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: #8 Seton Hall vs. #9 North Carolina State
Most might have #7 Rhode Island vs. #10 Oklahoma in this spot, and that will end up being a great one, too, if Trae Young shows up to carry the Sooners. But this 8/9 game is your classic toss-up, and it could make for a memorable final few possessions.
Finishing third in the Big East, Seton Hall boasts wins over tournament teams Providence, Creighton, Texas Tech and Butler. Those wins are nice, but NC State’s list of W's is even more impressive, as the Wolfpack has taken down UNC (#2), Duke (#2), Arizona (#4) and Clemson (#5) this season. Oh and here’s another pair of teams, like Arkansas and Butler in the East, that scores a ton, but doesn’t prioritize defense. Give us all the points!
Upset alert: #12 New Mexico State over #5 Clemson
We know a 12-seed is going to win. It’s happened 26 of the last 29 years. But if you’re like me, you like rooting for the upsets in the NCAA Tournament, anyway. As fate would have it, multiple 12-seeds have won their first round game in 12 of the last 17 years—those are pretty solid odds for underdog appreciators! I like NMSU to use their recent history to its advantage, catching Clemson in a trap game they didn’t see coming to finally win a tournament game for the first time since 1993.
Bold prediction: Whether his Sooners get past Rhode Island or not, Trae Young will have a relatively quiet tournament, shooting below 33% from the field.
Another one, for fun: Penn is going to give Kansas trouble, and the outcome will still be in doubt at the 10-minute mark of the second half. I’m not going to tell you this is the year a 16-seed downs a 1-seed, but man—how much fun would that be?
Great draw: #1 Kansas
Of course. Kansas gets matched in the same eight-team pod as a 5-seed I’m predicting to lose in the opening round (Clemson) and a 4-seed in Auburn that has limped into March Madness by losing four of its last six games. If the Jayhawks manage to avoid a slip-up to the Seton Hall/NC State winner, they’re getting a virtual bye into the Elite Eight. At least Duke or Sparty will be there waiting, eager to slay the top seed.
Tough draw: #2 Duke
To get to Bill Self, you’ll have to go through Tom Izzo. To get to Tom Izzo, you’ll have to go through either Trae Young or the most prolific mid-major team throughout the regular season. Just don’t lose to Iona, Coach K.
Sleeper: #7 Rhode Island
The Rams just seem like a team that would derive pleasure from wreaking havoc over blue bloods like Duke and Michigan State. Even dispensing of Trae Young and Oklahoma in the opening round would give the Rams that sort of swagger that we like to see from confident mid-major teams this time of year. Rhode Island was the best team in the Atlantic 10 all year, and they’d love nothing more than a chance to show the world more about who they are on a bigger stage, facing off with famous programs in this tournament.
Potential game I’d want to see: #2 Duke vs. #3 Michigan State
Duke won the first meeting back in November, 88-81. Sparty has been an extremely popular Final Four pick since the brackets were revealed Sunday, but I wouldn’t be so quick to count out Duke if they can get to the sequel matchup against Izzo’s bunch. I think Michigan State has the easier path to the Sweet 16, but if Duke can get there too, this could be the pre-Final Four game of the tournament.
Regional Final prediction: #2 Duke 78, #1 Kansas 74