Always save the best for last, I say. That would be the exciting West Region, home of the Final Four-bound (or so says the Prez) Kansas State Wildcats.
You can read a preview of the chalk-filled West after the jump, but first...
There's still time to sign up for and participate in the 235th biannual BOTC Bracket Challenge. Just go here. The group name is BOTC: Bring On The Cats and the password is BracketCat.
- Syracuse Orange
- Kansas St. Wildcats
- Pittsburgh Panthers
- Vanderbilt Commodores
- Butler Bulldogs
- Xavier Musketeers
- BYU Cougars
- Gonzaga Bulldogs
- Florida St. Seminoles
- Florida Gators
- Minnesota Golden Gophers
- UTEP Miners
- Murray St. Racers
- Oakland Golden Grizzlies
- North Texas Eagles
- Vermont Catamounts
- Buffalo, N.Y.
- Milwaukee, Wis.
- Oklahoma City, Okla.
- San Jose, Calif.
- Salt Lake City, Utah (Sweet Sixteen | Elite Eight)
No. 1 Syracuse (28-4) vs. No. 16 Vermont (25-9)
March 19 | 8:30 p.m. | Buffalo
The names Coppenrath and Sorrentine still echo in the ears of Orange fans with infamy.
But this ain't Tom Brennan's Catamounts, and despite the likelihood that Arinze Onuaku probably will not play in the game, Syracuse should win with relative ease.
GAMER: Syracuse 78, Vermont 66
KenPom: Syracuse 82, Vermont 65
Sagarin: Syracuse 82, Vermont 64
No. 2 Kansas State (26-7) vs. No. 15 North Texas (24-8)
March 18 | 1:40 p.m. | Oklahoma City
Admit it: As an avid K-State fan (assuming the reader is of that persuasion), you've probably thought to yourself at some point, Man, the Cats lost at home to Iowa State. If they don't show up and just assume they will win, they could lose this game, too.
If you haven't read Austin Meek's latest blog entry yet, please do. There's a few things in there that sound some alarm bells in my head:
- "They really chase the ball rebounding-wise, very athletic up front."
- "They’re going to use their athleticism in their front court to attack you defensively, not let you get post position."
- "True story: When I was at South Alabama, we shot 55 free throws in one game against them. We shot 55, and they shot a bunch, too. This could be one of those games with a lot of fouls."
Well, I'm here to tell you not to worry. I'm an avid study of body language and the team I saw wearing purple (well, white and black) in Kansas City is not going to lose this game. They will take care of business, they will get it done and they will advance.
It's the second game that has me worried. Either BYU or Florida will present some match-up difficulties that bear watching. But I'll get to that in a few days.
GAMER: Kansas State 77, North Texas 68
KenPom: Kansas State 85, North Texas 65
Sagarin: Kansas State 80, North Texas 63
UPSET ALERT: No. 3 Pittsburgh (24-8) vs. No. 14 Oakland (26-8)
March 19 | 1:45 p.m. | Milwaukee
This is a dangerous game for Pittsburgh. Oakland is not your typical 14 seed. The Grizzlies have been to the tournament before, and if I recall correctly, they won the play-in game, then gave the No. 1 seed a hell of a game.
I was pretty high on IUPUI this season after that game in Kansas City, and the Jaguars' record and high RPI validated that opinion. Well, Oakland simply dismantled IUPUI in the Summit League championship game.
Pittsburgh is not an offensively gifted team and other than the exciting triple-overtime win against West Virginia, the Panthers really haven't impressed me in the last month or so. Villanova was its last quality win and since then, Pitt has lost twice to Notre freakin' Dame.
If K-State makes it to the Sweet Sixteen and Pitt is waiting there, I like the match-up. Pittsburgh is K-State Lite, in some ways.
GAMER: Pittsburgh 65, Oakland 62
KenPom: Pittsburgh 74, Oakland 62
Sagarin: Pittsburgh 76, Oakland 67
UPSET ALERT: No. 4 Vanderbilt (24-8) vs. No. 13 Murray State (30-4)
March 18 | 1:30 p.m. | San Jose
If Oakland-Pittsburgh is a dangerous game, this is a five-alarm fire.
