Ricky Keeler and I got together to predict all of the first round - I mean second round games in the NCAA Tournament, with some notes on who we think will com through with the wins. We agree on most games, but there are definitely some toss ups. After you're done reading, feel free to join in with comments of your own!
Ricky is RK below, and PD is Pico Dulce (myself).
Later today, we'll post our brackets for your last-minute pleasure. But for now - all of the first round games, broken up by region - below the fold. And if you enjoy this post, follow Rumble in the Garden on Twitter - or Like on Facebook.
RK: (1) Ohio State vs. (16) UTSA/Alabama State - Regardless of who comes out of the first Dayton game on Wednesday, I like the Buckeyes in this game. Too much Jared Sullinger who will have a game similar to that 30 point, 20 rebound game he put up early in the season.
PD: I expect Texas San-Antonio to come out of tonight's "First round" a/k/a play-in game, and their game on Friday will just not be competitive. At least Gus Johnson and Len Elmore will be announcing the game. But what's there to get excited about? The fifth nasty Sullinger dunk where he sticks his crotch in a UTSA player's face? That's not compelling television.
RK: (8) George Mason vs. (9) Villanova - The Wildcats struggled to end the season, culminating in the loss to South Florida at the Big East Tournament. The Patriots are the pick here because they hold their opponents to just 61 points per game. Cam Long can win a shooting contest with Corey Fisher and Malik Wayns, plus George Mason uses their bigs more than 'Nova does.
PD: This is the kind of game that a team like George Mason should love - a weakened major conference opponent, a notable scalp to put on the proverbial wall (no one scalps people these days, thankfully). Ryan Pearson is an undersized big but he has some game. And Villanova looks incredibly capable of losing to some high schoolers who challenge the Wildcats to pickup game.
RK: (5) West Virginia vs. (12) UAB/Clemson - The Mountaineers benefit from getting to play a game on Thursday afternoon against a team who just played two nights before. The Moutaineers are not the Final Four team from a year ago, but they have a ton of size in Deniz Killici, John Flowers, and Kevin Jones that can outrebound many teams in the nation. Also, look for Casey Mitchell to heat up from the perimeter if he gets back in the good graces of Bob Huggins.
PD: I don't worry so much about West Virginia's opponent having weakened legs; but I do think the Mountaineers are just a better defensive team. That said, expect Clemson to give them a really good run for their money. I think Clemson could win, but sometimes they struggle to score for long, long periods. Oh gosh. The more I think of it, this could be the ugliest game of the tournament, if not for Penn State/ Temple... Missouri/ Cincy... ugh.
RK: (4) Kentucky vs. (13) Princeton - After Doug Davis hit the big shot against Harvard to clinch the Ivy League for the Tigers, they are running into a bigger predator in this matchup. The Wildcats are red hot off of their SEC Championship win over Florida and Terrence Jones isn't even scoring at a consistent basis. Kentucky wins big, but I am interested to see how the freshman play in their first tournament game and the health of Doron Lamb, who rolled his ankle in the semifinal win over Alabama.
PD: Too much talent on the Wildcats. There's the worry of youth in the Tourney for the first time, and the Princeton offense, and those hurtful "you'll all work for us one day" chants.
RK: (6) Xavier vs. (11) Marquette - Marquette This is my only upset in the first set of games. This Musketeers team is different from the team that nearly went to the Elite Eight a year ago with Jordan Crawford. Tu Holloway is an outstanding point guard, but the Golden Eagles had a good run in New York City. Look for Junior Cadougan to continue to develop as the point guard of this team and for Jimmy Butler and Darius Johnson-Odom to hit some big shots late. Marquette in the upset.
PD: I go the other way, picking Xavier. I don't believe Marquette can stop anyone with a good point guard. It's been an off year for them, and I don't think Buzz Williams' group has turned a corner yet, and Jamel McLean and Kenny Frease will make plays against the Golden Eagles.
RK: (3) Syracuse vs. (14) Indiana State - The Sycamores won the Missouri Valley tournament, but htey are running into a zone that most non Big East opponents can't stop. The 'Cuse even found out Fab Melo existed last week at the Garden. Look for Rick Jackson to dominate the paint and the inside-out offense to flourish with some threes from Brandon Triche. This will be an Orange crushing of the Sycamores.
