Fighting to be considered Elite

And then there were 16. Must be pretty sweet to still be dancing at this point in the tournament. Each region has it’s own story. The Midwest is still Kentucky’s to lose but apparently West Virginia (who busted my bracket last week) believe that Kentucky’s perfection ends tonight when the two teams take the court. Witchita State is still alive and kicking as well. In the East, the top seeds have fallen and the remaining matchups read eight versus four and three versus seven. Upsets have riddled this side of the bracket as Virginia and Villanova fell last weekend. Out West, the bracket has avoided too many upsets, as Baylor is the sole top-four seed not to reach the Sweet 16, only to be replaced by sixth-seeded Xavier. Down South, old school powers meeting the new kids on the block. UCLA is the surprise in the regional semi-final as an eleven seed in this one. All of these storylines mean we are in for a great four days of basketball.

Midwest

#1 Kentucky vs. #5 West Virginia: West Virginia freshman Daxter Miles Jr. made it clear that he does not think much of Kentucky. He called them out for not playing hard. That sounds like something you should do after you have beaten them if you ask me. Kentucky will come into this game with even more of something to prove now than ever before. The Wildcats rank third in the country in defensive scoring and second in blocks. That will spell trouble for a Mountaineer team that already does not shoot the ball very well from the field.

#3 Notre Dame vs. #7 Witchita State: Many said that the Shockers would be a tough matchup for Kansas and that proved to be true as Witchita rolled through the Jayhawks. However, I think the run stops here for the Shockers. They will have their eyes set on a rematch with Kentucky after the Wildcats knocked them out of the tournament last year and ended their perfect season. I don’t think Witchita gets the chance though. The Irish are battled tested with victories in a couple of close games. Notre Dame has only dropped one game in past eleven, I think they will move on to the Elite Eight.

West

#1 Wisconsin vs. #4 North Carolina: This is a tough one to call. UNC has the talent and ability to beat anyone in the country, and I mean anyone, when they are firing on all cylinders. However, they aren’t playing at their best very often. This Tar Heel squad is often streaky and they are facing one of the most consistently dominant teams in America tonight. The Heels rank second in the country for rebounds and assists per game this year though. That is a pretty tough combination to top. If Marcus Paige is on, UNC marches on to the next round.

#2 Arizona vs. #6 Xavier: The Musketeers were fortunate to have made it this far if you ask me. With games against Ole Miss and Georgia State, Xavier has yet to play a team that is not a double-digit seed. That said, they might stand a chance in the Sweet 16, if they were playing a team other than Arizona. The Wildcats have won by fewer than 10 points just once since playing Utah back in February. That one game? It was against UCLA, another Sweet 16 team. Arizona advance.

East

#4 Louisville vs. #8 North Carolina State: Raise your hand if you picked this game to happen. I wish I could say I did. NC State really busted my bracket last week when they knocked out Villanova, whom I had in the finals. As if this game was not important enough, this is rematch between ACC teams. The Wolfpack won the first time around but with Louisville finally starting to find a bit of a rhythm offensively, the Cardinals will be the ones who get to keep dancing a little longer.

#3 Oklahoma vs. #7 Michigan State: I didn’t predict this game correctly either. I had Dayton pulling the upset of Oklahoma but the Sooners ruined my fun. However, the Spartans looked convincing in their last two wins, especially Sunday against Virginia. Travis Trice caught fire against the Cavaliers, and if he does again on Friday, that could mean lights out for Oklahoma. I’ve got Tom Izzo’s crew heading to the next round.

South

#1 Duke vs. #5 Utah: This one will be fun to watch. We get to see Jahlil Okafor and the highlight reel that is Duke’s offense pitted against a Utah squad that excels in locking down the defensive end of the floor. The Utes ranked eleventh in the country this season in points allowed per game. Moreover, Utah has seven-footer Jakob Poeltl to contend with Okafor. Watch these two freshmen battle it out in the paint should be an entertaining matchup. I still think Duke has too many offensive weapons for Utah to contain. Blue Devils slide into the Elite Eight.

#2 Gonzaga vs. #11 California Los Angeles: Talk about a surprise guest. There were not too many people who foresaw UCLA in the Sweet 16. The Bruins were a bubble team to begin with. Gonzaga has been good this season but this has every element of a trap game to it. I think the Bruins will come out with a chip on their shoulder and give the Zags a tough test early. If Gonzaga can weather that test than they will be fine. If they falter early, like I think they will, UCLA will continue their Cinderella run.

