Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Bracket Breakdown: Round One

"Will I live for another day?"

So, due to the fact that St. Patty's day fell right in the middle of the selection show and the start of the NCAA Tournament, it has been a fairly hectic week in terms of trying to get a hold on the brackets and what I'm thinking. While the last few rounds are a little cloudy, I think I have a fairly good feel on the first couple of rounds. In this post, I will be predicting the first round games taking place on Thursday and Friday. As each round progresses, I will be sharing my selections with you. This is probably the first time I not only have filled out a bracket, but will be predicting the actual tournament matchups as they unfold. So, yet another first for this site. Again, most of my logic was derived from Ken Pomeroy's statistics and also being as nonobjective as I can (although in games involving Duke, all bets are off). Also, I will be going through the games chronologically so not only do you get the picks, but you have a nice viewing guide as well. I'm always thinking about you guys...

Thursday Games:

12:20: (8) LSU vs. (9) Butler; South Region; Greensboro:
This is probably one of the most successful 8-9 matchups in the history of the tournament. Both teams had 26 wins. LSU has a big experience advantage starting four seniors, and from all the stats I have seen, this is going to be a real difficult team to bounce from the tourney for Butler...and maybe even UNC in the next round. Their one real weakness is defending the three though, so look for Butler to take advantage of that. Otherwise, I don't see Butler having a real chance considering they have no bench, experience, or any post presence to slow down the Tiger offense.

Pick: LSU

12:25: (2) Memphis vs. (15) Cal State Northridge; West Region; Kansas City:
I love how Memphis will be able to use the fact that they did not get a #1 seed to their advantage. The team hasn't lost a conference game in like three years...I don't care what conference you play in, that's really impressive. Loving Memphis this year. Remember how the free throw shooting did them in last year? Well, believe it or not, it's one of their strengths this year.

Pick: Memphis

12:30: (8) BYU vs. (9) Texas A&M; West Region; Philadelphia:
BYU has a rare thing going for them. They can shoot and defend the three, make a high percentage of field goals, and have a nice down low presence that limits opponents' shooting. However, Texas A&M has one thing that will become a common theme of my picks: free throws. They can shoot them, they can limit how many they give up, and they make it a point to get to the line early and often. They shoot the threes and have a major size advantage.

Pick: Texas A&M

2:30: (5) Purdue vs. (12) Northern Iowa; West Region; Portland:
Purdue has suddenly become the "sexy" sleeper for everyone's brackets, and I know of a lot of people that even have them getting by UConn in the Sweet Sixteen. I have been high on Northern Iowa this season, but right now, I really like the Boilermakers like everyone else. Plus, Northern Iowa has problems with the three ball. They don't get enough of them, and they give up way too many.

Pick: Purdue

2:50: (1) UNC vs. (16) Radford; South Region; Greensboro:
The only real significance of this game will be to see how Ty Lawson plays, or if he plays at all. This has to be one of the bigger stories going into the tournament, and if he does not go in this game, expect Radford to come close to covering the 22-point spread.

Pick: UNC

2:55: (7) California vs. (10) Maryland; West Region; Kansas City:
This is a total coin-flip game. Basically, it comes down to whether you prefer offense or defense. Cal will bring the offense, and the Terps will have their D. Still, for me, I can't see past how bad a shooting team Maryland is, and while they do make up for it in a way on defense, I never like going with a team who can only play defense. So, I'll stick with the Bears and the offense.

Pick: California

3:00: (1) UConn vs. (16) Chattanooga; West Region; Philadelphia:
If you've read my stuff recently, you probably know that I am not big on Hasheem Thabeet. To me, I can't get past his preseason rant about how he was better than Harangody and Hansbrough and everyone else. Truth be told, he plays two or three comparable big men a year, so of course he should dominate against guys 6-7 inches shorter than him. Not big on the Huskies this time around.

Pick: UConn

5:00: (4) Washington vs. (13) Mississippi State; West Region; Portland:
I know that Mississippi State barely made it in and had to win the SEC just to gain a spot. Still, when you break them down, State has an exceptionally good team. They have a ton of strengths, not a lot of weaknesses, good height, and a fairly good SOS ranking. While they lack in bench minutes and experience, that's something you really can't concern yourself about if you're picking a team to only go one round. U-Dub has an amazing defense, which does have me a little concerned. Still, the Bulldogs are hot, and after a convincing run through the SEC, I think they have at least one more good game in them.

Pick: Mississippi State

7:10: (7) Clemson vs. (10) Michigan; South Region; Kansas City:
You will not hear this too often, so get ready...I really like Clemson in this tournament. I think they have a complete team in every form. One aspect of Clemson's strengths I like, and one of the aspects I really looked at when making my picks, was their offensive tempo. This basically means they are able to get up and down the floor real quick and get as many offensive possessions as they possibly can. This will be the beginning of my absolute hatred of anything coming out of the Big 10. I just see basically the entire conference flaming out pretty quickly, and I think people hold those same sentiments, and are actually hoping for it because, unless you live in Big 10 country, or even if you do, you probably think that brand of

Pick: Clemson

7:10: (7) Texas vs. (10) Minnesota; East Region; Greensboro
In case you missed it from a few lines ago, I think this year, the Big 10 is just going to do absolutely terrible in the tourney (with two exceptions). The fact that Minnesota got an at-large bid is stunning to me, and their reward is getting Texas, who at one point was in the top 5 in the country this year (although Georgetown was also there and they barely made the NIT).

