NCAA TOURNAMENT: Bracket Express First Round Rundown and Picks

NCAA TOURNAMENT:  Bracket Express First Round Rundown and Picks
Mar 20, 2008, 03:12 am
-I’m currently 1-0 with my tournament picks so far if you count the opening round game, which I do. It is technically an NCAA Tournament game. I actually attended the game, and I must say that I was impressed with the turnout Mount Saint Mary’s had, especially with how many of their students were there. It made for a pretty good atmosphere. Coppin State had some fans there as well, but not quite as many. I know that game gets dogged quite a bit by the main stream media, and I can’t say I’m a big fan of the concept of it, but if you’re a person that likes college basketball it’s the most fun you’ll ever have for six bucks. If any of the people dogging it were to attend the game and give it a chance they’d probably end up having a good time. I was probably one of the few people there that wasn’t a fan of either team that actually knew a little something about both of them, but generally one side of the arena starts rooting for one team, and the side roots for the other. I don’t know which I enjoyed more, seeing the Mount Saint Mary’s students really getting into the game, or seeing everyone else on that side of the arena who had no idea who Mount Saint Mary’s was cheer right along with them just for the hell of it.

-I’m not in any jackpots, but I filled out a bracket as if I were. For the sake of this site, I’ll just be picking each game round by round and game by game, though.

When I fill out a bracket for a jackpot, I pick teams for all sorts of different reasons. Mostly it’s who I think will win, but not always. Sometimes I’ll pick a team to win knowing they’re a long shot. If you’re in a pool with ten other people then getting the long shots right isn’t that important and it’s probably best to not even try, but if you’re in one with 100 others you have to pick a long shot or two and be right in order to win. Plus, it makes it more fun. That’s why the winners have sometimes never seen a college basketball game all season. They correctly picked the long shots without knowing they were long shots.

If I like a team that I don’t think is as good their opponent, but still has a reasonable chance of winning, sometimes I’ll pick the team that I’d root for to win. I won’t be doing that for my picks on this site, though.

Some highlights from my would-be jackpot bracket are:

-My Final Four is North Carolina, Kansas, Texas and Xavier. Obviously Xavier falls under the category of picks that I’m rooting for. I have Texas beating Kansas in the championship game. It’s worth noting that if Texas gets to the Sweet Sixteen, they’ll be in their home state the rest of the way. Since their first game is against Austin Peay, they’re virtually one win away already from being on a bus trip for the remainder of the tournament.

-My long shot, probably-won’t-happen-but-if-it-does-you-win-the-jackpot-upset is BYU over UCLA in the second round. I also have Davidson taking down Georgetown, Butler over Tennessee, and Siena over Vanderbilt, but those three things are probably more likely to happen than BYU over UCLA.

-I have Memphis going out against Michigan State in the Sweet Sixteen, which is a dangerous pick because I wouldn’t be surprised if Pitt beat Michigan State in the second round, but I see Memphis’s poor free-throw shooting being an issue if they’re ever in a close game.

-Below are my picks for the first round, which aren’t necessarily identical to who I’d pick if I were to enter a jackpot. If you take my advice and lose, it’s your fault.


-#14. GEORGIA VS #3. XAVIER (pick – Xavier). Georgia is coming off one of the most improbable accomplishments I’ve ever seen in college basketball. If they play as well today as they did in the SEC Tournament, their season will not end. The thing about Xavier is that they’re better than anyone Georgia actually faced head-to-head in the SEC Tournament when they want to be. Lately, they haven’t played with the level of intensity that they’ll need to in this tournament if they want to last long. That might be due to feeling like they were under-matched in conference play, but they won’t be under-matched here. They say that Drew Lavender is healthy after dealing with an injured ankle down the stretch, and if he is they should play well. I’m picking Xavier to win, but they won’t win if they don’t play better than they have in their last couple of games.

-#16. PORTLAND STATE VS #1. KANSAS (pick – Kansas). Portland State is in the NCAA Tournament for the first time, and they clearly look to be the best out of all the #16 seeds. Kansas, however, is among the best in the nation and a strong Final Four contender. If we’re going to see a #16 beat a #1 this year this is the game where it is most likely to happen, but I’d say there is about a 98 percent chance that it won’t. Kansas should win big.

