If your bracket is as filled with red as mine is, maybe it’s time for a new tactic-like when your favorite college team’s zone is getting shredded and they switch to man-to-man. Consider this the call from the sidelines to switch it up and go to round-by-round picking along with me and the rest of Busted Brackets Anonymous.
Here’s my picks for the eight games today as the first half of the Sweet Sixteen gets set:
12:15-VCU over Michigan
In a great 4 v 5 matchup to start the day, Coach Shaka Smart’s havoc tries to take down one of the best backcourts in the country as they play the Michigan Wolverines. The Wolverines are actually 3 1/2 point favorites according to the oddsmakers in Vegas, but I think the Rams will be able to pull off the minor upset. In the first round, VCU cruised past Akron by 45 while Michigan got past the South Dakota State Jackrabbits by 15. Don’t forget the game is in Auburn Hills, Michigan so it will feel a little “Go Blue” in the arena, but Michigan’s second half wasn’t that impressive while VCU seems to be firing on all cylinders and is one of the rare teams that can match the Wolverines firepower bucket-for-bucket. This one has all the appearances of a March Madness classic and should be a great, close game coming down to who executes in cruchtime.
2:45- Michigan State over Memphis
The Spartans look to carry the stat’s hopes in the second game in Auburn Hills as they take on the sixth-seeded Memphis Tigers. Again the fact that this is in-state is a big advantage and should lead to plenty of Spartans supporters at The Palace. Michigan State comes in as 5 1/2 point favorites and I think they’ll win and cover. Tom Izzo’s teams always seem to do well in March especially in the second game at the same location where Izzo is a remarkable 17-3. Memphis looked solid against Saint Mary’s in their opener but will have to defend more scoring options against Michigan State. During the regular season, the Tigers played only one Big 10 team, losing an early season neutral court game to Minnesota by nine. That seems about what this will be too as Sparty heads to the sweet 16.
5:15- Louisville over Colorado State
The Cardinals have looked every bit the #1 overall seed as they move into the second round to take on the surprising Rams as 11 point favorites. The Rams are a solid team with plenty of experience and the #1 rebounding margin in the country. Colorado State’s offense is a bit of a question-mark, and their Mountain West brethren haven’t fared well in the tournament to this point with UNLV, New Mexico, and Boise State all getting bounced in the first round leaving just San Diego State and Colorado State in the Big Dance. Louisville’s offense and defense were both at a high level as they cruised over their #16 ranked opponent North Carolina A&T in round one by 31. They set a NCAA Tournament record for steals, so the Rams will need to avoid turnovers which usually lead to Cardinals’ transition buckets. The Rams do have a chance at winning this game, but ultimately I think they’ll fall short due to their struggled to make plays on offense. Against the spread is a much tougher pick. Louisville is 15-5 against the spread as a double-digit favorite, but the Rams have kept all their games but one this whole season within 10 points. I think the Rams ultimately cover but lose as Louisville continues their run to the Championship (one of the few things I still like from my bracket).
6:10- Arizona over Harvard
Harvard pulled one of the biggest upsets of day one dispatching #3 New Mexico and moving on to face the Wildcats. Arizona comes in as 10-point favorites against the Crimson, and once again Harvard will face a tall task to advance. Arizona is extremely athletic and has a big-time size advantage down low. Their offense ranks in the top 50 in the country and they were ranked in the top-5 earlier in the season before taking their lumps in Pac-12 play. The Pac-12 has had a good showing so far this tournament, and while I doubt Harvard has to wait 102 years before getting their second postseason win, I do think they’ll have to wait until next year. Arizona is a team I like to make some noise going forward and if they meet Ohio State next weekend could pull the upset. If they can play at their highest level, they could even make a run to the Final Four in the wide-open West Region.
7:10- Saint Louis over Oregon
The Billikens are the leader of the emerging Atlantic-10 conference who opened this week with an impressive 6-0 start in the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament. St. Louis won both the regular season and tournament championships with a solid defensively-minded team led by leading scorer Dwayne Evans. They’ll face the Pac-12 tournament champs and erroneously-seeded Oregon Ducks in their second game of the tournament. Oregon knocked out Oklahoma State in thier first game while Saint Louis dispatched New Mexico State with relative ease. The Ducks have been inconsistent at times this year, but played well in the Pac-12 tournament and can’t be taken lightly. Saint Louis did have a loss at Oregon’s Pac-12 conference mate Washington early in the season but has won an amazing 16 of their last 17 and looked to be one of the best teams in the tournament in their opener. The Billikens are favored by 3 1/2 and I think they’ll cover winning by 6-10 points. If they and Louisville both win, it sets up a great sweet-16 matchup next weekend.
7:45- Butler over Marquette
A second A-10 team in action in the evening slot, Butler faces Marquette in the 3 v 6 matchup in the East Region. Butler comes in as 1 1/2 point underdogs but I think they’ll pull the mild upset and knock off the Golden Eagles. The two teams met at the beginning of the season in Maui and Butler won on a buzzer-beater 72-71. Both teams have improved since then and finished conference play strong winning five of their last six. Butler fell behind in their opener against Bucknell but battled back and won at the end while Marquette looked like they were going down against Davidson before the Wildcats free throw struggles and a Vander Blue buzzer beater for the Eagles. This should be a tough, physical battle that could once again come down to the wire. Ultimately, I think Butler moves on behind a big game from Andrew Smith who is emerging as one of the better big men in the country. Butler makes its free throws which could be key, and Marquette is only 5-6 in road games and 2-2 on neutral courts after building their resume on a 16-0 home record.
8:40- Gonzaga over Wichita State
Wichita State are 6 1/2 point underdogs, but Gonzaga will need to step up their game to move onto the sweet 16 after some late drama in their first round matchup with Southern. The Shockers could definitely “shock” the tournament with a win over the #1 Zags after dominating Pitt in their first game in the tournament. Gonzaga looked far from dominant, but should be able to bounce back and play better after getting their opening-round jitters out of the way. Southern played extremely well to hang with Gonzaga, so even after their opening round scare I think the Zags are the pick in a tight one over Wichita State.
9:40- Syracuse over California
After late-season slides, both Syracuse and Cal got nice wins to open the tournament and meet tonight in San Jose . The Orange are seven-point favorites after parlaying a Big East tournament run into a four-seed and stomping Montana 81-34 in their first game out west. The Golden Bears pulled off the upset of UNLV in the first round and are playing close to home with their newly-unveiled zone which looks a lot like the Syracuse signature zone. Ultimately this game comes down to which of the two teams heats up from outside as both teams shoot lots of three’s but typically at a low percentage. Syracuse’s shots have dropped in the Big East tournament and in their game against Montana after they sorely missed James Southerland for part of their Big East schedule. I think the ‘Cuse get the win by 10-12 points covering the seven-point spread.