Time to reveal my picks for round 1, both for wagering purposes and bracket purposes. Unfortunately I won't be able to do a round 2 preview since I'll be getting my drunk on down in Chi-town with Snake, Bogart, and Dawger. If you follow me on Twitter I will, however, promise to try to toss up as many opinions/thoughts/pics of a passed out Dawger as possible.
- Ohio State () vs. UT-San Antonio. No line yet, but UTSA looked pretty frisky tonight vs. Alabama State. Of course, it turns out Alabama State isn't Ohio State. Not at all. I'll take Ohio State up to about 23 or 24, and jump on the roadrunners for anything beyond that. Just like that stupid coyote always tried to.
- George Mason (+1) vs. Villanova: Somehow this line has taken Mason from a favorite to a dog, which means the public is all over Nova - always a bad sign. The Wildcasts are sliding hard and are a terrible team, while GMU could have had a Sweet 16 or even Elite 8 run in them with a different seed and/or different draw. My largest wager of the first round. Take Mason to win straight up.
- West Virginia (-1.5) vs. Clemson: I agree with the experts that the Big East is the best conference in the country and going 11-7 is pretty good, but I'm just not impressed with WVU this year. Maybe it's because they still have the same lame backcourt, or maybe it's because Kevin Jones never became what I had hoped he'd be, but either way I like Clemson here. And I don't even like Clemson (Tigers to win and cover).
- Kentucky (-13.5) vs. Princeton: I was all set to make Kentucky a victim of a first-round upset and then the brackets were announced and all my plans went to hell. I have no doubt Kentucky will win this, but I think they start slow, probably trail into the second half, and then there overall talent will win out. Princeton covers, but Kentucky wins.
- Xavier (-2.5) vs. Marquette: I love the Musketeers all the way to the sweet 16, and think Marquette lost way too many important games down the stretch to be considered any kind of serious threat. X to win and cover.
- Syracuse (-12) vs. Indiana State: I like the Orange, but they are way too vulnerable in that 2-3 to penetrating guards this year (which is why they'll get dumped by Xavier in the next round). Luckily for the Cuse, Indiana State doesn't fit that MO. In what is likely to be the biggest spread of any first round game, Syracuse easily covers against the Sycamores.
- Washington (-5.5) vs. Georgia: The first match-up I've struggled with. Not who is going to win, that's the Huskies, but that spread is just a little bit too high for me to feel totally comfortable with it. If I had to choose I'd go with Washington, thinking they outlast the Bulldogs in the end, but if you want a better pick just take the over (Captain Circus Ball always takes Washington over).
- North Carolina (-17.5) vs. Long Island: The Blackbirds are a tough team to get a read on because they score a ton of points, but a lot of that comes from their uptempo style and the fact that they didn't really play anybody (their best opponent was Northwestern who beat them by 16). I don't think they have a prayer of stopping the inside guys for the Heels. Look for UNC to break 100 here and cover.
- Duke (-23) vs. Hampton: Hampton's defensive metrics are outstanding, but like a lot of these smaller conference schools they're inflated due to the level of competition. They haven't seen anybody near to Duke's level, the Dukies generally take care of these types of teams and if Kyrie Irving is back you don't need to worry about them stepping off the gas - they need as much practice as a full team as they can.
- Tennessee (-2) vs. Michigan: Tennessee is one of the toughest teams in the field to figure out because they could just as easily make a deep run, including a win over Duke, as get blown out by Michigan. When in doubt and the point spread is this small, go with the more talented team. Vols win and cover.
- Arizona (-5.5) vs. Memphis: Arizona's another team I thought would be a first round upset for me, but getting matched with Memphis really helps them out. I watched a couple of the Tigers' games in the C-USA Tournament. This is not a good team, but I don't think Arizona is either. When in doubt, take the points. Zona wins, Memphis covers.
- Texas (-9.5) vs. Oakland: My most bummerific first round matchup. I was convinced Oakland had a sweet 16 run in them, but unfortunately they run up against the Longhorns, criminally underseeded and not only one of the most talented teams, but also an excellent defensive squad which should help keep them upset-proof. Still, my instincts tell me the Grizz keeps this close: Texas wins (and ends up beating Duke) but Oakland covers.
- Cincinnati (PICK) vs. Missouri: This one I really struggled with until I did a bit more digging: Missouri really struggles against teams that are strong in the paint, and Cincy is strong in the paint. Bearcats are the pick.
- UCONN (-10) vs. Bucknell. Some consider Bucknell to be a trendy upset pick, citing the run through the Big East tournament the Huskies just completely and how they're probably tired. Well, Bucknell is a decent upset pick, but that reasoning only comes from people who are stupid. 20-year old star athletes in the best shape of their lives are going to be fine. Bucknell is a little scary simply because they're pretty good. UCONN wins, but Bucknell covers.
- Temple (-2.5) vs. Penn State. I think this is the "I really would like to see Talor Battle snag an NCAA Tournament win" pick. Take the Nittany Lions.
