1 North Carolina vs. 16 Radford - Ty Lawson, Tyler Hansbrough, 28-4, ACC vs. Big South. Carolina favored by 26 1/2 points. Any questions? The Tar Heels will cruise past Radford and get ready for the 8 vs. 9 winner.
8 LSU vs. 9 Butler - As befits an 8 vs. 9 game, this is one tough call. LSU is currently favored by 2 1/2 over the Bulldogs, but what happened to those national rankings? Butler was ranked 20 or higher almost all season, while the Tigers only got into the Top 25 in late February. LSU is one of only three SEC teams, so they're going to have to represent for the entire conference here, despite the tough draw.
Tasmin Mitchell and Marcus Thornton are the main scoring threats for the Tigers, though 6'11" senior center Chris Johnson could be a big contributor if he can handle Butler's power forwards, Matt Howard and rapidly improving freshman, Gordon Hayward. While Butler may eventually control the boards in this game and usually offers pretty stiff defense, the long, lean Tigers seem to be too much to handle for the returning Horizon League champs. LSU has lots of experience with three senior starters and their top two men coming off the bench, so look for LSU to advance, as these fellows don't want their first NCAA game of '09 to be their last. Butler's players will be back in 2010. They start three freshman and their elder statesman, Willie Veasley, is a junior.
5 Illinois vs. 12 Western Kentucky - The Hilltoppers are more athletic than the Illini squad, but Illinois is one of the better disciplined teams from the Big Ten, plus, Western Kentucky will find out that they really don't have an answer for 7'1" sophomore center Mike Tisdale, who has a nice touch from anywhere inside of 12 feet. Tisdale and his frontcourt mate, (another soph.) Mike Davis are likely to terrorize the smaller Hilltoppers. If that occurs, Illinois' backcourt is probably also an overmatch, so this could turn into a Big Ten blowout. Illinois is only favored by 4 1/2. Should be more like 12 1/2. Take note of the talent on Illinois. These guys could go deep.
4 Gonzaga vs. 13 Akron - Possibly the worst seeding of the entire tournament was making Gonzaga a 4, when they should have been a 2 in the West or at worst a 3. The 26-5 Zags blew through the West Coast conference and won the tourney easily. Since losing three straight to quality opponents (UConn, Portland St. and Utah) at the end of '08, they've won 17 of their last 18 and enter the tournament on a 9-game win streak. The Zips won't put up much of a fight - they are 12 1/2-point underdogs - as they duffer from a height disadvantage at every position and are especially overmatched inside. This should set up an interesting matchup in the next round vs. Illinois.
6 Arizona St. vs. 11 Temple - Most people know little about the Sun Devils and even less about Temple, but the skinny is that the Sun Devils are a high-quality team that can do harm to opponents from beyond the arc or in the lane, have plenty of experience and lost by just 3 points in the PAC-10 tourney final to USC, one of the hottest teams coming into the tournament. The Owls come back to the NCAAs for their second straight year and are looking to get past the first round, but it's a tough task. Their leader is Dionte Christmas, who may get into a "my best is better" situation with Arizona State's James Harden. Those two are the players to watch here, along with the Sun Devils' Jeff Pendergraph, who will have to deal with 7-footer Sergio Olmos inside. These are two great battles in the back and frontcourts which should be excitng to watch. This one could turn into one of the best games of the opening round.
Arizona State is a 4 1/2-point favorite, but this really could go either way.
3 Syracuse vs. 14 Stephen F. Austin - The way Syracuse has been playing of late - reaching the Big East tournament finals - one would expect them to be more than ready for the start of a nice run in the NCAAs, and the oddsmakers are thinking the same way, installing the Orangemen as 12-point favorites to knock off the Lunberjacks. An interesting matchup at point guard has smooth Jonny Flynn (who usually stays out of foul trouble) for the Orange against diminutive Eric Bell, who is only 5'3". Beyond that, SFA is not a great perimeter shooting team nor do they match up well inside, meaning that Syracuse can settle into their 3-2 zone, create turnovers and get out and run. This one shouldn't be very close.
7 Clemson vs. 10 Michigan - On paper, this 7-10 tilt looks like it should be a tight one - Clemson is favored by 5 - but, in reality, the Tigers are a far more talented bunch than the Wolverines, who probably are really a year away from being competitive in the NCAAs. The fact that they actually received an invitation is a tribute to coach John Beilein's reputation and early wins over UCLA and Duke. Michigan was just 9-9 in the sub-par Big Ten, while Clemson went 23-8 and 9-7 in the tough -as-nails ACC. The Tigers don't own any huge wins besides a 74-47 pummeling of Duke, but they do have three players who can really light it up: K.C. Rivers, Trevor Booker and Terrence Oglesby. If they get going, it will be a long day for Michigan, which relies on the 3-point shot heavily.
2 Oklahoma vs. 15 Morgan State - Nobody's saying much about Oklahoma except that Blake Griffin is one of the top big men in the nation and the Sooners are geared to go deep in the tournament. Morgan State is not going to pose much of a problem unless they stroke threes early and collapse their defense around Griffin. After all, the Sooners are 16-point favorites and appear capable of at least reaching the regionals. No sweat here.
Next: Midwest Region Breakdown