A reminder that you can pick agaist me as part of Philly.com's NCAA Tournament Pick'Em Contest. Click here to join the group of Soft Pretzel Logic readers. The group name is Soft Pretzel Logic and the password is pretzel. Same for the round-by-round contest here.
Also, as some of you may have heard, I was a guest on Dan Levy's On the DL Podcast yesterday morning. I talked about the Temple-Cornell matchup, and you already know what I think about it. But please visit Dan's site, listen to the show and subscribe if you haven't already.
I wrote two blog posts last night that you should read. First, we learned that President Obama has picked Villanova to reach the Final Four. I also spoke exclusively with former Vermont star T.J. Sorrentine, whose famous three-pointer against Syracuse will be recalled by many when the two teams meet this week.
Now we come to my picks for the Midwest Region. At first glance, it appears to be the most stacked region of the four. But that doesn't mean it will be the most difficult to predict. In fact, most of the matchups strike me as being fairly easy to break down.
1. Kansas over 16. Lehigh
MSNBC.com's Mike Miller has put together a tremendous list of reasons why this game has echoes of then-Patriot League champion Bucknell's upset of Kansas in Oklahoma City exactly five years before the day of this game. But while fate may want the Mountain Hawks to engineer a victory (yeah, I had to go there), reality is likely to have a say as well.
It's true that Lehigh is ranked ninth in the nation in three-point percentage, but the Jayhawks are ranked fifth. Lehigh is also 251st in offensive rebounding percentage, so the shots they miss are even more likely to end up in the hands of Cole Aldridch or the Philadelphia-born Morris twins. Sorry, upset fans.
9. Northern Iowa over 8. UNLV
The interesting contrast in this game to me is tempo. Northern Iowa averages 7.4 fewer possessions per game than UNLV does. The Panthers' defense ranks seventh-best in the nation in offensive rebounding percentage given up, and the Running Rebels' offense ranks 284th in offensive rebounding percentage claimed, if that's the right word. You know what I mean.
My guess is Northern Iowa is more likely to dictate the tempo of this game, and thus to come out on top.
5. Michigan State over 12. New Mexico State
The Aggies won the this year's WAC Tournament despite being ranked 222nd in defensive efficiency, 254th in three-point percentage given up and 277th in effective field goal percentage given up. The Spartans are coached by Tom Izzo.
I think I know which team I'm taking.
4. Maryland over 13. Houston
There is agita at almost any time of year in College Park, but the level is higher than even the norm for March at the moment. A lot of people nationally are picking Houston to pull off the upset because Cougars guard Aubrey Coleman leads the nation in scoring with 25 points a game. But Maryland fans are just as worried about how well Houston coach Tom Penders knows the Terrapins from his time coaching George Washington.
I am well aware of the fact that it is almost never advisable to pick Maryland to win an NCAA Tournament game. But Greivis Vasquez and company have a habit of doing things they aren't expected to. If they aren't expected to win this game, they'll come out on top.
6. Tennessee over 11. San Diego State
Here's another game a lot of people are eyeing for its upset potential. But as with Maryland-Houston, I'm taking the favorite. Tennessee is ranked eighth in defensive efficiency, ninth in three-point defense and 22nd in turnover percentage forced. San Diego State is 252nd in three-point shooting and a really alarming 338th in free throw percentage.
If you want to shock the world, you have to shoot well. It doesn't look like the Aztecs will be able to do that.
3. Georgetown over 14. Ohio
When the Hoyas stay out of foul trouble, they are a heck of a team to have to deal with. It's great that Ohio won the MAC, and I gather that the Bobcats have great cheerleaders, but they're ranked 247th in offensive rebounding percentage given up. Ohio's offense is 227th in two-point field goal percentage and and 221st in offensive rebounding percentage gained (there's the word).
7. Oklahoma State over 10. Georgia Tech
I must admit that I haven't seen either team much. But we all know that Georgia Tech got into the NCAA Tournament by beating North Carolina, Maryland and N.C. State before losing the ACC Tournament championship game to Duke. Oklahoma State had no such pressure.
