Brackets 101
Let the Madness begin

bracket (1)

It’s time to crunch the numbers, analyze the expert’s opinions, and fill out a bracket. Over the next three weeks, the field of 68 will condense into one champion. Last year’s tournament featured one team’s quest for perfection, a pair of 14-over-3 upsets on the first day, and a Final Four stacked with legendary coaches. With a rise in parity across college hoops this winter, this year’s NCAA Tournament will redefine the term “madness”. In this edition of the Hot Corner, Knight Times Sports Correspondent J.T. Grugen breaks down the first week of March Madness.  

Overview: Parity was the common theme across college basketball this year. This year’s number one seeds combined for an NCAA record 26 losses, resulting in a convoluted seeding process for the Committee atop the bracket. Due to the complexity surrounding this year’s tournament, I’ve based my picks around the following factors: PPG, opponent PPG, RPI, strength of schedule, experience, and road/neutral site win/loss record. For my Sweet Sixteen, Elite Eight, Final Four, and National Championship picks, refer to my bracket above.

First Four (Dayton, Ohio):

(11) Vanderbilt Commodores vs. (11) Wichita State Shockers

Typically, the Tuesday and Wednesday games held in Dayton, Ohio offer nothing more than an appetizer for the Round of 64 on Thursday. However, since the NCAA adopted the 68 team tournament format, at least one “First Four” team has advanced to the Round of 32. This matchup will create most of the headlines out of Dayton, pitting a potentially undeserving SEC team against notorious Cinderella Wichita State. The Shockers’ seniors enter this tournament with a Final Four appearance and 35-1 season under their belt. Experience and underseeding will be more than enough for Wichita State to advance. Wichita State 71, Vanderbilt 54

16 Florida Gulf Coast Eagles vs. 16 Fairleigh Dickinson Knights

Conference tournaments were unkind to one seeds this year. Only 12 of 32 regular season champions went on to win their conference tournaments, leading to a slew of below average 16 seeds to earn automatic bids. FGCU’s Cinderella run from 2013 has faded into tournament lore – just two members of the Eagles’ Sweet Sixteen squad are on the team’s roster this season. However, Gulf Coast is one of the better rebounding teams in Division I hoops, a huge issue for a defensively challenged FDU team. Florida Gulf Coast 77, Fairleigh Dickinson 68

11 Michigan Wolverines vs. 11 Tulsa Golden Hurricane

In one of the most controversial selections in recent memory, Tulsa earned an at-large bid over several non-power conference candidates, such as Monmouth, Valparaiso, and Saint Mary’s. Deserving or not, the Golden Hurricane poses a serious threat. Tulsa boasts seven seniors in their starting rotations, entering the tournament with more experience than most of the field. Alternatively, Michigan’s spot was solidified by a strong showing in the Big Ten tournament, including a win over top seed Indiana. John Beilein’s team is one of few capable of matching Tulsa’s depth, giving the blue and maize a slight edge. Michigan 61, Tulsa 58

16 Holy Cross Crusaders vs. 16 Southern Jaguars

An eighth seed in the Patriot League tournament and four road wins later, Holy Cross miraculously clinched a spot in the field of 68. Credit former Northwestern coach Bill Carmody, bringing the Crusaders back to the big dance for the first time since 2007. However, this improbable run will be cut short at UD Arena. At 14-19, Holy Cross is the only team below .500 in this year’s tournament. Additionally, their resume lacks convincing non-conference performances. Contrarily, Southern boasts a win over Mississippi State and a closely contested game against Memphis. Southern 80, Holy Cross 73

South Region – Round of 64:

1 Kansas Jayhawks vs. 16 Austin Peay Governors

I’m surprised that Austin Peay avoided a play-in game with their 18-17 record. The Governors ride a six game winning streak into the tournament, but history isn’t on their side. There has never been a 16-over-1 upset in NCAA Tournament history – top seeds are 128-0 against their bottom seed counterparts. Kansas hasn’t lost since late January, capturing their 12th straight Big 12 conference championship. Bill Self’s Jayhawks should consider this one an opening act. Kansas 101, Austin Peay 56

