They’ve already busted everybody’s brackets…so why not UConn and Kentucky for the NCAA title?

Not gonna lie, I had Louisville and Michigan State in my title game.  And when the Spartans lost to UConn in the Elite Eight, I tossed my bracket in the trash.  Although I’m currently tied for fourth in my pool, I only nailed one of my Final Four picks (Wisconsin), and now if Florida goes any further, I’m gonna fall in the standings.

That being said, I’m not so sure the Gators are going all the way.  Yes, they’re the top-ranked team in America, but while they play in the top football conference in the country, the SEC is barely above a mid-major when it comes to hoops.  The 36-2 Gators have very little competition in the conference aside from Kentucky, and while it’s worth noting that they beat the Wildcats thrice, including in the SEC title game, they’ve already lost to both Wisconsin and Connecticut this season.  So it’s not beyond the realm of possibility that their run ends here.  And hey, they only beat Kentucky by one point for that SEC championship, anyways…

6:09 pm: Connecticut over Florida – That’s right, I’m calling for the upset here.  Way back on December 2nd, the then-undefeated Huskies handed Florida its second loss of the season on a buzzer-beating basket by star guard Shabazz Napier.  Granted, that game was played at UConn, but really, how many Florida fans will be taking the trip to North Texas?  After that big win, Connecticut dropped from the top 10, falling out of the rankings entirely by losing three of its next six games.  But they’re peaking at the right time in the tourney.  After a second-round overtime squeaker against St. Joseph’s, they’ve pulled off convincing wins over sixth-ranked Villanova, ninth-ranked Iowa State, and many people’s tournament favourites (including mine), the 11th-ranked Spartans.

On the other hand, Florida hasn’t had a much tougher run in the tourney than they’d see in the SEC.  Aside from their Sweet 16 win over 20th-ranked UCLA, the Gators haven’t faced a top 25 team since the second-last time they played Kentucky.  And if we’re treating them like a mid-major, well, the last two top-seeded mid-majors wilted once they faced tougher competition–Wichita State against Kentucky this year, and Gonzaga against, erm, Wichita State last season.  Don’t get me wrong, this should be a close game, and could very well come down to the buzzer again, but I like the more battle-tested team at this stage of the tournament.

8:49 pm: Kentucky over Wisconsin – Speaking of battle-tested, Kentucky has had one of the most impressive tourney runs in recent memory.  The Cats emerged from the so-called Region of Doom with wins over then-undefeated Wichita State, defending champs Louisville, and last year’s runners-up in Michigan.  Not too shabby for an eight-seed!

Of course, Kentucky started the season atop the polls with a freshman class that’s been compared to the Fab Five.  And while the kids struggled down the SEC stretch, they are definitely peaking at the right time.  On the other hand, I think Wisconsin might just be happy to be here.  This is only the school’s second Final Four appearance, and its first in 14 years.  Personally, while I did have them getting here, I hadn’t picked the Badgers to advance past the national semi-final in my bracket.  It might be worth noting that they split their two games against Michigan, winning the second in Ann Arbor by 13 points–but that really has little bearing as to how they’d fare against the team that just knocked off the Wolverines.  I still like Kentucky in this one, which means…

Monday, April 7th: (7) Connecticut vs. (8) Kentucky

No team seeded this low has won the tourney in nearly 30 years.  But to the casual college basketball fan, these aren’t really underdogs.  Connecticut has won three national championships since ’99, with the most recent coming just three years ago.  And while half of Kentucky’s eight titles came before 1960, they did win it all in 2012.  So it’s the 2011 champs against the 2012 champs–not that there are any kids left from either of those title teams.  So who’s gonna win in 2014?

Looking at the stats, Kentucky has a decided edge on the glass.  The fifth-ranked rebounding team in America averages over 41 boards per game–six more than its AAC opponent.  They’ve also put up about four-and-a-half more points per game, 76.4 to just under 72.  But UConn shines on the defensive end, holding opponents to 63.7 ppg–though Kentucky’s not too shabby at a 3v0l 66.6.  The Huskies force more turnovers, with seven steals a game, but the teams are practically dead-even in blocks.  They’re ranked eighth and ninth respectively, each averaging 6.2 per game.  Looks like it’s gonna be a big block party!