-#12. TEMPLE VS #5. MICHIGAN STATE (pick – Michigan State). The Spartans have struggled away from home throughout the year, at least when you compare them to top level teams, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see this team go deep into the tournament. Temple is a good team as well, and an upset is not out of the realm of possibility. I just think the Spartans will be too much for them. Temple did beat Xavier big earlier in the year, but other than that they haven’t beaten anyone as good as Michigan State, and from what I saw rarely played up to that level.

-#11. KENTUCKY VS #6. MARQUETTE (pick – Marquette). Given how tenacious Kentucky has been this season, it’s hard not to like them (unless you’re a Louisville fan), but I don’t see them pulling off the win today. Kentucky did take Tennessee to the wire, but they haven’t beaten anyone as good as Marquette away from home. Marquette just appears to have too much talent.

-#11. BAYLOR VS #6. PURDUE (pick – Purdue). Purdue is a young team, and generally speaking young teams don’t do as well as veteran teams in the tournament. The thing about Baylor is that they’re fairly young as well, and none of their players have any NCAA Tournament experience. Other than the Big Ten Tournament, Purdue was fantastic down the stretch. If they can play at that level they should win this game.

-#9. KENT STATE VS #8. UNLV (pick – Kent State). I was really impressed with both of these teams this year, and this is one game that could certainly go either way. Kent State looked a little better in their conference tournament than UNLV did in theirs, especially when you consider that UNLV was hosting. The Rebels beat BYU decisively in the championship, but struggled in their other games. Kent is great when they’re at the top of their game, but they haven’t always been. They’ve shown they can play when the spotlight is on them, though, which it definitely is today.

-#13. ORAL ROBERTS VS #4. PITTSBURGH (pick – Pittsburgh). Oral Roberts had a great season, and they could end up giving Pitt one hell of a game, but I just don’t see this turning out to be an upset. Pitt’s defense is fantastic, and they’re playing their best basketball of the season right now. Oral Roberts will likely have trouble getting their offense going.

-#14. CORNELL VS #3. STANFORD (pick – Cornell). If Cornell pulls the upset it wouldn’t surprise me too much. They’re a well disciplined team that can score, and have four players that can really shoot the three. Common sense tells me I should pick Stanford and it’s almost impossible to give an acceptable analysis as to how Cornell could win. Stanford has a geographic advantage, they’ve played outstanding basketball all season, and there is no reason to not expect them to win this game. I do believe Stanford is good enough to go deep into the tournament, and I realize this would be a huge upset, but I just have a feeling that Cornell is going to play really well. This is one of the first round games that I’m really looking forward to.

-#11. KANSAS STATE VS #6. USC (pick – USC). This is a highly anticipated match-up given the fact that O.J. Mayo and Michael Beasley will be playing in the same game. Kansas State has tremendous talent, but they didn’t look as good as USC coming down the stretch. USC went through periods where they struggled, but part of that was due to injuries. They’re coming off a game where they nearly upset UCLA and they’d been playing pretty solid ball prior to that. If they’re focused coming into this one I believe they’ll win it.

-#15. BELMONT VS #2. DUKE (pick – Duke). Belmont is no stranger to the NCAA Tournament, but they’re also no stranger to getting bounced out by big margins in the first round. They did have a good year in the Atlantic Sun this year, but they’re simply way overmatched in this game. Duke is a team that we could see go deep into the tournament. They lost in the first round last year and I’d be shocked if that hasn’t been a source of motivation for them.

-#13. WINTHROP VS #4. WASHINGTON STATE (pick – Washington State). Winthrop played some pretty tough opponents early in the season and did fairly well, but they’re still a very young team. The future of their program is bright and they had a good year this year where they won the Big South, but I don’t see them pulling the upset today. Wazzu is a well coached team that’s been battle tested and should be able to get through without too much trouble.

-#9. TEXAS A&M VS #8. BYU (pick – BYU). The Cougars didn’t look all that good in their last game against UNLV, but I really like their team. They shoot the ball very well and have two fantastic three point shooters in Lee Cummard and Jonathan Tavernari. They’re also good on the boards. Overall, they look to me to be a better team than Texas A&M and I believe the Cougars will get the win.