8 Colorado Buffaloes vs. 9 Connecticut Huskies

Few teams perform as well in March as Connecticut. Need evidence? UConn has cut down the nets twice in the last five years, winning the tournament as a three and seven seed. In 2016, this team appears poised for another potential deep run. Jalen Adams’ secured the Huskies’ spot after hitting a 55-footer to force a fourth overtime against Cincinnati with 0.8 seconds left in the AAC Tournament. No team has more momentum entering the round of 64 than UConn. Combined with their AAC best defense, this will be a lopsided for an 8-9 matchup. Connecticut 73, Colorado 56

5 Maryland Terrapins vs. 12 South Dakota State Jackrabbits

The Terps were a top five team at one point this season, falling victim to a rigorous schedule at the end of Big Ten conference play. Sophomore stud Melo Trimble struggled this season, evident from his 2-15 shooting against Michigan State last week. While experts argue putting Maryland on the five line is rough, the Committee has paired this Big Ten powerhouse with an upset-minded Jackrabbits team. SD State’s starting lineup features three senior guards that can work the perimeter, along with an excellent freshman center and rebound machine in Mike Daum. Although picking the 12-over-5 upset is tempting here, Maryland is too talented for a first round exit. Maryland 64, South Dakota State 62

4 California Golden Bears vs. 13 Hawai’i Rainbow Warriors

In a crowded Pac-12, Cal stands out as the most NBA-ready team. Cuonzo Martin’s team stars two lottery picks, along with another pair of potential first rounders. Cal is an excellent rebounding team, capable of fast break scoring when matched up with slower, defensively minded teams. However, the Big West Champion Rainbow Warriors are an incredibly speedy and offensively efficient team. Nearly upsetting Oklahoma earlier this season, Hawai’i is a popular upset pick, capable of spoiling Cal’s stellar year. Hawai’i 79, California 78

6 Arizona Wildcats vs. 11 Wichita State Shockers

Four starters from their Elite Eight team departed last summer, but Arizona remains capable of a deep run. Despite finishing third in a tightly contested Pac-12 conference race, the Wildcats will need to be at their best to dispatch Wichita State. As I stated earlier, at least one team from the First Four has advanced to the Round of 32 in the last five years. Among this year’s batch of play-in participants, the Shockers stand the best chance with one of the nation’s best defenses. Wichita State 66, Arizona 60

3 Miami (FL) Hurricanes vs. 14 Buffalo Bulls

Overshadowed by ACC powerhouses North Carolina and Virginia, the Hurricanes pieced together one of the most consistent seasons among the top 25 teams. Miami’s backcourt duo of Sheldon McClellan and Angel Rodriguez are reliable double digit scorers – these two guards are a mismatch against any man-to-man defense. However, a few “bad losses” knocked the boys from South Beach off the two seed line. As a result, experts haven’t placed much trust in the Canes, especially when paired with a Buffalo team returning most of its roster from last season’s MAC Championship team. Miami’s victory won’t be convincing, but at least comfortable enough to advance. Miami 67, Buffalo 57

7 Iowa Hawkeyes vs. 10 Temple Owls

For example of a team that has gone cold at the wrong time, look no further than Iowa. The Hawkeyes attracted national attention following season sweeps against Michigan State and Purdue during the Big Ten regular season. This team seemingly hits every shot or struggles to put up 50 points. Temple’s style mirrors that of Wisconsin, as they’ll attempt to slow down the tempo to break Iowa’s rhythm. Whichever team controls the pace of play will advance. Iowa 90, Temple 78

2 Villanova Wildcats vs. 15 UNC Asheville Bulldogs

College basketball fans will be wary of Villanova this season, despite being considered a number one seed for the majority of the season. The Wildcats have failed to survive the first weekend of the tournament in their last five appearances. Unlike previous years, this experienced Villanova team is incredibly efficient on offense – as are their opponents. Asheville’s disruptive defensive style is a poor man’s West Virginia press. Don’t expect much offense in this contest. Most likely, the first team to 50 points will win. Villanova 54, UNC Asheville 46

West Region – Round of 64:

