Friday’s Picks

Posted: March 21, 2014 in Uncategorized

Sorry this isn’t more in-depth, but it is what it is. This is really all you were after, anyway. Not that my picks yesterday were all that great. Without further adieu:

QUICK HITS FOR FRIDAY

Duke over Mercer

Baylor over Nebraska

New Mexico over Stanford

Arizona over Weber State

Tennessee over Massachusetts

Creighton over Louisiana-Lafayette

Kansas over Eastern Kentucky

Oklahoma State over Gonzaga

Memphis over George Washington

Wichita Sate over Cal Poly

Providence over North Carolina

VCU over Stephen F. Austin

Virginia over Coastal Carolina

Kentucky over Kansas State

Iowa State over North Carolina Central

UCLA over Tulsa

 

See you in the Second Round, folks. Good luck to you and yours.

-AD

Now that the Opening Round is behind us and the March Madness has officially set in, it is time to go through each game with a fine-tooth comb to try to tease out a winner. This is always a fool’s errand, so instead of some long and mostly useless set of predictions, I will just be providing them for each day’s games. So, with tip-off less than three hours away, you can use this guide to help make any last minute bracket changes you need, but remember that this is March and nothing is given. Take these picks with a shaker of salt.

FIRST ROUND

Thursday’s Games

SOUTH REGION: (6) Ohio State vs. (11) Dayton

This intrastate rivalry will bring the Big Ten’s Buckeyes and the A-10’s Flyers together in Buffalo for the first matchup of the Round of 64. Dayton was one of the final at-large teams selected for the tournament, finishing with a 10-6 conference record from a league that sent six teams to the Big Dance – the same amount as the powerhouse Big Ten. Ohio State finished fifth in their league, sporting a 10-8 record. Aaron Craft, LaQuinton Ross, and Lenzelle Smith, Jr. highlight a six-man rotation comprised entirely of upperclassmen for OSU. Seniors Devin Oliver and Vee Sanders provide leadership for Dayton, as well as junior leading scorer Jordan Sibert. Dayton outrebounds Ohio State, has more assists per game, and scores more. Ohio State turns the ball over fewer times per outing, and takes it away from their opponent more often than the Flyers do. In the end, the Buckeyes’ defense will be the deciding factor in this game. Though Thad Matta’s crew have been slightly underwhelming, I look for them to move past Dayton and onto the Round of 32.

PREDICTION: (6) Ohio State over (11) Dayton, 77-65

WEST REGION: (2) Wisconsin vs. (15) American

The Badgers of UW had a great February, going 6-1 in the month and losing only to Ohio State on February 1. March has been somewhat trickier for Wisconsin, as they ended an eight-game winning streak in a loss to Nebraska ten days ago. After demolishing Minnesota – dashing all the hopes the Gophers had to be in the field of 68 – Bo Ryan’s club fell to Michigan State. Still, the Badgers earned their #2 seed by virtue of a 16-0 run to start the year, as well as the aforementioned eight-game tear. Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker will look to start a new streak against the Eagles of American, who crushed regular season league champs Boston University in the Patriot League final to reach the Tournament. A trip to Milwaukee to face Wisconsin hardly seems like a fitting prize for Jesse Reed, Tony Wroblicky, and the rest of the Eagles. It should be noted that Badgers received a huge advantage for their first two matchups by being sent so close to home. The winner of the Oregon-BYU game will have to overcome this as well, barring a miracle upset from American. I wouldn’t bet on that, though.

PREDICTION: (2) Wisconsin beats (15) American, 84-55

SOUTH REGION: (8) Colorado vs. (9) Pittsburgh

This is an intriguing matchup to see who will get Florida in the second round (more on the Gators below). The Buffaloes raced to a 14-2 start, notching victories over Kansas and Oregon, but lost top player Spencer Dinwiddie in a January 12loss to Washington and were never the same. Colorado went 9-9 in their remaining games, being swept UCLA and Arizona on their way to 23 wins, a 10-8 conference record, and a trip to the Pac-12 semifinals. Pittsburgh had an even hotter start, gliding to an 18-2 mark before their own cold spell, a span in which they lost five of seven. They’ve reversed course again, winning five of their last seven games to finish 25-9. A three-point loss to 1-seed Virginia knocked the Panthers out of the ACC Tournament, but their worst loss of the season was to Florida State. Don’t forget that the Seminoles are a top seed in the NIT. All of Pittsburgh’s other losses came to teams in the NCAA Tournament field. Lamar Patterson and Talib Zanna ought to bring their toughness to the table against the Buffs, while Askia Booker and Josh Scott will try to fend Pitt off. I think the Panthers, who are playing better ball at the moment, will have too much for Colorado to handle without Dinwiddie.

PREDICTION: (9) Pittsburgh over (8) Colorado, 77-70

EAST REGION: (5) Cincinnati vs. (12) Harvard

This seems to be one of the more popular upset picks out there this season, with folks eager to jump on the perennial 12-seed upstart. While Wesley Saunders and Siyani Chambers make for a formidable duo, the Bearcats’ Sean Kilpatrick has the skills to take over the entire game. Justin Jackson has been a huge help for Cincy as well, leading the team in rebounding. The Bearcats don’t have a lot of depth, don’t shoot very well (from anywhere), but they do outrebound the Ivy League champions. This game will likely turn on whether Kilpatrick can turn on the jets and have a solid outing. If he falters, Cincinnati may be in big trouble. The Crimson have six players averaging more than nine points (compared to the Bearcats’ two), and wins over Green Bay and Vermont are nothing to sneeze at, but in the end, I think that Harvard will have trouble adjusting from having played exclusively Ivy League teams since January 11th. There is every indication that it will be close, though.

PREDICTION: (5) Cincinnati over (12) Harvard, 59-54

SOUTH REGION: (3) Syracuse vs. (14) Western Michigan

Jim Boeheim coached his team to a 25-0 start, finally losing at home to the lowly Eagles of Boston College on February 19. After some Tyler Ennis heroics saved Syracuse from defeat in the two games prior to the BC upset, the Orange have run into some trouble, dropping five of seven to end the season. The last loss came to North Carolina State in the ACC quarterfinals, which is one reason why this team who once looked like a dead lock for a #1 seed has fallen to the 3 line. The Broncos from Kalamazoo, MI stayed neck and neck with Toledo all season long, eventually toppling the Rockets to secure the Mid-American’s automatic bid. Led by seniors David Brown and Shayne Whittington, Western Michigan could be a dangerous matchup for the Orange, who are no strangers to early exits. C.J. Fair needs to be on point, as do Ennis and Jerami Grant, because if they stumble out of the blocks, the Broncos could run over them. Look for one more close win for Syracuse. Will Tyler Ennis have to hit another last second shot?

PREDICTION: (3) Syracuse over (14) Western Michigan, 74-73

WEST REGION: (7) Oregon vs. (10) Brigham Young

Leading scorer Joseph Young and transfer Mike Moser have the Ducks positioned to make a little noise in this tournament. The Cougars have the nation’s sixth-leading scorer in Tyler Haws, who has seven 30-point games on the year, including one in the first meeting of Oregon and BYU back in December. Dana Altman’s Ducks waked away winners that day, outlasting the Cougars in a 100-96 overtime game in Eugene. Sophomore Kyle Collinsworth is in the top three in rebounds, assists, and steals in the West Coast Conference. Brigham Young matches up with Oregon very well, and this could be another barnburner like the one from their first matchup. If Haws can find his shooting touch and the Cougars pull down rebounds like they have all season (sixth in the nation at 41.2 per game), then I believe BYU can pull the upset over the Ducks. However, the Ducks have returned to their form from the start of the year, when they jumped out to a 13-0 start. They had won eight straight prior to falling to Arizona in the Pac-12 semifinals, but that 19-point margin of victory probably says more about Arizona than Oregon. All of that said, this could be the most exciting game of the first round. I’m feeling an upset here.

PREDICTION: (10) Brigham Young over (7) Oregon, 86-81

SOUTH REGION: (1) Florida vs. (16) Albany

The Gators are the top overall seed in the Big Dance, looking poised to bring home a third national championship for head coach Billy Donovan. Florida hasn’t lost since December 2, a streak of 26 games that includes a perfect 18-0 mark in the SEC and the conference tournament title. Perhaps it is fair to note that the SEC was relatively weak this season, with only Kentucky and Tennessee joining UF in the field – and with the Volunteers featured in the First Four round, there’s a chance that only two SEC teams will make the Round of 64. Speaking of the First Four, D.J. Evans and the Great Danes won the first game of the tournament, holding on against Mount St. Mary’s after squandering a huge lead. Don’t expect that the festivities will continue for Albany, though. The Gators are talented, deep, and consistent. With four seniors in their rotation – Casey Prather, Scottie Wilbekin, Patric Young, and Will Yeguete – these guys are poised to go deep into the Tournament. This one shouldn’t cause them any issue.

PREDICTION: (1) Florida over (16) Albany, 77-54

EAST REGION: (4) Michigan State vs. (13) Delaware

As of January 21, the Spartans had an 18-1 overall record and had coasted to a 7-0 Big Ten mark. Michigan State lost six of 11 down the stretch, including being swept by Michigan in their first two meetings. Tom Izzo and Co. got the last laugh, however, subduing the Wolverines on Sunday to win the Big Ten Tournament. Gary Harris, Adreian Payne, Keith Appling, and Branden Dawson lead Sparty, a team with some depth and a penchant for passing the ball (their 17.1 assists per game rank sixth in the nation). The Fightin’ Blue Hens of Delaware survived the Colonial Athletic to reach the Field of 68, edging William & Mary by a point in the CAA final. They have a trio of real scoring threats in Devon Saddler, Davon Usher, and Jarvis Threatt, not to mention that their other two starters average in double figures, too. Threatt is an all-around player, averaging 18.1 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 5.6 assists per game. While Delaware did play Villanova closely earlier this year, Michigan State seems to be regaining their early form at the right time.

PREDICTION: (4) Michigan State over (13) Delaware, 79-65

EAST REGION: (7) Connecticut vs. (10) Saint Joseph’s

Despite being ineligible for the postseason a year ago, Kevin Ollie took every opportunity to impress last season, securing a contract for the 2014-15 year. His Huskies haven’t lost a step, led by Shabazz Napier, DeAndre Daniels, and Ryan Boatright. This is a UConn team that sports three wins over Memphis on its résumé, but also a total of five losses combined to Louisville and Tourney snub Southern Methodist. St. Joe’s, on the other hand, has a few more glaring dings on their body of work. Losses to Philly rivals Temple and LaSalle don’t look great – and the Hawks benefitted from only playing Saint Louis once – but they did beat VCU in both meetings this year. Langston Galloway, Ronald Roberts Jr., and Halil Kanacevic provide the motor for St. Joseph’s, a team that has five players averaging upwards of 32 minutes per game. The relative depth of Connecticut could end up being a big factor in this game, but Napier and Boatright have both been streaky (combining to shoot just over 40% from the floor all year). This should be an interesting matchup, but I think UConn pulls away late.

PREDICTION: (7) Connecticut over (10) Saint Joseph’s, 71-61

MIDWEST REGION: (2) Michigan vs. (15) Wofford

Already dealing with the loss of NBAers Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway, Jr., the Wolverines could have done without losing big man Mitch McGary eight games into the season. However, in his absence, Nik Stauskas, Caris LeVert, and Glenn Robinson III have stepped up in big ways. Big Blue is a deep squad this year, with eight players in the rotation averaging over 14 minutes per game. They had a streak of seven straight wins before stumbling against Michigan State on Sunday in the Big Ten Championship. This is a team that sports a few big wins – four total over Michigan State and Ohio State – but also some perplexing losses (Charlotte, anyone?). Wofford, on the other hand, won 13 of 15 to end the year, but lucked out when Western Carolina upset Davidson in the SoCon semis – the same Davidson team that swept Wofford in the regular season. In fact, Karl Cochran and the Terriers have no big wins and got smashed by the quality foes they did face. They dropped four games versus teams from the major conferences by a combined margin of 71 points (17.8 PPG). That won’t get it done against the Wolverines. Even with their handful of losses, Michigan is a very strong team with a lot of experience from last year’s deep run. Look for Stauskas to pick up where he left off last season.

PREDICTION: (2) Michigan over (15) Wofford, 86-64

MIDWEST REGION: (5) Saint Louis vs. (12) North Carolina State

North Carolina State was one of the last teams to make the tournament, but they did not disappoint in their matchup on Tuesday against Xavier, riding T.J. Warren’s 25-point performance to a 74-59 victory in Dayton. Despite questionable losses to Clemson on the road by 17 and Miami (FL) at home by 15, the Wolfpack seem to be playing quality basketball at the moment. Saint Louis, on the other hand, has been faltering of late, dropping four of their last five games, including a home loss to Duquesne and an opening round upset at the hands of St. Bonaventure. Dwayne Evans and Jordair Jett led the Billikens to a regular season A-10 crown, but that might not be enough to fend off N.C. State. Big man Rob Loe provides extra size for Saint Louis, but NCSU’s Jordan Vandenberg, a 7-foot Aussie, may have enough size of his own to cancel things out. The way the Wolfpack are playing right now, as well as SLU’s rough recent run, it is hard for me to pick anything but the 12-5 upset here.