But the numbers don’t really tell us much else.  Connecticut has two more wins on the season, but both teams went 12-6 in their respective conferences.  And hey, while I don’t think highly of the SEC on the hardwood, I don’t think of the American Athletic Conference at all.  Basically, both teams are pretty even on paper.

But one thing I can’t overlook is Kentucky starting five freshmen.  Sure, each and every one of these kids is a future NBA lottery pick, but sometimes, in the big games, experience matters.  UConn’s Shabazz Napier, he of the Gator-beating buzzer-beater, is a senior.  In fact, he actually played–albeit sparingly–on the Huskies’ 2011 championship team.  So did starting small forward Niels Giffey and backup centre Tyler Olander.  In fact, four of the UConn starting five are upperclassmen, either juniors or seniors.  These guys have been around the block a few times.  Kentucky hasn’t.

And with super froshs like Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker and Tyler Ennis not-quite-leading their teams to early tournament exits, y’know, I just can’t see a squad of five freshmen going all the way.  No offense to Julius Randle, but I’m gonna say he calls a timeout in the dying seconds with his team out of timeouts.  Napier hits two technical free throws as the Huskies win 77-71.

Yuuup, I went there.  Something tells me Randle won’t be the first overall pick, though. ;)

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Can two Millers make it to the Final Four? …and other Elite Eight enquiries

I gotta say, I’m a bit bummed out that TBS and CBS didn’t do a better job of staggering the start times last night.  The early games tipped off just 12 minutes apart, and while neither was of utmost interest to me, they both lasted about the same amount of time, which meant that the late games also started roughly 12 minutes apart.  It kinda sucks cuz both games were certainly worth watching–and even if I bust out the laptop, I can’t really follow two screens at one time.  To make matters worse, it often seemed that just as Louisville-Kentucky was going to, say, the under-eight timeout, the Virigina-Michigan State game was about to take its under-12 ad break.  So the synchronicity couldn’t have been much worse.

As it stands, I spent more time watching the former.  Although Virginia played ‘em tight, it looked like Michigan State had a safer lead than my other title-game pick.  Louisville simply imploded down the stretch, blowing up the right-hand side of my bracket in the process.  I’ve fallen to fifth place in my pool, but I’m still within reach of some money.  Only one guy actually picked Kentucky over Louisville, and he had Duke and Creighton–Creighton!–in his Final Four, so he’s definitely not a threat.  Of course, I’m gonna need Wisconsin to win today and MSU to go all the way in order to max out my point total…and hey, if some of those other teams get upset, I’m OK with that.

6:09 pm: Dayton over Florida – Call me crazy, but I think Dayton coach Archie Miller actually makes it to the Final Four before his big brother, Sean, at Arizona.  Cuz for every 2008 tourney, which saw all four one-seeds advance, you had the 2006, 2010 and 2011 tourneys, in which mid-major underdogs George Mason, Butler, VCU and, erm, Butler made it to the Final Four.  (OK, so Butler was a five-seed the first time, but still.)  And ever since they opened the Round of 64 with a buzzer-beater over Ohio State, the Dayton Flyers have looked like this year’s underdog story.  Some people say the six-seed in the A10 tourney didn’t even deserve to be here–and that they only avoided being in the First Four because those games were in Dayton.  Forget about Butler, these guys are the 2011 VCU Rams!  But can they take down the tournament’s number-one overall seed, 35-2 Florida?

I think they just might.  Keep in mind that the Gators have been to three straight Elite Eights…and lost in the regional final each time.  In fact, they were the team that lost to Butler in 2011, setting up the improbable Butler vs. VCU matchup in the Final Four.  And while they do have a very solid squad this season, they’re missing that next-level superstar.  Casey Prather, their leading scorer, averages a respectable, if unspectacular 14.2 ppg.

Of course, Dayton, your typical Cinderella story, doesn’t have any next-level players–but they do go 11 deep.  In their Sweet 16 win over Stanford, nine players saw at least 10 minutes of court-time.  And four scored in double figures, including Kendall Pollard, who came off the bench with 12.  Don’t get me wrong, on paper this team probably isn’t good enough to beat Florida, but on paper, I wouldn’t put them past Syracuse, or even Ohio State, either.  Strange things can happen in this tourney, and in a one-and-done format, the scrappy underdog on the amazing run will sometimes prevail.  I know I’ll be rooting for ‘em, anyways.

