Each year, I go through all four regions and explain my pick for each game. Here’s my breakdown of the East Region.
1. Kentucky over 16. East Tennessee State
8. Texas over 9. Wake Forest
I’m one of many people who is shocked at how far Texas has fallen since the turn of the calendar year. But I still think they’re better than a Wake Forest team that’s ranked No. 50 by Pomeroy (Texas is 17) and has recent losses to North Carolina and Miami. Texas lost to Oklahma and Connecticut, but also beat Pittsburgh and Michigan State earlier in the season. I think the Longhorns take this one.
5. Temple over 12. Cornell
This is the easiest pick for me to make anywhere in the bracket, because Fran Dunphy is 22-1 all time against his former assistants. Yeah, there’s that one, but Penn finished 12-14 overall and 8-6 in the Ivy League that season.
If Dunphy wasn’t coaching the Owls, Cornell might have a shot, as Jeff Foote and Ryan Wittman should have chances to score. But even though they haven’t played, you know Dunphy knows Steve Donahue’s plan inside and out and will be ready for it. And I can’t help thinking this matchup wouldn’t have happened if the coaches weren’t who they are. I don’t care how far Jay Bilas has Cornell going; Temple wins this game.
4. Wisconsin over 13. Wofford
Good for Wofford that they’re in the NCAA Tournament for the first time ever. Bad for Wofford that Bo Ryan is across the floor. Wisconsin is ranked No. 3 in Pomeroy, No. 7 in defensive efficiency and No. 3 in lowest turnover percentage. The Badgers will be a dark horse among some for a deep run with Trevon Hughes leading the way.
6. Marquette over 11. Washington
The Golden Eagles are peaking at the right time despite having lost decisively to Georgetown in the Big East semifinals. It tells you a lot that the Huskies won the Pac-10 Tournament and are still seeded that low. A commenter in my Selection Show live blog told me to not believe the Big East hype, but having been at Madison Square Garden for three days, I believe all of it.
3. New Mexico over 14. Montana
I must admit that I don’t know all that much about either of these teams, except that Montana has one outstanding scorer in Anthony Johnson and New Mexico hasn’t lost since January 9. There is a chance of an upset here, as the Grizzles are ranked 11th in the country in three-point percentage at 39.8 percent and the Lobos are a poor 218th in free throw percentage at 67.7 percent. But then I look at temp and I see that New Mexico is 108th-fastest and Montana is 306th, and I favor the faster team.
10. Missouri over 7. Clemson
These teams are quite evenly matched. Mizzou is 50th in offensive efficiency and 12th in defensive efficiency; Clemson is 47th in offensive efficiency and ninth in defensive efficiency. Both sets of Tigers also come in off two straight losses: Missouri to Kansas and Nebraska and Clemson to Wake Forest and N.C. State. I will take Missouri in a close game because Clemson is 268th in free throw percentage at 65.9 percent. I put a very high priority on that in March.
2. West Virginia over 15. Morgan State
I was in the Wachovia Center when Da’Sean Butler hit the winner against Villanova and in Madison Square Garden when Butler beat the buzzer to sink Cincinnati. West Virginia might be on the best current form of any team in the country right now, and I expect that momentum to carry the Mountaineers a long way.
1. Kentucky over 8. Texas
If Texas was playing at its best, this would be an interesting matchup. But if Texas was playing at its best, this matchup wouldn’t exist - at least not in the second round. J’Covan Brown could give John Wall some trouble, but Dexter Pittman and Damion James are no match for DeMarcus Cousins and Patrick Patterson.
5. Temple vs. 4. Wisconsin
The one thing of which I am sure is that this will be a low-scoring game. My guess is Trevon Hughes guards Juan Fernandez, but I think Lavoy Allen and Micheal Eric can handle Jon Leuer in the post. It’s also worth noting that Wisconsin is a middling 138th in three-point defense. Temple will have opportunities to win this game; it just has to take them. Sound familiar?
6. Marquette over 3. New Mexico
I mentioned above that I’m wary enough of New Mexico’s first-round game. If I were a Lobos fan, I would not like this matchup at all. It will be a real test of just how good New Mexico really is, as they’re ranked No. 47 in Pomeroy to Marquette’s 28. This game matches teams with a habit of winning games by close margins: New Mexico’s largest margin of victory since Feb. 20 was seven points at home over TCU, while Marquette has only won by more than four points once since February 21. I’ll take the Golden Eagles, and it might even be comfortable.
2. West Virginia over 10. Missouri
The Mountaineers will be happy to get out and run with the Tigers. They will also be happy to grab a wheelbarrow’s worth of offensive rebounds against a Missouri defense ranked 323rd in defensive rebounds given up per 100 possesions. That translates to second-chance points on the scoreboard for West Virginia and a trip to the next round.
1. Kentucky over 5. Temple
Think John Chaney will be paying attention to this game? It’s possible. But the Owls won’t be able to repeat Chaney’s feat of reaching the Elite Eight. Temple’s defense might force Kentucky’s guards to take some shots they don’t like, but I seem to recall a City Six team losing controversially to a No. 1 seed in a Sweet 16 game at the Carrier Dome not that long ago. I wonder if history repeats itself in more ways than one.
2. West Virginia over 6. Marquette
It is entirely possible that all eight of the Big East teams in the field of 65 will make the Sweet 16. The Mountaineers and Golden Eagles only met once this season, a 63-62 West Virginia win in Morgantown on December 29. I will again go with West Virginia’s prowess on the boards as the key stat, as Marquette ranked only 228th in offensive rebounding percentage.
2. West Virginia over 1. Kentucky
I can’t think of any reason why a matchup between Bob Huggins and John Calipari would interest anyone. Can you? As far as I can tell, the two have never coached against each other in the NCAA Tournament. This could be the year that changes. Neither coach has (officially) been to the Final Four either. This will be the year that changes... at least for now.
Kentucky may have more raw talent, but I have a hunch this might be the game where we remember that John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins and Eric Bledsoe are freshmen. Da’Sean Butler is a senior. That matters even before we get to the coaches’ respective karmas.