Now that I’ve profiled all 68 teams in the field and previewed each region, it’s time to go game-by-game and look at the matchups. I will also reveal my picks to win each game before posting my full predictions later this week.
Here’s a look at the first round matchups in the East region.
East Region Info
- East Region Team Capsules
- East Region Bracket Breakdown
- Tickets to East Regional in Boston (March 22nd and 24th)
East Region First Round Game Predictions
#1 Syracuse vs. #16 UNC-Asheville
One day a 16 seed is bound to beat a one seed, but it won’t be here.
Predicted Winner: Syracuse
#2 Ohio State vs. #15 Loyola (MD)
I don’t necessarily expect this game to be close, but I’m interested to see what kind of start William Buford gets off to. I truly think his performance will dictate how far OSU can go in the Big Dance.
Predicted Winner: Ohio State
#3 Florida State vs. #14 Saint Bonaventure
The Bonnies come in on a roll after winning the Atlantic 10 Tournament, thanks in large part to the stellar play of big man Andrew Nicholson. The Seminoles should be just as confident though after winning the ACC Championship and beating Duke and North Carolina for the second time this season.
While I don’t see the Bonnies springing the upset here, I can’t wait to see Nicholson square off against Bernard James and the rest of a tough FSU front line. Ultimately, I think Florida State’s defense is the difference, particularly their ability to force turnovers, and I think James and Xavier Gibson can do enough to slow down Nicholson in the post.
Predicted Winner: Florida State
#4 Wisconsin vs. #13 Montana
The Grizzlies come in red hot after winning 20 of their last 21 games, and I think they match up well with Wisconsin. Guard Will Cherry is a tough defender and would be able to pressure Jordan Taylor, while both teams have big men who can step outside and make shots in Derek Selvig and Jared Berggren.
Montana has been very prolific from long range with three players shooting at least 40 percent from deep, including talented sophomore Kareem Jamar. The key to the game will be Wisconsin’s three-point shooting, because they become very beatable when their three-pointers aren’t falling. The Grizzlies have a decent field goal percentage defense, and Wisconsin’s willingness to settle for three-pointers makes it unlikely that Montana will get into foul trouble, which would be huge given a very short bench.
In a matchup that should be played at a relatively slow pace, I think at minimum it’s a close game.
Predicted Winner: Montana
#5 Vanderbilt vs. #12 Harvard
There will most certainly be at least one 5-12 upset this year, but I just don’t think this will be one of them.
The Commodores come in with confidence after beating Kentucky, and John Jenkins should be able to take advantage of suspect three-point defense from the Crimson. One of Harvard’s strengths on offense is its ability to get to the stripe, but Vanderbilt has one of the lowest opponents’ free throw rates in the country, which should help them come away with the win.
In closing, feel free to add your own academic-related humor based on these two institutions of higher learning.
Predicted Winner: Vanderbilt
#6 Cincinnati vs. #11 Texas
Give some kudos to Rick Barnes, who guided a team forced to play six freshmen into the tournament. Sure, a soft bubble deserves some credit for that as well, but I’m trying to be nice here.
The Bearcats turned their season around following their brawl with Xavier, and their resurgence culminated with a run to the Big East Championship Game. They have three solid guards in Cashmere Wright, Dion Dixon, and Sean Kilpatrick, and this team’s experience and toughness should give them an advantage over the young Longhorns.
One area where Texas appears to have a huge advantage is on the offensive glass, but if Cincinnati can limit second chance points, I like their chances to advance.
Predicted Winner: Cincinnati
#7 Gonzaga vs. #10 West Virginia
One of the nuances of the pod system is that sometimes the lower seeded team winds up playing close to home, which is exactly the case here with West Virginia playing in Pittsburgh. That should certainly give them at least a small advantage in what should already be a close game.
