I am taking off work for the Thursday and Friday games of the NCAA Tournament. It is my Christmas. I do celebrate Christmas, but I like to think of the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament as my real Christmas. Rather than just post a screenshot of my bracket, like Dylan did last year, I figured I would post my bracket and my reasoning behind each pick in preparation for the NCAA Tournament. I know everyone loves reading a ton of text. For the record, I do hate my bracket. After it was completed, I thought it was shit, but I've had a lot better looking brackets that ended up being dead wrong. So I guess you never know.
So here we go with explanations and feel free to call me an idiot in the comments. For someone who watches a lot of college basketball, I sure stink at picking accurate brackets.
Kentucky over MVSU (that's who I picked to win the First Four game): This seems fairly easy to explain. Kentucky is a much better team and will prove it on the court.
Connecticut over Iowa State: I like Royce White, but Iowa State's weakness is rebounding and I think Andre Drummond and Alex Oriakhi give the Huskies second chance opportunities with their rebounding. I don't expect anyone on UConn to stop Royce White, but they will focus on stopping his teammates and that should be enough to win.
Wichita State over VCU: I'm not buying VCU this year. Of course last year I had them losing in the First Four game (whoops!) so I have been wrong before, but I think Joe Ragland can handle the pressure of VCU and VCU tends to have trouble scoring when they can't create turnovers. If VCU can't create enough turnovers, then they won't score.
New Mexico State over Indiana: This was a tough pick, but the loss of Verdell Jones seems to have hurt the Hoosiers so far more than I thought it would. The Aggies are capable of hitting the offensive boards hard and will try to get Cody Zeller in foul trouble early. Indiana is simply a different team away from their home court and the Aggies have the best player on the court, Wendell McKines.
UNLV over Colorado: I'm a sucker for teams with quality veteran leadership and UNLV has that. Though I am a bit nervous they don't seem to be a good team away from Las Vegas, I am not sure Colorado can score enough to beat the Runnin' Rebels. UNLV beat UNC earlier this year and can put up points at will. UNLV should have no trouble beating an offensively-challenged Colorado team.
Baylor over South Dakota State: I spent all day Monday thinking this would be an upset of Baylor. I reconsidered because South Dakota State isn't going to be tall enough to match up with Baylor. Though SDSU shoots the ball well enough, but Baylor has size to rebound any misses on offense and get second-chance opportunities. I think this will be a game 75% of the way, which is better than other #14 seeds may do.
Xavier over Notre Dame: Whatever the opposite of being on a roll ends up being, that's what Notre Dame is on. Strong guard play of Lyons and Holloway carry Xavier past the Fighting Irish.
Duke over Lehigh: I can see C.J. McCullom going for 35 points in this game. I think it will be much closer than it should be, but against Lehigh, even if the 3's aren't falling the Plumlee brothers will be able to rebound the misses.
Kentucky over UConn: UConn has been somewhat of a mess on defense at times this year and I just think Kentucky will be a better team than UConn. UConn has talent, but Kentucky is better than UConn at every position and I don't believe UConn can challenge Kentucky defensively.
Wichita State over New Mexico State: I can think of two specific games this year I saw Wichita State play where it seems the just wore down the opposing team. It was against Davidson and Creighton, both teams in the NCAA tournament this year. The game was going well and it was a fairly close game, then next thing I knew, Wichita State was up 15 points. That happens in this game. Wichita State is sneaky consistent that way.
UNLV over Baylor: I think Scott Drew is an excellent recruiter. He can recruit excellent players. Coaching? I'm not as sold. While Baylor is talented and skilled, I tend to question their motivation at times. They seem to get punched in the mouth and back down. UNLV doesn't mind punching teams in the mouth. Hence, Baylor loses.
Xavier over Duke: Xavier has two strong guards, a quality big man, and can shoot the three point shot well. I'm not saying there is a formula for beating Duke, but while analysts point to a lack of a tall wing player as being Duke's biggest issue, the real issue is that they struggle to guard aggressive guards and the Plumlees can get pushed around at times. Every team that has beaten Duke has had two strong guards who can shoot (Lyons/Holloway) and a big man who can offensively rebound (Frease/Walker).
Kentucky over Wichita State: I think this game is going to be a close one, but Anthony Davis can neutralize Stutz in the post and the Cats play excellent defense on the perimeter. Wichita State is a good team, but Kentucky can be a great team. I can see Wichita State beating Kentucky if everything goes right for them, but how often does that happen?
UNLV over Xavier: I like UNLV because they can score a variety of ways and can rebound the basketball on the offensive boards. In the end, UNLV is simply a better all-around team than Xavier.