1 Oregon Ducks vs. 16 Southern Jaguars

One of the first criticisms of this year’s bracket surrounded the final number one seed. Michigan State’s Big Ten Tournament rout of Ohio State, Maryland, and Purdue seemingly locked up their spot atop the west region. However, the Committee strongly favored Pac-12 teams due to their conference depth. Regardless, the Ducks’ high powered offense will be tough to defeat. Forward Chris Boucher was arguably the best player offensively and defensively in the paint this year. Combined with the team’s plethora of three point shooters, Oregon can effectively work all areas of the floor. A statement win on Friday should silence the critics – for now. Oregon 94, Southern 68

8 St. Joseph’s Hawks vs. 9 Cincinnati Bearcats

Regardless of the outcome, the winner of this game is considered a potential roadblock for top seed Oregon on the road to the Final Four. Both teams feature stingy defenses with different reputations. St. Joe’s starters are extremely effective ball handlers, able to minimize turnovers better than any team in the West Region. Meanwhile, Cincy’s defense is bigger and more physical than previous years. The Hawks’ patience and willingness to take well-timed threes is the difference maker here. St. Joseph’s 54, Cincinnati 50

5 Baylor Bears vs. 12 Yale Cougars

Besides a lower seed, the 2015-15 Baylor Bears eerily resemble last year’s team that was bounced by Georgia State following a major collapse late in the second half. As I stated in my predictions last year, Baylor is one of the best at creating second chances on offense. However, Yale is also an effective rebounding team on both sides of the ball. Making their first tournament appearance in over 50 years, the Cougars seek to play spoiler for a dark horse Baylor team. Among all 5-versus-12 matchups this year, this one has the biggest upset potential. Yale 71, Baylor 70

4 Duke Blue Devils vs 13 UNC Wilmington Seahawks

Despite losing several key components of their championship team, Duke’s offense picked up where it left off in 2015, averaging 81.5 points per game. However, Coach K’s defense is well below-average, a partial byproduct of a more offensively minded ACC. If Duke could retain their starting freshmen into next season, the Blue Devils would be a serious threat in 2017. Until then, Duke’s lack of depth raises a red flag. Given the Seahawks’ tendency to get in foul trouble early, Duke needs to shoot effectively from the free throw line in order to cruise into the round of 32. Duke 75, UNC Wilmington 56

6 Texas Longhorns vs. 11 Northern Iowa Panthers

The rebuilding project for Texas basketball exceeded expectations this season. Realistically, the Longhorns could make a case for a four or five seed in a conference other than the Big 12. Assuming the first two rounds go chalk, the Committee has constructed a very ironic path for Texas to reach the Final Four. A potential second round meeting with in-state rival Texas A&M and Sweet 16 showdown with rival Oklahoma further the tournament storylines. In order to reach those games, they’ll need to get past an aggressive Northern Iowa team. Although their season has been wildly inconsistent, the Panthers own victories over Wichita State, North Carolina, and Iowa State. This has the makings of a low-scoring barn burner decided in the final seconds. Northern Iowa 48, Texas 45

3 Texas A&M Aggies vs. 14 Green Bay Phoenix

Another seeding controversy arises here as Texas A&M ranked above Kentucky, despite the Wildcats victory over the Aggies just hours before the bracket was revealed. The Aggies’ spread offense and ability to get everyone involved on offense wears out opposing defenses. On paper, this is a nightmare for Green Bay’s defense, the second worst of the teams in the field. A&M must rely on one of their guards, Alex Caruso or Anthony Collins, to orchestrate the offense and limit turnovers. Green Bay will score enough to keep this competitive, but expect the Aggies to roll forward. Texas A&M 82, Green Bay 72

7 Oregon State Beavers vs. 10 VCU Rams

Rams shooters work effectively well from the outside, able to match threes with any team in the field. The difference, though, is VCU’s tendency to score quickly off turnovers. Before Wichita State’s Final Four run, VCU shocked the world as the NCAA’s Cinderella, reaching the Final Four as an 11 seed in 2011. Although the roster and coaching staff have moved on since that run, the influence lingers. Unlike the 14-15 Ohio State team, Oregon State lacks a three pointer shooter to match VCU from the perimeter. Another Pac-12 team finds themselves on the wrong side of an upset here. VCU 79, Oregon State 66