PREDICTION: (12) North Carolina State over (5) Saint Louis, 74-69

WEST REGION: (5) Oklahoma vs. (12) North Dakota State

In yet another intriguing 5-12 matchup, the Sooners from Norman, OK will meet the Summit League champions, North Dakota State, in the Round of 64. Despite a second-place regular season finish in the Big 12, Oklahoma stumbled a little bit down the stretch, dropping games to West Virginia and Texas Tech in February. Outside of those two games, though, OU has beaten who they should have beaten, with the exception of an overtime loss to Louisiana Tech at home. Tech is a 27-win team, though, so don’t put too much stock in that loss, which came all the way back on December 30. The Bison, led by seniors Taylor Braun, Marshall Bjorklund, and TrayVonn Wright, have every right to be seeded where they are. This team beat Notre Dame in South Bend, as well as two other Tourney teams in Western Michigan and Delaware. Braun is a threat from all over the floor, while the big man Bjorklund could provide the size needed to counter Oklahoma’s frontcourt of Ryan Spangler and Cameron Clark. This game will likely turn on what kind of game Buddy Hield has for the Sooners, who leads Oklahoma’s scoring charge. I think the Sooners escape the Bison, but just barely.

PREDICTION: (5) Oklahoma over (12) North Dakota State, 76-72

EAST REGION: (2) Villanova vs. (15) Milwaukee

The Wildcats of Villanova are 28-4, with a Creighton providing two of the losses. Before the pair of defeats from the Blue Jays, Villanova had lost only to former Big East rival Syracuse, another top seed from this year’s bracket. Unfortunately for Jay Wright and his club, a one-point ouster in their Big East tournament opener is likely what kept the Cats from the 1-line. Going 16-2 in this new Big East is not quite as impressive as it used to be, especially when you consider that Villanova was swept by the only other team in the conference who was a lock for the tournament when March began. Milwaukee did not dominate their conference. In fact, they finished 7-9 in the Horizon League. This is still a 21-win team, though, with a solid starting five led by Jordan Aaron. Depth is going to be the big issue for the Panthers, as Ryan Arcidiacono, James Bell, and Jayvaugh Pinkston will be too much for UWM.

PREDICTION: (2) Villanova over (15) Milwaukee, 83-60

MIDWEST REGION: (7) Texas vs. (10) Arizona State

Neither one of these team is playing their best basketball at the moment, but this should be one heck of a game regardless. The Longhorns have a deep cast, headlined by Jonathan Holmes and Cameron Ridley in the frontcourt. Behind Holmes and Ridley, Texas is one of the best rebounding teams in the nation. Jordan Bachysnki and the Sun Devils will certainly have their hands full trying to keep the Longhorns from getting too many second chance points. Jahii Carson and Jermaine Marshall must make up for the rebounding differential with controlled and effective play in the backcourt. Texas lost five of eight to end the year, while ASU dropped their last three and five of seven to wrap things up. This should be an exciting game to see who takes on Michigan in the next round. I see the Longhorns’ size and rebounding as the deciding factor here, with Holmes and Ridley giving Bachynski fits inside.

PREDICTION: (7) Texas over (10) Arizona State, 76-69

MIDWEST REGION: (4) Louisville vs. (13) Manhattan

I’m not sure that anyone can quite explain how Louisville ended up as a 4-seed in this tournament. While there could be worse draws – yes, I’m talking about sharing a pod with Wichita State and Saint Louis – but the Cardinals deserved better for their season. They have a 29-5 record, won 12 of their last 13 to end the season, and have wins over Connecticut and Cincinnati. Perhaps the reason for the fall from grace (remember, these are your defending champions) is that they were swept by Memphis in conference and beaten by North Carolina and Kentucky in the only two true tests of the nonconference schedule. Add in the dismissal of Chane Behanan and the loss of Kevin Ware, and Russ Smith’s Cardinals suddenly look a lot less like the team that cut down the nets a year ago. Manhattan, led by George Beamon (19.2 PPG, 6.6 RPG), has also only lost once since the beginning of February. The Jaspers are a fine team, but they got the short end of the seeding stick on this one. Louisville struggles out of the gate, but coasts to a comfortable win.

PREDICTION: (4) Louisville over (13) Manhattan, 81-68

WEST REGION: (4) San Diego State vs. (13) New Mexico State

The last of Thursday’s games comes out west in Spokane, as the Aztecs and Aggies face off. Xavier Thames has been the catalystfor much of SDSU’s success this season, receiving quiet but consistent support from a long list of contributors, including Winston Shepard and Josh Davis. New Mexico State may actually have the deeper squad, though, with a rotation of no less than seven or eight talented players. Daniel Mullings and Tshilidzi Nephawe will try to pull off the upset of the Mountain West’s regular season champs. San Diego State may become disenchanted with the Land of Enchantment, as the Lobos of UNM outlasted the Aztecs in the Mountain West finals just five days ago. In fact, both the Aggies and SDSU have wins (and losses) against New Mexico this year. While NMSU does have a lot of skill, I think Steve Fisher’s boys will be moving on in this one.

PREDICTION: (4) San Diego State over (13) New Mexico State, 78-71

Well, there you have it, folks. Enjoy today’s games and look back for Friday predictions later!

-AD

IT’S BRACKET DAY!

Posted: March 16, 2014 in Uncategorized

The day has come, folks. We are mere hours away from finding out the field. While this clearly wasn’t the best year for the DPI, in terms of constant and comprehensive updates, this has certainly been an entertaining season in college basketball. What may be most striking is the parity across the nation. There is no clear-cut favorite to win it all, in my opinion, but instead a lengthy litany of teams who are capable of making deep runs and cutting down nets in Dallas.

UPDATE: With Duke’s loss to Virginia in the ACC Championship game, the Blue Devils have fallen off of the 1-line. This is great news for the Wildcats of Villanova, who have taken their place at the top of the East bracket. In other news, the Ragin’ Cajuns of UL-Lafayette have upset the Georgia State Panthers to take the Sun Belt title. They will replace GSU as the South’s 15 seed, up against Louisville in the First Round.

Below that is a breakdown of who is getting in from each conference, according to the DPI. Thanks for another great season, y’all! I’ll have a Tournament Predictions special once the real brackets are released. In the meantime, feast your eyes:

ncaa_finalfour_bracket_blank

(Note: bracket template taken from BannersOnTheParkway.com)

 

JUST MADE THE CUT: Dayton, Kansas State, St. John’s, California

JUST MISSED THE CUT: Southern Mississippi, Arizona State, Nebraska, Florida State

 

THE QUICK AND DIRTY CONFERENCE BREAKDOWN

America East – Albany

American Athletic – Louisville, Connecticut, Cincinnati, Memphis, SMU

Atlantic 10 – VCU, Saint Louis, George Washington, St. Joseph’s, Massachusetts, Dayton

Atlantic Coast – Duke, Virginia, Syracuse, North Carolina, Pittsburgh, North Carolina State

Atlantic Sun – Mercer Big 12 – Kansas, Iowa State, Oklahoma, Texas, Baylor, Kansas State, Oklahoma State

Big East – Villanova, Creighton, Providence, St. John’s

Big Sky – Weber State

Big South – Coastal Carolina

Big Ten – Michigan, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Ohio State, Iowa

Big West – Cal Poly

Colonial – Delaware

Conference USA – Tulsa

Horizon – Milwaukee

Ivy – Harvard

Metro – Manhattan

Mid-American – Western Michigan

Mid-Eastern – North Carolina Central

Missouri Valley – Wichita State

Mountain West – New Mexico, San Diego State

Northeast – Mount St. Mary’s

Ohio Valley – Eastern Kentucky

Pacific 12 – Arizona, UCLA, Colorado, Oregon, Stanford, California

Patriot – American

Southeastern – Florida, Kentucky, Tennessee

Southern – Wofford

Southland – Stephen F. Austin

Southwestern – Texas Southern

Summit – North Dakota State

Sun Belt – Georgia State

West Coast – Gonzaga, BYU

Western – New Mexico State

-AD

Hey, folks! Good to see you again. Obviously, it has been a little while. While I am still working on a conference-by-conference rundown of the season and how many each league will send to the Tournament, I want to provide you with the first look at the 2013-2014 Dieckhoff Power Index rankings! Click here to see them!

Coming next week:

-Conference-by-conference breakdown

-Updated rankings through the weekend’s games

-First bracket prediction

Keep your eyes peeled for more updates from the DPI. In the meantime, go watch ANY of the score of great college basketball games taking place this weekend! Congratulations are in order to (#28) Harvard, who secured the Ivy League title last night and punched this season’s first Dance ticket. Also, the Ohio Valley Conference championship game is taking place, with (#42) Belmont looking to defeat (#82) Eastern Kentucky.

As always, thanks for reading, folks. We will be in touch soon.

-AD

The Beavers will add three new signees to the roster in the fall, all of whom received three-star ratings from Rivals.com. The Beavers have had a bit of a bumpy offseason so far, losing career three-point leader Ahmad Starks, who transferred to Illinois to be closer to his family, as well as recruit L.J. Westbrook, who de-committed from OSU in March.

The loss of Starks opens up a gaping hole at point guard for Craig Robinson, who was counting on Westbrook to step into that role after the former North Salem guard committed verbally to the team back in 2011. Unfortunately for Oregon State, Westbrook transferred to Lee Academy in Maine following a suspension from North Salem High School, which resulted from an investigation of drug use by players at the school. In March, he backed away from his verbal, telling John Hunt of the Oregonian, “I feel like I committed way too early.”

While the Beavers lost out on their top option for point guard next year, they did add Hallice Cooke, a 6-3 combo guard out of New Jersey. ESPN’s profile of Cooke describe a “versatile offensive player … with very dependable three-point range … [who] seems to have good composure and decision making ability”. His skills seem to be more suited for the two-guard, and my guess is that is likely where the Second Team All-Hudson player will be asked to help the most. He’ll have some competition in the backcourt, which is discussed further down in the piece. In the meantime, here’s some tape on Cooke, who has a pretty nice looking game, but probably needs to get a little bigger, and you can bet the coaching staff will be focusing on that with him.

Aside from Cooke, the Beavers also landed big man Cheikh N’diaye from Carlsbad, Calif. An All-CIF First Team selection, N’Diaye averaged 13.3 points and 11.7 rebounds per game in his senior season, adding 4.5 blocks, and recorded a triple-double (22 points, 25 rebounds, 10 blocks) against Cathedral Catholic earlier this year. The 7-1 center told the San Diego Reader, “I just say no one is going to score on me. That’s my first job when I play basketball – defense is the first thing I do. Offense is the second thing.” Here’s a look at N’Diaye… it shouldn’t be too hard to figure out which one he is at any given moment… he’s a giant.

Perhaps the biggest boon of all for the Beavers, however, came at the eleventh hour, when Canadian guard Malcolm Duvivier decided to reassign himself from the class of 2014 to this year’s crop, and signed a letter of intent with Oregon State right before the deadline. According to Elias Sbiet at North Pole Hoops, Duvivier is “a steal out of Toronto … a work horse with a relentless work ethic”. Craig Robinson may well have landed the Beavers’ new primary ball-handler in Duvivier, who has played for the Canadian National team in the FIBA Americas, won an MVP in one Canadian league, led his team to a championship in another, and was once a Rivals Top 100 recruit in the 2014 class. Here’s a clip of Duvivier hitting a game winner. “We don’t lose.” Now that’s the attitude. Another, longer video shows off some more of his skills.

For a look at the rest of the Beavers’ roster, head over to OSUBeavers.com for the current list. It can be assumed that, as long as everyone is healthy, seniors Angus Brandt, Devon Collier, and Roberto Nelson will be starting alongside potential NBA prospect Eric Moreland, a junior big man who came into his own last season as a dominant defender and rebounder. The question remains, who will take over the point guard role? Junior Challe Barton is an option, and he played a lot of the minutes when Starks struggled last season, but he may run into some stiff competition from Duvivier going forward.

It will be interesting to see how Craig Robinson blends this new talent with the carryovers from last year’s squad. Coming into the season with a 78-89 record, Robinson must show that he has more to offer this team than an annual trip to the White House. While the Beavers may be lightyears away from earning a trip there (for, say, a National Championship), they have the pieces in place to compete in the Pac-12.

Welcome back, folks! This is the first post looking ahead toward next year, and I want to take this opportunity to thank each and every one of you who stopped by and read even one word last season. It was an amazing ride and I look forward to doing it again this year. Before I start previewing which teams should be watched in the upcoming season, though, I think it would be a service to everyone to take a moment to look at the drastic conference realignments that are taking place this summer.