8:49 pm: Wisconsin over Arizona – As stated, I had San Diego State over Arizona in the Sweet 16.  And to their credit, the Aztecs dominated the game defensively, until a late lapse let the Wildcats pounce on the win.  That might have been just the game they needed to get up for this one–but they’ll be facing a rude wake-up call in Wisconsin.  The Badgers have put together one of the better runs in the tourney, averaging 76 points per game and winning each contest by at least eight points.  In the Sweet 16, they did to Baylor what Baylor did to Creighton in the Thirsty 32; if they only won by 17, it’s because Baylor went into hack-attack mode late in the game.

That said, I see this contest being much closer to Wisconsin-Oregon than either of the Badgers’ easy wins.  That one went down to the wire, with Wisconsin overcoming a 12-point deficit at halftime and trading buckets with the Ducks down the stretch.  Free throws also stretched things out a little bit, but really, it was anybody’s ball-game until the final minute…and I expect to be watching every minute of Wisconsin-Arizona, too.

Sunday, 2:20 pm: Michigan State over Connecticut – UConn lucked out in landing a regional round at the Garden.  It’s less than 140 miles from Storrs to MSG, and the train takes you right up to the doorstep (from Hartford, anyways).  Of course, as a seven-seed, no one figured Connecticut would be able to obtain such home-court advantage, but they certainly came through against ISU just like they did over Nova a few hours upstate.  If somehow the Huskies were to win this one, we could see both teams from the Buffalo bracket advance to the Final Four, which would make it a 7-11 date against Dayton.

OK, so I don’t really see that happening.  MSU barely squeaked through against Virgina, but it’s somewhat satisfying that they beat the Hoos at their own game.  Not only did they score five more than the top-ranked defense usually allows, but they also held their opponents under 60 in the process.  While I don’t foresee such a low-scoring contest here, I think that win shows the Spartans can play with anyone…even on a not-so-neutral site.  Life will be easier for them in Texas, I presume.

Sunday, 5:05 pm: Kentucky over Michigan – Never thought I’d say this, but the Kentucky Cats might actually be looking forward to Michigan.  I mean, after knocking off the second-ranked, undefeated Wichita State Shockers and the fifth-ranked, defending champion Louisville Cardinals in their tournament run, the seventh-ranked, Big 10 season champs might actually be a slight step down for Kentucky.  Especially since the Maize-and-Blue barely held off Tennessee, an 11-seeded SEC squad that lost to Kentucky by eight in conference play (and to Wichita State by nine, for that matter).

When it comes to rankings, it’s worth noting that Kentucky started off atop the polls due to their outstanding incoming freshman class.  And while these kids struggled somewhat down the stretch, they appear to be peaking at just the right time.  No eight-seed has won the tourney since Villanova in ’85, but this ain’t yo’ daddy’s eight-seed.  Just don’t expect this team to defend its title–every single one of them will be going pro in oh, about a week or so…except maybe the waterboy and the assistant athletic trainer.

Tonight might be make-or-break for my bracket…and I don’t think I’m alone, either!

Three of my four predictions came to fruition last night, but when San Diego State couldn’t stop Arizona late, I lost another team from my Elite Eight.  By virtue of not advancing Arizona past the Sweet 16, I’ve fallen to third place in my pool–and I only have the fourth-highest possible point total now.  That said, I ought to see some redemption if Wisconsin knocks off Zona tomorrow.

But I certainly can’t look past this evening’s action.  Both of my title-game picks have pretty tough matchups, and I could drop from third to well out of the money if things go wrong.  And since neither of those games will start before 9:45, I’ve got plenty of time to think about the consequences.  Of course, I still stand by Louisville and MSU…but then again, I felt pretty strongly about San Diego State, too.  Here’s who else I like in tonight’s games:

7:15 pm: Michigan over Tennessee — Tennessee has had an impressive run in the tourney, beating UMass by 19 and Mercer by 20 while putting up 169 points in the process.  Hell, they even bested Iowa by 13 points in the First Four after that game went into overtime, outscoring their opponents 14-1 in the extra frame.  But man, Iowa was the sixth-ranked team in the Big 10 this year; Michigan, on the other hand, were Big 10 regular season champs.  This is gonna be a massive step up in competition for the Vols, who’ve lost all five of their games against ranked opponents–including not once, not twice, but three times to Florida.  I think their run ends here.

