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NCAA: Do You Have All Your Picks Ready?

By Rory Pheiffer

March is in full swing, and that can only mean one thing: time for me and every other college basketball nut to start put-ting work on the back-burner and devoting our efforts to a more enjoyable activity: March Madness. Yes, we all know how the NCAA basketball tournament works; avid fans spend hours on end tormenting over various match-ups, asking questions like which fourteen seed is going to pull the upset this year or should I really pick four number one seeds to advance to the Final Four? And in the end, some random person, who does not even know how significant Kenyon Martin’s injury is to Cinncinati’s or even who Kenyon Martin is, will win because he or she picked teams by their favorite mascots.

Frustrating? Yes. Does that stop us from spending countless hours analyzing the match-ups? Of course not. Well, if you have not heard enough analysis from self-proclaimed college basketball experts yet, here’s just one more opinion for you to consider while filling out your brackets before Thursday. Today, I will analyze the Midwest and West regions for you, and then in Friday’s edition I will evaluate the East and South.

Midwest matchups

Starting in the Midwest, Michigan State seems to have quite a test in front of them in order to make it to the Final four. Potential match-ups Utah and Kentucky are in the hunt for the regional final along with the Spartans. Taking a more in-depth look at the first round match-ups, I think it is safe to say that Michigan State, Iowa State, and Maryland will all make it through their first round matches. Syracuse, on the other hand, I’m not so certain about. Syracuse started off the year on fire, going 19-0. However, they are just 5-5 in their last ten games, and looked horrendous in their most recent setback to a very mediocre Georgetown team. Their opponent, Samford Bulldogs, should give Syracuse a tough time. If you are looking for a low seed to pull an upset, I would definitely take Samford.

St. Bonaventure is an intriguing at-large bid. Although I think they could pose a problem to many teams in the tournament, the Bonnies drew the toughest five seed in the field, the always tournament-tough Kentucky Wildcats. Look for Kentucky to advance to the Sweet Sixteen without too much difficulty. UCLA has been playing good ball lately, and the MAC teams are notorious for making nice runs in the tournament. Nevertheless, Ball State just does not have the talent to match-up against the Bruins. Auburn proved this past week, that even though they lost Chris Porter, they can still play. They certainly deserved a higher seed than a simpathetic seven. Nevertheless, this means bad news for Creighton. Creighton pulled the upset last year over Louisville in this same position, but not this time.

Finally we have the eight-nine match-up featuring Utah and Saint Louis. One thing I have learned about the NCAA tournament, never bet against Rick Majerus. He is a great tournament coach, and his half court defense is tough to beat. Unless the Billikens catch a break like they did in the Conference USA tournament, i.e. Rick Majerus breaks his leg, the Utes will be facing the Spartans in the second round.

The second round match-ups in the Midwest do not seem to complicated to predict. I would go with Michigan State, Iowa State, and Kentucky all to find their way to the Sweet Sixteen. The last game left in the second round should be a very entertaining game, but I have to go with Maryland here. They beat Duke in Cameron, and that alone says enough to me. To wrap-up the bracket, I see Michigan State facing the Cyclones from Iowa State in the regional final, though both teams will have very tough games against their respective opponents. In the end, the Michigan State Spartans should advance to the Final Four.

West matchups

The West bracket is definitely the weakest of the four brackets. That leaves ample opportunity for teams like Gonzaga to make another miracle run. Starting first with the easy ones again, Arizona, St. John’s, Oklahoma, and LSU are all safe bets to win their opening round games.

My upset special in this bracket would have to be Larry Bird’s alma mater, the Sycamores from Indiana State. Indiana State, if they can control the tempo, will really frustrate Rick Barnes’ Texas Longhorns. Texas played in one of the toughest conferences this year, and finished second in the regular season, so in the end they should be able to pull it out. But if you are looking for a low seed to pick in this bracket, I would go with the Sycamores.

Purdue, also coming from a strong conference, should not have too much difficulty with Dayton. Dayton was 13-2 at home this year, but they are been shipped to the west for the tournament, and their trip should be a short lived one. Louisville and Gonzaga should be a very tight game, but I am partial to the ‘Zags after their tournament run last year. Lastly we have Wisconsin and Fresno State. Tarkanian is a great coach, and his skills combined with the NCAA’s leading scorer in Courtney Alexander should prove to be enough against the Badgers, who like Dayton, found much of their success at home.

The Sweet Sixteen should feature this regions top four teams in Arizona, St. John’s, Oklahoma, and LSU. Arizona versus LSU should be a great game. Arizona has been dominant, beating Stanford twice this year. However, they have too much inexperienced youth, and typically young Arizona teams choke come around tournament time. That is why I am going to take the LSU Tigers in a close one. They should face St. John’s in the regional final. The Johnnies played a tough schedule and won the Big East tournament. They have one of the best guard combos in college today between Bootsy Thornton and Erick Barkley (provided they aren’t fighting with one another).

Last year I took the Johnnies as an underdog to the Final Four, and they almost pulled it off, losing to Ohio State in the regional final. Although they are not deep this year, being in the weak West region should help them out. The St. John’s Red Storm is my pick for the Final Four out of the West.

Final Four

I will do more in-depth analysis of the other side of the brackets on Friday, but for those of you who are curious as to who my Final Four is, I have Michigan State, St.John’s, Duke (I’m partial to the Blue Devils), and the Stanford Cardinals. Not a very daring Final Four, but daring does not always win. The finals should pit the Michigan State Spartans against the Duke Blue Devils (Duke will avenge their early season loss against Stanford). In the end, as a fan I will never admit to it, as an analyst I see the Spartans cutting down the nets in Indianapolis. With most of their losses coming with their heart and soul, Mateen Cleaves, on the sideline Michigan State has the talent and depth necessary to win a championship.