The madness has almost arrived, and I’ll be continuing along with my picks. The East Region is one of the weaker regions this year, but that could make for a lot of upsets. Read below to see my overview of the region.
First Round Games
#1 Purdue vs. #16 Fairleigh Dickinson
I do think Purdue is a bit fraudulent, and they’ve had first round exits before. If I was going to pick any one seed to lose to a sixteen, it would be Purdue, but that’s just not something I see happening. Zach Edey should lead the Boilermakers to an easy win here, but watch out for an upset in later rounds.
#8 Memphis vs. #9 Florida Atlantic
This is one of the most exciting 8-9 games in a while. It’s a battle between two arguably underrated teams. Headlined by the duo of Kendric Davis and DeAndre Williams, Memphis just embarrassed #1 seed Houston in the AAC tournament. Boca Raton’s own FAU Owls only have 3 losses all year, beating every team in their conference at least once as well as getting past the much larger University of Florida. FAU gets the job done consistently, and if they were facing any other team, I’d likely pick them to make a run. However, Memphis is loaded with talent and hot at the right time.
#5 Duke vs. #12 Oral Roberts
Many say Oral Roberts got unlucky with their draw here, but I don’t think Duke is as likely to make a run as many expect. Duke has had their moments and looked great in the ACC tournament, but they lost to ACC foes like Wake Forest and Virginia Tech and could be upset prone. Losses like that aren’t an automatic formula for an upset, but Duke is a very young team and no player on their roster is anywhere near as good as Oral Roberts senior point guard Max Abmas. Abmas has led ORU on a run through this tournament before, and I think he’s going to make a good effort to do it again.
Pick: UPSET ALERT: Oral Roberts
#4 Tennessee vs. #13 Louisiana
The Vols may be without Zakai Zeigler here, but looking at Louisiana, they haven’t given me any reason to believe they can pull off the upset. Their biggest win this season was a November one over the 10-22 SMU Mustangs. Tennessee will still have the best player on the court by far in Santiago Vescovi, and they have a good amount of depth around him. One missing starter isn’t going to stop them here.
#6 Kentucky vs. #11 Providence
It’s been a bumpy road for Kentucky, but despite struggling against Vanderbilt, the Wildcats were starting to look good down the stretch. They’ve won their last five games against any team not named Vanderbilt. They’ve had a number of big wins along the way including a sweep of Tennessee. Oscar Tshiebwe has looked as good as ever, and there’s more depth around him than on last year’s team that lost to Saint Peter’s. Many have called this the Bryce Hopkins revenge game for Providence, but when your best player is a guy who barely made the Kentucky rotation, that says all you need to know about who’s best suited to win this game.
#3 Kansas State vs. #14 Montana State
Keyontae Johnson has revived his career on this Kansas State team, but behind him and Markquis Nowell, this team is very shallow. Montana State hasn’t done much to prove they’re any better. However, they come from the same conference as Eastern Washington, who nearly dismantled the Kansas Jayhawks a couple years ago. This year, Eastern Washington was atop the standings again and Montana State shut them down. Kansas State is one of the most upset prone top 4 seeds in this tournament. I’ll say Montana State keeps pace with Kansas State and wins a close one at the end.
Pick: UPSET ALERT: Montana State
#7 Michigan State vs. #10 USC
It’s hard to bet against Tom Izzo in March, and this Spartans team has a nice core between Tyson Walker, A.J. Hoggard, and Celtics forward Sam Hauser’s brother Joey. I think USC is deeper though, and they’ve already made a statement by splitting with UCLA and nearly doing the same against Arizona. It was a rough start to the season for the Trojans with a loss to mid-major FGCU, but they have turned it around and I expect that momentum to carry into the tournament. This will be a very close one, but give me the Trojans in the upset.
Pick: UPSET ALERT: USC
#2 Marquette vs. #15 Vermont
Tyler Kolek has been one of the most improved players in the nation this season and led Marquette to perform far beyond their expectations. I don’t know how sustainable it is in March, but I think they at least get past Vermont. The Catamounts played well in the America East, but haven’t shown much against higher level opponents.
Potential Round of 32 Matchups
#1 Purdue vs. #8 Memphis
#4 Tennessee vs. #12 Oral Roberts
#6 Kentucky vs. #14 Montana State
#2 Marquette vs. #10 USC
Purdue and Marquette are slightly weaker then most teams of their seed level, and they’d draw tough matchups here with Memphis and USC. I would not be shocked if both of the two get upset. I do see SEC standouts Kentucky and Tennessee surviving to the Sweet 16; it’s unlikely a mid-major (even Oral Roberts) can handle an SEC powerhouse and whoever makes it out of that Montana State-Kansas State game is no match for a John Calipari coached Wildcats squad.
And the winner is…
After a roller coaster of a year, I think Kentucky will finally put it all together and make a run to the Final Four. With high seeds like Purdue and Marquette out of the way in the later rounds, the door is open for an underrated lower seed like the Wildcats to make a run. Oscar Tshiebwe and company will be on a revenge tour after their embarrassing exit just a year ago.
Stay tuned for the other half of my bracket in coming posts.