7:27 pm: Iowa State over Connecticut – Now, UConn is also somewhat of a Cinderella story.  While they were the higher seed in the second round, some people, myself included, didn’t pick them to beat St. Joe’s.  And I don’t think too many people had them over Villanova, the class of the Big East.  But I don’t feel that they have the firepower to compete with Iowa State, the sixth-highest-scoring team in the country.  Even without their third-leading scorer, Georges Niang, the Cyclones still put up 85 points on UNC…which is only two more than they average, in case you were wondering.  The Huskies, on the other hand, score just under 72 points per game.  I see them coming up short.

9:45 pm: Louisville over Kentucky – OK, I had Wichita State in the Sweet 16 on my bracket, but facing their in-state rivals makes this one a little extra-crispy for the defending NCAA champs.  They actually lost–at Rupp Arena, mind you–to the Wildcats in December, albeit by seven points.  Twas just the second loss of the season for the Cardinals, who’d only lose three more all year, and all to ranked teams.  Aaaaand if unranked Kentucky’s only an eight-seed, it’s cuz they lost to the likes of Arkansas, South Carolina and LSU, which definitely aren’t ranked teams.  On a neutral site, I gotta give the edge to Louisville, but hey, the Wildcats did knock off the second-ranked school in the country to get here, so…

9:57 pm: Michigan State over Virginia – Defense didn’t win championships for San Diego State.  The nation’s second-stingiest D allowed 70 to fifth-ranked Arizona in the Sweet 16, well above their 57 ppg permitted.  Now it’s on Virginia, who only give up 55.5 points, to see if that old football adage can apply to the basketball court.  This time, I don’t see it happening.  The Hoos’ anemic offense scores less than 66 points per game, a far cry from Sparty’s 76.2.  And MSU can play a little D, too–they held Michigan to 55 in the Big 10 final.  Tom Izzo himself says, “I’ve said three times in my career that I thought we were good enough to get to a Final Four. I thought this team was next in line.”  I do concur; I’ve got ‘em going all the way in my bracket.

This year, my bracket is EBK–Everyone But Kansas! (oh, and Duke)

Man, I’m really kicking myself for picking Kansas to win the South.  I’ve been filling out brackets for at least a decade now, and I should know better.  I mean, which big-name program is always the most likely to lose early in the tourney–can you say Rock Choke Jayhawk?

That said, my bracket is in pretty good shape otherwise, with six of my Elite Eight still alive.  Hell, I’m still in second place in my pool, although I’ve only got a one-point lead on third and two points up on fourth.  But hey, the dude who’s in fourth place had Duke to win it all…  Whoops!

On the other hand, I am already 33 points out of first, and that guy has the same two teams in his national championship as I do.  For me to gain any ground, I need both the one-seeds to lose tonight–and I think at one of them might be going down.  Here’s who I’ve got on my bracket:

7:15 pm: Dayton over Stanford — OK, so I didn’t have either of these teams even advancing past the Sexy Sixty-Four on my bracket, but nevertheless, one of them will end up in the Elite Eight.  Dayton plays more of an up-tempo, exciting, down-to-the-wire style–despite both their tourney wins being in the 50s–and they’ve knocked a couple pretty solid teams out of the tourney.  Stanford, on the other hand, seems to be more of the defensive team that drags opponents down to its level.  Both of its wins were also in the 50s.  Hell, their scores were almost identical to Dayton’s, just with the rounds reversed.  But for me, this one comes down to the fact that Stanford busted my bracket by beating Kansas.  I hope they lose, just for that reason.

7:47 pm: Wisconsin over Baylor — I’ve got Wisconsin in my Final Four, but I gotta say, I’m a little nervous about this one.  Baylor absolutely barnstormed Creighton in the third round, making the 16th-ranked team in both polls look like a JV squad.  That had to be the most impressive win of the tourney…but then again, the Big Ten Badgers are definitely not a JV squad!