2 Oklahoma Sooners vs. 15 CSU Bakersfield Roadrunners

Next to Tulsa, the Sooners are the most experienced team in the field. Oklahoma’s key starters have three seasons of playing together, developing a chemistry unmatched by the rest of the nation. Of course, this team’s success starts with Buddy Hield, a heavy favorite for the Wooden Award, due to his high energy and excellent leadership skills. Bakersfield’s efficient zone defense may cause concern for a younger team, but the Sooners are battle tested against West Virginia’s press. Look for Hield to post 30+ points in a blowout. Oklahoma 87, CSU Bakersfield 42

East Region – Round of 64:

1 North Carolina Tar Heels vs. 16. Florida Gulf Coast Eagles

Marcus Paige continues the theme of underperforming guards across college basketball this season. Unlike other teams though, UNC has the depth to account for their senior’s struggles. Ranking 12th in PPG, 14th in rebounds, and 4th in assists, UNC is the most well-rounded team offensively in the field. FGCU’s upset days will be an afterthought after North Carolina puts the rest of the East Region on notice. North Carolina 95, Florida Gulf Coast 39

8 USC Trojans vs. 9 Providence Friars

Speaking of Florida Gulf Coast’s incredible run, coach Andy Enfield’s latest project in USC has reached its first NCAA Tournament under new leadership. Although the Trojans aren’t a reincarnation of “Dunk City”, Enfield’s offense is well balanced, yet inexperienced and inconsistent. USC finished the regular season on a 3-7 skid with a string of poor defensive performances. Against a duo like Kris Dunn and Ben Bentil of Providence, a lack of defensive presence won’t fly. Providence 69, USC 61

5 Indiana Hoosiers vs. 12 Chattanooga Mocs

Most Big Ten tournament headlines have surrounded Tom Izzo’s Michigan State Spartans, but don’t discredit Indiana. After capturing the Big Ten regular season crown, a buzzer-beater from bubble hopeful Michigan halted the Hoosiers postseason run. While this loss can be deflating to the morale of any team, Indiana remains the third best shooting team in the country and a darkhorse to emerge from the East Region. This isn’t a favorable first round matchup; Chattanooga’s season has a certain moxie to it after wins over Illinois, Dayton, and Georgia. Indiana might not be able to pull away until late in the second half, but fans will get an attractive Indiana-Kentucky matchup in the second round. Indiana 55, Chattanooga 50

4 Kentucky Wildcats vs. 13 Stony Brook Seawolves

Making their first NCAA Tournament appearance in school history, Stony Brook is this year’s small school, feel good story. No Seawolves article goes unwritten without mentioning senior forward Jameel Warney, who posted a remarkable 43 points in the America East Championship game vs. Vermont. As a reward (or perhaps, a punishment), Stony Brook’s first tournament opponent is the grossly under seeded Kentucky Wildcats. John Calipari’s team isn’t as intimidating as the 34-0 squad from a year ago, but Kentucky’s guard tandem of Jamal Murray and Tyler Ulis have NBA potential. The Wildcats feel they have something to prove entering the first weekend. Unfortunately, this will come at the expense of the Seawolves. Kentucky 76, Stony Brook 58

6 Notre Dame Fighting Irish vs. 11 Michigan Wolverines

This matchup doesn’t have the same appeal as say, a Notre Dame-Michigan football game, but a lack of defense from both teams should make this one a fireworks show. Duncan Robinson, a former NAIA standout, is Michigan’s go-to man on the perimeter. When Robinson’s shots start to sink in succession, three pointers become contagious for the Wolverines. Alternatively, when Michigan can’t connect from beyond the arc, the offense collapses. Similarly, Notre Dame averages nearly 15 points per game less when they lose. A high-scoring 6-versus-11 matchup is a rare sight in the NCAA Tournament, but watching these two one-dimensional offenses battle it out is a recipe for entertainment. Michigan 82, Notre Dame 75

3 West Virginia Mountaineers vs. 14 Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks

Absolutely nobody wants to meet West Virginia in this tournament. With wins over tournament powerhouses Oklahoma and Kansas, a Bob Huggins coached Mountaineers team adopted the press defense as a way of life. Most likely, West Virginia will survive until clashing with another Big 12 team that’s more familiar with their style, or another team with a talented, high-scoring backcourt. The Lumberjacks have an offense to beat WVU – statistically. However, a weak non-conference schedule and a non-competitive Southland conference hasn’t adequately prepared this team to take on a National Championship contender. West Virginia 56, Stephen F. Austin 38

