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.

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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.

The first day of spring can only mean one thing… March Madness, baby!

OK, so maybe it’s not so sunny and bright out right now, but with 12 straight hours of basketball today, who needs to go outside?  Therapeutic Thursday, the opening day of the tourney, sees my two title-game teams in action, and as for upsets, I’m taking all the 12s in the 12-5 matchups today.  I dunno guy, but I’ve kinda got a thing for the number 12. ;)

Anyways, here’s who I’ve got in my bracket today:

12:15 pm: Ohio State over Dayton – Speaking of upsets, I know that Dayton is a popular pick here.  Hey, they did beat Gonzaga at the Maui Invitational, but their only other ranked opponents were Baylor and Saint Louis–and I’ve got both of them losing in this round, too.  Somehow, the A-10 sent six teams to the tourney this year, and Dayton, well, they finished sixth in the conference.  Gimme the Big 10 over the A10 any day!

12:40 pm: Wisconsin over American – American University?  Is that even a thing?  Let’s see, located in Washington D.C., student body of 13-thousand…and, not surprisingly, they play in the Patriot League.  Alas, these Tea Party favourites have about as much clout as Ted Cruz–they’re 316th in the nation in scoring, averaging just under 64 points per game.  Wisconsin, on the other hand, is home to Paul Ryan.  Checkmate!

1:40 pm: Pittsburgh over Colorado – These 8-9 matchups can always go either way–and getting them right can sometimes be the difference in your bracket–especially if one of them goes to the Final Four.  Of course, I didn’t even sniff the Top 10 in my tourney pool last year, thanks to Wichita State…  That said, I picked Pitt in this one, but I don’t expect them to upset Florida in the second, erm, third round.

2:10 pm: Harvard over Cincinnati — Now here’s an upset I do like.  Every year, at least one 12 seed beats a 5, and I’m advancing three 12s in my bracket this year.  The Ivy League champs boast a stellar 26-4 record, with just one loss–to Yale!!!–in conference play.  They also played some pretty close games against tourney teams Colorado and Connecticut, which doesn’t make them any better than the 15th-ranked Bearcats on paper…but hey, they are a 12 seed. ;)

2:45 pm: Syracuse over Western Michigan — I’m pretty sure the Cuse crowd would burn down Buffalo if the Orange were to lose this game.  Then again, their opponents hail from just a couple hours outside Detroit, so maybe their fans will do the burning.  Either way, somebody better call the Buffalo Fire Department, just in case…

3:10 pm: BYU over Oregon – Remember a couple years back, when people were saying the WCC was better than the Pac-12?  Well, with no ranked teams in the conference and Gonzaga just an eight-seed, I don’t think anyone is saying that anymore.  But hey, I’ll still take the second-best team in the WCC over the third-best Pac-12 school.  Either way, the winner’s not getting past Wisconsin.

4:10 pm: Florida over Albany — Yawn.  Wake me when the Gators face Kansas in the Elite Eight…

4:40 pm: Michigan State over Delaware — Not gonna lie, I’ve got MSU as my national champs.  If they win this one by any less than 30, I might experience some discomfort.

6:55 pm: Saint Joseph’s over Connecticut – Fun Fact: ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi is both the head of communications and the colour commentary guy for Saint Joe’s.  I bet he’s taking his alma matter in this one, too!

7:10 pm: Michigan over Wofford – Wofford was another one of those schools I had to Google.  Situated in sunny Spartanburg, South Carolina, the tiny school of just 1,500 students apparently has an acceptance rate of 65 per cent.  And if their basketball team takes just about anybody, too, they’re definitely in trouble.  After all, there’s no way Michigan loses to a team from Spartanburg!

7:20 pm: NC State over Saint Louis – I might have been thinking Xavier when I first made this pick, but after winning the play-in game by 15 points, I like the Wolfpack.  Although this team was only 9-9 in conference play, their ACC schedule featured regular run-ins with Virginia, Syracuse, Duke and North Carolina–teams that could blow anybody in the A10 out of the water.  The Pack actually beat Cuse and took UNC into OT, which is good enough for me.

7:27 pm: North Dakota State over Oklahoma – This might be a slightly more popular pick than Harvard over Cincy, perhaps due to the fact that the Bison have the best field-goal-shooting team in the entire country, hitting almost 51 per cent of their shots…from the floor…as a team!  Add that to a staunch defense that only gives up 65 points per game, and you’ve got a potential upset brewing over a team that’ll need to take a lot more shots–the Sooners hit just 45 per cent of theirs.

9:25 pm: Villanova over Milwaukee – Cuz all the cool kids in Milwaukee go to Marquette.  This 13-loss team from the Horizon League is every bit the 15 seed that goes home early.

9:40 pm: Texas over Arizona State – You don’t mess with Texas!  The Longhorns upset UNC in Chapel Hill this year and rolled off seven straight wins in conference play, beating Iowa State, Kansas State, Baylor and Kansas in the process.  I’d call that a much more impressive resume than their opponent, who’s probably only here because they beat Arizona in double-OT.

9:50 pm: Louisville over Manhattan – Don’t ask me what the committee was thinking.  Despite their 29-5 record, a top-five ranking and a conference title, the defending NCAA champs were only awarded a four-seed.  OK, so they’re not in the Big East anymore.  That being said, I’ve picked them to advance to the championship game again.  Here’s hoping I finish ahead of all the guys who go chalk in my pool!