The 2013-14 season will provide us our first glimpse of a world of college basketball that has just seen the Big East – arguably the highest-profile conference in the nation – undergo a complete overhaul and has profoundly changed the landscape of the sport for years to come. Classic rivalries have been split apart, and while these new pairings will undoubtedly forge new ones, getting used to this unfamiliar look of college basketball will take some time, to be sure.

The demise of the old Big East affects more than just that one conference, of course. First and foremost, the creation of the new American Athletic Conference will be the new home for many of the dislocated schools. The AAC features many of the Conference USA constituents of the early 2000s – national champions Louisville, Memphis, and Cincinnati, notably – as well as household names from the northeast in Connecticut, Rutgers, and Temple. The AAC will be rounded out by Houston, SMU, South Florida, and Central Florida.

Staying behind with the Big East moniker are many of the conference’s old standby Catholic programs, such as Georgetown, Villanova, Marquette, St. John’s, Seton Hall, DePaul, and Providence. Joining these schools are a few of the most well-known (formerly) mid-major programs in America: Butler, Creighton, and Xavier. The Bulldogs – who just lost head coach Brad Stevens to the NBA’s Boston Celtics – are not strangers to relocation, switching affiliations for the second time in as many years, after spending one season in the Atlantic Ten. The Musketeers and Blue Jays will also have to make the adjustment to playing in a much deeper league.

Three former Big East programs will be a part of neither that conference nor the new AAC, but instead will head to the Atlantic Coast Conference, joining the likes of Duke, North Carolina, and may other prominent schools. Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, and Syracuse will all begin next season playing in the ACC. With the Orange signing on here, we will get a chance to see two of the game’s 700 Club, Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim and Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski, coach against each other on a yearly basis. One can hardly argue the downside in that proposition; however, it should be noted that Syracuse’s presence in Madison Square Garden will be sorely missed come Big East tournament time. The addition of these three programs has to launch the ACC to the top of the ladder in terms of the top shops in the country, and they seem to be the clear-cut winners of the realignment shuffle.

While the Big East and ACC made huge changes in the offseason, the Big Ten, Big XII, Pacific 12, and SEC all sat out this round of musical chairs. A few of the more prominent mid-major conferences got in the mix, however, with the Conference USA taking on a slew of new programs. The C-USA will expand to a staggering 16 squads, but they lost their marquee team in Memphis, the one program that was keeping the conference even remotely relevant on the national scale. That having been said, they cherry-picked a handful of the country’s rising names from the smaller conferences, including Middle Tennessee, Charlotte, Louisiana Tech, Old Dominion, Florida Atlantic, Florida International, and North Texas. It remains to be seen how all of these teams will fair when they all get thrown in the deep end together, but the C-USA could provide some great competition. This will, in turn, give some of these smaller programs a better shot at picking up decent, if not spectacular victories. Still, it’s hard seeing them as more than a one-bid conference at this point, but they could provide a lot of entrants to the other tournaments.

If some of the other mid-major conferences look a little different, it may be due to contraction rather than expansion. The Atlantic Ten, for instance, lost a great deal of panache when Temple, Xavier, and newcomer Butler all walked out the door this offseason. The conference will add the George Mason Patriots for next season, one of the top programs in the Colonial over the past decade. The A-10 still has a solid core of teams in VCU, Saint Louis, La Salle, Dayton, St. Joseph’s, and Richmond to make this one of the more solid mid-major conferences.

The Mountain West, on the other hand, was busy picking up a couple new teams to round out their ranks at 11 members. Following Boise State’s move from the Western Athletic Conference in years past – which is a natural move, considering this conference was born of the breakup of the WAC – are Utah State and San Jose State. The Aggies from USU have had a lot of success in the past few years, and will look to try to make the transition to the bigger leagues when they join what was one of the strongest conferences in the nation last season, regardless of any “mid-major” moniker which might be assigned to it.

Speaking of the WAC, a mass exodus has taken place, but the conference added half a dozen new teams at the start of this month. The conference is a shadow of itself, absorbing some scattered remnants in Cal State Bakersfield, Texas Pan-American, Utah Valley, Chicago State, and Missouri-Kansas City, as well as Division I newcomer Grand Canyon University. In fact, all of the turmoil in the WAC has forced the conference to stop sponsoring football due to the departures of some of its key constituents. The adoption of four of the Great West’s member schools also spelled the demise of that conference entirely, now defunct after only a short time operating at the D-I level. The Great West’s final team, N.J.I.T., will compete as the nation’s lone independent squad next season.

In addition to Grand Canyon, three other schools are making the jump to D-I this year as well, including a pair from the Southland Conference. Both Incarnate Word and Abilene Christian will be a part of the league this year, which also added former D-I Independent (and Sun Belt) program, New Orleans. The final newcomers are Massachusetts-Lowell, and the River Hawks will compete in the America East Conference.

There were a few other small moves that almost flew under the radar for me. The Missouri Valley Conference replaced Creighton – clearly no easy task – with Loyola of Chicago, and the Ramblers have to know that they aren’t going to be expected to fill the Blue Jays’ giant void. The rest of the teams in the MVC might be breathing a sigh of relief and rubbing their hands together at the prospect of a life without two yearly matchups against one of the better programs in the country. Taking Loyola’s place in the Horizon League will be Michigan’s Oakland University.

Other moves include Charleston heading to the Colonial, Boston University and Loyola of Maryland joining the Patriot League, and Denver moving to the Summit League. The Metro Athletic took on two squads from the Northeast Conference in Monmouth and Quinnipiac. The Sun Belt likewise went through some changes, adding Georgia State, Texas State, and Texas-Arlington.

It seems that realignment has affected about half of the nation’s conferences in one way or another, and it has completely changed the dynamic of college basketball as we will know it from here on out. The new rivalries that will form out of all of this chaos should be the focus of the discussion on the matter, rather than lamenting over the fact that we won’t be seeing any more of those ridiculous Syracuse-Connecticut or Louisville-Notre Dame multi-overtime games.

Yes, it will take some getting used to the new American Athletic Conference. Yes, the surface tension on the Big Dance bubble just got a lot tighter, with one more automatic qualifier bid going to the AAC, leaving one fewer at-large bid. No, this is not the last time we are going to see realignment, with various contracts already in place which will affect many of the nation’s biggest leagues.

All things considered, in a world of constant change and uncertainty, one thing is for sure: there will be a new tournament in March, and a new champion in April. And in the end, isn’t that all that really matters?

Are you kidding me? This tournament has been one of the most exciting to watch that I can ever remember. Between the upsets, the buzzer-beaters, the star performances, and the charismatic teams that have taken America by storm on college basketball’s biggest stage, this year’s iteration of the Big Dance has had it all.

Florida Gulf Coast? Really? I knew the team had some talent, but these guys have dispatched two good teams with relative ease. Meanwhile, another group of Eagles – Marquette – have survived in the most dire of situations on big-time plays late in their first two games. Speaking of clutch baskets, look at La Salle, the newest poster-child for the play-in game. The Explorers took care of Marshall Henderson and a fiery Ole Miss team by punching back during the Rebels’ late push and scoring a game-winner with three seconds to play. Out in San Jose, Oregon eschewed any notion of being at a disadvantage due to their 12-seed, which was given to them because the NCAA couldn’t reckon a way to render a bracket otherwise. In turn, the Ducks clobbered Oklahoma State and Saint Louis, two very talented teams, and now have a date with Louisville for a trip to the Elite Eight. Oh, and there’s a team from Wichita who had a pretty good weekend, too, if memory serves. The one in Spokane? Not so much.

I’ll get into all of these teams in a little more depth below, but just take a moment to soak in this year’s tournament. If the first couple rounds are any indication, we are in for another wild weekend. Now, let’s get into the nitty gritty on the Sweet 16.

MIDWEST REGION

(#1) Louisville vs. (#12) Oregon

Man, the Ducks have really looked good in their first two games. I completely wrote them off, falling under the spell of Marcus Smart and the highlight-reel Cowboys of Oklahoma State. After watching Arsalan Kazemi and Carlos Emory destroy OSU on the boards, I predicted a similar fate for the Saint Louis Billikens and was right. Oregon has brought a great mix of bullying their opponents down low while also getting big-time shots from their outside threats. Dominic Artis and Daymean Dotson have played with a lot of gusto and senior E.J. Singler has made big plays for the Ducks. While all of this is true, they now run into what is probably the best team in the country. My opinion of Louisville remains the same as before the tournament started – I think this team is going to win the national championship. Louisville did get a break in a walkover against North Carolina A&T, but the Colorado State team that they obliterated is no joke. They handled their business like the nation’s best team, though, never looking like they were in trouble. Russ Smith has been playing like a man possessed, and I don’t think the Ducks have an answer for him defensively. Also, I don’t think Gorgui Dieng and the other Cardinal big men will get pushed around by Kazemi and Emory like we saw in the Ducks’ first two games. The experience of Peyton Siva and Smith is going to be hard for the Ducks to account for in the backcourt, and that’s probably the turning point for this game. It’s been a magical run, but if a double-digit seed is going to make it to the Elite Eight, it’s not going to be Oregon. The luck of the draw is just not on their side, and the country’s best squad is going to move on.

Prediction: Louisville 77, Oregon 66

(#3) Michigan State vs. (#2) Duke

Okay, so I was wrong about Duke. As an admitted fan of Coach K and his team, I can’t say I’m too disappointed. I didn’t think Doug McDermott would struggle so much, and the performance of Amile Jefferson off the bench got the Blue Devils out a jam when Ryan Kelly and Mason Plumlee started picking up fouls. But where McDermott is more of a finesse player who is best served away from the basket, Duke may have its hands full with a player like Michigan State’s Derrick Nix. The big, bruising forward has certainly been a handful for the first two opponents that the Spartans have demolished. They have amassed an 85-45 rebounding advantage through two games, thanks in no small part to Nix’s efforts. One worry for the Spartans is the health of Keith Appling, who suffered an injury in the win over Memphis, but Appling says he is okay and will play in the Sweet 16. Denzel Valentine filled in admirably off the bench, though, tallying nine points, six rebounds, and six assists. Duke has turned the ball over 20 times in two games, while Michigan State has committed 35 errors. Duke’s rebounding advantage is not nearly as dominant as the Spartans’. The coaching matchup is a complete push – Tom Izzo and Mike Krzyzewski are two of the game’s most experienced and proven coaches, absolute legends in the sport. This is going to a be a slow-paced, physical, Big Ten style game, but Duke is built to be able to withstand that. They need Kelly and Quinn Cook to return to form quickly, though. Whichever tandem produces more out of the backcourt – Seth Curry and Rasheed Sulaimon or Appling and Gary Harris – may indeed decide this game. This is a tough one to call. In a very closely contested game, Duke pulls out the victory.

Prediction: Duke 62, Michigan State 58

WEST REGION

(#9) Wichita State vs. (#13) La Salle

The poise that Wichita State showed in weathering Gonzaga’s best efforts to spoil Saturday’s upsets was a very telling character trait for Gregg Marshall’s team. These Shockers have the exuberant look of a potential Final Four team, and they remind me a lot of the George Mason and VCU teams that made their runs earlier in the 2000s. A slew of shooters, a forceful big man, staunch defense – this squad has it all. They also play a kind of undefinable intensity, and you can tell they absolutely love playing together. All of that showed as they demolished a really good Pittsburgh team in their first game and, of course, when they beat Mark Few’s Bulldogs. La Salle has had to work their way past three capable teams in Boise State, Kansas State, and Ole Miss. Despite being one of the final teams selected for the tournament, the Explorers stand alone as the Atlantic 10’s sole representative in the Sweet 16. Popular picks like Saint Louis, VCU, and Butler have fallen by the wayside, while Temple put up a great fight in their upset bid against Indiana. Still, Ramon Galloway has led La Salle to where no other A-10 team could make it this season. Jerrell Wright, Tyreek Duren, and Tyrone Garland have all turned in big scoring performances in the various games, with Garland’s layup in the final seconds sending La Salle into this game. The Explorers have survived being outrebounded in all three games, just as Wichita survived being out-boarded by the Zags. The Shockers have held their opponents to 35% shooting in the first two rounds, and they have the look of a team who is not yet done making noise in March. Cleanthony Early has provided a good scoring punch in their contests thus far, and as long as at least one of the other Wichita players gets hot – it was Malcolm Armstead against Pitt and Ron Baker against Gonzaga – they should win this ballgame.