PD: I'm surprised to see Indiana State as a 14 seed. They defend well, but they're not very good. They are particularly bad at scoring inside the arc, and they can't win without getting really hot from the outside. It's not going to happen. Fab Melo will get a lot of time in a blowout, announcers will talk about Larry Bird's greatness (though he's not walking through that door), and everyone wil reach for their remotes trying to find where the other channels are.
RK: (7) Washington vs. (10) Georgia - I still don't know how Georgia got in after two straight losses to Alabama. Nevertheless, this is a very inconsistent Bulldogs team that does not use their star big man Trey Thompkins enough. As for Washington, they are red hot coming off that Pac Ten Tournament thriller against Arizona. They also get guard Venoy Overton back off his suspension. This is one of my sleeper teams in the whole NCAA Tournament. Huskies get the W!
PD: Snooooooorrrre. Yawn. This game could be a rough one. The Huskies are a darling of the statistically-minded due to their big wins and close losses - their positive efficiency margin. But this team lost to Washington State twice, Oregon State once, Oregon once, Stanford once... their claim to fame is beating Arizona twice. Good wins, but they're not particularly good. Luckily, they run into the why-are-they-here Georgia Bulldogs, who turn the ball over too much, don't play Thompkins enough (but give him the ball often when he's on the court), and can't shoot from outside. Washington gets the win.
RK: (2) North Carolina vs. (15) Long Island - The Tar Heels had their yips in the final against Duke, but a beatdown of the Blackbirds should help heal those wounds. The Tar Heels will use their talented frontline of Harrison Barnes, Tyler Zeller, and John Henson to pull away in the first half. The player to watch on the Blackbirds is forward Julian Boyd, who is a near double-double threat night in and night out. Tar Heels get it done in Charlotte.
PD: North Carolina better bring their game. I think Long Island is slightly underseeded and they can bring pressure and speed. But UNC can bring as much speed, more talent, more height... North carolina will get close to 100 points in this game, and Kendall Marshall will put up some eye-popping assist numbers.
RK: (1) Duke vs. (16) Hampton - Sorry, Pirates fans, there will be no repeat of your cinderella win over Iowa State ten years ago. The Blue Devils found their groove in Greensboro. Expect Kyle Singler to gain some confidence back in this game as the Dukies need his shooting percentage to go up to repeat as national champions.
PD: Maybe Kyrie Irving will get on the court in this one, work out some of the kinks, take some bad shots... Duke should handle this one solidly.
RK: (8) Michigan vs. (9) Tennessee - Tennessee This is the battle of which team will show up and bring their A game? Both teams are very inconsistent in terms of they can beat anybody, but they can also lose to anybody. When the teams are that even, I will take the team with the best player. Tennesee gets the win with a big game from Scotty Hopson. Although, look for Michigan to attack the ball inside with post threat with freshman Jordan Morgan.
PD: Michigan Coin flip game! Actually, I think Michigan has improved in the second half of the season, I think their young players like Tim Hardaway and Jordan Morgan are playing well, and I think it's time for that John Beilein leap - when his guys just "get it" space the floor well, and start winning games. I like this team to make some waves in the Tournament. Or at least, win their first-round game. For spits and giggles, I might have them knock off Duke in a bracket - this is why I don't play for money.
RK: (5) Arizona vs. (12) Memphis - The Tigers were on everyone's bubble until a late 67-66 C-USA title win at UTEP on Saturday. I don't buy into Josh Pastner's young team. Arizona is a team that can bring a ton of pressure at the perimeter. With the Tigers being one of the worst 3 point shooting teams in America, I will take Arizona behind the shooting of Lamont Jones and the post play of Derrick Williams, who will be on everyone's radar by the end of the tournament.
PD: Buy Pastner's team? I don't think you could SELL Pastner's team. They're only interesting to me because I think this is a likely scenario for the all-frosh Red Storm next year - too skinny, inconsistent, with a porous defense. I just hope Memphis takes their beating like men. If Arizona had more competent guard play, I'd like them to make some upsets happen, but Momo Jones is not a trustworthy player - he's the second coming of Louisville's Edgar Sosa.