Kentucky over UNLV: I almost picked UNLV to win this game, but then I quit drinking. I decided as good as UNLV is all-around, Kentucky will defend the perimeter and try to take Moser out of the game. Anthony Davis is capable of doing things like that. While Kentucky's youth does scare me against a team like UNLV, I don't think Kentucky will go cold and miss 10 straight shots like UNC did against UNLV.
Syracuse over UNC-Asheville: UNC-Asheville can shoot the ball, but they are very small. I can see the 'Cuse zone giving them a lot of trouble.
Kansas State over Southern Miss: I tend to favor teams who can rebound and play good defense. Southern Miss isn't exactly rip-roaring into the NCAA Tourney and they are vulnerable down low, where Kansas State is strong.
Harvard over Vanderbilt: I have no good reasoning for this pick other than Vandy always loses in the 1st round and they have burnt me so many times I simply refuse to pick them to win a game until they actually have won a game. Because I picked Harvard to win, I can see Vandy going to the Final Four. Harvard is a good defensive team and I don't trust Vandy. That's all the rationale I need.
Wisconsin over Montana: I've seen this as a popular upset pick. The Badgers slow the game down so much, I can see Montana becoming impatient on the offensive end wanting to play their game. It will be a close game, but I think Wisconsin prevails.
Cincinnati over Texas: This is probably one of the worst teams Rick Barnes has had talent-wise at Texas. We all know what happens when Barnes doesn't have sufficient talent. That means he has to coach well to win games. Good luck with that. Texas relies so much on J'Covan Brown, I think Cincy will try to take him out of the game and grind out a win against the relatively young Texas team. Plus, I have a strict rule that I bet against Rick Barnes if I am ever undecided on a game he is involved in.
Florida State over St. Bonaventure: Florida State can have trouble scoring and they turn the ball over a lot. Conveniently, St. Bonaventure isn't great on defense and also has trouble turning the ball over. So I don't see the upset happening. Florida State isn't afraid of Andrew Nicholson and will suffocate the rest of the Bonnies (is that what they are called?) on the perimeter.
Gonzaga over West Virginia: I pick Gonzaga because I think they are a better team and West Virginia only has two players I think they can count on (Bryant/Jones). Also, I was visiting West Virginia in November and saw Bob Huggins at a restaurant in Morganton. He did not look happy at all the entire time he was there and left before he could be seated (He had to wait an entire 45 minutes on a Sunday morning for breakfast! Unacceptable.) I think Huggins knew his team would put up a stinker in the NCAA's this year.
Ohio State over Loyola (Md): Ohio State has Jared Sullinger and DeSean Thomas, while Loyola isn't particularly good on the boards. I think Ohio State breezes by Loyola.
Kansas State over Syracuse: There are many traditions in the NCAA Tourament. One of those traditions is a highly ranked Syracuse team not making the Elite Eight. Shockingly and I am not being sarcastic when I say this, Syracuse is a poor rebounding team (like 341st in the country) and the loss of Fab Melo isn't going to help. Kansas State is tough in the middle and have three guys averaging over two offensive rebounds per game. They can also shoot from the outside. I think Kansas State defends well enough and gets a career game from Rodney McGruder.
Wisconsin over Harvard: Both of these play at a slow pace, so this game won't be fun to watch. Wisconsin has the better player in Jordan Taylor and will slowly win this battle. Avert your eyes though, it may be ugly.
Florida State over Cincinnati: Yet another game with two teams that don't mind scoring in the 50's in order to win a game. I think this will be a very close game and the underrated Michael Snaer will be the difference. Cincinnati is a tough team, but Florida State is probably a little tougher (or dirtier as my wife may say) and they are on a roll right now.
Ohio State over Gonzaga: Did you know while the Zags are considered Cinderella's gone favorites they haven't made it past the Sweet Sixteen since 1999? I found that to be interesting and may even venture to say the program is a bit overrated by some. Obviously Gonzaga is still a good team, but they aren't as good as Ohio State. Ohio State is better than the Zags and Aaron Craft will do a good job of harassing the Zag guards.
Wisconsin over Kansas State: I'm not very excited for this game if it should happen. It just doesn't seem like an exciting game. Kansas State can be an up and down team. I think they are down against Wisconsin's tough defense and good three point shooting.
Florida State over Ohio State: I think Florida State's height, depth, and senior-led core is going to give Ohio State on offense. Florida State has the length to cause Sullinger problems and play excellent perimeter defense. I see them as a sort of ACC version of Michigan State with their size and ability to hit guard the 3 point line and Michigan State has given Ohio State problems this year. I choose FSU to win this game.