9:45 pm: Florida over UCLA – The Bruins have also played well in this tournament, but I think the top-ranked team in the country might be a bit too much to handle for a team that gave up over 70 ppg this season in the less-than-impressive Pac-12.  Then again, they did score 81.8 per contest.  I don’t expect this one to be low-scoring, put it that way.

10:17 pm: San Diego State over Arizona – This is my upset special, right here, but I’m gonna hafta wait all night to see if this pick pays off.  And no, I’m not just hating on ‘Zona for the beat-down they put on the Zags–I actually had SD State in my bracket all along.  Speaking of points allowed, only Virginia gives up fewer than the Aztecs D, which holds opponents to 56.6 per game.  In fact, they even held Arizona under 70 waaaaay back in November, in just the second game of the season.  OK, so they lost that game, 69-60, but that only adds fuel to the fire, eh?  Not to mention that their rabid fanbase doesn’t have too far to travel to get to this one, which is being played in Anaheim.  Don’t get me wrong, for San Diego State to win, this game’ll hafta be in the 60s–aaaaand Zona dropped 84 on Gonzaga last weekend.  But hey, 16-seed Weber State kept ‘em under 70, and they even kept it close, losing by just nine points.  And if Weber State, the 77th ranked defense in America, can do that to the (other) Wildcats, well, I certainly think San Diego State has a shot.

A few close calls last night, but I can’t complain…my bracket’s still pretty much intact!

Yesterday afternoon went pretty smooth.  I had all the favourites winning, and they all came through.  But things got a little more interesting after 10 pm.  Once Wisconsin snuck past Oregon, Michigan State had to hold off Harvard.  I had both in my Final Four–and the Spartans going all the way–so a loss at this stage would really bust my bracket.

On the other hand, I had both Syracuse and Villanova losing in the Sweet 16, so both teams bowing out a round early doesn’t hurt me too much.  As it stands, my 6-for-8 performance was enough to sneak me into second place in my pool…by one measly point.  That said, I still have the second-highest potential point total by a much wider margin.  I’m looking for Kansas and Iowa State to punch their tickets today and keep seven of my Elite Eight alive.  Especially Kansas, who’s in my Final Four.  Hey, at least they’re the first matchup of the day…

12:15 pm: Kansas over Stanford – Admittedly, I didn’t have Stanford beating New Mexico on my bracket, but they eked out an ugly 58-53 win in their first tournament appearance since 2008.  Which did nothing to convince me that they’ve got a shot against Kansas, mind you.  This Jayhawks team has a tendency to play close games in the tourney, but ultimately come out victorious.  And things might get easier from here, as Dayton awaits in the Sweet 16…

2:45 pm: Wichita State over Kentucky – No, I don’t think Wichita State will be the first one-seed to fall.  Well, it might depend on the scheduling of the Sweet 16, since I’ve got three ones losing in the next round.  But despite all their preseason hype, Kentucky lost 10 times this year, including to the likes of LSU, Arkansas (twice) and South Carolina.  After scoring only 56 points in the second round, I just can’t see them pulling off an upset here.

5:15 pm: Iowa State over North Carolina – Admittedly, Iowa State suffered a big blow in the second round, losing Georges Niang for the rest of the tournament.  His 24 points led the team in their win over NC Central, and he will certainly be missed.  That being said, I’ve gotta go with the CANCON here–Toronto’s own Melvin Ejim averages 18 and 8.5, and will have to step it up on the big stage.

6:10 pm: Mercer over Tennessee – OK, so I definitely had Duke in this one.  I even had them beating Michigan in the Sweet 16.  But if that same Mercer team that defeated Duke shows up today, I definitely think they can take out an 11-seed.  Michigan, on the other hand, might be another story…

7:10 pm: UCLA over Stephen F. Austin – Stephen F. Austin’s win over VCU was the only 5-12 game in which I wasn’t calling for an upset.  And it almost didn’t happen–the Lumberjacks (lol) needed a four-point play to send it into overtime.  That said, I think the Pac-12 tourney champs are a huge step up in competition for this Southland squad, and ultimately, their run ends here.

7:40 pm: Creighton over Baylor – Note to self: Nebraska is 0-6 in NCAA tournament play.  After I picked the Huskers to beat Baylor, they subsequently shat the bed, scoring just 60 points in a 14-point loss.  So now it’s time for Creighton to enact some Nebraskan revenge–and with All-Everything Doug McDermott leading the way, I think they’ll do just that.

