Round One: Tourney Time

By Jeff Rapp, March 19th, 2010

March Madness is underway with 64 teams looking to advance out of four regions and eight opening-weekend cities. So the following is one man’s stab at picking the first-round games (We’ll check back in with the results and our second-round picks on Saturday):

MIDWEST REGIONAL

No. 1 Kansas (32-2) vs. No. 16 Lehigh (22-10) – We’ve actually had a Patriot League team dump a top-seeded Jayhawks squad out of this tournament before. But that was Bucknell and that is history. Lehigh has decent inside play, but not enough to offset Cole Aldrich. And Sherron Collins has a lot of help in a dynamic Kansas backcourt.  Kansas by 15

No. 8 UNLV (25-8) vs. No. 9 Northern Iowa (28-4) – Lon Kruger has done an admirable job as coach of the Runnin’ Rebs but the hunch here is that Ben Jacobson will get the Panthers through thanks to some clutch shooting. The could be a dandy, though.  Northern Iowa by 2

No. 5 Michigan State (24-8) vs. No. 12 New Mexico State (22-11) – It’s obvious something is amiss with Tom Izzo’s Spartans this season after advancing all the way to the title game last season. Kalin Lucas is not 100 percent, the inside game is shot, and their have been hints of selfishness, even from Izzo. However, MSU should be aable to straighten up for one day and get through to the weekend in Spokane.  Michigan State by 7

No. 4 Maryland (23-8) vs. No. 13 Houston (19-15) – I have heard all week how Houston has a chance in this game because of Aubrey Coleman, who is the nation’s highest scorer. How does that ensure an upset exactly? The best player on the court will be Greivis Vasquez and the Cougars are not the team to stop him.  Maryland by 11

No. 6 Tennessee (25-8) vs. No. 11 San Diego State (25-8) – Steve Fisher’s Aztecs won the Mountain West tournament and looked pretty dangerous. Tennessee is the definition of “capable” after knocking off Kansas and Kentucky this season. This should be a doozy, but we’ll lean with SDSU given the fact that the school has never won an NCAA Tournament game. It’s about time, especially if freshman Kawhi Leonard continues his outstanding play.  San Diego State by 3

No. 3 Georgetown (23-10) vs. No. 14 Ohio (21-14) – It would be tempting to pick a major upset here knowing that Ohio U. coach John Groce will prepare night and day for this encounter. Still, there’s no sense in it. Georgetown has a jet-like point guard in Chris Wright, a big man who is ticketed to the NBA in Greg Monroe and a wing who is on top of his game in Austin Freeman. Unless the Hoyas forget how to guard they should be fine.  Georgetown by 12

No. 7 Oklahoma State (22-10) vs. No. 10 Georgia Tech (22-12) – This could be the best game on Friday, especially considering all the talent that will be on the court. The Cowboys have a 6-6 swingman of All-American stature in “Big Game James” Anderson but the Yellow Jackets, who just took Duke to the wire in the ACC Tournament title game, can counter with lots of offense of their own. Freshman center Derrick Favors quickly is becoming a load but Tech has a tendency to shoot itself in the foot with turnovers.  Oklahoma State by 4

No. 2 Ohio State (27-7) vs. No. 15 Cal-Santa Barbara (20-9) – Given the nature of the tournament and how goofy these first-round games can become it would be convenient to say this game will be much closer than the 17-point spread. However, the way this OSU team is playing and adding in last year’s first-round debacle against Siena, there is no way the Buckeyes won’t be focused and ready. That’s bad news for an undersized bunch of Gauchos, who don’t flaunt very impressive shooting percentages or assists-to-turnovers ratio for a team in the Big Dance.  Ohio State by 20

WEST REGIONAL

No. 1 Syracuse (28-4) vs. No. 16 Vermont (25-9) – This is not the same bunch of Catamounts who knocked off the Orange in 2005 and even without his starting center Syracuse coach Jim Beoheim has reason to be confident. The Orange’s zone should be effective enough.  Syracuse by 14

No. 8 Gonzaga (26-6) vs. No. 9 Florida State (22-9) – This clash will take place in Buffalo, which required a bit more travel from the Zags. However, their biggest concern will be dealing with FSU’s size inside, namely 7-1 center Solomon Alabi. The Seminoles are heating up and Gonzaga appears to be going in the opposite direction.  Florida State by 6

No. 5 Butler (28-4) vs. No. 12 UTEP (26-6) – The Bulldogs made a living on the other end of 5-12 matchups such as this but now their secret is out. Winning every single game in your conference will do that. While the Miners are a tough obstacle, we’ll assume this is win No. 29.  Butler by 7

No. 4 Vanderbilt (24-8) vs. No. 13 Murray State (30-4) – This just has juicy upset written all over it. The Commodores are very solid but sometimes become offensively challenged. Meanwhile, the Racers can defend and play with reckless abandon on offense. You don’t win 30 games by accident, even if you do hail from the Ohio Valley Conference.  Murray State by 2

No. 6 Xavier (24-8) vs. No. 11 Minnesota (21-13) – The Golden Gophers won over the NCAA Selection Committee with a season-saving showing in the Big Ten Tournament but they were dumped by 29 points in the finale against Ohio State. Meanwhile, XU has been consistent for much of the season and is tournament tested.  Xavier by 6

No. 3 Pittsburgh (24-8) vs. No. 14 Oakland (26-8) – We don’t know much about Oakland and, frankly, don’t care. This game is about Jamie Dixon making sure his team is ready to go, and that usually isn’t a problem.  Pittsburgh by 10

