For today, I’m just going to write about the second round games from Thursday.
Atlantic 10 Dominance
Six conferences came into the tournament with five or more bids: the Big Ten, Big East, Pac-12, Big 12, the Mountain West, and the Atlantic 10. But not surprisingly, the losses came. The Big East, who brought eight teams in are left with only three now. All of the other conferences lost at least one team except for one – the Atlantic 10.
All season, the A-10 has been playing the best basketball you haven’t been watching. But with recent “Cinderella” teams like Butler, VCU, and Temple — plus the conference champion Saint Louis and First Four winner La Salle — their tournament success this season shouldn’t be any surprise. In fact, all five have a good chance of making it to the Sweet Sixteen, which would be unprecedented for a mid-major conference.
Of course, conference realignment will wreak havoc on the conference next season (Butler, Xavier, and Temple are all leaving for the Big East next season), but it won’t be like the CAA when VCU left last season. I could still see the A-10 getting multiple bids in the future.
Remember when I said to focus more on the 6-11 upset this year instead of the 5-12? Hope you didn’t listen. In recent years, the 6-11 has warranted just as many upsets as the 5-12. But this season was the exact opposite of what was expected. Minnesota was the only 11 to beat a 6, while VCU was the only 5 to advance to the Round of 32. Looking at the numbers, the 6-11 games matched up well for the underdogs, but on the court, it was a whole different story.
You know what the best thing about today’s games are? How good all eight of them look on paper. I’m not completely confident in these picks and believe that they could all go either way. Now that the second round (where everyone still cares about their bracket) has ended, it’s time to fully embrace the madness.
(4) Michigan over (5) VCU (12:15pm, CBS)
It’s easy to look at VCU and say their defense is what makes them go, but that’s only part of the equation. They’re also a good shooting team and grab more offensive rebounds than most. But with Trey Burke, Glenn Robinson III, and Tim Hardaway, Jr. Michigan certainly has the players to break VCU’s press and score baskets. I’ll take them in a close one.
(3) Michigan State over (6) Memphis (2:45pm, CBS)
With Michigan and Indiana dominating the Big Ten conversation this season, it was easy to overlook the Spartans. But Michigan State impressed in their opening game against Valparaiso. Memphis barely escaped with a two-point win over Saint Mary’s, but that isn’t the reason why I see them losing. In the battle between physical and finesse teams, it’s best to go with the former. Derrick Nix and Adreian Payne could have big days inside.
(1) Louisville over (8) Colorado State (5:15pm, CBS)
It’s hard to find any holes in Louisville’s game recently, but as I mentioned earlier, Colorado State has some “Giant Killer” characteristics. Namely their offensive rebounding percentage, which was second in the nation coming into the tournament. But they’ll need to dominate the boards and keep the tempo slow to have a decent chance at winning. The Cardinals simply have too many weapons.
(6) Arizona over (14) Harvard (6:10pm, TNT)
Harvard is coming in with a size disadvantage, but that’s nothing new for them. But to pull off another upset, they also need to slow down Zona’s frontcourt. I don’t think they have it in them today.
(4) Saint Louis over (12) Oregon (7:10pm, TBS)
A classic battle of tempos. The Billikens’ very slow style frustrated Atlantic 10 teams all season, while Oregon’s fast break potential was too much for Oklahoma State to handle on Thursday. Again, it must be noted that Oregon is “under-seeded” in the tournament. But I also believe that Saint Louis was a little “over-seeded”. It should be a great contest and it may come down to which style prevails. I’m banking on Saint Louis’s half court prowess.
(6) Butler over (3) Marquette (7:45pm, CBS)
Those already not sold on Marquette certainly weren’t helped by their one-point win over Davidson. And against a balanced Butler that simply knows how to make tournament runs as of late, you’d have to think…
(1) Gonzaga over (9) Wichita State (8:40pm, TNT)
Coming in to this tournament, I thought Gonzaga was seeded too high. And after the Southern game, the rest of the world probably feels the same way. But even though the Shockers shocking Gonzaga wouldn’t shock me, they can’t bow out before the Sweet Sixteen AGAIN, can they?
(4) Syracuse over (12)California (9:40pm, TBS)
Don’t remember seeing Syracuse play Thursday? Well with their 47-point drubbing of Montana happening the same time as Harvard upsetting of New Mexico, that’s no surprise. They’re playing in the last game of the day again and I expect similar results. A team like Syracuse flying somewhat under the radar is a frightening concept.