Prediction: Wichita State 66, La Salle 59

(#6) Arizona vs. (#2) Ohio State

Now that Arizona has made it to the Sweet 16, it’s time to stop feeling stupid over messing up that entire portion of the bracket and start previewing Sean Miller’s team. In two games, Arizona has grabbed 81 rebounds to their opponent’s 46, with a 42-15 advantage spelling the demise of Belmont. The Cats have also shot very well from beyond the arc, making nine 3-pointers in each of their games at about a 56% clip. Mark Lyons has been the big scorer for Arizona, dropping 23 and 27 in the opening rounds. Lyons has received backup from Solomon Hill, Kaleb Tarczewski, and the rest of the cast. Brandon Ashley has been an important big body off the bench, grabbing 15 rebounds so far in 40 total minutes of work. Ohio State survived an upset attempt from Iowa State, leaning on their junior leader Aaron Craft in the final seconds with the game on the line. Craft surely did not disappoint, burying the game-winner with less than a second on the clock, sending the Buckeyes to Los Angeles. While the location of this game could cause Buckeye fans some concern, keep in mind that Thad Matta’s boys are 7-0 in neutral site games this year, including the last five games of their current 10-game streak. Deshaun Thomas has been a beast on the scoreboard for Ohio State, but hasn’t been as effective a rebounder as the team needs. In fact, Iowa State absolutely crushed OSU on the boards. While Arizona is equipped to do the same, Ohio State obviously lived through it once – I don’t see why they can’t do it again. Aaron Craft has stepped up in his leadership role so far, and in a newly wide-open West, this will likely be the Buckeyes’ biggest test on their way to Atlanta. I think Ohio State advances, extending their winning streak with yet another big play late in the game from Craft.

Prediction: Ohio State 72, Arizona 70

SOUTH REGION

(#1) Kansas vs. (#4) Michigan

Michigan is led by Player of the Year candidate Trey Burke, but they get a lot of great support from the rest of the six-man rotation. Despite the youth of this team – the Wolverines start three freshmen, a sophomore, and a junior – they have played beyond their years in the tournament thus far. They were slow out of the gates against a good South Dakota State team, but recovered to win decisively. Against VCU, they made shots, dominated the boards, hit their free throws, and shut down Shaka Smart’s Havoc style with efficient and generally careful play. The Wolverines’ Mitch McGary was 10 for 11, scoring 21 points and pulling down 14 rebounds against an undersized Rams squad. McGary also put in 13 and 9 against South Dakota St. If he can continue this type of play inside, he could be a big factor in handling Jeff Withey in a Sweet 16 matchup with Kansas. Speaking of Withey, the guy has been a monster through two games. He has Tim Duncan’s Big Dance blocks record in his sights after recording 12 swats leading up to the Sweet 16. He has also poured in 33 points and 22 rebounds, fulfilling all the expectations I had for the Jayhawks’ big man. Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of Kansas’ wins is the ineffectiveness of the backcourt outside of Travis Releford. Ben McLemore had only two points against the Tar Heels, while Elijah Johnson has had five in each game. Michigan has one of the nation’s best backcourts, and I think this might be what tips the scales for the Wolverines. Tim Hardaway Jr. has been solid through the first couple games, while Trey Burke found his form against VCU – although his seven turnovers were worrisome. Still, the way Michigan is playing – especially their decimation of Shaka Smart and the Rams – gives me the idea that this team is well on their way to Atlanta.

Prediction: Michigan 73, Kansas 67

(#3) Florida vs. (#15) Florida Gulf Coast

I don’t mean to take anything away from Steve Fisher’s ability to coach or prepare for a basketball game – but I’ve got to believe that he and the rest of the San Diego State team were not really expecting to play Florida Gulf Coast. The Aztecs hung with the Eagles for much of the game, but FGCU’s late run proved to be the difference. Brett Comer, Sherwood Brown, Bernard Thompson, Chase Fieler, and the rest of the Eagles have captured the spotlight as America’s Cinderella du jour, becoming the first 15-seed to ever advance this far in the tournament. These guys can certainly play, but I’m a little worried that this cooling-off period may be their worst enemy, as it gives Billy Donovan a chance to develop a gameplan for Florida Gulf Coast. It would be easy to say that the Gators have had it easy in the first two rounds, facing a 14- and an 11-seed, but Northwestern State was the country’s top-scoring team this year and Minnesota is certainly no slouch. Florida held the Demons to just 47 points – a full 34 below their season average – and were never seriously threatened by the mercurial Gophers. Erik Murphy has been very effective for the Gators, and Mike Rosario really took over Sunday’s game against Minnesota. Just like Billy Donovan was unfazed by the magical run of George Mason in 2006, he will have his team ready for this game against their in-state neighbors. The presence of Murphy and Patric Young inside will be a little more than the Eagles will be able to handle, and unless Florida Gulf Coast pulls out a 21-2 run like the one they had against San Diego State, I’m afraid their glorious story ends here. I’d be lying, though, if I said I won’t be rooting wholeheartedly for the Eagles in this one.

Prediction: Florida 74, Florida Gulf Coast 61

EAST REGION

(#1) Indiana vs. (#4) Syracuse

In a rematch of the 1987 NCAA Championship game, Jim Boeheim will look to end up on the right side of this matchup. His team looked amazing in the obliteration of Montana, holding the Big Sky champs to just 34 points on 20% shooting, while also forcing 17 turnovers. The Orange struggled only slightly to close out a feisty Cal team that had eyes on an upset. This game could’ve been a bigger win for Syracuse had they not missed 15 free throws, lowering their tournament percentage to 66.7%. That being said, they still have gotten to the line 81 times in two games, but they come up against an Indiana team that is extremely disciplined when it comes to fouling. James Madison and Temple combined to shoot 12 total free throws against the Hoosiers. Despite the same six-point margin of victory, Indiana had a much tougher time getting to the Sweet 16 than Syracuse. Khalif Wyatt and Temple had them within an inch of their life before Victor Oladipo’s cold-blooded three saved the Hoosiers’ season. I can’t be the only one who has been underwhelmed by the performances of Cody Zeller. He struggled to find his groove so far and the Orange’s stable of big men could prove a problem. The matchup of the backcourts will be the big determiner of how this game goes. While I love Michael Carter-Williams and Brandon Triche, they might be in some trouble against the disciplined group of Oladipo, Jordan Hulls, and Yogi Ferrell. Syracuse has been fortunate to capitalize on a lot of mistakes from their opponents, but I don’t see the Hoosiers giving them the same kinds of opportunities. In what could be one of the best games of the tournament, I foresee Indiana playing up to their midseason form and taking out the Orange in the nation’s capital.

Prediction: Indiana 69, Syracuse 62

(#3) Marquette vs. (#2) Miami (FL)

Well, it’s fitting to save the Marquette game for the very end, since they’ve likewise been leaving things to the last second in their first couple games. Vander Blue saved them from early elimination at the hands of Davidson, hitting a game-winning layup with one second remaining. After trailing for much of their next game against Butler, Buzz Williams’ team finally turned the corner and got the edge on the Bulldogs, thanks to Blue’s 29-point outburst and his three-pointer with 90 seconds left which tied the game. After taking the lead, Blue’s turnover with seconds remaining opened the door for another memorable Butler buzzer-beater, but the end result was pretty anti-climactic for Brad Stevens’ squad. Miami, on the other hand, kept their matchup with Illinois a little more exciting than they would have liked. The Illini held the lead with as little as 1:24 left, but Shane Larkin hit a huge three that gave the Canes the lead back with a minute to play. After a controversial call that gave Miami the ball after a missed D.J. Richardson three-point attempt, the Hurricanes closed out the game and advanced to the Sweet 16. While winning in any fashion is nice, the Hurricanes were not nearly as dominant against Illinois as I expected, due in large part to the shooting struggles of Larkin and Durand Scott. Luckily for them, Rion Brown came off the bench to lead Miami with 21 points and Larkin stepped up in the clutch when his team needed him. I am very much looking forward to The Shane Larkin-Vander Blue Show in this round – these two guys could easily trade 30-point games. I give Miami the edge in this matchup due to a size advantage inside, although the Canes’ big men have been far from dominant so far. Both teams have proved to have the poise to survive in the late going, but I think Marquette may have used up all of their magic in staving off Davidson and Butler, so I’m sticking with Miami here.

Prediction: Miami (FL) 81, Marquette 79

LOOKING PAST THE SWEET 16

(#1) Louisville vs. (#2) Duke – Now that Gorgui Dieng is back in the fold, will the Cardinals avenge their first loss of the season against Coach K and the Blue Devils?

(#9) Wichita State vs. (#2) Ohio State – The Shockers knocked off top-seeded Gonzaga, but will they have what it takes to keep the magic alive against Aaron Craft and the Buckeyes?

(#4) Michigan vs. (#3) Florida – Can these young Wolverines outplay the experienced Gators and earn a trip to Atlanta, or will Billy Donovan’s boys cut down the nets?

(#1) Indiana vs. (#2) Miami (FL) – Who prevails in this clash of old-school and new-school: one of the country’s most storied programs or Jim Larranaga’s upstart Hurricanes?

The way this tournament has been going, it seems like a waste of effort to continue to predict past the Sweet 16, since I’ll probably end up having to do a rewrite on just about every matchup. But hey, at least my national championship of Louisville and Miami is still in play, and I think Louisville tops Ohio State and Miami bests Michigan in the Final Four to get there.

While some might find such blood-boiling, bracket-busting, bad behavior to be downright offensive this time of year, I revel in it. That’s the joy of the tournament. That’s what makes these Cinderella runs so meaningful – the fact that people “in the know”, or so they think, completely write them off. So, as one of those clueless voices contributing to the din, let me extend a thankful hand to these 16 teams. I’ve never enjoyed being so wrong so much.

-AD

Here’s the Sunday edition of Calling the Games I Got Wrong. I was three-for-three yesterday, so I’m hoping to make it 7-for-7 after today. I am still in awe over the Shockers’ upset of Gonzaga last night, and am dumbstruck that Oregon will be facing Louisville in the Sweet 16. At least one other double-digit seed will be joining the Ducks in the next round – and we could see as many as four of them move on today. Again, I’m not going to redo my predictions or write-ups on any games I got right, but here’s a rundown on the ones I got wrong.

(2) Ohio State vs. (10) Iowa State

At least I got one of these teams right. Ohio State blew Iona out of the water with big games out of Deshaun Thomas and Sam Thompson. While Aaron Craft was ineffective scoring the basketball, the junior guard aided the Buckeyes with seven assists and six steals. The half-dozen swipes were the second-most in Craft’s career, matching the total he had against Cincinnati in last year’s tournament. Off the bench, Shannon Scott neared a triple-double, with seven points, seven boards, and 10 rebounds. The more intriguing team here is Iowa State, whose frontcourt scoring was too much for Notre Dame. The Cyclones were spurred by Melvin Ejim and Georges Niang, and Ejim led the team with eight rebounds and five dimes. At first glance, their guards look to have underperformed – no one outside the frontcourt ended up in double figures – but the Cyclone backcourt shot effectively, especially from downtown, and only committed two turnovers all game. OSU’s forwards, Thomas and Thompson, should match up with Ejim and Niang better than Notre Dame did, and the Buckeyes guards will likely outplay the Cyclones’ backcourt. Will Clyburn, ISU’s leading scorer,  will need to have a much bigger game to swing the balance. Fred Hoiberg has built quite a foundation in Ames, but I don’t think he’ll outcoach Thad Matta in this one. Look for big games out of Craft and Thomas. Prediction: Ohio State 79, Iowa State 66

(1) Indiana vs. (9) Temple

Boy, Khalif Wyatt can play. His 31 points led the Owls in their win over North Carolina State, often leaving Lorenzo Brown in his wake as he hit a bunch of jumpers and layups. Perhaps most importantly, he only turned the ball over once in 38 minutes, which made up for the fact that he shot poorly from beyond the arc. In fact, the Owls only turned it over five times all game, playing the exact kind of disciplined game they needed to in order to overcome the rebounding disadvantage that they suffered against the Wolfpack. Indiana, on the other hand, out-rebounded their opponents, James Madison, and looked dominant early. Yogi Ferrell led the Hoosiers in scoring, rebounding, and assists – 16, eight, and six – and Will Sheehey put in 15 points of his own. Cody Zeller was puzzlingly ineffective, notching as many turnovers (four) as he did rebounds and made field goals. The stars of Indiana, notably Zeller and Victor Oladipo, will need better games in order to put away a tough Owls team. Both squads run with six-man rotations, for the most part, and we will see a big-time matchup between somewhat similar teams. Players like Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson and Scootie Randall will be important for Temple, but the inside battle between Zeller and Jake O’Brien might be most important. Another key will be the struggle between Wyatt and Oladipo. In the end, though, I think Indiana pulls away from a very, very capable Temple team. Prediction: Indiana 74, Temple 68