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The Madness Marches on

It is finally here. We waited through the long, cold winter (especially here in Syracuse, New York) for spring to finally arrive and the NCAA tournament to begin. While it might not feel anything like spring here for me, what with the snow that has fallen each of the last two days, March Madness is finally upon us. There is nothing quite like it in sports, which makes it that much more exciting. The round 64 is almost here with just two more play in games occurring tonight before the second round is all set. For all of you making last minute changes to your brackets, here are my picks for the first round of this crazy tournament.

Midwest:

#1 Kentucky vs. #16 Hampton: The Wildcats are undefeated and their season won’t end against Hampton.

#8 Cincinnati vs. #9 Perdue: Cincinnati is always known for its shutdown defense. That will carry them to the round of 32 for a matchup with Kentucky.

#4 Maryland vs. #13 Valparaiso: Maryland has been scary good at times this season and are probably underseeded at four. They will move onto the next round.

#5 West Virginia vs. #12 Buffalo: This Western New York team coached by Bobby Hurley is a talented group. They will be one of a couple #12 seed to move on.

#6 Butler vs. #11 Texas: I saw Butler play at the Big East tournament last week and they were overall underwhelming. Look for Texas to pull off the upset.

#3 Notre Dame vs. #14 Northeastern: The Irish were on fire in the ACC tournament. That alone will get them to the round of 32.

#7 Wichita State vs. #10 Indiana: Kansas would be much happier if the Hoosiers found a way to win but the Shockers will be dancing a little bit longer.

#2 Kansas vs. #15 New Mexico State: The Jayhawks won yet another Big 12 title and will win yet another round of 64 game.

West

#1 Wisconsin vs. #16 Coastal Carolina: No number 16 seed has ever beaten a one seed. That won’t change with the Badgers.

#8 Oregon vs. #9 Oklahoma State: These eight versus nine games are often a tossup but Oregon has some momentum with a PAC 12 finals appearances.

#4 North Carolina vs. #13 Harvard: Harvard is a solid team. UNC is better and their athleticism alone will carry them to the next round.

#5 Arkansas vs. #12 Wofford: I mention more 12 over 5 upsets…but that doesn’t happen here. The SEC runner up will move on.

#6 Xavier vs. #11 Ole Miss: The momentum the Rebels got from their First Four thriller against BYU will carry them past Xavier.

#3 Baylor vs. #14 Georgia State: Baylor is way too physical for Georgia State and will advance to play Ole Miss.

#2 Arizona vs. #15 Texas Southern: Another Wildcats will be moving on to the next round as Arizona coasts to the win.

East

#1 Villanova vs. #16 Lafayette: The East could be full of upsets. Villanova will not be one of them.

#8 North Carolina State vs. #9 Louisiana State: The Wolfpack have some marque wins this season and will squeeze by LSU.

#4 Louisville vs. UC Irvine: Some experts are picking the Cardinals to bow out in their first game. I don’t buy it.

#5 Northern Iowa vs. #12 Wyoming: UNI is probably the best mid major in the field this year and will move on to the next round.

#6 Providence vs. #11 Dayton: The Flyers will outplay the Friars as Dayton looks to spoil people’s brackets yet again.

#3 Oklahoma vs. #14 Albany: I don’t have much faith in Oklahoma, but enough to push them through for a matchup with Dayton.

#2 Virginia vs. #15 Belmont: Virginia has had some injury concerns down the stretch of the season. It won’t stop them from dispatching Belmont.

South

#1 Duke vs. #16 Robert Morris: Robert Morris would be a really fun Cinderella story but it won’t happen versus the Blue Devils.

#8 San Diego State vs. #9 St. John’s: The team that beat St. John’s in the first round of last year’s tournament won the National Championship. SDSU won’t get by the Red Storm though.

#4 Georgetown vs. #13 Eastern Washington: Georgetown has only won one tournament game since 2008. They won’t get another one here.

#5 Utah vs. #12 SF Austin: I said there was going to be another 12 over 5 upset. And here it is with SF Austin pulling off the unlikely once again.

#6 Southern Methodist vs. #11 California Los Angeles: UCLA was lucky to make the tournament. SMU is going to show everyone why the Bruins don’t really belong.

#3 Iowa State vs. # 14 Alabama Birmingham: The Cyclones are too good for the Blazers and will power on to the round of 32.

#2 Gonzaga vs. #15 North Dakota State: Many are calling this the best Gonzaga team ever. Whether or no that is true, the Zags will get by NDSU.

That is the whole round of 64 predicted for you. Check back in this weekend for projections on the next round of games. Feel free to join the Second Look Sports bracket challenge on ESPN as well. The winner will have their name announced on both the site and on social media.