RK: (4) Texas vs. (13) Oakland - A lot of people like the Golden Grizzlies to pull the upset, but they ran into the wrong matchup. Keith Benson is the driving force behind an offense that averages 85 points per game, but they have a tendency to give up that many points (100 at IUPUI on February 5th). Look for the Longhorns to use freshman Tristan Thompson to get Benson into foul trouble and use Jordan Hamilton to make some good shot selections. Longhorns get a blowout win.
PD: Texas has that defense. And as Ricky points out, the Oakland defense is not the envy of the Big Ten or anything. texas will slow the Golden Grizzlinators down, and former Johnnie Larry Wright will hopefully shoot enough to keep it respectable. I'll be watching him play for sure.
RK: (6) Cincinnati vs. (11) Missouri - Missouri This is another upset pick even though the spread is dead even. The Tigers can score on anyone in the nation, with five players averaging in double figures. Plus, Mike Anderson is a master at implementing the "40 minutes of Hell" Defense. This could frustrate a Bearcats team that has the tendency to live or die by the three if they don't use post man Yancy Gates enough. It doesn't help that Cincy got blow out by 25 against the Irish at the Garden. Tigers get a confidence boosting upset win.
PD: Cincinnati I see why Mizzou could be the pick, but they struggled mightily a) away from home and b) in the last 3 weeks. They're just not defending well enough, despite the turnovers. Now, Cincinnati can lose to anyone - they are sloppy, they have players who mentally check out for long stretches, they sometimes seem more concerned with their swagger than the game at hand. That said, the defense has been something special all year. If they can get Yancy Gates going with some looks for Dion Dixon and Sean Kilpatrick, I like them to win.
RK: (3) Connecticut vs. (14) Bucknell - The Huskies got a bad break by having to play at a Thursday/Saturday site after winning five games in five days. I got to see Kemba Walker's shot against Pittsburgh live at MSG and it was incredible. This is not the Bison team that upset Kansas a few years ago. Although, Mike Muscala can be a huge factor in Bucknell's offense to hang arond this game. Eventually, I think the Huskies will tire out, but I like them to get to the next round.
PD: Kemba Kemba Kemba. Bucknell's going to stop him? I think the Huskies will be fine in terms of their legs, and the worry is that some team can actually defend Kemba as well as St. John's did. That said... the Huskies should have this one, unless the Bison's Darryl Shazier and crew get in Walker's grill and make him only shoot jumpers. Bucknell's mostly played a weak schedule, as well.
RK: (7) Temple vs. (10) Penn State - This game can set the sport back a few years with all the defense that will be played. That being said, I am happy that Talor Battle finally gets a chance to show off his skills on the big stage. Penn State has other talent around Battle in forwards Jeff Brooks and David Jackson. Temple is a solid team, but Fran Dunphy can't seem to get over that first round hump. Look for plenty of turnovers in this game as the Nittany Lions win.
PD: I'd said Penn State in my wife's bracket... I still like them but Temple has as much of a chance in this one. Temple is bigger, more experienced, and Fran Dunphy must really want an NCAA win. And yet I'm picking Penn State, simply for their late season ability to slow the game down to a crawl. Their Big Ten Tournament games, in terms of possessions per game: 55 (Indiana). 44 (Wisconsin), 57 (Michigan State), 61 (Ohio State). Feel free to get snacks during the game, do some work or homework - you won't miss much.
RK: (2) San Diego State vs. (15) Northern Colorado - Yesterday, on Cbssports.com, I heard Norm Roberts likes the Lumberjacks to chop off a giant 2 seed. That is why he is in the booth. I just don't see that happening against an Aztecs team that comes in confident off their win over BYU in Las Vegas. Their frontline is huge with Kawhi Leonhard, Billy White, and Malcolm Thomas dominating the boards. Senior Devon Beitzel will get his points for the other UNC, but Steve Fisher's team will shut down the rest.
