After I went back and look over my conference tournament predictions I was embarrassed. I had only 2 champions out of six right. Lucky for everyone I am not a quitter even when I do something awful the first time.
I am not going through the entire bracket here but give you my favorite sleepers and busts, as well as my Final Four picks. Before I get started I do warn you this years bracket is the first in a long time I feel may end up being chalk very badly. Not as bad as EVERY ESPN person who always takes the higher seed through the whole tournament but not far from that.
Starting off are my upset picks in the first round. These are always fun for a day and then talent rises to the top. A few games really stick out to me this year. Keep in mind these game are in no particular order.
1) St.Peters: 14 seed Southwest Region
Yes I know Purdue has overcome a lot this year after losing Robbie Hummel and Head Coach Matt Painter was my pick for Big Ten Coach of the Year but I do not like them in this tournament at all. The Peacocks finished 4th in their conference but also played both Old Dominion and Rutgers close, while beating SEC West champs Alabama. St.Peter’s starts four Seniors, all of whom average double-digits in points. They are not a great rebounding team due to not a lot of size, so this game is a chance for Purdue Senior JaJuan Johnson to have a big game but I just don’t trust him. Even though I’ve never met him. The Peacocks (By the way their nickname is worth rooting for) are also a solid defensive team that could give the Boilermakers trouble. They (St.Peter’s) ranked 2nd in the nation in field goal percentage allowed ( 37.4% ) and 12th in points allowed ( 59.9 ppg ). If I was a Purdue fan I would be somewhat worried about this match-up.
Jimmer is loved across the country this year. The man scores brackets in amounts only equel to me eating swiss cake rolls but this game will not be easy. The Terriers start four Seniors and are led by their own twenty-point scorer a game, forward Noah Dahlman. Wofford may not have pulled off any name wins in their out of conference schedule this season. Losing games to Georgetown, Clemson, Minnesota, South Carolina, and Xavier (lost in 3 overtimes) but this is also the exact same line-up that last year fell just short of knocking off 4-seeded Wisconsin 53-49.
3)Utah State: 12 Seed Southeast Region
I know, I know, this is a trendy over used upset team to pick but it is for a reason. Like most lower seed upset picks, the Aggies are loaded with upperclassmen in their line-up and this is their 3 straight trip to the tournament. The last two-year they were everyone’s favorite upset pick and both times they fell short but this could be third times the charm. Kansas State was an elight eight team last year but has been up and down all this season. They come and go by the play of Jacob Pullen. If he has a good game then Kansas State moves on, he struggles and this is finally the year that Utah State gets past the first round.
4) Three out of four 13 seeds: Morehead State (Southwest Region), Belmont (Southeast), and Oakland(West)
Sorry Princeton but you are the only 13-seed in this tournament I feel has no chance. Morehead State is led by two Seniors, one who is more than likely going to be drafted this season in Kenneth Faried and while I love the Cards they could not have gotten a worse 4-seed match-up. Everything the Eagles do well , is what Louisville struggles with. Pitino said this was a bridge year and he may have had this team overachieve but that won’t matter now if he can’t get past the first round for a second straight year.
Belmont two years ago almost beat 2-seeded Duke in the first round, losing by just one point but this is a completely different group. This Bruins team may be better and while I am a fan of Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan, this same Badger team is the same players that almost lost to Wofford last year and managed just 33 points in a loss to Penn State in the Big Ten tournament. The fact I picked them to win the Big Ten tournament has NOTHING to do with me picking against them here, I promise. I really do picure a 12-seed vs 13-seed game going on in the second round of the Southeast bracket.
Much like Utah State, Oakland is becoming a trendy upset pick. I love Oakland. They played anyone and everyone out of conference this year. Beating Tennessee and falling one-point shy of Michigan State. The Golden Grizzlies have a solid frontline, led by star Senior center Keith Benson ( 18 points, 10 rebounds a game ) and Will Hudson ( 12 points, 7 rebounds a game ). Their point guard Reggie Hamilton is a scorer, putting up 17 ppg but only 5 assists per game (compared to 3 turnovers a game). Last year I was all over this Oakland bandwagon. I picked them to upset Pittsburgh and much like all my other predictions I was way off as they lost 89-66. I know Rick Barnes is known for underachieving. Hell I have led that rant many times myself in the past but I think this Texas team got a real bad seed and are worthy of a 2-seed. That is right Florida I am looking at you.
5) Washington in the Sweet-Sixteen, West Region
Last year I picked St. Mary’s to beat Villanova and yes I am the only person I know to have Butler in the Final Four (called it on the Big EZ Show so there is proof) and this year I am really falling for a Huskies upset of North Carolina in the second round. This Huskies team has the talent to be a 4-seed but hasn’t all been on track every night this season. There aren’t many point guards better than Isaiah Thomas in the country and he showed in the Pac-10 tournament how he can carry a team on his shoulders. The thing is though, like Villanova last year, I am just not a believer in this Tar Heels team. They were just 2-5 against top 50 in the RPI and are being over hyped up for winning a soft ACC conference. I am worried about the Huskies match-up with Georgia in the first round then I am with a possible game against North Carolina. If Georgia was to beat Washington let it be known the Tar Heels will then make the Sweet-Sixteen.
This is not a typo. The Musketeers have been to the Sweet-Sixteen two years in a row and were in the Elight Eight the year before that so I don’t understand how people can think I am so crazy for picking this. Hell the only time in the last four years Xavier hasn’t made it out of the first weekend was four years ago when they lost in overtime as a #9 seed to #1 and national runner-up Ohio State. Even if Washington doesn’t beat North Carolina, I still pick Xavier. Their backcourt is as good as you will find on any team in this tournament, led by superstar Tu Holloway and backcourt mate Mark Lyons. They have a 7-footer in the middle who doesn’t suck, meaning he doesn’t get minutes just cause he is 7-feet tall.
Will there be more shocking upset through this tournament? Maybe but those are the few I do feel good about. Now for my Elight Eight picks and further…
Ohio State over Xavier
Duke over UConn
Kansas over Notre Dame
Pittsburgh over Michigan State
Ohio State over Duke
Kansas over Pittsburgh
Ohio State over Kansas
I know I have four #1 seeds in the final four and this is the first time I have every done it but I just don’t see anyone beating any of them before the final four. If I had to pick a #1 to go down before the final four I would lean towards Pittsburgh falling but their region is soooo weak or Duke falling in either the second round or the sweet sixteen to Texas. Ohio State will have their handful with UK maybe in the sweet sixteen as well but I just don’t like the way UK matches up against the Buckeyes. Therefore no trouble for Thad Matta.