8:40 pm: Virgina over Memphis – Although I have them losing to MSU in the Sweet 16, I’d be somewhat shocked if Virgina lost to Memphis.  The Cavaliers allow the fewest points per game in the country, and although they actually trailed Coastal Carolina for a while, they still held their second-round opponents to just 59.  Memphis can put some points on the board, but only scored 71 against George Washington in a game that was closer than I anticipated.  So I don’t see the 8-1 upset here, either.

9:40 pm: Arizona over Gonzaga – Speaking of 8-1 upsets…  I’ll definitely be cheering for Gonzaga all the way, but picking them to actually go all the way last year turned my bracket into toilet paper quicker than it takes Kelly Olynyk to brush his mane in the morning.  And while I think last year’s Gonzaga group could’ve given Arizona a run for their money, I haven’t seen enough from this year’s team, which faced–and lost to–just one ranked opponent, to feel the same way.  However, I’m hedging my bets by picking Arizona to get upset…in the Sweet 16.  So if Gonzaga pulls off an even bigger upset tonight, my bracket won’t be the least bit busted.  Provided that Kansas gets ‘er done this afternoon, that is.

GO ZAGS!!!!!

Why would I want to go round-by-round when my bracket’s basically intact?

Over the past two days, I’ve watched some 26 hours of college basketball–and loved every minute of it.  My favourite part was when CBS would run the promo for the round-by-round brackets.  When the play-by-play guy would ask “Is your bracket busted?”  I’d respond with a resounding “No!”  Fifteen of my Sweet 16 made it through to the third round, so there’s really no point in making new picks when the old ones will do just fine!

Of course, I got burned by Mercer beating Duke, along with everyone else not named Sam Mitchell.  Looks like the Duke players won’t be getting their very own Belle Knox pocket pussy–unless they pay retail.  But I’m glad I only had Duke in my Elite Eight.  Their hottest frosh (no, not Jabari Parker) had them going all the way, and not just with a mold of her vagina.  I would be feeling a bit better had I picked them to lose to Michigan in the Sweet 16, but still, I can’t really complain.

As it stands, I’m currently in third out of 27 players in my tourney pool, where the top three finishers take home some cash.  This is the same pool where I finished in the bottom five last year after picking Gonzaga to go all the way.  So perhaps some redemption is in order, although I’d probably need at least 12 teams to actually make the Sweet 16 to keep up my podium pace.  With that said, here’s who I like in today’s games:

12:15 pm: Florida over Pittsburgh – This matchup might have gotten a bit more interesting after Thursday’s results.  While Florida, the number-one overall seed, struggled slightly against Albany, Pitt put up the most dominating performance of the second round, especially considering that they were facing a higher seed (8 vs 9, but still).  That being said, I fully expect the Florida team that went 33-2 on the season to show up for this game.  I’ve got ‘em in my Elite Eight, albeit not my Final Four.

2:45 pm: Louisville over Saint Louis – Speaking of the Final Four, I’ve advanced the defending champs all the way to the title game.  Saint Louis really shouldn’t even be here, and if NC State could make a few free throws, they wouldn’t be.  The Billikens really don’t impress-a me much–although, as far as team names go, I guess they’re better than the Coastal Carolina Chanticleers.  (Apparently, it’s a type of chicken.)

5:15 pm: Michigan over Texas – There were several surprisingly close 1-16 and 2-15 matchups in the this year’s tournament.  But not so for the Wolverines, who held Wofford College to just 40 points.  Texas, meanwhile, needed a buzzer beater to get past a 10-seed that I didn’t rate too highly in Arizona State.  This one shouldn’t go down to the last second.

6:10 pm: San Diego State over North Dakota State – I had actually called the 12-5 upset with North Dakota State beating Oklahoma in the first round.  But speaking of upset specials, I’ve got San Diego State over Arizona to advance to the Elite Eight.  Their overtime squeaker over New Mexico State made me a little uneasy, but it’s worth noting that the second-ranked defense in the country held its opponent to 60 points in regulation, just a shade over its season average (57 ppg allowed).  If defense wins championships, the Aztecs remain a force to be reckoned with.

