At New Orleans Arena, New Orleans
Kentucky (32-2) vs. ETSU (20-14)
Texas (24-9) vs. Wake Forest (19-10)
At HP Pavilion, San Jose, Calif.
New Mexico (29-4) vs. Montana (22-9)
Marquette (22-11) vs. Washington (24-9)
Friday, March 19
At HSBC Arena, Buffalo, N.Y.
West Virginia (27-6) vs. Morgan State (27-9)
Clemson (21-10) vs. Missouri (22-10)
At Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena, Jacksonville, Fla.
Wisconsin (23-8) vs. Wofford (26-8)
Temple (29-5) vs. Cornell (27-4)
My pick to win it: Kentucky. The top-seeded Wildcats have four future NBA first-round picks - as well as the best inside-outside tandem in freshmen John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins - in their starting lineup. They do everything extremely well. As long as UK can shoot it from the outside with some consistency (34.9 three-point fg pct), the ‘Cats will get back into the Final Four for the first time since 1998.
Darkhorse: Although everyone would like to think Temple, we’ll say Marquette. The Golden Eagles come into the Big Dance having won 11 of their last 14 games — all in the Big East. That has to mean something, right?
Obvious rout: Once it works out the early-game jitters, Kentucky is going to lay a massive whooping on East Tennessee St.
Upset special: Clemson coach Oliver Purnell has never won a game in the NCAA Tournament (0-5). Make it six in a row after the seventh-seeded Tigers get bounced by 10th-seeded Missouri.
Looking forward to: No. 5 Temple vs. No. 12 Cornell. Student vs. Teacher. Big Red coach Steve Donahue was an assistant for 10 years under Owls coach Fran Dunphy at Penn. Both teams are very methodical. What it comes down to is Temple’s lockdown, man-to-man defense against Cornell’s Princeton-style, back-cutting offense. The one that wins that battle, wins the game.
Questionable seeding: Enough with the Duke bias, especially from you, ESPN. West Virginia deserved the Blue Devils’ easier draw. The Mountaineers had plenty of significant wins: Texas A&M, Ohio St., Villanova, Pitt and Georgetown (twice). Meanwhile, Duke essentially had one: Maryland.
Players you’ll love to watch: Wall, who is a virtual lock to be the top pick in the 2010 NBA Draft, is the fastest end-to-end player in the country. He’s the one player we’d pay see. Cousins is a beast down low. West Virginia senior forward DeSean Butler will make a name for himself in this tournament as well. And don’t forget about Temple’s sophomore guard Juan Fernandez.