BRACKET BLOG: First Four

I'm getting started on these a little later than I would like, considering there are three more games in the next two days than there have been before.

As a result, I'm going to strive to crank out the four regional BRACKET BLOGs in time for tip-off Thursday, which means publishing roughly every 12 hours.

It's going to be a challenge, to be sure.

Anyhow, whether you call it the opening round, the first round, the "pack of Trojans" or the First Four, the whole shebang kicks off with four play-in games in Dayton.

Both nights start with a play-in game between the final automatic bids for the right to be a 16th-seeded massacre victim later this week.

The nightcaps will be slightly more attractive contests between the last four at-large teams selected to the field.

Previews and predictions after the jump.

The Teams

 

The Site

  • Dayton, Ohio

 

The Breakdown

No. 11 Southern California (19-14) vs. No. 11 Virginia Commonwealth (23-11)
March 16 | 8:10 p.m. CST | Southwest Region | truTV
Gus Johnson | Len Elmore

In all the outcry about whether VCU should have been included in the field of 68, people seem to be sleeping on USC.

Although the overall record looks unimpressive, this is a team that beat Arizona and Texas, and the Trojans also won at Tennessee. Alex Stepheson and Nikola Vucevic form a potent combo in the paint, and Jio Fontan has been a much better addition to his team than a fellow freshman who debuted at the same time — Josh Selby.

If the Trojans can survive this game without their coach devouring an Arizona fan, I think they're a real threat to beat Georgetown due to the Hoyas' lack of post presence.

GAMER: VCU 67, USC 65
Pomeroy: USC 68, VCU 63
Sagarin: USC 67, VCU 62

 

No. 12 Clemson (21-11) vs. No. 12 Alabama-Birmingham (22-8)
March 15 | 8:10 p.m. CST | East Region | truTV
Jim Nantz | Clark Kellogg | Steve Kerr

I really don't know much about these two teams, other than that Clemson swept Boston College and Virginia Tech, but didn't beat an RPI top 50 team all year, while UAB has become the poster child for bracket inclusion confusion.

The Blazers have one top-50 win, but it's over Southern Miss, if memory serves. Not real impressive.

This probably is a coin-flip game when you get right down to it. I wouldn't sweat it too much, as I doubt either team can handle West Virginia's defensive and rebounding pressure Thursday.

GAMER: UAB 67, Clemson 65
Pomeroy: Clemson 61, UAB 58
Sagarin: Clemson 68, UAB 65

 

No. 16 Alabama State (17-17) vs. No. 16 Texas-San Antonio (19-13)
March 16 | 5:40 p.m. CST | East Region | truTV
Gus Johnson | Len Elmore

Alabama State was a surprise upset winner over Texas Southern, a team I thought could scare a No. 1 seed, in the SWAC Tournament, while UTSA pulled off a similar stunner in the Southland championship against McNeese State.

All three predictive systems like UTSA to win, but the pattern in these 16-seed play-in games is that the team with the worse overall record usually seems to win, for whatever reason. Maybe it's that they've been in survival mode longer.

GAMER: UTSA 68, ASU 67
Pomeroy: UTSA 69, ASU 63
Sagarin: UTSA 68, ASU 61

 

No. 16 Arkansas-Little Rock (19-16) vs. No. 16 North Carolina-Asheville (19-13)
March 15 | 5:40 p.m. CST | Southeast Region | truTV
Jim Nantz | Clark Kellogg | Steve Kerr

UNC Asheville "upset" Coastal Carolina on its home court to win an automatic bid, but I use the quotation marks because that actually was the second time the Bulldogs won there this season. The Chanticleers were a shell of their former selves by that point, due to departures, injuries and suspensions.

I'm thus saying that Asheville is a better team than UALR, which was exceedingly lucky to defeat a better North Texas team that somehow coughed up a four-point lead with less than a minute to play. Yes, Soloman Bozeman had a great shot to win the game and has a great name, but that won't be enough to advance in the Big Dance.

GAMER: UNCA 69, UALR 66
Pomeroy: UNCA 69, UALR 64
Sagarin: UNCA 70, UALR 65

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