7 Wisconsin Badgers vs. 10 Pittsburgh Panthers

Although a tremendous amount of hype surrounds Big Ten and ACC teams, Wisconsin and Pittsburgh aren’t a true reflection of their respective conference. The Badgers are attempting to rebound following the sudden departure of longtime coach Bo Ryan back in December. Pittsburgh’s offense revolves around their ability to shoot from beyond the arc. When the Panthers hit 40 percent of their shots from downtown, they’re undefeated. Otherwise, Pitt typically struggles and becomes submissive when playing the glass. A physical Badger defense playing for pride will roll into a second round matchup with Xavier. Wisconsin 67, Pittsburgh 52

2 Xavier Musketeers vs. 15 Weber State Wildcats

Little credit was awarded to the Musketeers following their Sweet 16 run last season. To be fair, though, an assist can be credited to Georgia State for knocking out Baylor in the round of 64. Xavier is a poor defensive team that allows too many second chances, a potential problem against a team that works inside as well as Weber State. Unlike other offensively-geared teams, Xavier has the bench depth to pull out wins late when starters are on the bench. Given the lack of difficulty to the Wildcats’ schedule, the Musketeers should have no issues advancing, but this team is difficult to trust past Friday. Xavier 77, Weber State 57

Midwest Region – Round of 64:

1 Virginia Cavaliers vs. 16 Hampton Pirates

The confidence displayed by Virginia is impeccable. This team’s maturity and ball-handling ability allows the Cavaliers to control the time of possession and tempo of every game. When the ACC powerhouse dominates defensively, a key component to their ability to stay in games against tough opponents. UNC only edged Virginia by four points in the ACC Championship game despite poor shooting from NBA hopeful Malcolm Brogdon. An unconventional offense is the kryptonite for this team, but Hampton simply doesn’t have the talent or play calling to pull off the first ever 16-over-1 upset. Virginia 62, Hampton 36

8 Texas Tech Red Raiders vs. 9 Butler Bulldogs

Butler hasn’t displayed the ability to defeat powerhouse teams like their Cinderella squads from 2010 and 2011. However, Texas Tech’s resume is far from impressive or elite. The Red Raiders are a combined 1-9 against other Big 12 teams in the field of 68 and enter off the heels of a loss to TCU in the opening round of the Big 12 Tournament. Up front, Butler lacks the big men necessary to make it into the Elite Eight or Final Four, but shoot well enough from beyond the arc to rattle Texas Tech to earn a date with Virginia. Butler 58, Texas Tech 44

5 Purdue Boilermakers vs. 12 Arkansas-Little Rock Trojans

No Big Ten team has received more disrespect than the Boilermakers. Following a trip to the Big Ten Tournament finals, Purdue fell to the five line, drawing a Little Rock team with a chip on it’s shoulder. Little Rock lost only four games this season, tied with Kansas for the least in college basketball. Under first year coach Chris Beard, the Trojans don’t have the word “defeat” in their vocabulary. However, this team hasn’t faced off against a top 15 rebounding juggernaut like Purdue. Sure, road wins at San Diego State and Tulsa are impressive, but Little Rock lacks guards to play zone against the Boilermaker front court. Purdue 63, Arkansas-Little Rock 56

4 Iowa State Cyclones vs. 13 Iona Gaels

In his farewell season, Cyclones forward Georges Niang has looked unstoppable. Averaging nearly 20 points per game, Niang and his teammates seek one word in this tournament: redemption. A 60-59 loss to UAB busted the brackets of many as the Cyclones became the first casualty of March Madness last season. Unfortunately, the Committee will test this middle-of-the-pack Big 12 group against the team responsible for Monmouth’s exclusion: Iona. The Gaels possess the same high-scoring capabilities as their MAAC counterparts, minus the theatrics from the bench. Although ISU’s offense is more productive this year, they’re simply outmatched by this non-power conference Gael team. Iona 80, Iowa State 78