Pick: Texas

7:20: (3) Villanova vs. (14) American; East Region; Philadelphia
Villanova probably got the cushiest draw of anyone in the entire tournament, starting a whopping 17 miles from campus for their first round game. 'Nova does a lot of good things, like tempo, crashing the offensive boards, shooting percentage, and what puts them over the top for is not only do they shoot free throws well, but they have a good free throw distribution percentage, which will come in handy, especially once the home crowd starts getting into it.

Pick: Villanova

7:25: (4) Gonzaga vs. (13) Akron; South Region; Portland:
A lot of people have pointed this out, and I will second it as well: Gonzaga playing in Portland is a huge advantage for them. This is one of the better geographical draws they have ever got, staying up in the Pacific Northwest. While I hate the idea of former cinderellas attempting to make a run, Gonzaga has set themselves up nicely to at least get to the round of 16.

Pick: Gonzaga

9:40: (2) Duke vs. (15) Binghamton; East Region; Greensboro:
It took them a while, but Duke may have figured out how to put a consistently competitive team on the floor with the moves Coach K recently made to get more size and power on the court. See, this upsets me, because there stands a chance that Duke can make a fairly good run this year...I'm not happy...

Pick: Duke

9:40: (2) Oklahoma vs. (15) Morgan State; South; Kansas City:
They have the best player and the best coach in the least according to me. Normally, this would not be a good combination. However, if the Sooners can get by Clemson in the second round (and I'm telling you, that one will be a dogfight), it sets up really well for them to get into the Final Four.

Pick: Oklahoma

9:50: (6) UCLA vs. (11) VCU; East Region; Philadelphia:
UCLA is an amazing team because they are fully capable of not only beating VCU, but beating 'Nova in Philly as well. However, they are also fully capable of getting destroyed by the Rams in round one, and actually, a lot of people are liking the upset here based on UCLA's recent play and the fact that they will be traveling cross-country for this one. In the end, UCLA just has more ammunition than VCU, and while they very well could lose this game, the numbers say otherwise.

Pick: UCLA

9:55: (5) Illinois vs. (12) Western Kentucky; South Region; Portland:
This game set up perfectly for me...I needed to pick a 12-seed (check), love a team that not only shoots the three well, but they shoot a lot of them (check), and I hate the Big 10 (check). Since 1989, there have only been two years that a 12-seed did not win a first round game. So, it's either 'Zona or Western's gonna happen.

Pick: Western Kentucky

Friday Games:

12:15: (3) Syracuse vs. (14) Stephen F. Austin; South Region; Miami:
I really do not like the 'Cuse in the tournament, and I really haven't liked them since 'Melo and Hakim Warrick won a title, and then the Orange subsequently lost the next year to UVM in the first round. I just don't like this team anymore in the tourney, Remember last year when they made that magical run through the Big East, got seeded way too high, then got the bejeezus beaten out of them by Texas A&M? This round I can see it happening, next round, maybe, but past that, forget about it.

12:25: (8) Oklahoma State vs. (9) Tennessee; East Region; Dayton:
In hindsight, I'm looking at my bracket, and there is definitely some SEC homerism going on. Both of these teams are not huge on the whole defense thing, which is okay for this game. What sold me on Tennessee is the dramatic size advantage they possess over Okie State.

Pick: Tennessee

12:30: (6) Marquette vs. (11) Utah State; West Region; Boise:
Without looking this up, I would have to say that Utah State's 31 wins are the most ever for an eleven seed. I might be wrong, but that's a lot of wins for a team under the 8-line. I said all along that Utah State would be a team that could make a potential run from a 10-spot, and seeing them at 11 makes me think I could be on to something.

Pick: Utah State

12:30: (3) Kansas vs. (14) North Dakota State; Midwest Region; Minneapolis:

I was not high on Kansas going into the Big 12 Tournament, now I really don't like them one bit. I've been on the North Dakota State bandwagon ever since I saw them coming in the 60's in Pomeroy's rankings, which made me think that they could potentially get a 9 or 10 seed. So, a little disrespect there. Also, they're playing way up north in Minnesota and it's State's first ever tourney bid after being in D-II purgatory for almost a can't tell me the Fighting Sioux won't have a huge following at this game.

Pick: North Dakota State

2:45: (6) Arizona State vs. (11) Temple; South Region; Miami:
Originally, I was big on Arizona State, and my initial reaction was to pencil them in for this game. However, I consciously looked over the stats just to double check. While Arizona State is very impressive, Temple is actually equally as impressive, and from my experience, if you have a 5-12, 6-11, or 7-10 game, and you have two evenly matched teams, you have to go with the low seed.

