Wow, what a way to start the NCAA Tournament!
16 games over the course of about 12 hours — and that was just Thursday! There is no better spectacle in sports than the first two days of the NCAA Tournament, and the 2014 version hasn’t disappointed.
Why am I back? Well, just because I’ve already made the pre-tournament bracket predictions doesn’t mean I plan on leaving you hanging. I will be predicting the games in each and every round. What makes me so special? Don’t fret, it’s not like I am actually changing a submitted bracket.
Thanks to CBS Sports.com, your bracket is no longer destroyed just because Ohio State and Duke lost. They have a round-by-round bracket challenge that these predictions could come in handy for!
(1) Arizona vs. (8) Gonzaga at San Diego, CA: Arizona struggled early on with Weber State before finally getting a little breathing room. Weber did a great job of hanging with the Wildcats in this one and they only lost by nine. Arizona looked disinterested at times during this game, and didn’t play particularly well. There is a reason that they were a popular pick to get knocked out before the first weekend is over. Gonzaga assaulted Oklahoma State from the perimeter, and there were assaults galore on the rest of the floor as well. A whopping 61 fouls were called. Five players fouled out, and the teams combined to shoot 78 free throws. There was no flow to this game whatsoever. I’m not usually one to gripe about the officiating, but I will here. This was ridiculous. Not only that, but there didn’t seem to be a lot of consistency in the calls either. Hopefully it isn’t like that again tomorrow. This produces a matchup that does not look great for Arizona. Gonzaga needs to shoot well from the perimeter again to pull off an upset, but it is certainly possible if the Wildcats come out lethargic again. I don’t think that Gonzaga will be able to push around Arizona though. Okie State would have been a slightly tougher game for Arizona. I tend to think that Gonzaga may still be a little beat up from this game come tomorrow. (Pick: Arizona)
(3) Creighton vs. (6) Baylor at San Antonio, TX: Baylor came out and got physical with Nebraska from the start. Nebraska never really got into a rhythm, and the game really could have been much, much worse. Baylor shot a whopping 48 free throws. If Nebraska could have even cut that number in half, they could have won the game. Nebraska got into situations where all they could do was foul. Baylor retaliated by hitting 38 free throws. Lafayette decided that they were going to try to stop Doug McDermott by wearing him out. They threw everything including the kitchen sink (aka J.J. Davenport) at McDermott, but guess what? He still got his 30 points, as the entire Jays team got hot down the stretch. Now Creighton faces the unfortunate feeling of winding up in the worse seed’s backyard. Creighton has the experience and the shooters to take Baylor out of their comfort zone, but will the crowd be enough of a factor to push the Bears to a win? (Pick: Creighton)
(1) Wichita State vs. (8) Kentucky at St Louis, MO: The Shockers let Cal Poly hang around for about six minutes before becoming the cat that buried them in the litterbox. The Shockers’ smothering D held the Mustangs to just 37 points in one of the few first round laughers. In the process, Wichita State became the first team in history to start a season 35-0. Kansas State somehow managed to put themselves in a 1-0 hole before the opening tipoff! How does this happen, one might ask? The moral of the story is: don’t dunk during pre-game warmups. That was one of the few shots K-State would make on the night. They shot just 5-21 from three point range and found it extraordinarily difficult to get much of anything inside because of Kentucky’s immense size. That said, Kentucky did not have a particularly good game shooting either. Wichita State will go for number 36 against a rough and tumble Kentucky team that is playing better than they have all season. The ESPN talking heads loved taking Kentucky over the Shockers, but I don’t buy it. They are a great team with great team players. That trumps individual talent almost every time. (Pick: Wichita State)
(11) Tennessee vs. (14) Mercer at Raleigh, NC: These two busted many a bracket, but ironically, not mine. Tennessee used their superior athleticism to run off and leave the Minutemen in the dust. The Vols ran off a 22-6 run over the span of about eight minutes in the first half, and UMass never recovered. The Mercer Bears nearly broke Twitter. Mercer pulled off the improbable (to some) upset of Duke, but it really shouldn’t be that much of a surprise. Mercer plays six seniors, and they beat the same Florida Gulf Coast team that made a run in last year’s tournament. Granted, Duke is a formidable foe, but Mercer matched up well with them, and their experience led them to a win. Even when Duke made runs, the Bears never got flustered. They didn’t take bad shots, and kept their composure. That led to them pulling away late. Duke is always a polarizing team, and I will freely admit that I’ve never really cared for Duke (I am a Timberwolves fan, and I quit watching the them when they drafted Christian Laettner, I was so mad). But I respect them. More accurately, I respect their coach. Mike Krzyzewski again showed why he is the epitome of class. He went into the Mercer locker room to personally congratulate them. Especially this day and age, how many coaches would to that? I picked Mercer on my brackets, but I may have to rethink that here. Tennessee could give them problems with how athletic they are. The Bears were able to contain Jabari Parker for the most part, so I think they can handle Jordan McRae as well. (Pick: Mercer)