-#10. ARIZONA VS #7. WEST VIRGINIA (pick – West Virginia). Arizona has not looked good at all in the last few weeks, and their poor finish to the season nearly cost them a bid. I don’t see them getting past the first round today against a West Virginia team that played pretty well in the Big East Tournament, and appears to be playing their best hoops of the season right now.

-#14. CAL STATE FULLTERTON VS #3. WISCONSIN (pick – Wisconsin). Not a whole lot of people are all that excited about Wisconsin, but they’re a good basketball team. They won the Big Ten regular season and tournament championships, they won a huge game at Texas earlier this year, and I could see them going deep in the NCAA Tournament. Cal State Fullerton won the Big West and looked really good in their tournament, but I don’t see them giving Wisconsin too much of a scare.

-#12. GEORGE MASON VS #5. NOTRE DAME (pick – George Mason). This would be another big upset, but when George Mason plays up to their abilities, they are a very tough team to beat. They don’t always do that, which is why they’ve lost some of the games that they have, but they looked good in their conference tournament and I expect them to come into this game with quite a bit of intensity. The Irish have had a good season and I certainly wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if they won this game. For that matter I wouldn’t be surprised if they won their second round game either.

-#16. MISSISSIPPI VALLEY STATE VS #1. UCLA (pick – UCLA). This is the last game of the day to tip off, and it looks to be the most uninteresting game of the day. I guess they’re saving the worst for last. Mississippi Valley State comes into this game having won nine in a row, but just one of those came against an RPI top 300 team. UCLA is a true national championship contender that’s playing this game very close to home. This one could (and likely will) get ugly quickly.


-#15. AMERICAN VS #2. TENNESSEE (pick – Tennessee). This game is a huge mismatch, and Tennessee should win easily. American had a good year in the Patriot League, but they don’t have the athletes that the Volunteers have and Tennessee could very easily end up running them over. The Vols have struggled recently and their lack of free-throw shooting could be a problem later on, but I don’t see this game being very close for very long.

-#10. DAVIDSON VS #7. GONZAGA (pick – Davidson). Davidson didn’t manage an impressive win during the season, but they put up tremendous fights against the likes of UCLA, Duke and North Carolina. They’re definitely a top 25 caliber team, and I believe they’re better than Gonzaga despite the fact that they’re seeded lower. They also have the advantage of playing close to home in Raleigh. Gonzaga has a good team as well and has shown that they can play against high level teams. I believe this is a great match-up that either team could win. I could also see either of these teams giving Georgetown trouble in the second round if that’s who they end up facing.

-#10. SAINT MARY’S VS #7. MIAMI, FL (pick – Miami, FL). Neither of these teams strike me as being outstanding. Saint Mary’s has played well, but they really haven’t looked overly impressive when facing other top notch teams. Miami has looked pretty good down the stretch, but they’ve struggled away from their home court. This looks like a game that could go either way, but I just think Miami has looked a little better lately. I don’t see the winner advancing much further than this, though.

-#12. WESTERN KENTUCKY VS #5. DRAKE (pick – Drake). I really like both of these teams and think that both are good enough to do some damage in the NCAA Tournament, but only one will be able to. It’s almost unfortunate that they’re opening against each other. I just believe Drake is better, though. They’ve passed some tough road tests and played amazingly well in their conference tournament. Western Kentucky does have some great athletes, though, and Drake could have a hard time stopping WKU in transition if the Hilltoppers are able to push the tempo.

-#10. SOUTH ALABAMA VS #7. BUTLER (pick – Butler). South Alabama had a great season, and the fact that this game is in Birmingham should give them a geographic advantage, but not to the level where Butler won’t be able to adjust. Butler is a very good team who is seeded where they are merely because of the lack of opportunities to face quality opponents. They’ll get those opportunities now, though, and I believe they’re a dangerous team. They can shoot, rebound and play defense. I’m picking them to win today, and on top of that I can see them being a very tough team to beat in the second round.

-#15. UMBC VS #2. GEORGETOWN (pick – Georgetown). I really like UMBC’s team and think it’s great that they’ve grown as a program and are now playing in their first ever NCAA Tournament game. They’re certainly well coached by Randy Monroe and are a fun team to watch. Having said that, chances are they’re going to get stomped today. I’ll be cheering for them (nothing against the Hoyas. I just like UMBC), but that won’t do them much good against a very tough Georgetown team.

