Best 1st Round Game: No. 8 UNC VS No. 9 Villanova
The Tar Heels have played their basketball of the season over the last six weeks, but their best win of the season was a home victory over UNLV in December. Villanova has beaten more good teams (4-2 against top 25 schools), but it also have several embarrassing losses on its resume (Columbia, Providence twice, Seton Hall). Bottom line: While they both underperformed for much of the season, both teams have the potential to cause Kansas headaches in the round of 32. Prediction: UNC 74-67
Best 2nd Round Matchup: No. 3 Michigan State VS No. 6 Memphis
Tom Izzo has built a reputation for being one of the best tournament coaches in college basketball, but it’s worth noting that his teams have more 1st or 2nd round losses (5) than elite eight trips (4) since the 2001/02 season. Memphis hasn’t beaten anyone good, but might be the most entertaining and athletic team in the country and Josh Pastner is one of the top young coaches in the country. Prediction: Memphis 78-73
The Big East rightfully gets a ton of respect and the Golden Eagles deserve credit for going 14-4 in conference, but they don’t shoot the ball well and weren’t very impressive in out-of-league games (remember when they put up just 47 points in a loss to Green Bay?). Don’t be surprised if Davidson knocks them off in round 1.
Underrated: Kansas State
Despite falling to a 4 seed, the Wildcats have to be pleased with their path to the regional final. They’re athletic, they rebound and they have a talented backcourt. This is a team that could do real damage.
Biggest Upset: No. 13 South Dakota State over No. 4 Michigan
If you love guard play, you’ll be glued to your television for this one. Michigan started so strong, but fell apart during the second half of the season. South Dakota State is unproven, but they’re one of the best three-point shooting teams in the country and that often proves to be the equalizer come tournament time.
Upset Pick Everyone Will Get Wrong: No. 12 Oregon over No. 5 Oklahoma State
Everyone suddenly feels bad for the PAC 12, but there’s a reason the league’s teams got no respect. The Ducks played well at the end of the season and seem to be a trendy pick for an upset, but they don’t shoot the ball well and they turn it over too much. Not a good combination.
Potential Choke Artist: New Mexico
All the pundits seem to have fallen in love with the Lobos, but they’re still a Mountain West team who didn’t play many tough games all season. They play great defense, but they don’t seem to have anyone who can take over a game, which could make them vulnerable in the round of 32 against Arizona or hot-shooting Belmont.
The Bluejays shoot the lights outs and have one of the best players in the country (Doug McDermott), but a lot of people seem to think Cincinnati will take them out in the 1st round. Think again. This is a veteran team that has tournament experience. They’ll be prepared for that first game and if they shoot the ball well, it’s not inconceivable that they could take Duke out either.
First 1 Seed to Fall: Gonzaga
Gonzaga deserves plenty of credit for what it has accomplished over the last 14 years, but the Bulldogs didn’t play anyone all season. They deserve to be where they are, but if any No. 1 seed is going down on the opening weekend, it’s probably them.
Final Four Predictions:
Louisville, Ohio State, Florida, Miami
Louisville over Miami 71-61 in the finals.