- San Diego State (-15.5) vs. Northern Colorado. NoCo has one very good player. SDSU has six. This game is an easy win for SDSU, but NoCo has enough fire power to keep it from getting out of hand and sneaking in for the backdoor cover. SDSU by 15.
- Pitt (-18) vs. UNC-Asheville. Pitt is my pick to win this whole thing, but they don't exactly strike me as the type of team to blow teams out, and Asheville isn't all that bad. Pitt to win easy, but not by 18.
- Old Dominion (-2) vs. Butler. ODU is the kind of team that could have gone on a Sweet 16 run with a different seeding (and actually could and probably will threaten Pitt greatly in round 2). Butler is a terrible team who is getting by on name recognition and is terribly overseeded as a 9. ODU in a rout.
- Kansas State (-2.5) vs. Utah State. Perfect matchup for USU - a more athletic team than they are, to be sure, but also a completely undisciplined team who could, and will, crumble against a more disciplined foe. K-State also seems like the kind of team that will get pissed if they start slow against a team they probably think they should kill and start pressing and make it worse. Utah State wins straight up.
- Wisconsin (-5) vs. Belmont. Belmont is looking like a trendy upset pick - and I'm picking them as well - but I'm not sure going up against a team like Wisconsin was in their best interests. They might be too disciplined and too efficient for a team like the Bruins. Doesn't really matter though, because I'm picking them to win.
- St. John's (-2) vs. Gonzaga. Another trendy upset pick, but this one is only because people are really stupid. St. John's is one of the best teams in one of the best conferences and has proven they can win away from their home arena. Gonzaga is an overrated team who limped through the West Coast Conference and is getting public backing due to name recognition. Johnnies all the way here, win and cover.
- BYU (-8.5) vs. Wofford. My first reaction at seeing this line was that it was way too low and BYU was going to kill them. But thinking further, Wofford's biggest strength is scoring in the paint and without Brandon Davies the Cougars are vulnerable there. Wofford should keep this close, but BYU wins.
- Michigan State (-1.5) vs. UCLA. I might be falling into the same "name perception" trap that I was making fun of people for up above, but UCLA is not remotely scary and it's just so hard to think a Tom Izzo team could possibly lose a first round game. I gotta roll with Sparty here.
- Florida (-13) vs. UC-Santa Barbara. I love UCSB's guards here against Florida - the two gator guards struggle against bigger guard types, and Orlando Johnson is that kind of guard. I just don't know that UCSB has the horses in the paint to deal with the Gator guys. UCSB keeps this one close and covers, but Florida takes the game.
- Kansas (-22.5) vs. Boston. Carry on My Wayward Son vs. More than a Feeling. Who could possibly decide? Kansas wins and covers.
- UNLV (-2.5) vs. Illinois. You know how a the end of Return of the Jedi Darth Vader says to look "strike him down, and your journey towards the dark side will be complete?" After McCamey effs up yet another game, this one to end his career, it will be just like that.
- Vanderbilt (-3) vs. Richmond. I'm not particularly a fan of Vandy, but I can't stand Richmond. I will never forget how good they looked last year going into the tournament and then they got absolutely de-pantsed by St. Mary's, grabbing something like 9 rebounds in the entire game. AS A WHOLE TEAM. I just can't get over it. Vandy wins and covers.
- Louisville (-9.5) vs. Morehead State. Morehead's Kenneth Faried is an absolute beast in the paint, but he'll have to have the game of his life for Morehead State to win. They could keep it close though. Lville wins, Morehead covers.
- Georgetown () vs. VCU. This is going to be a nice test for Georgetown, who will have their starting point guard back for the first time in about a month. G-Town's a good bet up to about 3, and anything after that I'd go VCU, with G-Town winning overall.
- Purdue (-14.5) vs. St. Peter's. Even with the news that Kelsey Barlow is suspended for the rest of the season Purdue should have little trouble with St. Pete's, and this game should probably be lined at around 20 or so. The Barlow thing makes things interesting in round 2, considering he's one of their best perimeter defenders and Georgetown is loaded with guards. This one's easy for the Boilers, though.
- Texas A&M (-1) vs. Florida State. If the Seminoles had Chris Singleton they'd be the easy pick, but they don't, so I'll go with the team that is whole. The best bet in this one though, is probably to take the UNDER. This game could end up being 44-42.
- Notre Dame (-14) vs. Akron. The Irish are way too ruthlessly efficient against teams that play poor defense to let the Zips hang around. Easy win.
So there you have it. My Sweet 16 is Ohio State, Kentucky, Xavier, Washington, Duke, Texas, UCONN, SDSU, Kansas, Louisville, Purdue, Notre Dame, Pitt, Utah State, St. Johns, and Michigan State. Elite 8 will be Ohio State, Washington, Texas, SDSU, Kansas, Notre Dame, Pitt, and St. Johns with Ohio State, SDSU, Notre Dame, and Pitt advancing to the Final Four.
No matter what, this should be a fun year. It's like 4 days of Christmas, and here's a little something to set the mood. See you on the other side.