6 Seton Hall Pirates vs. 11 Gonzaga Bulldogs

Earning a six seed in the tournament is a double-edge sword for the Pirates. On one side, the Committee recognized the strong play of guard Isaiah Whitehead down the stretch and placed value in the team’s Big East Tournament wins over Xavier and Villanova. On the other hand, if the Hall can move past Gonzaga, making their 18th straight tournament appearance, a potential gauntlet of Utah, Michigan State, and Virginia awaits. Seton Hall is easily the best sleeper pick for teams outside the top 20. They’ll need to continue to work well from the baseline in order to advance. Given the inexperience of Gonzaga, this round of 64 matchup is an appropriate challenge. Seton Hall 67, Gonzaga 63

3 Utah Utes vs. 14 Fresno State Bulldogs

This is an incredibly lucky draw for a highly underrated Utah team. Extreme parity in the Mountain West this season led to a conference monopolized by San Diego State. However, Fresno State’s upset of their rivals to the south knocked the Aztecs out of the field and earned the Bulldogs their first tourney appearance since 2001. Now, the Utes play an average team from one of the weakest all-around conferences in college basketball this season. Look for a big game out of sophomore Jakob Poeltl. Utah 86, Fresno State 53

7 Dayton Flyers vs. 10 Syracuse Orange

Alongside Tulsa, Syracuse’s inclusion in the field shocked many, especially considering the Orange will bypass a First Four game in Dayton. However, ‘Cuse finds themselves matched up with the team from UD Arena that has made some noise in the NCAA Tournament over the past two seasons. The Flyers upset Providence last season and played a tightly contested game against Oklahoma. The year before, Dayton fell one win short of a Final Four berth after losing by only ten to top seeded Florida. A difficult ACC schedule has worked in Syracuse’s favor in getting them into the tournament, but this team simply can’t handle Dayton’s electric offense for 40 minutes. Dayton 52, Syracuse 47

2 Michigan State Spartans vs. 15 Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders

When asked about Sparty’s alleged snubbing by the Committee as a number one seed, coach Tom Izzo claimed that seeding doesn’t matter. Few coaches can match the legacy of Izzo in March, and after his team’s Final Four run last season as seven seed, MSU’s coach makes a solid point. Still, don’t expect the Spartans to take their two seed billing lightly. Middle Tennessee upset heavy favorite UAB to steal a tournament bid after an average season. Given MSU’s resiliency and the Blue Raiders’ inability to close out games due to poor free throw shooting, there’s little chance that this team can put away Izzo and company. Michigan State 79, Middle Tennessee 51

Round of 32 – South Region:

1 Kansas Jayhawks vs. 9 Connecticut Huskies

I genuinely struggled to predict this matchup. The lingering factor that makes UConn an attractive upset pick here is a phenomena known as the recency effect. NCAA’s Selection Committee considers growth over the course of the season and accounts for early season losses when seeding teams, rather than focusing on “what have you done for me lately.” How realistic is an exit for the Jayhawks in the first weekend? The chances aren’t great considering the team’s incredible depth and talent advantage over Connecticut. Expect the champions from two seasons ago to give Bill Self’s team a battle, but not enough to bounce KU. Kansas 77, Connecticut 71

5 Maryland Terrapins vs. 13 Hawai’i Rainbow Warriors

A trademark victory over Northern Iowa highlights the best wins of Hawaii’s resume, but most experts continue to hype this team based on their meeting with Oklahoma. The elephant in the room there is how Hawai’i was forced to erase a double digit deficit from early in the game to even have a chance in the final minutes. Aside from their heartbreaking loss to MSU in the Big Ten semi-finals, Maryland has been incredibly effective this season at maintaining their leads. Hawaii’s comeback tactics won’t fly against a more experienced Big Ten school. Maryland 72, Hawaii 61

3 Miami Hurricanes vs. 11 Wichita State Shockers

Don’t forget: Miami was a highly touted two seed and serious title contender in 2013. Several players, including the majority of the current leadership on the Hurricanes, played as freshmen on that team which was bounced in the Sweet 16. This South Beach school may not have the tournament resume as Wichita State’s seniors like Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker, but the Canes have played well atop a crowded ACC conference. Aside from UNC, Miami is the deepest ACC team in the field, heavily thanks to contributions from one of college hoops’ best sixth men in Ja’Quan Newton. It’s the end of an era for the Shockers as the Canes roll into Louisville. Miami 67, Wichita State 58