Florida State over Wisconsin: I cringe at the thought of picking a popular-opinion team like Florida State to represent the East bracket, but they are good enough defensively to slow down Jordan Taylor and the Seminole bigs don't mind playing along the outside the paint. I think they match up well with Wisconsin.
Michigan State over LIU Brooklyn: When I look at a #12-#16 seed, I look for a reason that team can win the game. LIU Brooklyn turns the ball over, don't rebound well and are pushovers on defense. Sound like a team Michigan State can defeat?
Memphis over Saint Louis: Another game where I cringe at picking a popular team. I simply believe Memphis has superior talent over Saint Louis and rebound the ball better. As long as Memphis doesn't suddenly become immature, they should prevail.
Long Beach State over New Mexico: This was a tough pick for me. I love to watch Casper Ware play and if Larry Anderson is healthy I see Long Beach ripping off an upset over a New Mexico team that seems to get up for big games (wins over San Diego State and UNLV), but have losses to TCU, Colorado State, and Santa Clara.
Louisville over Davidson: I will be cheering for Davidson because I don't like Rick Pitino. The only reason I'm not picking an upset is I am favoring my head over my heart. I don't believe Louisville's pressure will affect Davidson, but I believe Louisville will force the 3 point shot happy Wildcats to shoot contested shots.
Murray State over Colorado State: I love Murray State. I think Colorado State is too short to compete with the Racers on the boards and Murray State is simply more talented and deeper. Murray State shoots the ball at an excellent clip (all nine players who average over 10 minutes per game shoot 45% or better from the field). They also rebound well.
Marquette over BYU: Marquette may be a bit undersized, but they also have more talented players than BYU. BYU's run stops here, especially if they turn the ball over like they did in the first half against Marquette. Marquette won't only score 17 points in the last 24 minutes of the game like Iona did.
Florida over Virginia: I didn't believe Virginia deserved an NCAA tournament bid. This is a team running on fumes. They have two options on offense and rely on their defense to keep them in games. Don't get me wrong, they can defend, but they can't score with the Gator's three guard attack.
Missouri over Norfolk State: Missouri is susceptible to teams who can score inside. Norfolk State doesn't have enough inside nor do they shoot 3's well enough to beat Missouri.
Michigan State over Memphis: It is a popular pick to say Memphis beats Michigan State, but Memphis can't keep up with Michigan State defensively. Also, there is a reason Memphis ran through Conference USA while starting off the year slow. That reason is they didn't have to play quality teams in the Top 25 anymore. Michigan State is a quality team.
Louisville over Long Beach State: As much as I like Long Beach State, I think their small run ends here. Louisville can have trouble scoring, but they play very good defense and Peyton Siva played exceptionally well in the NCAA Tournament. So I see that continuing.
Murray State over Marquette: I said I love Murray State and I do. I think they will put pressure on Marquette to shoot the ball well and have a slight advantage in the paint. As good as Marquette has been this year, I think Murray State will take this opportunity to show they belonged as better than a #6 seed.
Missouri over Florida: The big secret about Missouri is they aren't that great of a defensive team. Of course Florida isn't either. I think the Tigers have the matchup advantage over Florida and will make Erik Murphy defend Kim English along the perimeter. I'm not sure that favors Florida.
Michigan State over Louisville: Louisville has been turnover prone this year and I don't think the pressure their pressure will faze Michigan State. This should be a close game, but I think Draymond Green pulls it through for the Spartans. He's the difference.
Murray State over Missouri: Missouri is vulnerable in the middle and I think Ivan Aska and Evan Daniel will be able to score points in the paint and force Missouri to provide help defense down low. As I said a minute ago, Missouri isn't great on defense and Murray State shoots the ball well. So Murray State can score with Missouri and won't have as many matchup difficulties as a slightly taller team may against the Tigers.
Murray State over Michigan State: I'm going with my gut on this one. I'm not sure Murray State can rebound with the Spartans, but Michigan State has struggled against teams who have multiple players who shoot the 3-point shot really well (losses against Duke, Indiana, Michigan). This should be a close game that goes down to the last minute, but I see Murray State pulling out a close victory.
UNC over Lamar: There's no reason to believe Lamar can beat UNC.
Creighton over Alabama: This is a good matchup for Creighton. Alabama isn't the best shooting team, so Creighton's defensive problems shouldn't play a huge factor in the game. As bad as Creighton is defensively, I think they can outscore Bama.
Temple over California: Temple is a very good three point shooting team, but they do struggle sometimes in the post. Fortunately, Cal's strength is on the perimeter. In a contest of strength versus strength I will take Temple.