9:57 pm: San Diego State over New Mexico State – Look out for New Mexico State centre Sim Bhullar in this one.  At 7’5″, 355, you can’t miss him!  The Aggies have four Torontonians on their team, including Bhullar’s “little” brother Tanveer, who’s a mere 7’3″, 335.  They’ve also got guys from France, Croatia and South Africa, all of whom stand at least 6’7″.  And yet, they’re only 55th in the country in rebounding!?  That’s just not gonna cut it against the second-best defense in the entire nation–San Diego State allows just 56.6 ppg.  Call me crazy, but I’ve actually got the Aztecs upsetting Arizona in my Sweet 16.  The round of 64 should be no sweat!

Oh great, they gave Gonzaga an eight-seed?

For the teams that aren’t just happy to be in the NCAA tournament, there’s nothing worse than being an eight or nine-seed.  And seeing as Gonzaga’s making its sixteenth straight March Madness appearance, just showing up isn’t their idea of a good time.  Especially not after the disappointment of last season, when I picked them to go all the way as the first one-seed in school history.  Ultimately, they lost in the round of 32 to ninth-seeded Wichita State.  But if the Zags are to make it to the second weekend of the tourney this year, the slipper will have to be on the other foot.  Cuz this time, they’d be the team looking to take out a one-seed–if they even survive the second round!

But I wouldn’t bet my billion-dollar bracket on it.  Not even someone who’s been cheering them on in every one of those 16 tourneys would pick this team to go all the way.  Speaking for myself here, I really think Gonzaga’s year was last year…and they blew it.  A deep tournament run with this season’s team would be almost akin to that first Cinderella story back in ’99.  Where’s Casey Calvary when you need him?

OK, so Calvary (Class of ’01) is long gone, but it’s the most recent departures of Mike Hart, Elias Harris and Kelly Olynyk that really hurt right now.  I mean, you can’t stop your seniors from graduating–while Olynyk probably wouldn’t be a lottery pick had he waited until this year’s draft–but they went from having four premium post players (and a do-everything swingman) to frequently fielding a four-guard lineup.  Both Sam Dower and Przemek Karnowski have stepped up admirably, but there is absolutely no one behind them on the bench.  They’ll almost certainly have to abandon the high-low game without Dower next season–their future backup centre is another 7-foot, 300-pounder in the Karnowski mould.

But hey, you don’t necessarily need a big man to win big in March.  I mean, did Wichita State have anyone who was over 6’8″?  Of course, they did have great guards, a suffocating defense and spot-on three-point shooting.  For Gonzaga, well, two outta three (on a good day) ain’t bad, right?  Problem is Gary Bell’s been banged up, Kevin Pangos is playing hurt–and ineffective, at that–and David Stockton, well, he ain’t quite as good as his old man.  Two out of the three can hit the three pretty consistently, although Pangos’ turf toe seems to rob him of much lift on his shot.  But between Bell and Drew Barham, the Zags can still shoot out the lights…on a good night.  But on the flipside, they’re just not gonna press a team into submission.  Sure, they held the likes of San Francisco, Saint Mary’s and San Diego under 60 at home, but playing at The Kennel, I’m pretty sure the Zags could hold 1990 Loyola Marymount under 60, as long as they put Bell on Bo Kimble and Hank Gathers in a coma. ;)

Of course, while there are tournament games in Spokane this year, an eight-seed doesn’t often get to play at its home gym.  And while San Diego isn’t too far away–hey, it’s within the WCC!–it’s also a whole lot closer to Arizona.  The Wildcats earned a one-seed after a 30-4 season that had them ranked fourth in the country.  There is some hope in the fact that they lost the Pac-12 championship game to a 26-8 UCLA squad that might have only been an eight-seed were it not for that big win.  (As it stands, they’re the four-seed in the South Region.)

Then again, the Bruins seem to match up well against Arizona, losing by just four to the then-top-ranked team back in January.  In fact, UCLA, 12th in the nation in scoring (81.8 ppg) is the only team to score more than 70 against the fifth-ranked Wildcat D (58.1 points allowed) this season.  Gonzaga, despite a stellar .498 team shooting percentage, averaged a more-modest 76.9 ppg, and that’s against a much-weaker schedule.  The Zags only faced one ranked team in 2012-13, and lost, 60-54, to then-24th-ranked Memphis.  (Coincidentally, the Tigers are also an eight-seed in the tourney.)

But let’s not overlook their first March Madness opponent.  Although they’re seeded ninth, Oklahoma State was actually ranked ninth in the country before losing to Kansas on Jan 18th.  Then they lost seven of their next eight games–six to teams that made the tourney–before righting the ship and winning a rematch with Kansas earlier this month.  Put it this way: the Big 12, which is actually down to 10 teams, is still sending seven schools to March Madness.  Only the top two from the WCC got invited–and BYU’s a 10-seed (at best).  Mind you, I’d certainly trade places with the Cougs and take on an Oregon team that lost to lowly Washington and Oregon State over a Final Four dark horse in OK State.

Then again, as a Gonzaga fan, I am definitely advancing the Zags over the Cowboys in my bracket.  But while I’ll clearly be rooting for them to then take out a top-five team in the third round, I still have visions of Buffalo dancing in my head.  The last time Gonzaga was an eight-seed, they travelled all the way out east to Upstate NY, only to run into top-seeded Syracuse in the second round.  Fortunately, I wasn’t there–watching the 87-65 loss on TV was bad enough without being surrounded by Orange!  That being said…

GO ZAGS!  BEAT STATE!