No. 7 BYU (29-5) vs. No. 10 Florida (21-12) – Jimmer Fredette. It’s fun to say it, fun to write it and fun to watch the BYU forward surprise teams with his uncanny knack to score the basket. He had 45 and 30 points in his last two games for BYU, which has lost seven straight first-round games. It’s time for that trend to end against an overrated Gator squad.  BYU by 3

No. 2 Kansas State (26-7) vs. No. 15 North Texas (24-8) – The Mean Green shouldn’t be too menacing in this one as K-State might be the best team in the region. The Wildcats are bigger, quicker and have a star in guard Jacob Pullen.
Kansas State by 18

EAST REGIONAL

No. 1 Kentucky (32-2) vs. No. 16 East Tennessee State (20-14) – Once upon a time the Buccaneers were a giant-killer in the NCAA Tournament. There’s nothing to suggest it will happen here.  Kentucky by 27

No. 8 Texas (24-9) vs. No. 9 Wake Forest (19-10) – Texas has managed to log a losing record since it was ranked No. 1 in the country at midseason. Still, the Longhorns have plenty of talent to advance here and set up a fun little encounter with Kentucky. The only problem is Wake tends to play closer to its potential and smarter.  Wake Forest by 4

No. 5 Temple (29-5) vs. No. 12 Cornell (27-4) – This has been a fashionable upset pick given how closely aligned coaches Fran Dunphy and Steve Donahue are and how well the Big Red has played all season. Dunphy has the A-10 title in his pocket but is looking to snap a 10-game losing streak in the NCAA tournament. Here’s guessing he does it thanks to the familiarity.  Temple by 4

No. 4 Wisconsin (23-8) vs. No. 13 Wofford (26-8) – Did you know this is the only first-round matchup between schools that begin with the same letter? What does that mean. Well, nothing. What is noteworthy is that the Badgers appear to be more capable with big man Jon Leuer back from an injury. UW guard Trevon Hughes is due for a good performance after stinking up the court in Indianapolis in a quarterfinal loss of the Big Ten Tournament.  Wisconsin by 8

No. 6 Marquette (22-11) vs. No. 11 Washington (24-9) – This appears to be the biggest toss-up in the first round. Marquette plays everybody tough and gets the most out of its talent. The Huskies, though, have found another gear and are confident after winning the Pac-10 Tournament to punch their ticket.  Washington by 1

No. 3 New Mexico (29-4) vs. No. 14 Montana (22-9) – This is yet another game that could defy the seeding as the Grizzlies just might be up to this challenge. The Lobos have the highest ranking in school history and the best by a team from the Mountain West but did not prevail in their conference tourney. Why is this game in the East Region?  New Mexico by 5

No. 7 Clemson (21-10) vs. No. 10 Missouri (22-10) — Two “middle-of-the-pack” teams from power conferences, but Missouri coach Mike Anderson has a lot more NCAA success than Clemson’s Oliver Purnell who is 0-5 in the tournament.  Clemson by 2

No. 2 West Virginia (27-6) vs. No. 5 Morgan State (27-9) – It’s hard to find a way Morgan State stays competitive throughout this one knowing how well the Mountaineers are at dismantling suspect offenses. Plus it doesn’t hurt when you have a player the caliber of Da’Sean Butler to pull you out of the fire.  West Virginia by 15

SOUTH REGIONAL

No. 1 Duke (29-5) vs. No. 16 Arkansas-Pine Bluff (18-15) – Duke’s unbelievably cushy road to the Final Four begins against a play-in winner that was 0-11 to start the season. Really, committee?  Duke by 33

No. 8 California (23-10) vs. No. 9 Louisville (20-12) – The Golden Bears have been labeled the best team in a very down major conference and even thought that’s true they are capable of winning this game and testing the Dookies over the weekend. Rick Pitino teams, though, don’t come to the Big Dance to leave early. This could be a war.  California by 3

No. 5 Texas A&M (23-9) vs. No. 12 Utah State (27-7) – This goes in the “let’s pick an upset here for the hell of it” department and not just because it’s a 5-12 game. Stew Morrill’s Utah State team, as usual, was among the nation’s top shooting teams while A&M brings a rugged style to the hardwood.  Utah State by 2

No. 4 Purdue (27-5) vs. No. 13 Siena (27-6) – Big Ten fans remember what Siena did to Ohio State in the first round last year and also are aware that the Boilermakers are a shell of their former self with star forward Robbie Hummel’s junior season cut short with a torn ACL. Still, the Boilers should be able to gut out one win in this event.  Purdue by 4

No. 6 Notre Dame (23-11) vs. No. 11 Old Dominion (26-8) – The Fighting Irish looked formidable again in the Big East Tournament with center Luke Harangody, the second-leading scorer in the nation, back from an injury. However, they are going to have to be efficient to advance past ODU.  Notre Dame by 5

No. 3 Baylor (25-7) vs. No. 14 Sam Houston State (25-7) – These two teams have identical records but it’s Baylor’s time to shine after not winning in the tournament for decades. The Bears should be able to take care of business here, which would set up a chance to play their way into the Sweet 16 – and a trip to Houston.  Baylor by 9

No. 7 Richmond (26-8) vs. No. 10 Saint Mary’s (26-5) – The Spiders reached a school record with 26 wins and have the guards to disrupt teams in this bracket. Saint Mary’s, though, may not be a pushover.  Richmond by 6

No. 2 Villanova (24-7) vs. No. 15 Robert Morris (23-11) – There was joy in Coraopolis, Pa., as Bobby Morris earned its way to the Big Dance. But the berth turned out to be a spot opposite in-state power Nova. The Wildcats weren’t sharp at the end of the season but shouldn’t be tested here.  Villanova by 13