#5 Virginia vs. #12 UNC Wilmington
Thursday 3/16 @12:40 PM EST on truTV
Virginia is a pretty good team, but I just don’t see them as a contender. Sure, they had tough competition but they were very streaky and looked terrible at times. UNC Wilmington didn’t play in as big a conference, but they were a much more consistent team. They nearly upset the Duke Blue Devils last year in the first round. UNC Wilmington has four players that average 12 PPG or more. The Cavaliers only have one. UNC Wilmington is the better team based on consistency and scoring and will pull the upset here.
The Pick: UNC Wilmington
#4 Florida vs. #13 ETSU
Thursday 3/16 @3:10 PM EST on truTV
Eastern Tennessee State was not even the favorite to win the Southern conference, a small conference. I think you can trust the Gators here, at least in this round. Sure, they’re an upset target after their SEC tourney performance. But I think they can beat a team like ETSU, a team that wouldn’t be here without their conference tournament win. Gators win easily in this round, but could the UNC Wilmington Seahawks give them trouble?
The Pick: Florida
#1 Villanova vs. #16 Mount St. Mary’s
Thursday 3/16 @7:10 PM EST on CBS
Mount St. Mary’s just beat New Orleans in their First Four game, but beating Villanova, the defending champion and number one overall seed will be a much tougher challenge. Villanova will have it easy here. There’s no way the #1 seed will be beaten by the #16 seed, especially when it’s the #1 overall seed. This game is going to the Wildcats in a clear blowout.
The Pick: Villanova
#8 Wisconsin vs. #9 Virginia Tech
Thursday 3/16 @9:40 PM on CBS
Virginia Tech has had a good season, but the Badgers are an underrated team that should be higher. They were runner-up in the Big Ten tourney and regular season play. Wisconsin should’ve been seeded higher, but even in the #8 seed, they could be a serious contender and sneaky dark horse team, especially if they face Villanova in the Round of 32. That game could go either way. Yes, I think Wisconsin is good enough to potentially beat the Wildcats. They should be able to top the Hokies.
The Pick: Wisconsin
#3 Baylor vs. #14 New Mexico State
Friday 3/17 @12:40 PM on truTV
Baylor started off the season very strongly. They looked like a #1 seed. However, towards the end of the season, they quietly collapsed. They eventually started losing to teams like Iowa State and ended up far from the regular season Big 12 title. The Aggies have found their way to pull some upsets in this tourney before, and they might have a chance to shock Baylor here while they’re on a downward track. This game could actually go either way.
The Pick: New Mexico State
#6 SMU vs. #11 USC/Providence
Friday 3/17 @3:10 PM EST on truTV
I know, SMU is one of the highest trending teams in the league and a serious sleeper, but their fate depends on this First Four game. If Providence wins, SMU could move on to be a serious sleeper. If USC wins, they could have the power to upset SMU before they can upset other teams. USC just barely made it, but they weren’t so bad in a tough Pac-12. Now that they’re here, USC could be very sneaky and dangerous for other teams. They just have to beat Providence, which I think they’ll do.
The Pick: USC
#2 Duke vs. #15 Troy
Friday 3/17 @7:20 PM EST on TBS
Troy wouldn’t be here if they didn’t win their conference, and they weren’t even close to being the favorite to win it. They were not even in the Top 5 in the Sun Belt Conference, and they don’t have that hard a conference to play in. Duke will surely be able to top them. You can never count out Duke. They had some inconsistencies this season, but this game is clearly in their favor. They will at least make it far.
The Pick: Duke
#7 South Carolina vs. #10 Marquette
Friday 3/17 @9:50 PM EST on TBS
The Gamecocks finished the season poorly, but Marquette should not be here. They’re 19-12 in the Big East and they made it to the NCAA Tournament. South Carolina may have it easier than you think in the first round. This could be anybody’s game, but this will be painful to watch. The winner will go on to play Duke and likely be annihilated. But in this game, I think South Carolina will edge out the victory.
The Pick: South Carolina
Round of 32 Preview
Here’s a look at what the Round of 32 may look like:
#1 Villanova vs. #8 Wisconsin
#4 Florida vs. #12 UNC Wilmington
#14 New Mexico State vs. #11 USC
#2 Duke vs. #7 South Carolina
Like I said, Duke will annihilate South Carolina, or Marquette if they win. Now for the true meaning of March Madness. First off, it’s tough to pick between NM State and USC, but one of them will face Duke in the Sweet 16. They probably won’t get much farther than that, though. Now, the two upsets I will predict in this round are UNC Wilmington over Florida and Wisconsin over Villanova. Despite Villanova being the #1 overall seed, it’s hard to win two years in a row. Villanova has struggled as a #1 seed, and Wisconsin could be a very sneaky sleeper. I also think UNC Wilmington is capable of making the Sweet 16. Florida did not do well in the SEC tourney and UNC Wilmington is a serious dark horse. That would send Wisconsin, UNC Wilmington, New Mexico State or USC, and Duke to the Sweet 16,
And the projected East champion is…
You can never count out Duke. Still, the Blue Devils have been inconsistent, so they will make it far, but I don’t think they’ll win the championship. However, the trio of Grayson Allen, Jayson Tatum and Amile Jefferson should allow Duke to come out of this region. Especially if Villanova is upset like I think they will be, Duke could become a serious threat in this region. Like I said, I trust all the #2 seeds to go far.
That’s all for Part 3. In Part 4, the final part, we will look at the West Region, and I will share my reason behind my Final Four predictions. Part 4 will be coming before the tourney starts on Thursday.