7:10 pm: Syracuse over Dayton – Granted, I did not have Dayton in this game on my bracket, but after a convincing 24-point second-round win, I don’t think Syracuse is ripe for an upset–especially not with the de facto homecourt advantage in Buffalo.

7:45 pm: Wisconsin over Oregon — Yes, Oregon had a pretty impressive second round, beating BYU by 19 in a game I totally got wrong.  But Wisconsin won by 40, holding its opponent to just 13 second-half points.  If defense wins championships…hey, I’ve got the Badgers in my Final Four.

8:40 pm: Michigan State over Harvard – I also called Harvard over Cincy in another 12-5 upset, but I think the buck stops here for the Future Leaders of Tomorrow.  Michigan State is one of the best teams in the country today, and since they wouldn’t have to face Michigan or Wisconsin until the title game, I’ve got them going all the way…as do at least half the people in my pool, and probably yours, too.

9:40 pm: Villanova over Connecticut – Though they might rather have faced their Philly brethren (I had St. Joe’s beating UConn), I’m sure Villanova will settle for their former Big East rivals.  Nova is the best team that stayed in the conference now nicknamed the Catholic 10, and only had one loss to a school not named Syracuse or Creighton this season.  For what it’s worth, they beat St. Joe’s by 30 in December, but I think this one could be a little closer against Connecticut.

And that’s why they call it… March Madness!

Oh man, I don’t think I’ve seen such an exciting first (real) day of NCAA tournament play.  I mean, we had four overtime games and two buzzer beaters yesterday, practically packing a whole tourney’s worth of excitement into Thursday!  And hey, I gotta say, my bracket did pretty well in the midst of all of it…

Granted, I lost two teams (Saint Joe’s, NC State) in OT, and another one (Ohio St) in the dying seconds of regulation, but I didn’t have any of them advancing past the next round, anyways. Were it not for picking BYU over Oregon, I could say I was thisclose to a perfect bracket after Day One.  But hey, I didn’t have BYU going past the third round either, so my entire Sweet 16 bracket is still intact.  I don’t think I’ve ever had all 16 teams make it past the first, erm, second round, but I’ve got at least eight of them still alive, with many more to come.  Every game tomorrow means something to me now, but of course, none are more meaningful than Gonzaga vs. Oklahoma State this afternoon.

I gotta say, I’ve never been less confident in a Zags first-round matchup, not since I jumped on the bandwagon during their magical run in ’99.  Gonzaga has made the tourney every year since then, and they’ve only lost in the round of 64 trice.   These first-round losses were symbolic of the end of two eras.  In ’02, after their entire roster from that magical ’99 season had moved on, they lost a close contest to Wyoming, of all teams.  Then in ’07 and ’08, aka Year One and Year Two AM (After Morrison), they fell to Indiana and Davidson, respectively.  I’m pretty sure I had Gonzaga in my Sweet 16 both of those years; I know the Davidson loss was especially costly for my bracket.

But this season, I haven’t advanced the Zags past the third round, where they’d almost certainly meet top-seeded Arizona.  In fact, I’m probably in the minority (outside of the Pacific Northwest) who’s even picking them to beat State.  I mean, I’ve seen some brackets that had the Cowboys going all the way to the Elite Eight–which means yes, they would even beat Arizona.  While I beg to differ, this is still a very good team, ranked ninth in the country as recently as Jan 18, before a late losing streak dropped them out of the Top 25.  Three of those losses came with star guard Marcus Smart suspended for shoving a Texas Tech fan–for whom I certainly have no sympathy.

But you know what?  Even with Smart on the court–and scoring 23 points, no less–Gonzaga edged OK State, in Stillwater, on New Year’s Eve…2012.  Of course, like I said the other day, Gonzaga isn’t quite the same team as last year.  You might even call it the end of an era, although the Kelly Olynyk era lasted just one magical season.  But it helps that we’ve seen this team before, even if Gonzaga’s current starting frontcourt was coming off the bench in that one.  I still think this team could repeat the feat–but hey, there’s a reason I’m not picking them to move past the third round, and it’s not just because Arizona is awesome.