PD: Ouch, Ricky! I will say that I don't think San Diego State's actually as good as people think they are; their schedule is almost all mid-major (with California included); their best wins are over St. Mary's, Wichita State, UNLV, and the Brandon Davies-less Brigham Young Cougars. Good teams, but not major conference squads or elite teams. But they'll roll up on Northern Colorado like a strong wave rolls over the rocks.
RK: (1) Kansas vs. (16) Boston University - In the America East Championship, the Terriers had a great comeback at home to beat Stony Brook led by forward John Holland. Holland now has to handle the Morris Twins. Kansas rolls to a win in this game, but keep an eye on guard Tyshawn Taylor to see if he thrive after his solid performance in the Big 12 title game against Texas.
PD: I openly like Kansas to win the whole tournament. The Jayhawks can beat on the Boston University team, but I think the first half will be competitive.
RK: (8) UNLV vs. (9) Illinois - I know that Illini fans expected a lot more from this team than a nine seed in the preseason. Now, they face a Runnin' Rebels team that plays like a Big Ten defense. They only give up 62.6 points per game and they average eight steals a game. When you can force turnovers in the NCAA Tournament, you are usually successful. Trevon Willis had a solid start to his year and he will have a big game against Dimitri McCamey who seems to be more interested in his NBA Draft stock.
PD: McCamey can pass. He can also miss shots inside, turn the ball over, forget he runs a team. They're talented, but they have no heart. The Illini would normally be a poster-szed reason not to expand the NCAA Tournament, but the bubble had even weaker teams that got in. Make no mistake about it, the Illini are energy-less wonders who take ill-conceived midrange jump shots. UNLV has Pac-10 talent and really defend. I think they can take the Illini to school.
RK: (5) Vanderbilt vs. (12) Richmond - For some reason, Kevin Stallings' teams don't have success in the first round (ex: 2010 to Murray State). Now, they run into another top unknown guard. Kevin Anderson is the web spinner for this Spiders team. They ran into a bad matchup last year with St. Mary's, but Vanderbilt is a team that doesn't rwally have a strong big man other than Festus Ezeli. The X-Factor for the Spiders is forward Justin Harper, who averages seventeen points per game (more than Anderson's 16). Spiders get the traditional 5-12 upset.
PD: I'll pick Richmond as a 12-over-5 with serious reservations. The Commodores are no Brick House of defense, and they won't be on the Night Shift; this is no Easy matchup for them. But they have height. They can score. This will be a close, close game.
RK: (4) Louisville vs. (13) Morehead State - The Eagles have one thing going for them. They have the leaidng rebounder in the history of college basketball in Kenneth Faried. He will get his share of rebounds against a team that gave up a combined 88 rebounds in two games against West Virginia. Morehead State does not have much else other than Faried. When you have a guy who can draw fouls at the basket in Peyton Siva, it can be a long day for Morehead State. Pitino advances.
PD: Morehead State is a great story with a future pro. But they can't handle Louisville's pressure. They ALREADY turn the ball over on over 23% of their possessions, one of the worst marks in the country. Facing the Cardinals? It's going to be a chase scene as Siva and Preston Knowles run the ball into the basket over and over again. It could get ugly.
RK: (6) Georgetown vs. (11) USC/VCU - This is the lone game that I like a First Four team to win. The reason why is the uncertainty of how point guard Chris Wright will perform. The Hoyas have struggled to score and defend without Wright. For USC, I think Nikola Vucevic can beat up a team not known for its frontcourt. As for the Rams, keep an eye on guard Jamie Skeen. He averages fifteen points and seven rebounds per game and contributes in the Rams shooting 36% from beyond the arc. If G'Town got in a perimeter battle with them, this could be another Eric Maynor kind of upset. But, I'll take USC in the first four just for this discussion.
PD: I hope Southern California wins tonight, because I think they take a recovering Georgetown team that had many cases of the yips this season. The Trojans have size, defense, and they've won a game in the last month. OH OKAY, the Hoyas won a game on February 19th against South Florida. Not sure if that counts; they beat Marquette on February 13th, and that's the last notable opponent they beat. Chris Wright injury or not, that's really bad.
