In the World Cup, there is the group of death. This year, there is a region of death, where three of last year’s Final Four teams find themselves in the same quadrant plus the preseason #1 and #4 ranked teams. What does that mean for us at home, total madness.
With that being said, the opening round features less intrigue than the following games, yet there are still upsets littered throughout.
Wichita State over Cal Poly/Texas Southern: It doesn’t matter which of these two teams wins the play-in game, combined they have two fewer wins (32) than the Shockers (34).
Kentucky over Kansas State: This will be a sneaky good game. Kentucky is mad because they only got an eight, which was deserved in my book as they went 2-4 on the road against RPI Top-100 teams, but has enough talent to be a one or two seed. Kansas State on the other hand went 2-7 on the road this season and lost at home to Northern Colorado (RPI 213). Julius Randle is one of the best players in the country and the talent of Kentucky will overcome the mistakes their young team will inevitably make, but don’t be surprised if the Wildcats win (see what I did there).
NC State over Saint Louis: This is a two-part prediction. I think NC State will beat Xavier in Dayton for the chance to play the Billikens. Saint Louis went 11-1 on the road this season and were 25-2 at one point this season with their losses coming to Wichita State and Wisconsin, both of whom are top-two seeds. They then lost four out of five to end their season and look totally lost. Meanwhile, NC State sports wins over Syracuse and Pittsburgh in the few weeks and behind TJ Warren are playing well above what anyone could have projected. Here’s your trendy 5/12 upset pick in this region, which I will say holds even if Xavier wins the play-in game.
Louisville over Manhattan: Vegas and the computers like Louisville’s chances of winning the title for the second straight year, yet they are a four seed (?). Playing their best basketball at the end of the year, behind Russ Smith and Montrezl Harrell, this team is downright scary when firing on all cylinders, and will make you work just to complete passes and to get the ball out of the backcourt. The Jaspers are a plucky 13-seed but drew the very short end of the stick.
Iowa over Massachusetts: Another play-in game, this one featuring a sliding Iowa who are immensely talented against a Tennessee team that won two RPI Top-150 road games. I’ll take Iowa, based on the fact that you have to think fiery Fran will be able to coach his team to victory in a close game one of these days and that they have too much talent not to. From there, this will be a matchup of two of the best guards in the country in the 5-9 Chaz Williams for UMass and the 6-6 Roy Devyn Marble for Iowa. Unfortunately for UMass, their individual talent stops there while for Iowa, it continues for about nine more guys from Aaron White to Jarrod Uthoff, who would start on nearly every other team but comes off the bench for the Hawkeyes. I’ll take Iowa, but if this game is tight at the end, look for the Minutemen to gut it out.
Duke over Mercer: A big piece of me wants to pick Mercer here, but that’s foolish. Duke’s offense is relentless and Jabari Parker has broken out of his small slump that he suffered midway through the year to re-emerge as not only one of the best players in the ACC but a potential Naismith award winner in a McDermott-less world. Duke rolls here but Mercer is a better team than the casual fan might suspect.
Texas over Arizona State: Arizona State has two players of note, their names are Jahii Carson and Jordan Bachynski. Past that, they have virtually no one. While that is probably unfair to the rest of the team, their fate rests of Carson’s shoulders. He is a natural and gifted scorer who averages more than 4.5 assists a game to go along with more than 18 points. Rick Barnes has done a phenomenal job at Texas this year, navigating the tough Big 12 and came out on the other side with an 11-7 record, good for a share of third place. I’ll take Texas in this game, but a herculean effort from Carson could be enough to pull the upset.
Michigan over Wofford: Michigan managed to lose only three games in the Big Ten. I don’t know how that is possible, particularly after they lost Mitch McGary, but through the hot shooting of Caris LeVert and Nik Stauskas plus the veteran inside presence of Jordan Morgan and the unpredictable Glenn Robinson III, this team refused to lose close games, winning every game decided by 10 or fewer points since they lost McGary. I’m sure Wofford is a good team, but Michigan’s three-point shooting will run them out of the gym before halftime.
Well there you have it, upsets in the two play-in slots and that’s it, but there’s plenty on the horizon as the third round could feature a match-up between Wichita State and Kentucky and many more.
Tags : Arizona State, cal poly, Duke, iowa, Kansas State, Kentucky, Louisville, Manhattan, Massachusetts, Mercer, Michigan, nc state, ncaa tournament, Saint Louis, Sports, tennessee, Texas, texas southern, Wichita State, Wofford, xavier