Here’s who else I like in today’s games:

12:15 pm: Duke over Mercer – Obvious win is obvious.  Mercer hasn’t even made the tourney since 1985, when they had some kid named Sam Mitchell manning the paint.  I half-expect him to call for the upset during the TSN broadcast today, which might make him the only person in North America picking Mercer over Duke.

12:40 pm: Nebraska over Baylor — On the other hand, I’m the one calling for the upset here.  Nebraska actually knocked off both Michigan State and Wisconsin this season, two teams I’ve got in my Final Four.  Baylor’s biggest wins were against Kentucky and Oklahoma State teams that subsequently fell off the map, and an Oklahoma squad that’s already out of the tourney.  Plus, I’m pretty sure the entire state of Nebraska would go nuts over a Nebraksa-Creighton matchup in the Round of 32.  Better start stalk, erm, stocking up on corn…

1:40 pm: New Mexico over Stanford – Quick, name me one player from the current Stanford squad.  Unless you’re an alum, you probably can’t do it.  And while I’m not intimately familiar with New Mexico’s team, either, I’m assuming the Mountain West champs are ranked 17th for a reason–in which case, a seven-seed might actually be a little low.

2:10 pm: Arizona over Weber State – Can you imagine how many brackets would be busted if Arizona actually lost this game?  Then again, can you imagine Arizona actually losing this game?  Me neither.

2:45 pm: Tennessee over UMass – I know I had originally slotted Iowa into the Midwest 11 seed, but that doesn’t change my hate-on for the A10.  Saint Joe’s is already gone, Saint Louis ought to have lost to a 12 seed, and both finished higher than UMass in the conference.  But hey, I guess they could always pull a Dayton…

3:10 pm: Creighton over Louisiana-Lafayette – The only thing the Ragin’ Cajuns have got going for them is arguably the most awesome logo in the tourney.  Sure, they scored a lotta points in the Sun Belt against a buncha schools I’ve never heard of, but they lost to Baylor by 19 and Louisville by a whopping 39 points.  I think the Blue Jays are OK here.

4:10 pm: Kansas over Eastern Kentucky — Put it this way: there are two great basketball schools in the state of Kentucky, and Eastern Kentucky isn’t one of them.  Also, their logo looks like Colonel Sanders.  Which reminds me, I still need to try that Big Boss sandwich…

4:40 pm: Gonzaga over Oklahoma State – Hey, at least I won’t be distracted by the Kansas-EKU game.  GO ZAGS!!!

6:55 pm: Memphis over George Washington – How did the A10 get six bids again? George Washington did defeat Creighton in December, but they lost to Dayton, UMass, Saint Louis and twice to VCU.  And, despite the committee’s lack of love for the AAC, Memphis actually knocked off Louisville twice.  This game might not be as close as their records suggest.

7:10 pm: Wichita State over Cal Poly — Yeah, Wichita State didn’t face a lotta tough competition this season, but I’m pretty sure there are 3-4 teams in the MVC that could kick the shit outta Cal Poly.

7:20 pm: North Carolina over Providence – Although they might not be in the mix this year, UNC is still just two years removed from two straight Elite Eight appearances.  I’m pretty sure Providence still longs for the days of Rick Pitino–this is the first time they’ve even made the tourney in 10 years, and they haven’t won a tournament game since ’97.

7:27 pm: VCU over Stephen F. Austin – VCU is the only A10 team, and the only five-seed, I’ve picked to advance in my bracket this year.  If you want a true conference of nobodies, check out the Southland.  Stephen F. Austin’s perfect conference record looks less impressive when you can’t even name any of the schools they were up against.

9:25 pm: Virginia over Coastal Carolina – I couldn’t even tell you which conference Coastal Carolina plays in.

9:40 pm: Kentucky over Kansas State – There are a few people out there picking Kentucky to beat Wichita State in third round.  I’m not one of those people, but I do think they’ll knock off this lesser Kansas school in the round of 64.

9:50 pm: Iowa State over North Carolina Central – Geez, how many basketball schools are there in North Carolina, anyways?

9:57 pm: UCLA over Tulsa – I just found out that Conference USA has 16 schools now.  And yet ,Tulsa’s the only one that made the tourney.  They lost by 10 to Creighton and 23 to Wichita State, and also to 10 other teams not worth mentioning.  I think UCLA is safe in this one.