RK: (3) Purdue vs. (14) St. Peter's - It's a great story to see John Dunne back in the tournament coaching the Peacocks, but they don't have an answer for Big Ten player of the year JaJuan Johnson. Johnson and guard E'Twaun Moore are a duo that no one is talking about outside of West Lafayette that can make a run to Houston. For you non basketball fans, my favorite name is in this tournament is Ryan Bacon of St. Peter's - he averages ten points and seven rebounds per game. I wonder if his game will be crispy come Friday night.
PD: Purdue should have a solidly easy time with this game. I expect them to crush the Peacocks.
RK: (7) Texas A&M vs. (10) Florida State - This is another game where offense will be at a minimum. But, this is another big unknown: Will Chris Singleton play for the Seminoles? He has been out since February 12th with a fractured foot and is the only offense Florida State has. I think he plays, but not at 100%. This allow the Aggies' star forward Khris Middleton to take over the game in the post while kicking it to sharp shooter B.J Holmes. Mark Turgeon continues his perfect first round record in College Station.
PD: I almost like Florida State in this matchup - their defense is just incredible at affecting opponents shots. They're very tall, and hard to score on. But dang, they just can't get the ball to go through the hoop sometimes. I wouldn't be surprised to see them win, and A&M is far from perfect. The Aggies aren't great ballhandlers, and they sometimes have trouble scoring. And their defense isn't anywhere near the Seminoles' D. Still, I thinkthe Aggies have more talent and get the W.
RK: (2) Notre Dame vs. (15) Akron - The Irish had a compelling case to be a one seed, but they get a nice consolation prize of getting to play their first two games in Chicago. Ben Hansbrough is going to have a nice game against a Zips team that allows opponents to shoot 41% from the floor. A player to keep on for the Zips is forward Nikola Cvetinovic. He is their leading scorer with eleven points per game. He also has seven rebounds per game, but it won't be enough to beat the Irish.
PD: Notre Dame is a pick to be upset every time they play. They need to score and to run their offense to win. I don't know if Akron should be a 15 seed, but they're not all that great. The Irish enjoy a nice Friday in Chicago with a win.
RK: (1) Pittsburgh vs. (16)
Arkansas Little Rock/UNC Asheville - Again, another sacrificial lamb for the Panthers in Round One. Ashton Gibbs will go off in terms of points, but I would like to see someone else rival him in scoring like a Brad Wanamaker or a Nasir Robinson in the paint. That would make me more confident about the Panthers' chances to advance all the way to the Final Four.
PD: UNC Asheville is so gritty, so tough... so gonna get beat a lot. Pitt is the kind of #1 seed that one starts to worry about, lacking a truly elite defense, with some road losses down the stretch. What the Panthers have should be more than enough to beat Asheville, but if the Bulldogs can start forcing some turnovers, the game might end up being more interesting than Jamie Dixon would like.
RK: (8) Butler vs. (9) Old Dominion - Butler Two mid-majors who aren't your typical mid-majors. Butler has found its confidence after winning the Horizon League tournament, but they will have their hands full against Monarchs' guard Kent Bazemore. Bazemore can steal it sufficiently on defense and is a very good shooter. For Butler, they have to keep Matt Howard on the floor considering he is their only post presence. Both teams have a ton of senior leadership, and I'll ride the team with Shelvin Mack who was a miracle shot from a title last year.
PD: Old Dominion Butler is well coached. They're pretty good about handling the ball.But their defense hasn't excelled, even in conference play against the Horizon League, where they couldn't gain separation from the pack. The Monarchs of Old Dominion - despite their regal complex - play a down and dirty, physical style, crashing the glass with relentlessness. They pass the ball well and won't mind a slowdown game. I like ODU in this matchup.
RK: (5) Kansas State vs. (12) Utah State - Kansas State The Wildcats are my sleeper team. With the exception of playing Colorado, they are red hot right now. Jacob Pullen is finally living up to his preseason All-American level because he has figured out how to be a good scorer and distributor from the point guard position. The Aggies have talent, but this is the same team that got blown out by A&M last season. I won't buy into the trap. Everyone likes Utah State, but I am taking Pullen, Curtis Kelly, and company in a close game.
