What a great NCAA Tournament it’s been already! Arkansas-Little Rock/Purdue was a classic upset, Yale upset Baylor, all three eight seeds that played last night lost, a pair of highly seasoned 11 seeds in Gonzaga and Wichita State dominated six-seeded Seton Hall and Arizona, and that was just one day!
Today, there’s a loaded schedule as well. In the first eight games, the two best players in college basketball, Denzel Valentine and Buddy Hield, will be amongst the players trying to guide their teams into the round of 32. Without further ado, here are my picks (albeit shortened) for today’s early afternoon games.
(10) Syracuse (19-13) vs. (7) Dayton (25-7) (12:15/11:15am CT, CBS)
This year’s selection committee was horrible, and Syracuse’s inclusion is a key example of why. The Orange had lost five of their last six games, and should’ve been in the NIT. Their inclusion is a joke, and while they have a shot at winning, I’ll go with the Atlantic 10 regular season champs, a squad that’s been in postseason tournaments throughout the past decade, to put Syracuse out of its misery. Prediction: Dayton 77, Syracuse 70.
(15) Middle Tennessee (25-9) vs. (2) Michigan State (29-5) (2:45/1:45c, CBS)
Big Ten tournament champion Michigan State should be a one-seed, Tom Izzo is notorious for leading his team to deep tournament runs, and Denzel Valentine is a walking triple-double, making him one of the three remaining Wooden Award candidates. I see Sparty cruising down the stretch, en route to a double-digit win. Prediction: Middle Tennessee 61, Michigan State 83.
(15) UNC-Ashville (22-11) vs. (2) Villanova (29-5) (12:40/11:40 am CT, TRU TV)
Villanova is a team notorious for bowing out early in the tournament. However, I see the Big East regular season champions at least making it to the weekend. Prediction: UNC-Ashville 68, Villanova 86.
(13) Hawaii (27-5) vs. (4) California (23-10) (2/1c, TBS)
So, remember how Arkansas-Little Rock had only a few losses, and pulled off a dramatic comeback against Purdue? I see Hawaii doing the same thing. Add in the fact that Cal just lost its top scorer for the rest of the season, and it makes it even easier to pick Hawaii to pull off the upset, despite Cal having a pair of future NBA players still on its roster. Prediction: Hawaii 77, Cal 73.
(10) Temple (21-11) vs. (7) Iowa (21-10) (3:10/2:10c, TRU TV)
Talk about opposite paths. Temple is the AAC regular season champion, while Iowa has been tumbling for the past month. However, Jared Uthoff, Peter Jok and company have been around for a long time, and they played in one of the toughest conferences in basketball in the Big 10. At the very least, I see them slugging their way to Sunday. Prediction: Temple 64, Iowa 68.
(12) South Dakota State (26-7) vs. (5) Maryland (25-8) (4:30/3:30c, CBS)
This game is somewhat reminiscent of the Yale/Baylor game. Baylor had the potential to make a deep tournament run, but an upset was definitely possible. The same is the case here, as loaded Maryland takes on Summit Conference regular season and tournament champion South Dakota State. Still, Mario Trimble is amongst the best guards in the land, Diamond Stone is a solid big man, Rasheed Sulaimon is big-time three-point sharpshooter, and I see Maryland winning a much more highly-contested game than many people may be expecting. Prediction: SDSU 68, Maryland 82.
(10) VCU (24-10) vs. (7) Oregon State (19-12) (1:30/12:30c, TNT)
Okay, so the Pac 12 was sort of a joke this year. USC had no business being an eight-seed this year, and Oregon State had an even worse resume. Forget being a seven seed, they probably shouldn’t even be in the tournament. VCU is far from great, but they do have tournament experience, and just like Gonzaga, Butler and WIchita State pulled off mid-major “upsets,” I see VCU doing the same thing. Prediction: VCU 78, Oregon State 66.
(15) CSU Bakersfield (24-8) vs. (2) Oklahoma (25-7) (4/3c, TNT)
Oklahoma had a hellaciously tough schedule this year, yet they nearly won the Big 12. Buddy Hield (25 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 2.1 apg, 49.6% fg, 46.4 3-point fg%) is one of the top five players in the land, Isiah Cousins (13 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 4.6 apg) can do a bit of everything, Ryan Spangler is a double-double machine, and Kadeem Latin and Jordan Woodard are high-level role players. They should be able to make a deep tournament run, and I see them dominating here. Prediction: CSU Bakersfield 68, Oklahoma 91.