By Andy Staples
March 18, 2009
NCAA Tournament Speed Picks
At a loss for your bracket picks?'s Andy Staples has quick picks for all 32 first-round games.
Round of 64: Midwest Region
(1) Louisville (16) Morehead St Admit it. You thought it was hilarious back in college when you bought that Morehead State hat. You may even be thinking about digging through all those old Senor Frog's yard glasses so you can wear that lid while you root on the Eagles on Friday. Resist the urge. They don't stand a chance.
(2) Michigan State (15) Robert Morris Robert Morris guard Bateko Francisco is a lockdown defender with an inspiring back story, but the Colonials are about to face a team of bigger, more athletic Franciscos. Spartans coach Tom Izzo carries an 8-3 first-round record at Michigan State into the matchup.
(3) Kansas (14) North Dakota St The Bison can shoot with the best of them (49 percent field goal, 41.2 percent three-point), and they have a senior-heavy lineup, so don't be shocked if this one goes down to the buzzer. Kansas is young, but coach Bill Self will have had four days to prepare the Jayhawks for the Bison, so Cole Aldrich and company should survive.
(4) Wake Forest (13) Cleveland St Cleveland State coach Gary Waters coached a 13th-seeded Kent State team past fourth-seeded Indiana in 2001. Despite the similar circumstances, don't expect a repeat. Wake's huge front line is a mid-major killer, and it should make life miserable for 6-5, 240-pound Cleveland State forward J'Nathan Bullock.
(5) Utah (12) Arizona The matchup in the post between 7-foot-2 Utah center Luke Nevill (16.9 ppg, 9.1 rpg) and 6-10 Arizona power forward Jordan Hill (18.5 ppg, 11 rpg) should make for great theater. But which Arizona team will show up? The one that beat Kansas, or the one that lost to Alabama-Birmingham.
(6) West Virginia (11) Dayton Dayton plays suffocating defense, but the Flyers may not have an answer for 6-9 West Virginia freshman Devin Ebanks. Ebanks got better as the season progressed, and he really turned it on the Big East Tournament. Ebanks grabbed 18 rebounds in the Mountaineers' win against Notre Dame, then followed with 20 points in an upset of Pittsburgh and 22 points in a loss to Syracuse.
(7) Boston College (10) USC USC freshman guard DeMar Derozan seems to understand that he can raise his draft stock most in March. DeRozan, a likely one-and-done, had a monster Pac-10 Tournament. If he can take the Trojans past the tourney's first weekend, he may be able to go Bentley-for-Bentley with buddy - and USC teammate -- Lil' Romeo.
(8) Ohio State (9) Siena The Buckeyes are playing what amounts to a home game, but the Saints are no stranger to NCAA Tournament upsets. Kenny Hasbrouck, Alex Franklin and company were a No. 13 seed last year when they upset Vanderbilt in Tampa. They won't be intimidated by a sea of scarlet and gray.
West Region
(1) Connecticut (16) Chattanooga Dennis Haskins, the most famous non-T.O. Chattanooga alum, will treat everyone to a burger, a shake and a Zack Attack concert at The Max if the Mocs shock the Huskies. Unfortunately, Hasheem Thabeet is going to make Mr. Belding screech.
(2) Memphis (15) CS Northridge The Matadors have the worst hard-luck story in the tourney. The day the team left for Kansas City, former leading scorer Deon Tresvant and the son of coach Bobby Braswell were ordered to stand trial on felony burglary charges. Last month, point guard Josh Jenkins was lost for the season after a serious car crash. After adapting to those losses, the remaining Matadors get to face a team on a 25-game win streak.
(3) Missouri (14) Cornell The Big Red's best shot is to get hot from three-point range, and one potential bomber is junior forward Ryan Wittman, the son of former Indiana star Randy Wittman. The younger Wittman (18.5 ppg) shoots 41.9 percent from behind the arc. Unfortunately, Mizzou's frontcourt duo of DeMarre Carroll (16.8 ppg) and Leo Lyons (14.2 ppg) will prove too much for the Ivy Leaguers.
(4) Washington (13) Mississippi St The Bulldogs sneaked into the tourney by winning the SEC Tournament, but no one wanted to be matched up with them. Center Jarvis Varnado averages more blocks per game (4.1) than 270 Division I teams. Washington's Isaiah Thomas should outduel Mississippi State's Dee Bost in a matchup of freshman point guards, but this year's NCAA Tournament has a fever. And the only prescription is more cowbell.
(5) Purdue (12) Northern Iowa The Boilermakers finally looked like the team everyone predicted in the preseason during their run to the Big Ten Tournament title. But they'll face a Northern Iowa team that has won five in a row, and Purdue doesn't have anyone who can match girth with 7-1, 290-pound center Jordan Eglseder.
(6) Marquette (11) Utah St The Eagles don't have guard Dominic James anymore, but they still have guards Wesley Matthews and Jerel McNeal and forward Lazar Hayward. That should be enough to get by the Aggies. Still, it would be quite a thrill to see sophomore wing Pooh Williams -- not to be confused with former Timberwolves guard Pooh Richardson or former Florida State fullback Pooh Bear Williams -- get his hand caught in the honeypot of the second round.
