Conspiracy theorists unite! There has been a strong movement to contend that the draw Duke has gotten in the South was motivated by ratings, money, and slightly by race. Duke has the easiest draw I agree, but that does not make it easy. They are still going to have to beat tough teams to make it to Indy. I think having Purdue and Villanova in the same bracket is a joke considering they are probably the weakest at those seeds, but it is kind of insulting to all the other high seed teams in the region to say it is a cakewalk.
1 Duke over 16 Winthrop: I am picking the Eagles to win the opening round game over Arkansas Pine-Bluff. Don't expect too many fireworks tonight because Winthrop plays a slowed down pace and will try to make this game in the 50s. Duke will no doubt triumph in this game in Jacksonville, but the question is how long will Coach K leave his starters in the game. I'm guessing until about the under 4:00 timeout, when Duke is up by 35. After the game K will then be magnanimous and talk about how great the effort was from Randy Peele's team and that this tournament is all about kids and love, peace, and sunshine flowers.
9 Louisville over 8 California: Really wanted to take the Bears here, but East Coast game, Pitino turning up the pressure and I think the Cardinals get it done. Seems like a long time ago the Pitino fiasco came out in the news. I am sure people still bring it up casually and a few heckler have taken their shots, but is Rick's life significantly worse/altered than it was before? Maybe his home life, but there he stands on the sideline, getting the adoration from the Cardinal faithful because he wins and in the end as much as we don't want to admit, that is what it is all about.
12 Utah State over 5 Texas A&M: Every year we get to hear about how ZOMG a 12 usually beats a 5, how does this happen so often!? It usually happens because the 5 seed was overrated and the 12 seed was better or played better than expected. Utah State is one of those little known teams that has been successful this year. The trouble is they have not played too many people of note for comparison. They have well distributed scoring and they shoot 42% from the 3-point line. Three of their players have hit over 50 this year. Obviously I am betting on the Aggies to have a good outside shooting day. [Insert I bet the Aggies win joke here]
13 Siena over 4 Purdue: Going with the trendy pick here. This is not the Saints first rodeo (they had a double order of onions last year in beating Ohio State) and Purdue seems resigned to its fate without Robbie Hummel. It's a tough break for the Boilermakers. A program that has come short again and again in the tournament since its last trip in 1980 does not even get a valid shot at making it this year. There is nothing fair about injuries though, any sports fan will tell you that.
6 Notre Dame over 11 Old Dominion: The success of Notre Dame at the end of the regular season was built on necessity and urgency, two characteristics that usually cause teams to fold under the pressure. The Irish were the exception as they changed their pace of play and role players stepped up while Luke Harangody recovered from an injury. Notre Dame went from a bubble team to a 6 seed in the "weakest" region. Their act may contain from smoke and mirrors, but it will be enough to get past Old Dominion. I expect this game to be hotly contested.
3 Baylor over 14 Sam Houston State: I think Sam Houston makes a game out of it, but the Bears overcome in the end. People are high no Baylor to come out of this region but I don't know if the Bears are battle tested.
7 Richmond over 10 St. Mary's: Another popular conspiracy running amuck in the media is that the tournament committee puts mid-majors against each other to avoid the big 6 conferences from getting embarrassed and allowing them the opportunity to get more units and hence more money. Again I do not think the committee consciously does this, but there are a good deal of match-ups like that this year. Once reason being these mid-majors are seeded in the appropriate slots.
15 Robert Morris over 2 Villanova: Yes, it's that time. Time to take a flyer. While I would not stake my life on this upset or my vast wealth(read: nonexistent wealth) I stand by my statement that this first weekend will not go close to chalk. The Wildcats draw my death card because they have been struggling mightily of late. Nova does not have the same punch it did last year, and I think they go out early. Maybe not this early, but they remind me of South Carolina in 1997 so why can't Robert Morris be Coppin State. Well, Robert Morris lost by 40 at Syracuse and 24 at Pitt. Shit, too late to change now, go Colonials!
1 Duke over 9 Louisville: Do you like foul fests, 3s being jacked up, and unending trips to the free-throw line? If so this game will be for you. Pitino and company will try to pressure and wear down Duke, but Nolan Smith will help neutralize it and the whistles will be ablowin'. I expect no less than 40-50 FT attempts in this game. Both teams shoot over 70%. Duke wins in a slopfest.
13 Siena over 12 Utah State: If this happens, Fran McCaffrey will be offered a coaching job or two after Siena's run is over. The Saints are not as talented as they were last year but they are tough and experienced. You get the impression that nothing phases them.
6 Notre Dame over 3 Baylor: This would be one of those fantastic 2nd round match-ups. I think Notre Dame has the experience and the defense to slow Baylor down.
7 Richmond over 15 Robert Morris: Even if it is Nova in this spot do not sleep on the Spiders. Gonzalvez and Anderson can go toe-to-toe with any backcourt in the country.
1 Duke over 13 Siena: The dream ends for Siena while Duke continues to fuel the conspiracy-happy population. Duke has their holes, but in a year where everyone admits the field is lacking, this is the time where a team like Duke can rise up. Zoubek (can't believe I'm saying this) does give them an inside presence. As long as he can stay on the court and set his wide-legged, claw-hugging screens he is helping the offense. Scheyer of course needs to stay hot, but if he is cold they need to feed Singler if he can post up his defender. They go away from this way too much and often Singler is relegated to driving or shooting from the outside. He is good at both of those, but if he has the post advantage those are easy buckets.
7 Richmond over 6 Notre Dame: When you make out brackets for money or prizes you always worry about what I call the backtrack scenarios. Your gut tells you something, like you really like Richmond and how their side of the bracket shakes out. But then you realize that all the people picking Notre Dame or Nova to advance will get the points and be ahead of you in the bracket standings. Therefore you either created multiple brackets, which just cover up the same thing you did in other regions making a mish-mash of choices. If you play a small number of brackets which I used to do, it usually eliminates your chances of winning. Since I am not involved in any such contest this year, the freedom is exhilarating. However I am sure the Spiders will let me down, it is fun to just roll it out there with my gut.
1 Duke over 7 Richmond: So in the end I am envisioning the whiners to have it open to them to bitch about how Duke's draw fell out. "Duke against Richmond! I never watch college basketball but I am outraged!"