Pick: Temple

2:55: (1) Pittsburgh vs. (16) East Tennessee State; East Region; Dayton:
Two words: DeJuan Blair

Pick: Pittsburgh

3:00: (3) Missouri vs. (14) Cornell; West Region; Boise:
Not only is Missouri one of those teams that have been hovering around that I really like, but they have a kid named Lyons on their team...need I say more...

Pick: Missouri

3:00: (6) West Virginia vs. (11) Dayton; Midwest Region; Minneapolis:
It's West Virginia, it's the tournament...expect good things. Everywhere I look, everyone is loving the Mountaineers to not only get past the Flyers here, but to also potentially knocking off Kansas or, hopefully, North Dakota State. I'm really impressed with how well WVU played defense this year. This is a team that is known for their perimeter shooting, and yet this year, that would actually be considered a weakness for this team.

Pick: West Virginia

7:10: (1) Louisville vs. (16) Morgan State; Midwest Region; Dayton:
...ehhh...I'm not sold on Louisville...not in the least bit. Oh they're a good team, but the #1 overall's questionable at best.

Pick: Louisville

7:10: (5) Utah vs. (12) Arizona; Midwest Region; Miami:
Okay, this is a game that I've gone back and forth a thousand times, and I'm still pretty much befuddled. So, I'm going to go with what I had originally, which was Utah because they make a ton of threes and they are an absolutely huge team. Quick side note: Did anyone else realize that both the Arizona teams are playing in Miami? Of all the places to go for a team from Arizona, I think Miami has to be the optimal location for an opening round game.

Pick: Utah

7:20: (7) Boston College vs. (10) Southern Cal; Midwest Region; Minneapolis:
I really hate to go against BC because, well, they're the only New England team in the tournament (somehow Minnesota is a better team than Providence...right...), and they are a team that could potentially do a lot of damage considering their resume this season (wins over UNC and Duke), but Southern Cal is just too big and too explosive for the Eagles to handle. I still think this will be a great game, and I'll be pulling for BC regardless...but I have to go with my head here.

Pick: Southern Cal

7:25: (4) Xavier vs. (13) Portland State; East Region; Boise:
Xavier is an interesting team because they made it to the Elite Eight last year and really had a shot of making the Final Four. This year, no one's talking about them, and they were pretty much out of the news outside of their loss in the A-10 tourney. I like this team to the point where I was considering them in the Final Four this joke.

Pick: Xavier

9:40: (8) Ohio State vs. (9) Siena; Dayton; Midwest Region; Dayton:
Ohio State could very well have a Davidson-like advantage this year playing their opening round games an hour outside of Columbus. Look, I have been riding Siena all year long. I think this team is absolutely dynamite, and I really think Ohio State is a one-headed team, which Siena is fully capable of stopping. Personally, I just want whoever wins this game to beat Louisville the next round By the way, Siena is located in Loudonville. NY in case you were curious (I know I was), and it's surprisingly eleven hours from Dayton...did New York get bigger on me?

Pick: Siena

9:40: (4) Wake Forest vs. (13) Cleveland State; Midwest Region; Miami:
Wake, like Xavier, I considered, and are still considering for the Final Four. This is a team that should be amongst the five or six best teams in the country. I also really like Cleveland State, which puts me in a fascinating situation. In putting Wake even in the Elite Eight, I could potentially lose them in the first round. This is one of the drawbacks about picking a non-#1 or #2 to make it that far. Still, if this team plays to its potential, they absolutely have the makings of a Final Four team.

Pick: Wake Forest

9:50: (2) Michigan State vs. (15) Robert Morris; Midwest Region; Minneapolis:
Imagine playing the opening round in the Metrodome? They've had a bunch of championship games there, and yet, they were tapped to host the first and second round games...interesting. Michigan State is basically going to be on a Big 10 tour on the road to Detroit, playing in Minnesota in the first round, and potentially Indianapolis in the third and fourth. They were so close to getting a 1 seed, but things could have been a lot worse. They are setting up very nicely, and quite frankly, I don't even see them getting challenged until their potential Elite Eight showdown with either Wake Forest or Louisville.

Pick: Michigan State

9:55: (5) Florida State vs. (12) Wisconsin; East Region; Boise:
I absolutely hate this game. I really just don't like either team, and the only reason I'll be paying attention to it, as with every game, is that it counts for a point, and hey, you never know. The final score in the bracket pool could very well be based on this game, so, I have to investigate. Upon further review, the Seminoles shoot and make a bunch of threes, and I really dislike the Big 10. So there you go...

Pick: Florida State

I am going to try and get my second round picks up as soon as I can. With work and everything, time is tight, but for some reason, I have a feeling that this will start to take priority as soon as I see four games happening at the same time. Also, did you happen to notice the amazingly long run of Midwest regional games on Friday night? Couldn't they have set that up a little better? Six of the eight games are being played after 7:00 on Friday night. So potentially, you could be looking good when you get home from work, and after you go out and have a few beers, you could potentially have an entire section of the bracket wiped out. So, I wish you all good luck. Make it happen. Peace.


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