I like the Cowboys because the Yellow Jackets' offense ranks 305th in turnover percentage and 307th in free throw percentage. Oklahoma State's defense ranks 276th in three-point percentage given up, which is a glaring weakness. But I'll take a team that beat Kansas, Kansas State and Baylor over a team that lost six of its last nine regular-season games.
2. Ohio State over 15. UC-Santa Barbara
Well, let's see here. The Gauchos' offense ranks 313th in turnover percentage and their defense ranks 241st in two-point field goal percentage given up. The Buckeyes' offense is No. 2 in the nation in two-point field goal percentage scored. Just a thought.
1. Kansas over 9. Northern Iowa
Seven-foot Northern Iowa center Jordan Eglseder could actually make this game interesting. He's ranked ninth in the nation in offensive rebounding percentage and eighth in defensive rebounding percentage. But the Panthers' offense is ranked in the 100's in two-point and three-point shooting, as is their three-point defense.
There will be games Kansas wins in this tournament with its frontcourt and games it wins with its backcourt. This will be one of the latter.
4. Maryland over 5. Michigan State
These two teams met at the start of the 2008-09 regular season in the Old Spice Classic, and the Terrapins won in an 80-62 rout. Although it's not entirely fair to compare March of this season to November of the last one, most of the players who were on the floor that day are still around.
Maryland was knocked out in the second round last year, but by a clearly superior Memphis team. I don't think we can make that claim about Michigan State, in part because the Spartans' offense ranks 222nd in turnover percentage given up. That should play right into the Terrapins frenetic style.
3. Georgetown over 6. Tennessee
This is one of the more difficult games for me to pick in the second round. It will certainly tell us whether the Hoyas ran out of gas after pushing their way to the Big East tournament championship game. Tennesee has played and beaten some good teams this season, but their best road win is at Misssippi State. Providence is definitely not Knoxville.
The Vols don't really have anyone who can handle Greg Monroe, and I don't think they'll like the Hoyas' Princeton-style offense. So I will take Georgetown, if somewhat hesitantly.
2. Ohio State over 7. Oklahoma State
Whereas Georgia Tech isn't a great three-point shooting team, Ohio State most definitely is. The Buckeyes rank 19th in the nation at 38.8 percent, which is a huge problem for the Cowboys. I also think you have to give Ohio State at least one win in the tournament on Evan Turner's talent alone, and that's this game for me.
1. Kansas over 4. Maryland
This would definitely be a superior team for Maryland to face. The backcourt matchup of Sherron Collins and Greivis Vasquez will be a lot of fun to watch, but the Terrapins don't have anyone who can deal with Cole Aldrich. The tallest player on Maryland's roster is 6-foot-9 Jordan Williams. Even if Gary Williams puts Jordan Williams on Aldrich, Maryland will still have to account for the Morris twins. That's too much firepower.
3. Georgetown over 2. Ohio State
When the Buckeyes beat the Hoyas in the 2008 Final Four, they had the better big man. That's not the case this time around. Georgetown will have to account for Evan Turner, and they might not be able to do. But I can see Chris Wright and Austin Freeman handling David Lighty and and Jon Diebler. I can't see Ohio State solving Greg Monroe.
1. Kansas over 3. Georgetown
The duel between Cole Aldrich and Greg Monroe could be the best individual matchup of the NCAA Tournament, especially if both decide to be more selfish than they've been for much of this season. But Georgetown plays a three-guard offense and has has painfully little depth at forward.
There is a huge dropoff from Julian Vaughn to Jerrelle Benimon and Henry Sims. I'll be very surprised if Vaughn stays out of foul trouble trying to stop the Morris twins and Xavier Henry, who can play inside and out.
John Thompson III proved his ability to outcoach teams with more talent when the Hoyas rallied past North Carolina at the Meadowlands in 2008. I can't rule out an upset here, but I do expect Kansas's size to prevail in the end.