(7) San Diego State vs. (15) Florida Gulf Coast

Wow. I mildly sang the praises of the Eagles before dismissing just about any chance they had to beat the Hoyas on Friday. Well, FGCU did just that, besting Georgetown by ten points to become the third team in the last two years to pull off the 15-2 upset. This is not just a simple fluke team, though – remember, the Eagles beat Miami (FL) earlier this season, before anyone knew how good the Hurricanes were. They have no less than four stellar players who run their team – all of whom can score and rebound. Brett Comer, the team’s point guard, had 12 points, 10 assists, and six boards, while scoring guards Sherwood Brown and Bernard Thompson combined for 47 points and 16 rebounds. Forward Chase Fieler was quieter in the scoring department with only nine points, but his seven rebounds and three blocks were instrumental. In fact, I think this Florida Gulf Coast team is a serious threat to San Diego State. Jamaal Franklin and Chase Tapley won’t go down without a fight, but if the Aztecs struggle at all to score, the Eagles could strike and make some more history. Ask Otto Porter – it’s not just about how good your team is, but how good they are today. And today, well… something tells me Florida Gulf Coast becomes the first 15-seed in the Sweet 16.  Prediction: Florida Gulf Coast 68, San Diego State 64

(12) Ole Miss vs. (13) La Salle

Perhaps the most interesting of the matchups in this round, we are guaranteed our second double-digit Sweet 16 participant. La Salle scored a huge upset of Kansas State on Friday, riding the momentum from their triumph in Dayton over Boise State. Ramon Galloway and Jerrell Wright were fantastic against the Wildcats, combining for 40 points as Galloway played all 40 minutes. Wright’s 21 in just 25 minutes on six-of-six shooting was incredibly efficient, and the big man added eight rebounds and a couple blocks, to boot. Unfortunately for K-State, guards Rodney McGruder and Angel Rodriguez combined for a sorry 5-of-23 shooting on the night. La Salle will face some hotter shooters than that in Ole Miss, who come into this game riding a six-game win streak that includes wins over Missouri, Florida, and most recently, Wisconsin. Not only are those three good teams, but they are teams which play different styles. I was surprised to see Marshall Henderson, Murphy Holloway, and the rest of the Rebs run the Badgers out of the building in the second half of Friday’s game. Ole Miss actually out-rebounded Wisconsin, which was a shock to me, and if they keep up this kind of play, they should have no trouble rolling over La Salle. The Rebels came out slowly, but caught fire in the second half. Even 20 minutes of an effective Henderson should send Ole Miss to a Sweet 16 matchup with Wichita State next week. Prediction: Ole Miss 75, La Salle 62

Okay, now enjoy your Sunday – sit back, relax, and watch some really, really interesting basketball. I know I will.

­-AD

Calling the Games I Got Wrong

Posted: March 23, 2013 in Uncategorized

So, clearly my predictions have not all been correct. I think that’s an understatement. In that spirit, I wanted to make some predictions for games that will ACTUALLY happen. Perhaps I’m just a glutton for punishment, or maybe just desperate for a little redemption after the last two days. Anyway, here are predictions for the games I got wrong today. I’ll do another round for Sunday’s games later on.

(6) Arizona v. (14) Harvard

As the Ivy League champs proved on Thursday, Harvard can be a dangerously efficient team. They shut down Mountain West champion New Mexico, getting a huge performance out of Laurent Rivard. Wesley Saunders had a big game, too. The Lobos out-rebounded the Crimson, but ultimately poor shooting was New Mexico’s demise. This rebounding difference could be exploited by Arizona, who absolutely destroyed Belmont on the boards, grabbing 42 to the Bruins’ 15. This could prove to be the big difference in the game. Arizona was dominant from the field against Belmont as well, shooting nearly 57%, making over half of their three-pointers. The Wildcats don’t like seeing 15 turnovers from their players – and their rebounding advantage over Harvard won’t be quite as disparate as the Belmont game – but they shouldn’t have a whole lot to worry about against the Crimson. Although… that’s what New Mexico thought. Still, I think Sean Miller will have his team ready for this game, and Mark Lyons is a floor general. I’ll be rooting for Siyani Chambers, Saunders, Rivard, and the rest of the Cambridge Cranium Crew, but I think Arizona’s frontcourt is going to be too much for Harvard. Prediction: Arizona 71, Harvard 59

(4) Saint Louis v. (12) Oregon

Like the Belmont-Arizona game, I severely underestimated how well a Pac-12 team would rebound. The Ducks killed Oklahoma State on the boards, and the Cowboys never got their offense going in a coherent way that allowed them to make a serious run. Arsalan Kazemi had 17 rebounds to go along with 11 points, and Oregon ended up with a 44-30 advantage overall. They survived 18 turnovers and a 39% shooting day to still win by 13 points over a really talented Big 12 team. Saint Louis, on the other hand, handled their business like I expected them to do, shutting down New Mexico State with a 20-point victory. Dwayne Evans was solid, but the Billikens should be a little worried about the fact that they were out-rebounded by the Aggies, 41-30, allowing NMSU to grab 21 offensive boards. This is exactly what killed Oklahoma State early against Oregon, and the Ducks will look to exploit this again. Evans will need another big game for Saint Louis’ season to continue. This game is also in San Jose, a clear geographical advantage for the Ducks. I think the 12-seed breaks into the Sweet 16 with another strong rebounding performance and some scoring production out of Daymean Dotson and Dominic Artis. Prediction: Oregon 66, Saint Louis 61

(4) Syracuse v. (12) California

Well, I think I really overestimated the challenge that Montana would pose for Syracuse. Instead, there was no challenge, just a massacre.  The Orange won, 81-34, and looked great doing it. They took care of the ball, shot well, rebounded, passed extremely well (21 assists on 27 field goals), and just owned the entire game. Michael Carter-Williams abandoned the idea of a big scoring night early, ending with just four points on 2-of-3 shooting. Instead, the point guard focused on distributing the ball to the tune of nine assists, while also pulling down eight rebounds. In the other game in this pod, Cal upset UNLV, staving off a Rebels run to secure this meeting with the Orange. Cal rebounded with UNLV, Allen Crabbe was a stud – 19 points, nine rebounds, and four assists – and Mike Montgomery has a chance to get back to the Sweet 16. This will be a pretty good game, but I think that Syracuse has the defensive edge in this matchup. It will take another big performance from Crabbe and at least one other major contribution from a player like Justin Cobbs or David Kravish to pull of another upset. I think Jim Boeheim’s boys will find their way to Washington for a matchup with the winner of Indiana and Temple. Prediction: Syracuse 69, California 59

One of the things all three of my winners have in common is experienced coaching. Sean Miller had success with Xavier before coming to Arizona, where he’s been solid, Dana Altman similarly excelled with Creighton throughout the 2000s, and Jim Boeheim’s record speaks for itself. Between coaching experience and rebounding skill, I think these three teams have the edge. Although, this theory clearly doesn’t extend to Bo Ryan and his strong Wisconsin team, which lost to a red-hot Ole Miss team. More on that in the next update.

-AD

Alright – if you read the first round of predictions already, feel free to skip on down to the next round. If you missed them earlier, then go ahead and take heed. Keep in mind, these predictions are to be taken with an entire shaker of salt. No refunds.

2013 NCAA TOURNAMENT PREDICTIONS

OPENING ROUND

(#16) Liberty vs. (#16) North Carolina A&T

Give both of these teams credit – they both got hot when they needed to in order to save their seasons. The edge here goes to Liberty, who shoots better, turns the ball over less, and has three players scoring 13 points per game. After starting the year 0-8, look for the Flames to keep burning on into a matchup with Louisville. John Caleb SandersDavon Marshall, and Tavares Speaks will carry the torch for Liberty. (I think I’m out of fire puns.) Prediction: Liberty 64, North Carolina A&T 57

(#16) James Madison vs. (#16) Long Island-Brooklyn

After losing their best player, Julian Boyd, for the season to an ACL injury, the Blackbirds responded by staying near the top of the NEC and winning their conference tournament. Give the credit to Jamal OlasewereC.J. Garner, and Jason Brickman, Brooklyn’s high-octane trio. James Madison won a weak Colonial league this year, and I don’t think they have the horses to keep up with Long Island. Prediction: Long Island 77, James Madison 66

(#11) Middle Tennessee vs. (#11) St. Mary’s

When Middle Tennessee lost to Florida International in the Sun Belt Conference tournament, the Blue Raiders had to be worried that they had lost out on an NCAA bid. The folks in the Selection Committee did them a huge favor by rewarding them for their 28 wins. Unfortunately, they didn’t do them a whole lot of favors by matching them up with Matthew Dellavedova and Saint Mary’s. This will be an exciting game, but I think the magic may end in Dayton for Marcos KnightBruce Massey, and the rest of the Raiders. Prediction: St. Mary’s 81, Middle Tennessee 75

(#13) Boise State vs. (#13) La Salle

This is the definition of a mid-major game, and exactly what an opening round game should look like. I love that the Committee put these two teams in the tournament, and rightfully seeded them into a 13-slot. Each team won a few choice conference games in two of the country’s best conferences, period. The A-10 and Mountain West are fast becoming power conferences, each churning out five bids this year. Anthony Drmic and Derrick Marks lead the Broncos, while Ramon Galloway and Tyreek Duren handle the scoring for the Explorers. It’s hard to find a lot of difference between these two teams, and I’m going to go with my gut here, which says that Boise State wins in a wild finish. Prediction: Boise State 74, La Salle 72

SECOND ROUND (ROUND OF 64)

MIDWEST

(#1) Louisville vs. (#16) Liberty

Okay, for all the charm that Liberty carries as the tournament’s only team with a losing record, they’re simply not going to beat Louisville. End of story. The Cardinals are simply too good for that. Peyton SivaRuss Smith, and the rest of this Louisville squad – the best in the land, according to the Selection Committee – will walk over Liberty in a laugher. It won’t be close. Prediction: Louisville 92, Liberty 68

(#8) Colorado State vs. (#9) Missouri

This is an intriguing matchup. First you have Colorado State, a solid team out of the Mountain West that spent some time in the Top 25 this year. They’re led by big man Colton Iverson and guard Wes Eikmeier. This team is physical and can shoot the ball – a classic MWC squad. Missouri is loaded with talent, but have yet to put it together for any significant stretch. Phil PresseyLaurence Bowers, and Alex Oriakhi are a dangerous group of players, but I think Colorado State has a little bit more composure and grit, and will pull away late in this game. Prediction: Colorado State 60, Missouri 54

(#5) Oklahoma State vs. (#12) Oregon

Apparently, Oregon was dropped to a 12-seed due to “logistical issues” that forced the hand of the Committee. Tough luck for the Ducks, who draw a wildly talented Oklahoma State team. Marcus Smart is one of the country’s best freshmen, as is teammate Phil Forte. Add in LeBryan Nash and Markel Brown, and this is a Cowboys team that could make a lot of noise in the coming weeks. Oregon is very talented with an arsenal of shooters (Daymeon Dotson, E.J. Singler) and some tough guys inside (Carlos EmoryArsalan Kazemi), as they proved in this weekend’s Pac-12 tourney run. Oklahoma State, however, has been cutting their teeth on much tougher competition over the past few months, and should have the upper hand in this game. Prediction: Oklahoma State 84, Oregon 75

(#4) Saint Louis vs. (#13) New Mexico State

Wow. Rick Majerus must be smiling right now. The Billikens were 3-3 at the time of their former coach’s passing, going on to win 24 of their last 27 games, with two of those losses coming in overtime. Oh, and the other one was to Temple, who earned a respectable 9-seed in this year’s tourney. Dwayne Evans is a force, and no less than five other players are solid contributors for this SLU team. New Mexico State did well to win the WAC this year, but I hate to be the bearer of bad news to Aggies fans… the road ends here. Prediction: Saint Louis 71, New Mexico State 54

(#3) Michigan State vs. (#14) Valparaiso

Michigan State has never really blown me away this year. Every time they do something to warrant attention, it seems like they fold in the newly-earned spotlight. After dismantling Michigan in mid-February, the Spartans dropped three straight, including the March 3rd rematch against the Wolverines. Still, a season sweep of Wisconsin is impressive, and don’t forget their win over Kansas in Maui. Valparaiso has a really good player in Ryan Broekhoff, and head coach Bryce Drew was the player who sunk that famous shot for Valpo when they upset Ole Miss in 1998 – as a 14 seed. Not sure the Crusaders will be making more good memories this year, though. Prediction: Michigan State 73, Valparaiso 61

(#6) Memphis vs. (#11) Saint Mary’s

This matchup is funny to me, because I see the Conference USA and West Coast Conference as being very similar. That is, one dominant team (Memphis, Gonzaga) and one very talented second-banana (Saint Mary’s, Southern Miss). Saint Mary’s was never able to defeat their Goliath in three tries this season, and Memphis shut down their David three times. Will Saint Mary’s be able to pull one out for the little guys? Unfortunately, I just don’t see it. Joe JacksonChris Crawford, and the rest of the Tigers are playing some really good ball right now. It will be a fun one to watch, though. Prediction: Memphis 83, Saint Mary’s 77