-#13. SAN DIEGO VS #4. CONNECTICUT (pick – Connecticut). San Diego is red hot right now and just beat two very good teams in Saint Mary’s and Gonzaga to win their conference tournament, but they’re not on their home floor for this game, and they’re playing a very strong Connecticut team. The Huskies didn’t look all that good in the Big East Tournament, but that’s the sort of thing that can shake a well coached team awake. San Diego undoubtedly has a ton of confidence, and they may be able to stay with the Huskies, but I don’t see them pulling the upset.

-#15. AUSTIN PEAY VS #2. TEXAS (pick – Texas). Texas could have arguably been a #1 seed, but chances are they’re not too disappointed with how the brackets came out. Austin Peay doesn’t stand much of a chance. The Longhorns should win this one going away.

-#11. SAINT JOSEPH’S VS #6. OKLAHOMA (pick – Saint Joseph’s). Both of these teams have been inconsistent all season, so it’s hard to say who will win or how close the score will be. If you’re a gambling man I’d stay away from this game. Saint Joseph’s is a good defensive team, and when they show up they’re very tough to beat. Oklahoma is a good team as well, but I must say I was surprised they were seeded as high as #6th. They did look pretty strong coming down the stretch, though, so they’re definitely good enough to win this game.

-#16. MOUNT SAINT MARY’S VS #1. NORTH CAROLINA (pick – North Carolina). Mount Saint Mary’s won the opening round game to get here, but it would take the miracle of miracles to upset the Tarheels in Raleigh. North Carolina is the #1 team and they’ve been playing like it for the past couple of weeks. This game will probably end up out of reach after just the first few minutes.

-#13. SIENA VS #4. VANDERBILT (pick – Siena). Siena is a good basketball team, and they’re no stranger to upsets. They knocked off Stanford earlier this season, so they’ll definitely be confident coming into this one. They also gave some other pretty good teams a scare earlier in the year. Vanderbilt looks better on paper, and they’ve had some monster wins this season, so anyone who does pick Siena to win this one like I am is going out on a limb. Siena just looked really good down the stretch. Even though they weren’t playing good teams, they looked good themselves. Vanderbilt has looked good this year as well, but they have struggled away from their home court, and that’s something to consider. They’ll need to play better than they typically do on the road in order to win.

-#9. OREGON VS #8. MISSISSIPPI STATE (pick – Mississippi State). Mississippi State struggled out of the gate. It also looked like there were some chinks in the armor during the SEC Tournament, but I still think they look a little better than Oregon. The Ducks are more battle-tested, and that is definitely a factor, and they finished the regular season by winning three straight games, so I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see them pull this one out. This is another game that could go either way.

-#14. BOISE STATE VS #3. LOUISVILLE (pick – Louisville). Boise State has really made huge strides in improving their program in recent years, and they are a fun team to watch play. They’re athletic, but so is Louisville. Louisville also plays excellent defense and that should be able to slow down Boise State some. I’m looking forward to this match-up, but I think it will be more interesting from an X’s and O’s standpoint than it will competitive. Boise might make it a game for awhile, but I believe Louisville will open it up before it’s over.

-#9. ARKANSAS VS #8. INDIANA (pick – Arkansas). Indiana just hasn’t looked all that good since Kelvin Sampson left the team. Even when the Hoosiers have won they haven’t looked all that impressive. Arkansas has been inconsistent all season long, but they did look pretty good in the SEC Tournament and enter this game with quite a bit of momentum. If they play the way they did throughout the SEC Tourney they should end up winning this without too much trouble.

-#12. VILLANOVA VS #5. CLEMSON (pick – Clemson). Nova is a solid team that played well down the stretch of the regular season, but Clemson looks even better. They’re probably better than what their overall credentials indicate. They took North Carolina to the wall three times, and lost twice in overtime. They also looked fantastic all throughout the ACC Tournament, and if they play at that level then I can see them going deep into the NCAAs.

-#16. TEXAS ARLINGTON VS #1. MEMPHIS (pick – Memphis). I’m not expecting much of a game in this one. Texas Arlington finishes 7th in the Southland Conference, but earned the automatic bid by winning the conference tournament. Even by #16 seed standards they don’t appear to be all that good. This game could turn into a flattening, much like the three conference tournament games Memphis played in last week as they skated to the Conference USA title.

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