PD: Utah State Call me everyone! I can see Kansas State getting to the Elite Eight. But I more see them losing to a disciplined Utah State team. Pullen has struggled in the role of lead guard, and I think Utah State is due to win in the tourney - if they can keep the Wildcats off of the offensive glass. Tai Wesley is very effective.
RK: (4) Wisconsin vs. (13) Belmont - Belmont This is the popular upset pick in all the brackets. I am on the Bruins' bandwagon in this one. The Badgers can be really hot or really cold offensively. We saw this in a 36-33 loss to Penn State in the Big Ten quarterfinals. Jordan Taylor is a flat out great scorer, leading the Badgers to wins over Ohio State and Purdue this season. If he and Jon Leuer get hot together, it can be enough. However, I'll take Belmont. Rick Byrd's team is top 20 in the NATION in points and assists. It is Ian Clark's time to shine.
PD: Wisconsin I think the Badgers are very good; and I think people are sleeping on how effective they can be. I originally had Belmont, but looking at the weakness of the region as a whole... I'm getting some ideas. I think I'm calling this the Badgers' year. I will probably be wrong. But if the Badgers can slow the Belmont Bruins... what do the Bruins look like at half-speed, anyway?
RK: (6) St. John's vs. (11) Gonzaga - This game in Denver is what you are all waiting for. The Johnnies play their first full game without D.J Kennedy and I think they will survive. Gonzaga has tournament experience, but never seems to do anything with it. Ever since Adam Morrison left, they don't make it past the first weekend. The big three for Mark Few was better this year when Matt Boldin was on the team and Elias Harris lived up to his potential as a scorer. It will be close late, but the eight seniors will rally around Kennedy and Dwight Hardy will hit a big basket late. Johnnies by three.
PD: The Zags have a lot of talent. But they play in the West Coast Conference. Not a terrible conference, but I wonder how they'll do with St. John's physicality. If the referees let the teams play it out, and don't mollycoddle the Bulldogs, I like St. John's to win this one. If it becomes a game of skills and foul shooting... St. John's could be on the wrong side of this matchup.
RK: (3) BYU vs. (14) Wofford - The Terriers could spoil Jimmer's party here in Denver. Wofford is a good team that beat a talented scorer in Andrew Goudelock in the SOCON championship game. They were in the NCAA Tournament last year as well. Big man Noah Dahlman averages twenty points per game and can gain a ton of points with Brandon Davies out for the Coughars. However, there is just too much Fredette in this matchup. Fredette goes for 40 as BYU pulls away late.
PD: Jimmer Fredette doesn't need a team. Just get him across halfcourt. Wofford may have some nice moments and good memories from this game, but I don't think they can win unless they bring the defensive effort of a lifetime, and Jimmer lets everyone else shoot. Those things aren't going to happen.
RK: (7) UCLA vs. (10) Michigan State - Two historic programs take the court in Tampa. The Bruins are a team that is a year away from being a top four seed. Malcolm Lee is a good point guard and forward Reeves Nelson is a double-double threat that shoots 55% from the floor. I want to take the team with the tourney experience and that is the Spartans. Kalin Lucas had a great game in the Big Ten Tournament against Purdue and should bring that momentum into March. They need Durrell Summers to hit the perimeter shot, but I don't want Michigan State in this tournament when everyone is counting out Izzo. Sparty gets the win.
PD: UCLA's guards are strangely terrible. Malcolm Lee is a good defender, and decisive with the ball; but Lazeric Jones and Jerime Anderson and Tyler Lamb are physically talented mediocrities. The Spartans have the bigs to match the Bruins physicality, and Derrick Nix could even muscle up with Joshua Smith. Spartans in this one, despite their lackluster year.
RK: (2) Florida vs. (15) UCSB - The Gauchos are in for a bad, bad night in Tampa. The guy you should watch on UCSB is Orlando Johnson. The junior guard averages 21 points per game and is a 40% 3 point shooter. Expect a lot of threes from both teams in this game, but the Gators shoot the ball lights-out with their guards Erving Walker and Kenny Boynton.
PD: Florida isn't a great 2 seed, but they're enough to defeat the Santa Barbara Gauchos. But they go back to tony Santa Barbara, while the Gators go back to Gainesville. I'd rather be in Santa Barbara.