The keys for the Zags will be finding a way to contain double-double machine Kevin Jones and keeping the Mountaineers off the offensive glass. West Virginia currently ranks fourth in offensive rebounding percentage, grabbing over 40 percent of their own misses, but the Bulldogs are 40th in defensive rebounding percentage, which should make for some serious battles on the glass.
For Gonzaga, they need to exploit West Virginia’s lack of depth inside by going right at forward Deniz Kilicli with guys like Robert Sacre and Sam Dower. The Mountaineers allow opponents to over 50 percent from two-point range, while the Zags make 52 percent of their twos. I think that ends up being the difference in the game.
Predicted Winner: Gonzaga
#8 Kansas State vs. #9 Southern Mississippi
The Golden Eagles struggled mightily down the stretch are probably overseeded based on their high RPI. On the defensive end, they rank outside of the top 200 in free throw rate, which is a huge issue against a K-State team that has an impressive 42.9 mark in that category. That’s just one of many areas where the Wildcats hold an advantage, as they should also be able to exploit poor field goal defense by USM.
On the other end of the floor, look for a stout Kansas State defense to lock up a Southern Miss team that is among the worst two-point shooting teams in the country. The Golden Eagles do have a strong offensive rebounding percentage and do a solid job of getting to the stripe, but you can be sure Frank Martin’s squad will be ready to play on Thursday.
Most 8-9 games are close contests, but based on how USM has played of late, this one may get out of hand.
Predicted Winner: Kansas State
East Region Bracket, TV Schedule, Sites, Announcers, Point Spreads
|1||#1 Syracuse def #16 UNC-Asheville 72-65||Thu, 3/15||3:05 ET||Pittsburgh||Harlan-Elmore||truTV||SU -17|
|2||#8 Kansas State def #9 Southern Miss 70-64||Thu, 3/15||12:40 ET||Pittsburgh||Harlan-Elmore||truTV||KST -6.5|
|3||#4 Wisconsin def #13 Montana 73-49||Thu, 3/15||2:10 ET||Albuquerque||Dedes-Wenzel||TNT||WIS -9.5|
|4||#5 Vanderbilt def #12 Harvard 79-70||Thu, 3/15||4:35 ET||Albuquerque||Dedes-Wenzel||TNT||VAN -6.5|
|5||#2 Ohio State def #15 Loyola (MD) 78-59||Thu, 3/15||9:45 ET||Pittsburgh||Harlan-Elmore||TNT||OSU -17.5|
|6||#7 Gonzaga def #10 West Virginia 77-54||Thu, 3/15||7:20 ET||Pittsburgh||Harlan-Elmore||TNT||Pick 'em|
|7||#3 Florida State def #14 St. Bonaventure 66-63||Fri, 3/16||2:40 ET||Nashville||Eagle-Spanarkel||CBS||FSU -6|
|8||#6 Cincinnati def #11 Texas 65-59||Fri, 3/16||12:15 ET||Nashville||Eagle-Spanarkel||CBS||CIN -2|
|9||#1 Syracuse def #8 Kansas State 77-59||Sat, 3/17||12:15 ET||Pittsburgh||Harlan-Elmore||CBS||SU -5|
|10||#4 Wisconsin def #5 Vanderbilt 60-57||Sat, 3/17||6:10 ET||Albuquerque||Dedes-Wenzel||TNT||VAN -1|
|11||#2 Ohio State def #7 Gonzaga 73-66||Sat, 3/17||2:45 ET||Pittsburgh||Harlan-Elmore||CBS||OSU -7.5|
|12||#3 Florida State v #6 Cincinnati||Sun, 3/18||9:40 ET||Nashville||Eagle-Spanarkel||TBS|
|13||#1 Syracuse v #4 Wisconsin||Thu, 3/22||Boston||SU -4|
|14||#2 Ohio State v Game 12 Winner||Thu, 3/22||Boston|
|ELITE 8 - REGIONAL FINAL|
|15||Game 13 Winner v Game 14 Winner||Sat, 3/24||Boston|