2 Villanova Wildcats vs. 7 Iowa Hawkeyes

Philadelphia residents are clamoring for a crosstown contest between Villanova and Temple in the second round not only for the headlines, but for fear of playing Iowa. Both of these teams have faced heavy criticism entering the tournament as I discussed earlier. Villanova’s trend of first weekend exits and Iowa’s late regular season collapses don’t bode well when making a case for either team. I believe Iowa still has the talent for a National Championship run, but I can’t place that same faith in Villanova. Coach Jay Wright has placed tremendous pressure on his team to eliminate their label as an annual disappointment. This won’t be the cleanest game of the tournament, but Iowa holds a slight advantage mentally. Iowa 65, Villanova 64

West Region – Round of 32:

1 Oregon Ducks vs. 8 St. Joseph’s Hawks

Although this is a popular pick for those looking to eliminate at least one top seed before the Sweet 16, St. Joe’s will fall short of an upset. The Hawks are led in scoring by a pair of outstanding forwards in DeAndre Bembry and Isaiah Miles. Combined, this front court pairing averages about 36 points and 16 rebounds per game. However, beyond their two reliable upperclassmen, St. Joe’s lacks effective shooters off the bench. Oregon’s seven man rotation is more well-balanced and quicker than St. Joe’s starting five. Above all else, this game will be played in Spokane, likely meaning a large following of fans wearing highlighter yellow jerseys and t-shirts. Oregon 68, St. Joseph’s 64

4 Duke Blue Devils vs. 12 Yale Cougars

The mystery of how these two teams match up is missing from this second round contest. Duke and Yale clashed back in early November in Charlotte as the Blue Devils emerged with an 80-61 victory. This final score is misleading though as Yale trailed Duke by only two points at halftime, to which the Blue Devils responded with a 17-2 run to start the second half. Duke outscored the Ivy League Champions 42-25 in the final 20 minutes after Yale failed to play effective man defense. A similar result can be expected in their second meeting, as once again Duke’s freshmen scorers will pull away in the second half. Duke 79, Yale 66

3 Texas A&M Aggies vs. 11 Northern Iowa Panthers

As mentioned in their first round matchup, UNI’s non-conference wins are leaps and bounds more impressive than any other non-power conference champion. Although Texas A&M comes from a power conference, the SEC had it’s weakest season in recent memory. The only two noteworthy road or neutral wins on the Aggies’ resume is their rout of Baylor and controversial triumph over conference rival Kentucky. Northern Iowa is unproven and a huge wildcard in the West Region, but also a prime candidate for a double digit seed reaching the Sweet 16. Northern Iowa 60, Texas A&M 59

2 Oklahoma Sooners vs. 10 VCU Rams

Few teams were able to slow down the Sooners this season, but could face problems against disruptive, turnover-forcing defenses. Placing VCU in this section of the bracket teases a potential upset. Even following the departure of head coach Shaka Smart, the Rams have maintained their aggressive defense and while fine-tuning their half court offense. Two seeds Xavier and Villanova might have fallen victim to VCU’s press defense, but Oklahoma’s three games against West Virginia have provided them enough experience to avoid this trap game and escape to Anaheim. Oklahoma 78, VCU 75

East Region – Round of 32:

1 North Carolina Tar Heels vs. 9 Providence Friars

Although I hyped the backcourt duo of Kris Dunn and Ben Bentil earlier, the Friars will need production from their forwards inside the paint and players off the bench to knock of UNC. Providence is an average rebounding team that over relies on Dunn and Bentil to score on one-shot possessions. This same formula resulted in a first round exit for the Friars last season when Kris Dunn fouled out. North Carolina isn’t afraid to drive in the line and force fouls on the opposing team. Unless an unsung hero emerges from the Providence bench, Roy Williams’ team will cruise to the Sweet 16. North Carolina 80, Providence 64

