Monday, March 15, 2010

Let the Madness ensue!

In the first of a three-part series culminating on Wednesday, I will break down my thought on the first two rounds of this year's NCAA Tournament. It's the most wonderful time of the year...

-Expect all the #1 seeds to make the Sweet 16
Over the last five years, all 20 top seeds have won two games in the tournament. Now that's not the only reason I'm picking Kansas, Syracuse, Kentucky and Duke to make the Sweet 16, but it sure helps. Neither UNLV nor Northern Iowa stands a chance against Kansas and the same can be said for Texas and Wake Forest against Kentucky. I have Florida State beating Gonzaga in the West and while Gonzaga could be a difficult matchup for Syracuse, I don't see that game happening. The only real chance for an upset here is Louisville beating Duke. Rick Pitino's squad beat Syracuse twice this season but in their other six games against top 25 teams, they were 0-6. Advantage Blue Devils.

-Pick chalk in the West and you may be surprised
Say what you want about UTEP being one of the final at-large teams in the tournament, but don't count them out as a Sweet 16 sleeper. They match up well with Butler while Vanderbilt is overseeded and could lose to Murray State, one of two 13 seeds who stand a chance in the first round (Siena being the other). At the bottom of the bracket, I think BYU is the most underseeded team in this tournament and could surprise with a Sweet 16 or Elite 8 appearance, especially with the Salt Lake City advantage once they reach the third round. Xavier also has what it takes to make a Sweet 16 and the only top four seed I have in the Sweet 16 here is Syracuse. It's ballsy, but not as far out as most people would think.

-As many as three double-digit seeds could crash the Sweet 16 party
I already talked about how well the bracket sets up for UTEP, but fellow 12 seeds Cornell and Utah State have similar Sweet 16 aspirations. The Temple-Cornell matchup has the potential to be one of the tournament's best first-round games and Wisconsin, while talented, is no lock for the Sweet 16 (although they should have no trouble with Wofford). If Utah State finds their way past Texas A&M they could very easily face 13th-seeded Siena, who faces a Purdue team that has struggled mightily without Robbie Hummel. A Utah State-Siena matchup isn't too far-fetched and would guarantee at least one double-digit seed in the Sweet 16. Don't forget it's happened in 13 of the past 14 years.

-Expect upsets
Yes, the last three years have been very chalky. Everyone has heard all the analysts talking about how there is no dominant team this season and that should lead to upsets. I think there is an upper echelon limited to 10-15 teams with Elite 8 potential limiting late-round upsets a la George Mason in 2006, but early on I expect a lot of shocking results. I would not be surprised to see two 13 seeds, three 12 seeds and two 11 seeds win in the first two days of the tournament. And that's really what March Madness is all about: The underdogs.

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