The days following Selection Sunday are chock full of analyzing and over-analyzing until the Round of 64 mercifully begins early Thursday afternoon. Before filling out your bracket, check out my breakdown of each region here at KMOV.com.
Best first-round game: #7 Texas A&M vs. #10 Providence
The 7/10 games always have the ability to bring the thunder, and this one in the West region is no different. Led by Robert Williams, Texas A&M has a ton of talent, while Providence is back in a familiar spot in their fifth straight NCAA tournament bid under Ed Cooley. The Friars took 1-seed Villanova to the brink in an OT loss during the Big East tournament, showing they have the ability to play with anyone. This game should be compelling to the end.
Upset alert: #12 South Dakota State over #5 Ohio State
The Buckeyes were a strong team in a down year for the Big 10. They weren’t tested as frequently as similarly seeded teams from other conferences, and they’ll face a South Dakota State program that has been here before: the Jackrabbits have appeared in four NCAA Tournaments since 2012. Though SDSU hasn’t won any of those games, they’ve given higher seeds a few close calls. Junior forward Mike Daum has averaged a double-double this season (23.6 ppg, 10.3 reb) and has tourney experience after he scored 17 in last year’s tourney loss to #1 seed Gonzaga. This might be the year the Jackrabbits break through for a March Madness W.
Bold prediction: #6 Houston vs. #11 San Diego State will go down to the final possession.
Great draw: #8 Missouri
Let me begin by saying this: with Jordan Barnett suspended for Mizzou’s opening round game following his DWI arrest in Columbia early Saturday morning, the Tigers were going to be up against it no matter who popped up in their bracket. With only seven healthy regulars for Friday’s tilt with Florida State, the road won’t be easy. Still, drawing another team that, like Missouri, was bounced early in its conference tourney and isn’t exactly riding high at the moment—that’s a positive for the Tigers. Most metrics have the Tigers vs. Seminoles as a coin flip, but if Mizzou should prevail, they’d get #1 Xavier. The Musketeers have a tremendous team, but as one seeds go, they’re the weakest of the bunch. Throw in the fact that Nashville is an easy trip for Mizzou fans, and it’s tough not to like the draw for the Tigers.
Bonus bold prediction: *If* Missouri somehow manages to get by FSU sans Barnett, the Tigers will upset Xavier to reach the Sweet 16.
Tough draw: #3 Michigan
The Wolverines won the Big 10 tourney title last weekend at the Garden, and could have become a trendy pick for a deep run in this tournament, too. North Carolina has a ton of quality wins and if not for an early-season loss to Wofford, could have a claim to Xavier’s 1-seed in this same region. To even reach a potential battle with the Heels, Michigan will have to get through a hungry team from an undervalued conference (either #6 Houston or #11 San Diego State). If Michigan reaches the Elite 8, there’s no doubt: it will have earned it.
Team to overcome the chalk: #4 Gonzaga
I won’t use the word ‘sleeper’ for this bracket, because I don’t think my first-round upset picks—South Dakota State and Providence—will win more than that one game. So let’s instead discuss Gonzaga as a team I expect to advance beyond what their seed would dictate, thereby breaking the chalk.
Considering how I feel about the rest of Gonzaga’s pod, the Zags have a really favorable path to the Elite Eight. South Dakota State’s upset special over Ohio State turns out to be a one-hit wonder, as Gonzaga waltzes to the Sweet 16. With 32 wins under their belt at that point, the Bulldogs would meet either Xavier—the weakest one seed—or the FSU/Mizzou winner, for a trip to the Elite Eight. Meeting Michigan or North Carolina thereafter for a trip to the Final Four would be a tall task, but Gonzaga is loaded with veteran talent that’s been here before. The Zags could be a fun team to watch over the next couple weekends.
Potential game I’d want to see: #3 Michigan vs. #2 North Carolina
If this game happens in the Elite 8, I think the winner advances to the Final Four. John Beilein has his Wolverines playing their best ball in March, and the defending national champion Tar Heels won’t likely go down easy. This would be excellent March Madness theatre.
Regional Final prediction: #2 North Carolina 73, #4 Gonzaga 69