(#7) Creighton vs. (#10) Cincinnati

It would be easy to say that Doug McDermott is the be-all-end-all of Creighton basketball. For the most part, he is. Don’t sleep on the talent of Grant Gibbs and Gregory Echenique, though. This is a very talented Blue Jays team which has depth and the ability to shoot the lights out or play you inside. Cincinnati likewise has a trio of talented players that lead their team. Sean Kilpatrick can take over a game, and Cashmere Wright and JaQuon Parker are explosive in their own rights. Creighton shot almost 51% on the year, and the All-American McDermott is not going to let his season end here. Look for a dominating performance out of the forward. Prediction: Creighton 75, Cincinnati 68

(#2) Duke vs. (#15) Albany

Uh-oh. Look familiar, Duke fans? The 2-line has to be a little disconcerting after last year’s debacle against Lehigh. Fortunately for the Dukies everywhere, there is no C.J. McCollum-status player on the Great Danes. Still, you can almost sense this game ending up closer than it should be as Duke eyes what will be a very tough matchup, no matter who the winner is. I expect them to stumble out of the gate, before cruising to an easy win. Coach K is not gonna go out like that two years in a row. Prediction: Duke 79, Albany 60

WEST

(#1) Gonzaga vs. (#16) Southern

Congratulations, Gonzaga. You’ve officially made it. After years of dominating the West Coast Conference, you’ve finally been given your moment in the spotlight. Enjoy it while you can, and trounce this SWAC team like you ought to. After this game, however, Kelly Olynyk and Co. are about to face stiffer competition than any they’ve seen in the past few months. Sorry, Southern, this isn’t going to be pretty. Prediction: Gonzaga 84, Southern 59

(#8) Pittsburgh vs. (#9) Wichita State

This game has overtime, buzzer-beater, wild-finish written all over it. Tray Woodall and Lamar Patterson lead the Panthers, while freshmen Steven Adams and James Robinson have made solid contributions. Talib Zanna can be a force in the paint. Wichita State may have the advantage down low, however, in Carl HallCleanthony Early andMalcolm Armstead can score in droves, and they Shockers have a number of talented guards who can drain the three. In a coin-flip, I’ve got Wichita State moving on through. Prediction: Wichita State 78, Pittsburgh 77 (OT)

(#5) Wisconsin vs. (#12) Ole Miss

Yikes. I expected better seeds for both teams. As it stands, two teams who are heating up at the right time will clash here in this 5-12 matchup. Marshall Henderson and Murphy Holloway won over a lot of fans this weekend with their SEC Championship run, and Wisconsin was impressive in taking down Michigan and Indiana in successive days. This game has that 12-seed upset written all over it… and that’s why I don’t trust it. I think Wisconsin is going to have the answers defensively, especially big man Jared Berggren, to end the Rebels’ run. Prediction: Wisconsin 58, Ole Miss 51

(#4) Kansas State vs. (#13) Boise State

Bruce Weber’s Wildcats are a very talented bunch. Don’t hold the fact that they couldn’t beat Kansas against them – KSU never beats Kansas. It’s some sort of natural law at this point. Luckily for the Cats, Boise State is not Kansas.Rodney McGruder and Shane Southwell should be able to dispatch the Broncos, but if Kansas State falls asleep at the wheel, this one could turn on them in a hurry. No time for mental mistakes, no time for cold shooting. The Wildcats have to play to their potential. If they don’t, Boise State is a good enough team to punish them for it.Prediction: Kansas State 80, Boise State 70

(#3) New Mexico vs. (#14) Harvard

New Mexico is a very solid team, who played a very solid schedule, and could have arguably been put on the 2-line. The trio of Kendall WilliamsTony Snell, and Alex Kirk carried the Lobos to the Mountain West regular-season and conference-tournament titles. They don’t rebound all that well, nor do they shoot all that well, but they play solid defense. That’s probably all it’s going to take to put away Harvard. The Crimson have two very talented players inWesley Saunders and Siyani Chambers – this is a team that beat Cal and hung with St. Mary’s and Memphis – but I think New Mexico has come too far this year to slip up in this game. Prediction: New Mexico 68, Harvard 55

(#6) Arizona vs. (#11) Belmont

Arizona probably should have ended up with a better seed, but they were inconsistent late in the year, and any drop in seeding is their own fault. Belmont, on the other hand, worked an 11-seed out of their first season in the Ohio Valley Conference, not to mention a league and conference-tournament title. The Wildcats had a penchant for winning close games early in the season – remember Mark Lyons against Florida? – but the glow has worn off these Cats to some degree. Speaking of winning close games, did you see that OVC Championship game againstMurray State? The Racers are no joke, and neither is Belmont. Kerron JohnsonIan Clark, and Trevor Noacklead the way, and this team shoots the lights out at almost 50% (4th in the nation). Arizona will need to try to dominate this game from the paint, and they have a talented enough frontcourt that it is feasible, but I smell an upset here, and I can’t resist it. Prediction: Belmont 73, Arizona 69

(#7) Notre Dame vs. (#10) Iowa State

Iowa State has come on very strong at the end of the season, eventually roping an at-large bid out of some crucial late-season victories. Unfortunately, there was no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow for the Cyclones, just a solid Fighting Irish team. Jack Cooley and Jerian Grant highlight a very talented starting five. Iowa State is led by Will Clyburn, and have five other players scoring over nine points per night. Those six players all play 24 minutes or more, and this is one of the better rebounding teams in the nation. They can score in a hurry, they move the ball around nicely, and they would probably be in an 8-9 game if just one of those games against Kansas went their way. But, here we are. This is another very tough call. I think Notre Dame slows the game down more than Iowa State likes, and pulls out a close victory. Prediction: Notre Dame 74, Iowa State 69

(#2) Ohio State vs. (#15) Iona

Finally, Ohio State is playing up to their potential. At 18-7 (8-5), they looked like a watered-down version of themselves. The Buckeyes have strung together eight straight wins, though, including Sunday’s Big Ten Championship game over Wisconsin. A win over Indiana and two wins over Michigan State are in that run as well. In fact, Ohio State’s worst loss on the season is to Illinois, a 7-seed. Iona is a high-flying team with one of the country’s top scorers, Lamont Jones. In fact, the Gaels are second in the nation in scoring, with Sean Armand andDavid Laury chipping in significantly. This will be a tougher game for the Buckeyes than many expect, but I don’t see the upset happening. Look for Aaron Craft and DeShaun Thomas to put things away neatly in the second half. Prediction: Ohio State 82, Iona 70

SOUTH

(#1) Kansas vs. (#16) Western Kentucky

Okay, hear me out. I’m not saying Western Kentucky will win this game. I am saying, though, that they could. Jamal Crook and T.J. Price are solid guards and George Fant is strong in the paint. I’m a little surprised they ended up in this game at all. Now, I fully expect Ben McLemoreJeff Withey, and the rest of the Jayhawks to take care of business against the Hilltoppers. But if I had to choose a 16-over-1 upset this year, this is the game I would point to. Since I don’t have to choose one, though, I’m not going to. Prediction: Kansas 85, Western Kentucky 66

(#8) North Carolina vs. (#9) Villanova

A game where I think North Carolina should be seeded better, and Villanova perhaps a little worse. However, Villanova’s over-seeding is a boon for the Heels, who matchup well with the Wildcats. James Michael McAdoo has found his form recently, and Roy Williams’ club looks a lot more like the team everyone expected to see this year. Credit goes to Ryan ArcidiaconoJayvaughn Pinkston, and the rest of Villanova’s team for turning around a season that started off very haphazardly. Jay Wright’s team played very well down the stretch, and really earned their spot in the tournament. One thing that is very important to have in March is a guy who hits big shots, and Arcidiacono is that guy. I just don’t think that he’s going to get the situation as McAdoo, Reggie Bullock, andDexter Strickland move the Tar Heels ahead. Prediction: North Carolina 81, Villanova 72

(#5) Virginia Commonwealth vs. (#12) Akron

After moving to the Atlantic 10, it was going to be interesting to see how the Rams stacked up against improved competition. Shaka Smart’s team answered the call, finishing as runners-up to Saint Louis’ team of Destiny in both the regular season and conference tournament. The Rams’ Havoc style of play has frustrated teams around the nation this year, and they will look to continue that troublemaking against Akron. I had a lot more reason to pick an Akron upset before point guard Alex Abreu got busted for selling weed. Even still, the Zips crushed a really goodOhio team in the MAC Championship, so don’t completely write them off. Just mostly. Prediction: Virginia Commonwealth 76, Akron 64

(#4) Michigan vs. (#13) South Dakota State

Michigan has struggled recently, losing six of 11 down the stretch, Mind you, the Ben Brust half-court heave and the insane come-from-behind victory for the Hoosiers last weekend make up two of those losses. But that’s part of the problem. As good as this team can be behind Trey BurkeTim Hardaway Jr.Glenn Robinson III, and all the rest of the Wolverines, they seem to have trouble putting teams away. Perhaps it is a lack of focus – this is a pretty young team. They had absolutely no business losing that game to Indiana. That begs the question – at what point in this tournament does Michigan lose a game it has no business losing? As great a player as Nate Wolters is, I don’t think this is where the Wolverines falter. Prediction: Michigan 75, South Dakota State 61

(#3) Florida vs. (#14) Northwestern State

Florida is a bit of an odd egg. Upon closer inspection, a lot of their wins in the SEC just aren’t that impressive, and losses to Arkansas and a Nerlens Noel-less Kentucky squad raised eyebrows. I don’t fault them quite so much for losing on Sunday to Ole Miss – every year, a team like Ole Miss just becomes unstoppable in a conference tournament. The Gators haven’t won a truly impressive game, in my eyes, since they beat Marquette in November.Mike Rosario and Kenny Boynton will have the firepower to get through this game, for sure, but Florida will need to lock down some late-game issues that have plagued them recently, as they dropped four of their last nine.Prediction: Florida 72, Northwestern State 53

(#6) UCLA vs. (#11) Minnesota

This game all depends on which Minnesota team shows up. Also, which one comes out after halftime. This team has had a split personality all season – summed up perfectly in the sequence of getting crushed by Ohio State, beating Indiana, and then losing to Nebraska and Purdue. Anyone who watched their game against Illinois definitely saw both versions of the Gophers. UCLA has likewise been a hard team to peg this season, although their trajectory is going the opposite way. They’ve gotten better as the season progressed, although the recent loss of Jordan Adams hurts things. This could end up a physical game with Shabazz Muhammad and Trevor Mbakwe clashing. Whether or not Minnesota’s talented guards can get going will really be the determining factor. I think for at least one game (or one really good half), we will see the talented Minnesota. Prediction: Minnesota 54, UCLA 51

(#7) San Diego State vs. (#10) Oklahoma

The Sooners have been somewhat inconsistent this season, and they do not find a forgiving foe in this early matchup. The Aztecs have been through the ringer in the Mountain West, and struggled all year to separate fromUNLV or Colorado State. In fact, they ended up seeded right in between them. This is a very good team, though, led by Jamaal Franklin and Chase Tapley. Franklin can take a game over, and I expect him to do just that against Oklahoma. Romero Osby and Steven Pledger are good players for the Sooners, but I think San Diego State will have their number later this week. Prediction: San Diego State 65, Oklahoma 59

(#2) Georgetown vs. (#15) Florida Gulf Coast

The Eagles of Florida Gulf Coast are good. I’ve watched them a couple times this year – Sherwood Brown,Bernard Thompson, and Chase Fieler are dynamic and can really, really play. The problem with FGCU is that they are sloppy, averaging about 15 turnovers per game. Otto Porter Jr., who makes a pair of steals per game, could have a field day defensively. Offensively, too, I’m sure. The Eagles are good, but they won’t be able to handle Porter, or Markel Starks, or Greg Whittington. They might at least make it interesting for a while, though.Prediction: Georgetown 80, Florida Gulf Coast 65

EAST

(#1) Indiana vs. (#16) Long Island

Victor Oladipo and Cody Zeller are two of the best players in the country. Tom Crean has a fantastic squad, one of the nation’s best sixth-men, and a team that has some confidence coming off its first outright Big Ten title in 20 years. The last time the Hoosiers won a share of the Big Ten, they parlayed it into an appearance in the Final, losing to Juan Dixon and Steve Blake’s Maryland team in 2002. This Indiana team could easily repeat the trick, and are talented enough to win the she-bang. It starts here, with a probable destruction of the Blackbirds. Prediction: Indiana 92, Long Island 74