Had Murray State been left out of the field because of an upset in its conference tournament, the Racers would have been the first 30-win team not to make the field. They're pretty good. They swept Morehead State, which has one of the nation's finest rebounders in Kenneth Faried.
Like Pittsburgh, Vanderbilt can be a underwhelming team at times. The Commodores have ugly losses to Georgia, Mississippi State and South Carolina on their resume.
Looks like the computers agree with me — this one will be close.
GAMER: Vanderbilt 73, Murray State 70
KenPom: Vanderbilt 73, Murray State 70
Sagarin: Vanderbilt 76, Murray State 71
No. 5 Butler (28-4) vs. No. 12 UTEP (26-6)
March 18 | 3:45 p.m. | San Jose
Fun fact: Butler is the only Division I team not to lose a game in 2010. People always underestimate the Bulldogs and it usually doesn't pay off.
This is a popular upset pick this season because UTEP has Derrick Caracter and won Conference USA's regular season. But the Miners showed an ugly side in losing to Houston last week and almost got left out because their best non-conference win is against Oklahoma.
I would suggest avoiding the upset pick here. At least one No. 5 seed advances to the second round every year and Butler is the best candidate. Sure, it likely will be a close game like all three predictors indicate, but Butler has a history of finding ways to win those games. The Xavier win comes to mind.
GAMER: Butler 67, UTEP 65
KenPom: Butler 65, UTEP 63
Sagarin: Butler 66, UTEP 65
No. 6 Xavier (24-8) vs. No. 11 Minnesota (21-13)
March 19 | 11:25 a.m. | Milwaukee
Speaking of Xavier, look who landed in Butler and K-State's bracket. Is revenge in the cards for the Musketeers?
I don't know about that, but I doubt they will have much trouble with Minnesota. Frankly, the Golden Gophers are lucky to be here. I thought Mississippi State had a much better case for inclusion — after taking Kentucky to overtime not once, but twice — than Minnesota, which got shelled by Ohio State in a supposed "must-win" game.
I guess the committee saw it differently. Whatever. All I know is that Milwaukee is equidistant between Minneapolis and Cincinnati, so you can erase the home-crowd factor. That leaves basketball skill as the prevailing determining factor... and Xavier simply has more of it.
GAMER: Xavier 76, Minnesota 68
KenPom: Xavier 74, Minnesota 73
Sagarin: Xavier 77, Minnesota 74
No. 7 BYU (29-5) vs. No. 10 Florida (21-12)
March 18 | 11:20 a.m. | Oklahoma City
Speaking of teams that are lucky to be in the field, here's Florida. The Gators are slightly more deserving of being in the tournament than Minnesota, but that's not saying much.
They're certainly capable of winning the game, but I don't expect them to do so. BYU is a very solid club that probably is a little under-seeded. The Cougars have three very good 3-point shooters and play good defense. That usually translates to first-round wins.
GAMER: BYU 78, Florida 68
KenPom: BYU 78, Florida 71
Sagarin: BYU 79, Florida 73
UPSET ALERT: No. 8 Gonzaga (26-6) vs. No. 9 Florida State (22-9)
March 19 | 6:10 p.m. | Buffalo
What is it about the Zags? Everyone loves them ever since that magical run in 1999, but they've never been to the past the Sweet Sixteen since. Lately, they haven't even survived the first weekend. In a way, they have the same problem as Duke — overseeditis.
But not this year. I think the committee reacted to those last few losses and put the Bulldogs about where they needed to be. That makes this a pretty even match-up between Florida State and Gonzaga, which would be an upset only in the sense that the latter has a much better basketball pedigree than the former.
GAMER: Gonzaga 71, Florida State 68
KenPom: Florida State 67, Gonzaga 63
Sagarin: Florida State 86, Gonzaga 84