A 9-7 record on day one of the tournament does not a championship bracket make. I just narrowly missed on a couple of my upset picks yesterday, namely Saint Mary’s and Davidson, while Harvard busted the bottom half of my West bracket. See, I knew a 14 would beat a 3 this year, I just didn’t know which one.
Of course, my entire bracket would’ve been toilet paper had Gonzaga gone down to Southern. Sure, they played in a crappy conference, but they sure seemed stronger than your typical 16-seed to me (case in point: NC A&T). That said, while the SWAC champs kept the game close with their outside shooting, the better team won yesterday. Kelly Olynyk took over early in the second half, as the Jaguars didn’t have anyone who could stop the seven-footer from getting to the rim. And late in the game, Kevin Pangos shone with some deft passes and big baskets–including the two free-throws that sealed the deal. Captain Canuck (hey, Steve Nash hasn’t played for the national team since 2004!) tends to play his best ball in big games, though he has a bad habit of stinking up the gym the next night. Then again, he’s still only a sophomore… And even if Pangos stumbles, there’s always room for Olynyk. Seeing as their second-round opponent’s best big man is generously listed at 6’8″ (they have a seven-footer, but he only plays 15 minutes a game), methinks KO will TKO the Shockers in Round 3.
As for my bracket, well, if I’m going to ride Gonzaga all the way to the office-pool crown, I’m gonna hafta hit a few more of these picks today:
12:15 pm: Duke over Albany – Sure, the Dookies have lost to a 15 before. Even before they fell to Lehigh last year, they made waves by barely squeaking past Belmont in ’08. Of course, sandwiched between those two games are a national title and a pair of Sweet 16 appearances. Aside from sporting one of the least-intimidating names in the tourney (Great Danes? Really?), Albany only averages 64.4 points per game. To upset the Devils, you’re gonna hafta put up 70+. Sorry Fido.
12:40 pm: Ole Miss over Wisconsin – Hey, we already had two 12-seeds advance yesterday, so why not a third? Truth be told, Ole Miss was the lone 12-5 upset I had in my bracket, but I’m sticking with the SEC’s second-best team and their 78 ppg (seventh in the country) over a much less explosive (66.2) Wisconsin squad.
1:40 pm: Temple over N.C. State – I went 1-1 in these 8-9 toss-ups yesterday, and it’s safe to say I don’t have the winner of this one advancing past Indiana in my bracket. But I’m taking the Owls, a team that beast Syracuse and VCU and showed they could hang with Kansas and Butler. The Wolfpack upset Duke in January, but some ugly losses to lesser ACC foes have me leaning the other way in this total crapshoot.
2:10 pm: Miami over Pacific – Hey, the Tigers might be joining the WCC next season, but there’s no way I’d pick them over a Miami team that’s been ranked as high as number two. In fact, I’ve got the Canes in my Final Four, and considering that this Pacific team lost by 18 to Gonzaga and 28 at Saint Mary’s, I’d expect nothing less than a blowout here.
2:45 pm: Cincinnati over Creighton — The 7-10 matchup can always be intriguing, and the committee has saved all four of them for today’s schedule. These are the games that could make or break a bracket–especially since the winner of one of said contests has occasionally gone on to upset the two-seed in the next round. Well, I don’t see Cincy knocking off Duke, but despite being right in the middle of the Big East pack (9-9 in conference play), they’ve still beaten Pitt and Marquette, the latter of whom was considered a three-seed by the selection committee. On the other hand, Creighton is a big fish in a small pond. The #22 Blue Jays haven’t played a ranked opponent all year in the two-bid Missouri Valley Conference, and my most vivid memory of their team was them was getting whooped by Saint Mary’s (a game that wasn’t as close as its final score indicated). Again, I’m not saying they couldn’t win this game–hell, they’re the best field-goal shooting team in America–but I’m still hoping I can hit on this upset pick.
3:10 pm: Kansas State over La Salle — Man, I’m glad this game is on Tru TV, so there’s no chance of Bill Raftery, La Salle’s most famous alum (and CBS’s most annoying commentator) describing it. The Explorers (apparently, that’s what the team is called) won a play-in game over Boise State to be here, and have beaten Butler and VCU in A-10 play despite their gawd-awful rebounding numbers (31.7 per game, 292nd in the country). K-State might not own the glass in this one (35.3 rpg), but the second-best team in the Big 12 should have no trouble otherwise stuffing the stat sheet.
4:10 pm: Indiana over James Madison — A cursory glance shows that James Madison, which finished fourth in the Colonial Athletic Association before winning the conference tournament, is not another Southern. Their 21-14 record against a non-tournament-caliber field (aside from a season-opening 30-point loss to UCLA) warranted them winning a play-in game to get here. How the top-ranked team in the country ended up with the toughest 1-16 matchup is beyond me, but I digress. I don’t have Indiana in my Final Four, or even my Elite Eight, but I do have them beating James Madison in the second round.