(#8) North Carolina State vs. (#9) Temple

This could be the best game of the round. Both have very capable rosters, and have the ability to beat top teams, as evidence in the Owls’ win over Syracuse, and N.C. State’s over Duke. Temple is led by Khalif Wyatt, who averages nearly 20 points per game, and a score of talented supporters. The Wolfpack’s trio of C.J. LeslieRichard Howell, and Lorenzo Brown make them a formidable matchup against anyone in the country. This was a top-10 team in the early portion of the season – while they haven’t played like one this year, the talent is most definitely there. Temple can keep up with anyone, though, and this will be a classic 8-9 matchup. Prediction: North Carolina State 86, Temple 83 (OT)

(#5) UNLV vs. (#12) California

The Committee decided it had “no other choice” but to schedule this re-match between the West coast foes. UNLV prevailed by a point earlier in the season with a last-second tip-in on a neutral court. This time, the game will be played in San Jose, which could be seen as a benefit for Cal. Mike Montgomery’s team has been playing more consistently of late behind Allen Crabbe, but they run into the Rebels at a time when UNLV is playing well, too. The Rebels also have Mike Moser in this game, who was injured for the first matchup. UNLV won by a point without Moser, I think they win by a few with him, not to mention Anthony Bennett and Anthony MarshallPrediction: UNLV 72, California 63

(#4) Syracuse vs. (#13) Montana

Having seen this Montana team up-close and personal, I can attest: they are good. Will Cherry is an absolute gamer, and Kareem Jamar was this year’s Big Sky player of the year. They also have a solid big man in Eric Hutchison. While all of that is true, I am having a hard time convincing myself that Wayne Tinkle’s team will beat Jim Boeheim’s. Sure, Michael Carter-Williams and Brandon Triche have been inconsistent, but the Orange found their form of late – except for the eggs they laid in their two biggest games, Georgetown and Louisville. We’ve seen talent-laden ‘Cuse teams lose to similar teams in the past, though – but the Taylor Coppenrath/T.J. Sorrentine team from Vermont that beat them was probably a little better than this Grizzlies squad. I think the Orange get tested, but win in the end. Prediction: Syracuse 72, Montana 63

(#3) Marquette vs. (#14) Davidson

Buzz Williams has a quite a team in Marquette this season. Vander Blue, Davante Gardner, and Junior Cadougan form a solid core, with Trent Lockett and Jamil Wilson contributing heavily, as well. On the other side,Jake Cohen and De’Mon Brooks lead Davidson. The Wildcats are efficient with the basketball, scoring a decent amount without turning it over all that often. They will play Marquette tough, but I think the Golden Eagles have too many weapons for Davidson to cover. Prediction: Marquette 78, Davidson 71

(#6) Butler vs. (#11) Bucknell

This is a really hard call. I’ve got two forces tugging at me on this one. The first force says, “Don’t EVER bet againstBrad Stevens in the NCAA Tournament.” It’s got some strong evidence to support it. Rotnei ClarkeRoosevelt Jones, and Andrew Smith are all big-time players for the Bulldogs, and Stevens just seems to win games in the Big Dance. The second force says, “Mike Muscala is going to dominate this game for Bucknell.” Even if the Bulldogs gameplan for Muscala – which you know they’re going to – Cameron Ayers and Bryson Johnson can turn it on for the Patriot League champions, too. Four of Bucknell’s five losses came by three or fewer points. The thing is, they haven’t played anyone like Butler since a two-point loss to Missouri in early January – and they split with Lehigh, even with C.J. McCollum sidelined by injury. Butler has also won a lot of really close games – Marquette, Gonzaga, and Indiana namely (some, you know, decent teams). I really like Bucknell, but I can’t bring myself to pick them to win. Add another close loss to ledger. Prediction: Butler 69, Bucknell 66

(#7) Illinois vs. (#10) Colorado

Another intriguing second-round matchup. Illinois has a game-changing player in Brandon Paul – rewatch the film from Thursday’s game against Minnesota if you don’t know what I mean. D.J. Richardson and Tyler Griffey are good players, too. Colorado has a pretty good starting five, led by Andre Roberson. The Buffaloes’ success will ride on whether they can get solid shooting out of players like Askia Booker and Sabbatino ChenTad Boyle andJohn Groce both have good teams, and only one can come out on top. This game could really go either way, but I think Paul takes over this game and carries the Illini on his back. Prediction: Illinois 74, Colorado 66

(#2) Miami (FL) vs. (#15) Pacific

Jim Larranaga has done a fantastic job this season with the Hurricanes, leading them to their first ACC regular-season and conference-tournament titles. This team is stacked, with Durand ScottShane LarkinKenny Kadji,Terrence McKinney-Jones, and Julian Gamble. They can shoot the ball, play inside, they hustle, play good defense… they basically play well in every facet of the game. The Tigers really have no shot in this game, but kudos to Bob Thomason, who will retire after 25 years at the helm of Pacific basketball. Prediction: Miami 94, Pacific 68

ROUND OF 32

MIDWEST

(#1) Louisville vs. (#8) Colorado State

While I like the team that Colorado State has put together, I really just don’t think they are dynamic enough to hang with Louisville. Colton Iverson will have trouble against Gorgui Dieng and the other Cardinal big men, while they don’t have really any answer to Russ Smith and Peyton Siva. The Cardinals are on into the Sweet Sixteen with relative ease. Prediction: Louisville 78, Colorado State 64

(#4) Saint Louis vs. (#5) Oklahoma State

It’s hard to root against Saint Louis, especially with their wins over the weekend against Butler and VCU. I think that Oklahoma State simply has too many different weapons and will overwhelm the Billikens. I see Oklahoma State a lot like a Big 12 version of Michigan – loaded with talent, a little inconsistent, but put together to win these kinds of games. Look for the Cowboys to take on Louisville in Indianapolis. Prediction: Oklahoma State 74, Saint Louis 69

(#3) Michigan State vs. (#6) Memphis

The Spartans play a very Big Ten brand of basketball. They are accustomed to bruising, low-scoring affairs. I have a feeling that Memphis will outrun and outgun Sparty. The Tigers can match up inside with the likes of Derrick Nix, and they have a more dynamic backcourt than Michigan State, in my opinion. The winner of this game will be whoever dictates the tempo. I see Memphis continuing their winning ways – remember, this is a team who has only lost once since December 15th, when Memphis lost by two points to Xavier in Cincinnati. The other three losses this year? VCU, Minnesota, and Louisville. Josh Pastnor has a really good team this year. Prediction: Memphis 71, Michigan State 64

(#2) Duke vs. (#7) Creighton

Oh, man. This kills me. As a lifelong Duke fan, I hate seeing a team like Creighton in the Blue Devils’ immediate draw. As good as this Duke team is, a disciplined, hot-shooting, confident team like the Blue Jays have is exactly what can kill Duke this time of year. Creighton will not beat itself. Duke is going to have to play a very good game to get past these guys, and I don’t see them as having a great answer for Doug McDermott. Obviously, Duke’s chances are lifted by having Ryan Kelly back in the fold, but I just have a sinking feeling that this could be an early exit for Seth Curry, Mason Plumlee, and the rest of the Dukies. Prediction: Creighton 77, Duke 71

WEST

(#1) Gonzaga vs. (#9) Wichita State

The Shockers are a heck of a team, but so is Gonzaga. As good as Carl Hall is inside, I don’t think he’ll be able to stop Kelly Olynyk from having his way in the post. Add in at least par performances from Elias Harris, David Stockton, and the rest of the Zags, and they should be pretty easily into the Sweet 16. There’s always a chance that Gregg Marshall’s team gets hot from beyond the arc and absolutely shoots the lights out – and trust me, that’s just about the only way Wichita wins this game – but I’m not laying money on it. Prediction: Gonzaga 81, Wichita State 71

(#4) Kansas State vs. (#5) Wisconsin

This is a very interesting game, to say the least. Bo Ryan and Bruce Weber are very familiar with each other from Weber’s stint at Illinois, and the two veteran coaches will have a big task on their hands in this round assuming there are no upsets. Rodney McGruder is this game’s biggest star, but Wisconsin has the better collection of players, with six players notching over 22 minutes per game. The Badgers will likely control the boards in this game and as long as they don’t go completely cold from downtown – and Ben Brust and Sam Dekker rarely do – Wisconsin should find their way to Los Angeles. Prediction: Wisconsin 63, Kansas State 54

(#3) New Mexico vs. (#11) Belmont

This is another reason why the tournament is great – the potential for matchups between teams that the general public knows very little about. Belmont, by the way, is the best team in Tennessee this year, I dare say. I’ll take the Pepsi Challenge with the Bruins against the Blue Raiders, Volunteers, and Commodores any day of the week. Clearly, I think they’re good enough to beat Arizona. In the other corner, New Mexico, to me, is a lot like Saint Louis – only better. Each team was known to be pretty good coming into the year, but expected to finish behind teams with better name recognition in these high-mid-major conferences. The Lobos and Billikens were the consistent teams, however, who won their regular-season and conference tournament crowns. Alex Kirk is likely the big difference in this game, as the big man will have either a size or experience advantage at every point in the game. The Lobos would be wise to exploit this matchup. Prediction: New Mexico 76, Belmont 65

(#7) Notre Dame vs. (#2) Ohio State

Jack Cooley and Jerian Grant might slip past Iowa State, but Ohio State will not be so forgiving. This game will likely be a shootout, and I think the Buckeyes simply have more ammo. Besides Aaron Craft and Deshaun Thomas, LaQuinton Ross and Lenzelle Smith are deadly. Ohio State has caught fire over the past week, and they are a team that thrives on momentum. I expect it to carry them swiftly into the next round. Nothing against Mike Bray’s squad – I just don’t think they have a great chance against the Buckeyes. Prediction: Ohio State 82, Notre Dame 72

SOUTH

(#1) Kansas vs. (#8) North Carolina

The obvious storyline here is Roy Williams, who will coach his new team against his former team. You’ll hear all about that if this game does, in fact, happen. So, I’ll give you a better storyline: the Jayhawks are going to stifle the Tar Heels. I’ve seen Jeff Withey play a handful of times this year, and the guy is a monster. I don’t think he’s ever jumped to make a block. His arms are just that long. I look for him to shut down UNC inside, and with some support from sensational guard Ben McLemore and Naadir Tharpe, the Jayhawks will be dancing in the second week of the tournament. North Carolina doesn’t play nearly good enough defense to keep this one close if they can’t do some scoring themselves. Prediction: Kansas 72, North Carolina 58

(#4) Michigan vs. (#5) Virginia Commonwealth

This will be a true test for Michigan’s composure. The Rams play a style of basketball that feeds off any mistakes and exploits them quickly and lethally. Michigan tends to get a little sloppy at times, despite their overall skill level. As I’ve said before, this is a young team. Shaka Smart knows that. The Havoc will be in overdrive in this matchup, and how Michigan fares against it will give us an indicator of just how ready this team is to contend for a title. This game is going to be played at a frenetic pace, and I am going out on a limb and predicting that Trey Burke lifts Big Blue on his back and comes through in the clutch. Prediction: Michgan 86, VCU 85

(#3) Florida vs. (#11) Minnesota

As much as I’d like to say I can see Minnesota winning this game, I just can’t. I haven’t seen them string together enough good basketball recently, showing only flashes of greatness in between stretches of inefficiency and carelessness. So while I think that Rodney Williams Jr., the no-relation Hollins boys, Trevor Mbakwe, Joe Coleman, and the rest of the Gophers are good enough to be one of the last 16 teams in the tournament, I think Florida is more apt to play 40 minutes of mistake-free basketball. Plus, Florida just seems to win these kinds of tournament games. I admit that this isn’t the best argument in the world, but it’s the one I’m going with. Prediction: Florida 64, Minnesota 56

(#2) Georgetown vs. (#7) San Diego State

San Diego State has the potential to be a dangerous squad, but I don’t think Georgetown is a very good draw for them at all. The Hoyas are a gritty team, one that the Aztecs won’t be able to outdo with physicality. This game will likely come down to start performances – basically, Otto Porter Jr. vs. Jamaal Franklin. I’m excited at the prospect, definitely. I think that Georgetown wins this game behind Porter’s hot hand, and the Hoyas will meet Florida in a game that should have happened over six months ago (more on that below). Prediction: Georgetown 69, San Diego State 62

EAST

(#1) Indiana vs. (#8) North Carolina State

This could pose some problems for Indiana early on in the tournament. C.J. Leslie, Richard Howell, and Lorenzo Brown provide good matchups against Cody Zeller, Christian Watford, and Victor Oladipo. This game will come down to the supporting casts. I think players like Jordan Hulls and Will Sheehey will be the difference makers, hitting big shots down the stretch like they have all season long. The Hoosiers have had some flaws exposed recently – even if they didn’t have to pay for it in Ann Arbor, they did on Saturday against Wisconsin. I don’t think Tom Crean’s resurrection of Hoosiers basketball ends here, though. Prediction: Indiana 72, North Carolina State 66

