Full 2013 NCAA Tournament Predictions

Posted: March 18, 2013 in Uncategorized

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

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