4 Kentucky Wildcats vs. 5 Indiana Hoosiers

There’s plenty to love about this potential second round matchup. Kentucky and Indiana have two of college basketball’s best fan bases, along with two excellent coaches in John Calipari and Tom Crean, respectively. After both teams were ranked in the top 15 of the preseason AP Poll, at least one of these regular season conference champions will watch their season end by Saturday. Indiana’s offense isn’t nearly as consistent as Kentucky’s, making them a difficult team to imagine winning six straight games. Despite not responding well to big game environments this season, Indiana has the talent to keep this close, but not enough to pull away late. Kentucky 64, Indiana 57

3 West Virginia Mountaineers vs. 11 Michigan Wolverines

No team in the Big Ten plays defense like West Virginia, which is a huge problem for the Wolverines. This team wins and losses through their ability to hit three pointers, but haven’t responded well under pressure. “Press Virginia” won’t allow Michigan’s go-to shooters to get open like they’re use to, especially without much depth on the bench. Given how inconsistent the offenses are of WVU’s potential second round matchups, it’s hard to imagine this team not advancing into the second weekend. West Virginia 61, Michigan 44

2 Xavier Musketeers vs. 7 Wisconsin Badgers

Any strong defensive team has a case to upset Xavier before the Elite Eight, including their projected second round matchup, Wisconsin. The Badgers ability to control the tempo improved towards the end of the season as Wisconsin emerged as a popular upset pick. That was, until a shocking 12 point loss to Nebraska in their first Big Ten Tournament game. This game served as a reminder to Wisconsin’s ugly early season losses. Simply put, the Badger offense doesn’t appear capable of matching a Xavier team that averages 81 points per game. As tempting as this upset pick may look given Wisconsin’s track record, X soundly advances to the Sweet 16. Xavier 83, Wisconsin 69

Midwest Region – Round of 32:

1 Virginia Cavaliers vs. 9 Butler Bulldogs

Under Tony Bennett, the Virginia Cavaliers have never progressed past the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament. That trend will continue this year. Butler isn’t as logical of an upset pick as previous years, but this Bulldogs team’s strengths work well against the Cavs’ weak points. The trio of Roosevelt Jones, Kelan Martin, and Kellen Dunham are on of the nation’s best scoring units when everything clicks. Given UVA’s slow pace of play, Butler can more easily manipulate the tempo and establish a rhythm compared to a more upbeat one seed such as Oregon or North Carolina. This is arguably the boldest pick on my bracket. Butler 57, Virginia 55

5 Purdue Boilermakers vs. 13 Iona Gaels

The best word describe the Iona offense is explosive; their quick pace of play could rattle any major conference team in the field. Perhaps the biggest weakness of the Gael offense though is rebounding. Meanwhile, Purdue ranks in the top ten in the nation in offensive and defensive rebounds. This offense is also non-traditional in the sense that the Boilermaker starting guards don’t put up many points, but rather feed the ball to emerging star center A.J. Hammons and their deep rotation of forwards. Playing a smooth transition game with quick turnaround points off rebounds will be the recipe for Purdue’s trip to Chicago. Purdue 82, Iona 71

3 Utah Utes vs. 6 Seton Hall Pirates

A blowout in the Pac-12 Championship game to Oregon has left a negative impression on the Utes heading into the tournament, but the Ducks simple outplayed Utah all season. Excluding their contests with the top seed in the West Region, Utah was 26-5 this season, only losing one game to a team outside the field (Stanford). Seton Hall is one of the hottest teams after their Big East Tournament run, but haven’t faced a dynamic player like Utah’s Jakob Poeltl this season. Location also plays a factor in this one as Utah has more experience playing in high altitude cities like Denver. This game will steal the show on Saturday, but another big game from Poeltl propels the Utes forward. Utah 84, Seton Hall 79

2 Michigan State Spartans vs. 7 Dayton Flyers

Dayton falls into the same category as Connecticut and St. Joseph’s. The Flyers certainly have the potential to knock off a lower regarded one or two seed, but not one of the tournament favorites. Although this is the most experienced of the last Dayton teams, Tom Izzo’s squad is one of better Sparty teams in recent memory. A late season stumble by Dayton in Atlantic 10 play is too risky to give them a chance at an upset here. As long as Michigan State doesn’t replicate their sloppy play from the Maryland game, they’ll cruise into Chicago unscathed. Michigan State 76, Dayton 60.

Grugen

By J.T. Grugen

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