(#4) Syracuse vs. (#5) UNLV

Syracuse is going to have their hands full with Mike Moser and Anthony Bennett down low for UNLV. The big men for Syracuse, who have been shaky at times, will have to hold down the fort, while the backcourt combo of Triche and Carter-Williams will need to be flawless for Syracuse to avoid bowing out of the tournament here. James Southerland could be an X-factor in this game, as well. Baye Keita has been playing well, as well as C.J. Fair. The Rebels have themselves a very good team, but I predict that Syracuse survives a low-scoring affair with some solid defense at the end of the game. Prediction: Syracuse 55, UNLV 51

(#3) Marquette vs. (#6) Butler

Remember the first rule of picking Butler games: “Don’t pick against Brad Stevens.” I’m still feeling another pull against this tenet, though. While Bucknell might not be stacked enough to take down the Bulldogs, the Golden Eagles have the horses. Vander Blue is cold-blooded, and Butler is not as strong as they have been in years past. Marquette has been underrated this season, and while Butler has a few great wins on its resume – including one against this very Marquette team in Maui. But that win came on a buzzer-beater, like all of Butler’s most impressive wins. I think Marquette will be on the right side of the rematch, and Blue will be the top performer. Prediction: Marquette 75, Butler 70

(#2) Miami (FL) vs. (#7) Illinois

Anything Illinois can do, Miami can do better. The Hurricanes are tougher inside, they are more dangerous from beyond the arc, they have a penchant for big, big games, and they are extremely experienced. Miami has all the tools to win this game running away, even if star guard Brandon Paul blows up. This will likely be an offensive showcase for the U, with Illinois struggling to keep up. Jim Larranaga, keep in mind, is no stranger to NCAA Tournament success – he, of course, was the head coach for the George Mason team that captured America’s heart a few years ago. Prediction: Miami (FL) 87, Illinois 75

 

SWEET SIXTEEN

MIDWEST

(#1) Louisville vs. (#5) Oklahoma State

This will be a good test for the Cardinals, as the Cowboys are stacked with talent. This game could come down to how effect Gorgui Dieng is in the post. Oklahoma State is just the kind of team that could hang with Louisville, but I think Rick Pitino will have his team prepared for this game. The Cowboys have had trouble finishing the deal against top opponents, and I think the Sweet Sixteen is as far as this group gets. Prediction: Louisville 79, Oklahoma State 72

(#6) Memphis vs. (#7) Creighton

If both these schools make it past the their matchups with Michigan State and Duke, we could have a really interesting matchup on our hands here. Memphis has a host of good players, but nobody at the caliber of Doug McDermott. Greg Echenique and Grant Gibbs will be effective in support of the All-American, and Ethan Wragge is very good off the bench for the Jays. Memphis plays a great brand of basketball, but I think Creighton has the star power that will carry them into a surprise Elite 8 appearance. Prediction: Creighton 81, Memphis 75

WEST

(#1) Gonzaga vs. (#5) Wisconsin

This will be the first real test in the tournament for Gonzaga. Wisconsin has the size inside to handle Kelly Olynyk defensively, as the well as the shooters to keep up with a solid Zags offense. This game will probably be played in mid-60s and could easily be where Gonzaga’s dream season comes to a crash. One thing that concerns me about the Badgers is that they don’t shoot free throws particularly well, and against a team like the Bulldogs, you really have to. The Zags shoot better from the floor, and will not be dominated on the boards by Wisconsin. I have every reason to believe that Wisconsin will keep this close, as evidenced by recent wins over Michigan and Indiana, but I think Gonzaga prevails. Prediction: Gonzaga 67, Wisconsin 63

(#3) New Mexico vs. (#2) Ohio State

Though it’s been a wonderful ride for the Lobos, I am not sure they’ll be able to keep up with Thad Matta’s squad. They will probably be fine inside with Alex Kirk, but the Buckeyes have an arsenal of shooters that will be ready to burn the nets down. This is the kind of game where Ohio State needs their leader, Aaron Craft, to step up and make plays, like he’s done throughout this season. One factor in New Mexico’s favor is geography – this game will be played in L.A. – but I think Ohio State travels well enough that this won’t be a big issue. The Buckeyes prevail in a good game. Prediction: Ohio State 70, New Mexico 62

SOUTH

(#1) Kansas vs. (#4) Michigan

Michigan is a really tough draw for any one-seed to have to face this early on. This Wolverines team has all the pieces to seriously contend for the title this year, and I count them as singularly more dangerous than some of the three seeds – if not all of them. The only thing that Big Blue lacks in is experience and focus, as I’ve mentioned. The four seniors on the this team receive the fewest minutes on the roster, and instead, the team relies on no less than four freshman to complement sophomore all-everything guard Trey Burke and juniors Tim Hardaway Jr. and Jordan Morgan. Kansas, on the other hand, is a senior-laden squad with a few very talented youngsters thrown in the mix. As much as I want to pick Michigan in this game, I think the experience of Bill Self’s squad puts them through this game. Prediction: Kansas 73, Michigan 64

(#3) Florida vs. (#2) Georgetown

The Hoyas have had trouble winning games like this in past tournaments, and Florida is not going to roll over for Georgetown – you can bet the house on that. What will be interesting to see is whether Otto Porter and company can keep up with a good Florida team that excels in almost every phase of the game. The Gators may have to rely on Patric Young to do battle with Greg Whittington and Otto Porter. Florida shoots the ball and rebounds better, takes better care of the basketball, and has a solid three seniors in Mike Rosario, Kenny Boynton, and Erik Murphy. The Hoyas are immensely talented, but they are young, and Florida has won games similar to this one in years past. I think Billy Donovan will have his team in the Elite Eight, but this game has “nail-biter” written all over it. Prediction: Florida 65, Georgetown 63

EAST

(#1) Indiana vs. (#4) Syracuse

These are two teams that don’t have a huge amount of similarities, besides the fact that they are immensely talented. Indiana is the better defensive club, although Michael Carter-Williams makes plays that drive opposing coaches – and opposing guards – nuts. Syracuse has been streaky this year, however, and will need to put together just about a perfect performance to top the Hoosiers. They don’t really have the toughness inside to stop Cody Zeller, but their guard play matches up well with Indiana’s. Brandon Triche will likely be the X-factor here – he will need to lead by example for the Orange. Unfortunately, I just don’t think that Syracuse will be able to keep up a flawless game for all 40 minutes. I expect that Indiana pulls away over the final few minutes. Prediction: Indiana 72, Syracuse 64

(#3) Marquette vs. (#2) Miami (FL)

Marquette has the pieces to make a deep run in the tournament, but Miami is a team that they just don’t match up well with. The Canes are firing on all cylinders right now, and they simply have the edge on Marquette in most areas of the game. Kenny Kadji, Julian Gamble, and Reggie Johnson should be able to have their way inside against the Eagles, and as long as the trio of Scott, Larkin, and McKinney-Jones doesn’t get shut out, the Hurricanes should find themselves playing Indiana for a Final Four berth. Jim Larranaga has been here before, but he’s coming to the table with a lot more chips than he did when he took George Mason on their run. Prediction: Miami 82, Marquette 72

 

ELITE EIGHT

(#1) Louisville vs. (#7) Creighton

Finally, Doug McDermott and the Jays run into a squad that is complete enough to make up for even the most heroic performance out of their star. While they don’t necessarily have a great answer for McDermott’s dynamic game – and really, who does? – the Cardinals are stacked with great guards who defend well, and I expect Gorgui Dieng to outplay Greg Echenique in the post. Chase Behanan and Wayne Blackshear will have their hands full with the All-American, but Siva, Smith, and Dieng should be enough to send Rick Pitino back to the Final Four. Prediction: Louisville 78, Creighton 69

(#1) Gonzaga vs. (#2) Ohio State

At this point, only one game stands between the Zags and their first Final Four appearance. Mark Few has earned it, after years of toiling in the West Coast Conference. Deshaun Thomas and Ohio State may have trouble getting points inside against Kelly Olynyk, so this game will likely come down to the Buckeyes’ guard play. Will Aaron Craft be able to lead this veteran group to the Final Four? Or will Olynyk, Elias Harris, and the Zags cut down the nets in Los Angeles? I think this is Gonzaga’s year, and while Thad Matta has put together a great season in Columbus this year, I don’t think they get past this one. That said, with all the players involved, don’t expect this one to be over after 40 minutes. Prediction: Gonzaga 79, Ohio State 74 (OT)

(#1) Kansas vs. (#3) Florida

While Billy Donovan certainly has the experience in these late-tournament games, he doesn’t have nearly the squad he did when Joakim Noah and the gang cut down the nets in consecutive years. Bill Self is no stranger to these games, either – and he has the better team coming into this matchup. Patric Young and Jeff Withey will have a good battle inside, and Rosario and Boynton are about as good a guard combo as there is in this tournament. The way Ben McLemore has been playing recently, as well as the rest of the Jayhawks cast, it’s hard to see the Jayhawks falling to these Gators. Of course, Florida has the opportunity to catch fire and win a shootout, but I think Kansas grinds this game to a slower pace and wins by hitting big shots at the end. Prediction: Kansas 69, Florida 62

(#1) Indiana vs. (#2) Miami (FL)

Coming into the tournament, I considered Indiana to be probably the nation’s second-best team – and certainly not that far behind Louisville. That being said, Miami just has a swagger about them this year. Indiana has looked a little wayward in recent weeks, perhaps losing a little confidence when they lost to Ohio State, should have lost in Ann Arbor, and then got downed by Wisconsin. Miami, on the other hand, responded to the Ryan Kelly game – which they still only lost by three points – and the subsequent loss to Georgia Tech by working over the Wolfpack and Tar Heels on their way to capturing the ACC title. They have answers inside for Zeller, their guards might be better than the Hoosiers’, and the Canes just have more momentum at this stage in the game. Prediction: Miami (FL) 79, Indiana 76

 

FINAL FOUR

(#1) Louisville vs. (#1) Gonzaga

Alright, Zags fans. You made it. You’ve finally established the credibility and legitimacy that your programs been angling for over the past 15-or-so years. A #1 ranking in the polls, a one-seed in the tournament, and a Final Four berth? This is what Spokane fans have dreamed of since Dan Dickau and Blake Stepp were breaking the hearts of big-name teams. Gonzaga will probably no longer have to suffer through all the moaning and groaning of BCS-conference supporters. Having said all of that, the fairytale ends here. Louisville has the answers for Olynyk and Harris, and I can’t bet against that backcourt of Siva and Smith. Rick Pitino has maybe his best team since he was walking the Kentucky sidelines in 1997, and I fully believe they will be playing for a National Championship in Atlanta. Prediction: Louisville 80, Gonzaga 75

(#1) Kansas vs. (#2) Miami (FL)

The Hurricanes have the size to handle Jeff Withey, a claim that not many teams can make. They also have a player in Kenny Kadji who can extend Withey away from the basket and open things up for the rest of Miami’s stockade of playmakers. As well as the Jayhawks are playing at the moment, Miami reminds me a lot of Kemba Walker’s Connecticut team – immensely talented, on a serious roll coming into the tournament, led by some big-time guard play, with some serious rebounding ability thrown in the mix. These Canes have experience in spades, a great head coach, and are playing with a lot of confidence. The dream season continues for Miami, as Larkin and Scott make big plays down the stretch and set up a big time game in Atlanta with Louisville. Prediction: Miami 78, Kansas 76

 

THE NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP GAME

(#1) Louisville vs. (#2) Miami (FL)

It all comes down to this. Two teams who have loads of great players, depth, experience, confidence, and great coaching. These teams have size inside, the ability to shoot the ball, guards who play staunch defense. They survived tough conferences with regular-season titles, outlasted their foes in their conference tournaments, and have knocked around plenty of high-caliber teams this season. Neither team has to travel all that far to get to Atlanta – about 450 miles for Louisville, 650 for Miami. The Canes are maybe the only team in the nation that matches up this well with Louisville. The combos of Larkin/Scott/McKinney-Jones and Siva/Smith/Blackshear will largely cancel each other out. This game, then, might come down to which combo is tougher inside: Kadji/Johnson/Gamble or Dieng/Harrell/Behanan. I don’t see a huge advantage for either team here, either. I think this game is going to be insanely close, and in the end, whichever team makes the big plays – especially defensively – down the stretch will cut down the nets in Atlanta. This is a very hard game to call, but I think the National Championship goes to Rick Pitino and Louisville in a frantic and fantastic final game. Prediction: Louisville 84, Miami (FL) 82

 

Alright, there it is. I’ve got Louisville over Miami to become the 2012-13 NCAA Champions. Who knows how close any of this will turn out? I had Duke and Missouri in my Final Four last year, so yeah… I’m well aware that these predictions can go sideways real quick. For that reason, I will re-release a set of predictions before the Sweet 16 – assuming, of course, I don’t get everything right. And just like every year, I think that’s a pretty safe assumption.

Now let’s play some games! HAPPY MARCH MADNESS, Y’ALL!

-AD