Ohio over Michigan: I know, I know. This is a chic pick, but hear me out. Ohio plays really good defense and while Michigan is an excellent outside shooting team, they tend to get focused on shooting three's and don't pay enough attention to trying to score in the post. I can see a situation where Michigan is draining three's and the offensively inconsistent Ohio team can't score, but in the end I think Ohio has enough down low with Baltic and Keely to upset the Wolverines.
N.C. State over San Diego State: N.C. State hasn't beaten a great team all year, but San Diego State isn't a great team. N.C. State is a team that can score in the paint and will have the best player on the court in C.J. Leslie. If N.C. State is focused (which is a big "if") then I think they are going to pull off the mild upset in the closing minutes of the game.
Georgetown over Belmont: I really like Belmont's team, but I'm not sure I like this matchup for them. I think Georgetown will be too strong in the post for Belmont and they are too athletic for the Belmont guards. I was going to predict a Belmont upset in the NCAA Tournament, but I just can't do it.
St. Mary's over Purdue: I don't really like either of these teams too much. They both seem pretty average to me. Neither team plays defense very well and I think Rob Jones makes the difference for St. Mary's.
Kansas over Detroit: I think Detroit can hang in there with the Jayhawks because (a) Bill Self's Kansas team just loves losing to mid-majors in the NCAA Tourney and (b) Eli Holman, LaMarcus Lowe, and Ray McCallum would all be household names at a different school. Detroit has the athletes, but I don't think they will defend well enough to win the game. It will be a competitive game though.
UNC over Creighton: Creighton doesn't play defense and UNC can score points in their sleep. It's not a good combination. Even if Creighton is bombing from the outside, I don't know how they will be able to keep up with UNC's size.
Temple over Ohio: Ohio scores points by creating turnovers. Temple has experienced guards who won't turn the ball over. If Temple makes Ohio score in their half court offense then I see the Owls making the Sweet Sixteen. Temple can be inconsistent, but their guards also tend to play with a lot of poise.
Georgetown over N.C. State: N.C. State has come up short all year against very good teams. Georgetown is a very good team. I don't believe N.C. State can win a game like this until they actually do. Georgetown isn't good offensively, but they are good enough to beat the Wolfpack.
Kansas over St. Mary's: It is tempting to pick a mid-major to defeat Kansas, but I think Kansas is too strong from the outside (Relaford/Teahan/Taylor) to lose to St. Mary's. St. Mary's won't guard the perimeter well enough to win this game.
UNC over Temple: I see no way Temple can guard Henson and Zeller in the post. As good as Temple's guard play can be, a team can beat Temple inside the paint. There is no team better than UNC in the country at scoring inside the paint. That's a major disadvantage Temple can't overcome.
Kansas over Georgetown: This Georgetown team seems to have a ceiling. They have already lost to Kansas earlier this year and Kansas has improved more than Georgetown has over the past few months in my opinion. Tyshawn Taylor will have a big game and lead the Jayhawks to victory.
UNC v. Kansas: We will get an entire week's worth of "Roy Williams playing against Kansas" stories for us to be sick of and I will be sick of these stories by Tuesday. Jeff Withey has a reputation for getting in foul trouble and Tyler Zeller is excellent at drawing fouls. John Henson can control Thomas Robinson and I think the deciding matchup will be Kendall Marshall versus Tyshawn Taylor and the UNC bench versus the Kansas bench. I think Marshall and the UNC bench can win this battle.
Kentucky over Murray State: The Cinderella story ends here. Kentucky doesn't get near enough credit for their defense and if they shut Murray State down on the perimeter, then they will win this game. Though I have a very difficult time trusting a team where Terrence Jones plays a prominent role in that team's success, I think this game leads us one step closer to the inevitable re-match.
UNC over Florida State: Florida State has beaten UNC twice this year and there have been extenuating circumstances during both games. FSU beat the shit out of UNC in Tallahassee earlier this year because Deividas Dulkys was unconscious from three point range. FSU then beat UNC in the ACC title game because John Henson was injured and Florida State shot the ball unusually well again. All things being equal, which I think all things will be equal at this point in the season, UNC is the better team. Without the ability to drill three point shots, FSU won't be able to beat UNC again.
NCAA Championship Game
UNC over Kentucky: No, I am not trying a reverse-jinx here. I think this matchup is inevitable and I believe UNC will win this time. We saw the excellent game earlier this year in Lexington where Kentucky won at the last second on a blocked shot by Anthony Davis. I had a feeling these two teams would match up again and this time UNC would win. UNC only lost by 1 point on the road earlier this season and I think James Michael McAdoo and Reggie Bullock are playing at a different level now than they were earlier in the season. So while knowing the Kentucky players have also progressed, I favor Kendall Marshall over Marcus Teague and the UNC bench over Kentucky's very short bench.