East: Load up on Texas and Georgetown
1 North Carolina
16 Eastern Kentucky
9 Michigan State
13 New Mexico St.
3 Washington St.
14 Oral Roberts
11 George Washington
7 Boston College
10 Texas Tech
North Carolina will be under pressure from the opening tip. Eastern Kentucky, out of the overlooked Ohio Valley conference, offers a nice blend of size and speed, and they'll give the Tar Heels fits. If North Carolina comes into the game overconfident or doesn't take good care of the ball, the Colonels will make them pay. The Tar Heels will almost surely win their opener, but it could be a nail biter. After that, they'll face a dangerous Marquette team, which should dispose of Michigan State with ease in the first round.
Marquette (24-9,10-6) is a giant killer. During the course of their up-and-down season, the Golden Eagles won road games at Duke, Louisville and Pitt, whom they also beat at home. And the Tar Heels look a lot like Pitt, with solid wingmen and a big guy in the middle. Marquette can pull off the early upset and send Carolina packing.
After that, the Golden Eagles will have to handle Kevin Durant and the Texas Longhorns, as good a team as there is in this tournament. The Longhorns will knock off undermanned New Mexico St. in the opener and then face the winner of the USC-Arkansas game, more than likely USC.
The Longhorns will put on a show whenever they take the floor, but expect a close one against USC and another nail-biter as they slip by Marquette.
The bottom half of the East bracket is all about Georgetown. There's nobody in their section that can stay close. They'll crush Belmont, then Texas Tech, and probably end up with Vanderbilt in the regional semi-final. Vandy should handle George Washington and then take out Oral Roberts, upset winners over Washington State.
The Texas-Georgetown regional final will be a dream matchup. The thought of having Roy Hibbert, Jeff Green and Durant on the floor at the same time will have NBA scouts scurrying for tickets. Texas has played a load of close games this season, yet they always seem to come up just short. This will be another one of those games. The Longhorns will provide more than enough entertainment, but the Hoyas will move on to the Final Four.
South: Buckeye Trouble
1 Ohio State
16 Central Conn. St.
12 Long Beach State
3 Texas A&M
15 North Texas
The South is loaded with great matchups, making it the most unpredictable of all the regions. Ohio State is the powerhouse, but there are three teams in their sub-bracket, #5 Tennessee, #8 BYU and #9 Xavier, which have legitimate shots at upsetting the Buckeyes. Fortunately for Ohio State, they'll only have to face two of those three as BYU and Xavier face off in the opening round.
Xavier, which tied UMass at 13-3 for 1st place in the heady Atlantic 10, lost to Rhode Island in the conference semi-finals. The A-10 tourney was won by George Washington, but the Musketeers crushed GW on Feb 10, an 87-58 road win. They are extremely dangerous and talented and had won 8 straight before their loss to Rhode Island. BYU lost to UNLV in the Mountain West tourney final but won the conference at 13-3. The Cougars could win, but look for Xavier to advance out of that game.
The Buckeyes will have their hands full with the Musketeers and a loss to them is not out of the equation. If you've got Ohio State going far in the tourney, you'd better get a few more sheets to fill out because they probably aren't going to get out of their region. Just for purposes of argument, I'll say they'll beat Xavier and advance to play Tennessee.
The Vols should cruise over Long Beach St. and play surprise winner Albany in the 2nd round. Though the Great Danes finished 2nd in the America East conference to Vermont, they topped the Catamounts, 60-59, in their tournament. Albany has won 13 of their last 15 and will stun #4 seed Virginia in the opening round. Tennessee will end the Great Danes run at one.
The Tennessee-Ohio St. game will be a rematch of their January 13 meeting at Ohio State which the Buckeyes won, 68-66. Give the Vols a neutral court, a team they understand and it's bye-bye Buckeyes. Tennessee is no slouch. They boast non-conference wins over Memphis, Texas and Oklahoma St., in addition to SEC wins over Florida, Arkansas, Kentucky, Vanderbilt and Alabama. At 22-10, they played one of the toughest schedules in the country and their inside-outside game of Chris Lofton and Wayne Chism can match up with the top teams in the nation.
The lower half of this bracket is equally intriguing. #2 seed Memphis is somewhat of an unknown quantity, having cruised through their Conference-USA schedule unscathed, they made a mockery of the teams in the conference tourney, winning by an average margin of 18 points. The Tigers (30-3), haven't lost since December and are riding a 22-game win streak, the nation's longest. They'll make that 23 straight with a romp over the North Texas Mean Green in the opening round and then play the winner of the Nevada-Creighton game, most likely Nevada.
This will be a tough matchup for both Nevada and Memphis and it will be interesting to see how the Tigers respond to being in a close, competitive game, which this will be. The only big name teams Memphis played this season were Georgia Tech, Kentucky and Arizona, all in November and December, and they lost two of those, to Arizona and Tech. Nevada isn't about to lose a 2nd round game. Cross the Tigers off the list. The #2 seed goes early.
That sets up a Nevada-Texas A&M regional semi-final. The Aggies have Penn in their opener, and should breeze. Louisville, winners over Stanford, will provide more competition, but the Aggies are just a more disciplined, talented team than Pitino's Cardinals.
The Aggies and Wolf Pack will engage in a real barn burner, maybe one of the best games of the tournament. Look for the Aggies to prevail and take the region with a win over Tennessee.
That sets up a Final Four of #3 Texas A&M vs. #2 Georgetown and #1 Kansas vs. #3 Oregon. I'll break that down tomorrow. For Tuesday's play-in game (Florida A&M vs. Niagara) take the Purple Eagles of Niagara to win the right to play Kansas.