(1) Virginia vs. (8) Memphis at Raleigh, NC: The Cavaliers did not look good at all against Coastal Carolina. Yes, the Chanticleers were in their home state and all, but their fans weren’t much closer than Virginia’s was. It came down to Virginia not shooting well or playing defense in the first half. Coastal Carolina led by double digits at one point in the game. The Cavs came out and played better in the second half, and pulled away for good with about eight minutes left. The Memphis-GW game was a fun one to watch. Memphis looks like the Harlem Globetrotters at times. They are lightning quick, and will run the floor as often as possible. The Colonials tried to take them down and post them up in the half court set, and use crisp passing to get easy points. This contrast in styles produced a very good game. Every time GW would make a run, it seemed like Memphis would put on the gas a little more to stay ahead. I picked Virginia on my bracket, but this is the only place where I seriously considered taking the 8-9 winner over the top seed, and after watching these games, I wish I would have. Memphis has the speed to give Virginia problems, especially if they employ the matador defense that they did for the first 25-30 minutes against Coastal Carolina. This is one of the few instances where I will go against my original pick. (Pick: Memphis)
(3) Iowa State vs. (6) North Carolina at San Antonio, TX: Iowa State put on a dazzling offensive display against North Carolina Central, racking up 93 points. The Cyclones still feel like they lost because F Georges Niang is out for the rest of the season with a broken foot. Niang put up 24 points in 26 minutes before the injury. North Carolina had all they could handle with Bryce Cotton and Providence. Cotton scored a career high 36 points against the Tar Heels, but it was the fumbled rebound with time running out that will be remembered most. Cotton was a lot of fun to watch in this game. Carolina was powerless to stop him for most of the second half. It was the repeated offensive rebounds by North Carolina and James Michael McAdoo‘s clutch free throws that allowed the Tar Heels to get the win. I picked Iowa State here, but there are questions about how the Cyclones will pick up the slack. Me, on the other hand, I’m not worried. The Cylones had four other players in double figures. North Carolina had problems with Cotton when they knew what was coming. How will they fare when they don’t know which of the four are going to take it at them? (Pick: Iowa State)
(2) Kansas vs. (10) Stanford at St Louis, MO: Kansas had their hands full with a pesky Eastern Kentucky team. The Colonels forced a bunch of turnovers early and took Kansas out of their game. Come the second half though, Kansas was able to get some thundering dunks to get a largely pro-Kansas crowd into the game. The Jayhawks’ athletes were finally able to pull away from EKU. They wore themselves out trying to keep pressure on Kansas. The Jayhawks still look vulnerable without Joel Embiid though. Stanford busted my bracket. For the second consecutive year, New Mexico got bounced in the first round when they were a trendy pick to make a run. Stanford smothered the Lobos defensively, jumping out to a 20-5 lead. New Mexico was able to come back and make it a game, but the Cardinal was just too tough defensively. This makes for a very interesting second round matchup. Stanford has the bench to impose their will and smother the Jayhawks, much like Eastern Kentucky tried to do. Can Stanford muster enough offense to pull the upset? With the way Kansas has looked without Embiid, I have to say yes. (Pick: Stanford)
(4) UCLA vs. (12) Stephen F. Austin at San Diego, CA: Every time that the Bruins pulled away, Tulsa reeled them back in. However, they could never get any closer than five points, which allowed the Bruins to pull away for good inside of three minutes. Who would have thought that the most vulnerable five seed (Saint Louis) would be the only one left standing after the first round? Virginia Commonwealth used their smothering pressure and sharpshooters to run out to a double digit lead in the second half. The Lumberjacks went through a stretch of over 12 minutes without a turnover in the first half, but they started to get flustered and impatient in the second half. They managed to battle back, and VCU missed to huge free throws with a few seconds left to leave SFA down four. Then the basketball Gods intervened. Miracles to happen. Desmond Haymon (he’s a Lumberjack and he’s okay!) pulled up for three and got fouled after he released, and the shot went in, leaving the Jacks down just one. Haymon hit the free throw to put the game into overtime. In the extra period, it was SFA that missed a key free throw inside of ten seconds giving VCU the chance at a game winning three that went long. My description can’t do this justice. This is the technological age. Go to youtube and watch it for yourself! This sets up an intriguing matchup against UCLA for the Lumberjacks. I have to think that if they can survive the hell that VCU unleashes on you (seriously. They make Nolan Richardson’s 40 minutes of hell look like a day spa) defensively that they can withstand anything UCLA has to offer. The question is whether SFA can slow down UCLA. (Pick: UCLA)
You know, I don’t feel so bad now that I know that nobody has a perfect bracket after the first two days! That Billion Dollar Challenge didn’t last very long……