four. They beat Pittsburgh early in the year and, although it was a much different Pitt team (pre-UConn wins), I think Villanova is a team that is near impossible to beat when they are on their game. The inside-outside of Scottie Reynolds and Dante Cunningham is tough to beat and their young role players have done an excellent job this year.
Who is the Biggest Sleeper? A team that I could see sneaking into the Elite 8 has to be Florida St. They have looked so good this year and are led by Toney Douglas, a senior, which always makes life easier. They beat North Carolina this year after the heart-breaking buzzer beater from Ty Lawson earlier in the year and have looked excellent at times. They are coming into the tourney after a loss to Duke, but they match up well with Pitt if they were to get there and they are capable of playing great basketball.
Midwest Regional, Round One
1. Louisville vs. 16. Alabama St./Morehead St.
For the record, I like Morehead St. to beat Alabama St. for the right to get a butt-kicking from the overall number one seed Louisville Cardinals. Louisville is fresh off a Big East Tournament Championship and should roll against whoever they play with the consistent play of Terrance Williams and Earl Clark. Louisville 86, Morehead St. 63
8. Ohio State vs. 9. Siena
As all the 8/9 matchups seem to be, this game will be very hard to pick. Ohio State was a few missed shots away from the Big Ten Championship and seems to be getting hot at the right time, while Siena has the experience and determination to play with anyone. The Bulldogs had the second toughest non-conference schedule in the nation, playing Tennessee, Pittsburgh, and Kansas this year. Ohio State will not be able to keep up with Siena. Siena 71, Ohio State 66
5. Utah vs. 12. Arizona
A lot of people are overlooking the Utes and thinking about Arizona in terms of knowing the prestige behind the school. But don’t overlook it: this Utah team is good. Combine that with Arizona backing into the tournament, losing 5 of their last 6, and I think Utah has a chance to take this game. Luke Nevill will lead the squad into battle and try to shutdown Arizona’s Jordan Hill on the low post. In order for Arizona to win, their big 3 of Budinger, Hill, and Wise will need to be on their game and try to shut down the 7’2″ Nevill. In the end I think they end up pulling out the victory by a hair. Arizona 72, Utah 70
4. Wake Forest vs. 13. Cleveland St.
I have watched a lot of Wake Forest this year and they are my one sleeper to go very far in the tournament this year, especially getting a Sweet 16 matchup (potentially) against the smallest 1 seed in Louisville. Cleveland St. has been a great story this year and I love the hustle and aggresiveness they play with. However, Wake Forest is just too good and poised to make a run this year. Wake Forest 75, Cleveland St. 67
6. West Virginia vs. 11. Dayton
I have seen Dayton play just one time this year and it was against Xavier in a game where they were outplayed on every level and never really in the game. I loved their resume and never thought they got enough credit, but they got a bad draw playing, in my opinion, the best 6 seed. West Virginia is starting to turn it on and their young players are maturing at a great time ever since their upset win over Villanova. This is a potential Sweet 16 team. West Virginia 70, Dayton 62
3. Kansas vs. 14. North Dakota St.
Bill Self and his young Jayhawk team have had way too much unexpected success this year to have a letdown in the first round. Kansas looks to rebound the ball and get the offense going and that is exactly what they will do against a smaller NDSU team. Still, I could very easily see an upset occurring here if the Jayhawks play sluggish. The Bison put 4 seniors in the starting lineup that average 12, 19, and 23 points per game and are one of the best 3 point shooting teams in the nation, shooting 41% from deep. Expect a close one here. Kansas 79, North Dakota St. 70
7. Boston College vs. 10. USC
Boston College is another team that I am really liking this year and could sneak into the Sweet 16 when it is all said and done. Led by the back court of Tyrese Rice and Rakim Sanders, this team will shoot from the outside until the clock reads 0:00, and they do it well. With wins over North Carolina and Duke this year, this team has played well against solid competition all year long. As for USC, they are on a roll right now, but inconsistency has hurt them and I think their run ends here against a very underrated BC team. Boston College 71, USC 68
2. Michigan State vs. 15. Robert Morris
Tom Izzo in the NCAA Tournament being overlooked. Nuff’ said. Michigan St. 70, Robert Morris 49
BREAKING IT ALL DOWN
Who wins the Midwest Regional and Why? The Midwest Regional features the overall #1 seed, the defending champions, 10 conference tournament winners, and arguably the best head coaches in Rick Pitino, Bill Self, Tom Izzo, and Bob Huggins. The clear favorite in the Midwest Regional has to be the Louisville Cardinals. They just won the Big East Tournament and have not lost since February 15th. But I think that’s where they are in trouble. They are on a tear right now, winning 12 in a row against some pretty good competition, and have looked unstoppable over the last month or so. However, if you think about what Lousiville would need to do, win 6 more games in a row, to win the tournament, it seems unlikely. Teams like Kansas, Wake Forest, and Michigan St. did not win their conference tournaments and that had “bump in the road” already occur. Louisville hasn’t had a bump in the road since their game at Notre Dame and that was over a month ago. I could easily see them in the Final Four with how they are playing right now, but something tells me it isn’t going to happen. Because of that, I like Wake Forest to come out of the Midwest. Led by Jeff Teague, they are an incredibly fast and athletic team that can shoot the jumper but also pound it inside. They have great inside presences with Al-Farouq Aminu and James Johnson and will outrun you to death. Don’t forget, this team started the year off 17-0 with wins over Duke, North Caroloina, Clemson (twice) and Florida State. Not many people remember that this team was #1 overall for quite a while, and they have the kind of team that I for to go deep into March.
Who is the biggest sleeper? If you don’t want to count Wake Forest as a sleeper, look no further than West Virginia. Bob Huggins is an excellent tournament coach and he has his players hitting their stride at a perfect time. The team is very young, but his freshman have matured greatly and with senior leadership in Alex Ruoff, they could go far. They got a favorable matchup with a Dayton team that hasn’t looked sharp as of late, and in the second round a Kansas team that has lost 2 of their last 3 games.
West and South Regionals will follow tomorrow with a Marquette preview on Thursday, as well as reactions from Day 1…..
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