4:40 pm: Illinois over Colorado – Okay, I’ll admit that I might have underestimated the Pac-12, which went 3-0 yesterday with a pair of 12 seeds advancing. But in this 7-10 matchup, I’m going with one of the two teams that actually beat both Gonzaga and Indiana this year. Illinois’ senior leader Brandon Paul brings the noise to the tune of 16.6 points per game, and he nailed some big buckets (35 points, to be precise) in handing the Zags a rare home loss back in December. As for the fifth-ranked team in the Pac-12, well, they should bring a loud, raucous, drunken cheering section to Austin, if nothing else. These Buffs hog the ball like their seniors hog the beer bong at a tailgate–averaging a mere 10 assists per game. Hey, pass that thing over here, will ya?
6:50 pm: Georgetown over Florida Gulf Coast – With all the 7-10 matchups today, you’d think the committee could’ve drawn up a better prime-time schedule. Instead we get two 2 vs 15s and a 3-14 whose 3-seed, Florida, are being placed in several brackets’ Final Four. North Carolina-Villanova should be entertaining, if largely irrelevant–but I think I might skip this slate altogether. (Hey, sometimes you need to take a break from drinking in front of the TV to go out and drink with other people!) But speaking of Florida, I’ve got them beating Georgetown in the Sweet 16. I trust that both teams will make it there without too much trouble…
7:15 pm: Ohio State over Iona – Another 2-15 matchup that probably won’t even be close. Some people like OSU to win the West, me I’ve got ‘em losing to Notre Dame in the third round. Iona is actually the second-highest-scoring team in the country (80.2 ppg), but it would certainly shock the world if they were to win this one. Their only tournament-caliber opponents were both part of the First Four–and La Salle actually beat these Gaels.
7:20 pm: Villanova over North Carolina – The only toss-up of the early-evening slate sees the winner earn the right to lose to Kansas. Nova isn’t fielding its strongest team, but to finish eighth in a conference where the top six teams are all ranked in the Top 25–and to post a winning record (10-8) in the process–is a reasonably impressive achievement. In fact, the Wildcats’ resume includes wins over Louisville, Syracuse, Marquette and Georgetown, who could all advance to the Sweet 16. UNC’s only win over a ranked team was against UNLV–and the Rebs lost in the first round. Even if I’m taking the nine-seed, I don’t really see this as an upset.
7:27 pm: Florida over Northwestern State – Northwestern State? Really? The Southland Conference (home of such powerhouse programs as Stephen F. Austin and Oral Roberts) champs only played one tournament team all season–and lost to Oklahoma–yet they’re a 14-seed? Pretty sure Gonzaga could beat ‘em by more than six points, just sayin’. Then again, so should Florida…
9:20 pm: San Diego State over Oklahoma — Speaking of the Sooners, Gonzaga beat ‘em by 25 back in November. Their most impressive win was a home victory over Kansas, but they lost to Iowa State in the Big 12 quarterfinals. Boomer Sooner’s mediocrity in the Big 12 is matched only by the Aztecs meh record in the Mountain West, which actually sent five teams to the tourney this year–three of whom have already gone home. I admit, this is a total toss-up for me, but the OU squad that lost to Gonzaga in the Old Spice Classic couldn’t possibly have beaten Southern on its best day. I don’t think they’ll beat SDSU today, either.
9:45 pm: Notre Dame over Iowa State – Now this 7-10 matchup is hardly a toss-up in my books. The 23rd-ranked Irish have beaten Cincy, Villanova, Louisville, Pitt and Marquette in Big East play. The Cyclones’ biggest feat might be that they took Kansas to overtime twice–but lost both times. I’m not hating on the Big 12 or anything, but its fourth-ranked team also dropped games to Iowa and Texas Tech. They’d never make it in the Big East–or even the Catholic 7. ;)
9:50 pm: Kansas over Western Kentucky – Don’t get me wrong, as sure as the grass is green, the sky is blue and the mailman doesn’t deliver on Sundays, Kansas will be upset in the NCAA tournament. I just don’t see it happening until the Sweet 16. (Go Wolverines!)
9:57 pm: UCLA over Minnesota – OK, so I was hating on the Pac-12 yesterday, but UCLA’s the only school from said conference that could actually steal recruits from Gonzaga. (Whether or not they can keep them in school for more than one year might be a different story.) They’re also the only Pac-12 team I had advancing past the second round–but good luck against Florida on Sunday.