(7) California (10) Maryland Cal leads the nation in three-point field goal percentage, but the Bears don't typically sit back and bomb away. In fact, the Bears rank 152 in the nation in three-pointers per game (6.3). Still, if Maryland guard Greivis Vasquez doesn't put up another triple-double or similiar performance to carry the Terrapins to a win, the Bears might make some critical shots.
(8) BYU (9) Texas A&M The Aggies' frontcourt trio of center Chinemelu Elonu and forwards Josh Carter and Bryan Davis should dominate on the boards. BYU guard Lee Cummard will score his points, but expect Texas A&M to try to wear down the Cougars with its athleticism. Beyond the starting five, BYU doesn't have much.
East Region
(1) Pittsburgh (16) East Tennessee St The Bucs didn't play a single BCS-conference team all season. Maybe they could have warmed up with Georgia or Oregon? This hardly seems fair. Still want to root for the extreme underdog? Their leading scorer is Kevin Tiggs, a senior forward averaged 21.5 points and shot 54 percent from the floor. More good news for the automatic bid from the Atlantic Sun? They beat fellow 16-seed Chattanooga earlier this year. But somehow, that might not scare DeJuan Blair and the Panthers machine.
(2) Duke (15) Binghamton The Bearcats are led by a St. Joseph's transfer (America East scoring leader D.J. Rivera), and a Syracuse signee who attended UMass before he transferred to a junior college (guard Tiki Mayben). On top of some controversy when Rivera wasn't named the conference player of the year, that makes for a very good America East team, but will they be good enough to top the Blue Devils to prove the America East voters all wrong? Doubtful.
(3) Villanova (14) American Guard Scottie Reynolds and forward Dante Cunningham lead a Villanova team so experienced that it won't be surprised by anything -- after all what can American bring that the Big East hasn't? This could be the first step toward a Final Four berth for the Wildcats.
(4) Xavier (13) Portland St Portland State guard Jeremiah Dominguez might be one of the smallest players in the tourney, and the 5-6, 150-pounder has a huge heart. Unfortunately, it won't be enough to beat Derrick Brown and the Musketeers, who have made the Elite Eight twice in the past five years.
(5) Florida St (12) Wisconsin Florida State guard Toney Douglas (21.3 ppg) never met a shot he didn't like, and he rarely meets a defender he can't create a chance against. Wisconsin's Trevon Hughes will test Douglas. Unfortunately for the Badgers, Wisconsin may not have an answer for 7-1 freshman Solomon Alabi, a shotblocker whose offense has evolved in recent weeks.
(6) UCLA (11) Virginia Commonwealth Because UCLA has made the past three Final Fours, this will seem like a bigger upset than it is. Darren Collison remains at the helm, but Jordan Farmar, Arron Afflalo, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute and Kevin Love are long gone. Meanwhile, 6-9 forward Larry Sanders and his 7-7 wingspan teaming up with clutch-shooting Eric Maynor make this VCU team potentially better than the one that knocked off Duke in the first round in 2007.
(7) Texas (10) Minnesota Minnesota coach Tubby Smith returns to the tourney after a year away. His first Big Dance at Minnesota might feel a little different than his ten with Kentucky. For example, if he leads the Golden Gophers to the Elite Eight, Minnesota fans won't want him fired because he didn't make the Final Four. Unfortunately for Smith and the Gophers, A.J. Abrams will lead the Longhorns into the second round.
(8) Oklahoma St (9) Tennessee We're going to get tired just watching these two teams sprint up and down the floor. Neither team is huge, but if you like watching athletic 6-6 guys slash into the lane, this is your game. If nothing else, the Vols are carrying the torch for their conference after the SEC received a big conference low of only three bids to the Dance.
South Region
(1) North Carolina (16) Radford The pride of Belarus, 6-11 Radford center Artisiom Parakhouski (16.2 ppg, 11.2 rpg), travels to Greensboro, N.C., where he'll face a somewhat hostile crowd -- any Duke fans that make it in the stadium will be his best friends -- and one of the best players in college basketball history (Tyler Hansbrough). With or without point guard Ty Lawson and his problematic big toe, the Tar Heels should roll.
(2) Oklahoma (15) Morgan St Yes, the Sooners have lost four of six. No, it doesn't matter. Forward Blake Grffin could play in his Affliction blazer and white blazer, and the Sooners still would dominate the Bears -- even if Todd Bozeman's return to the NCAA tournament is a nice story. Sorry screenwriters.
(3) Syracuse (14) Stephen F. Austin Jim Boeheim is absolutely correct. Everyone will remember this season for six overtimes and for what the Orange do in this tournament. If they play the way they did in the Big East tourney, they could go far -- even without Jonny Flynn flinging his sweatband across the floor.
(4) Gonzaga (13) Akron It's been 10 years since Casey Calvary's tip-in against Florida put Gonzaga in the Elite Eight and on the map. The program has evolved into a national power, but the Zags have gone home the first weekend six of the past seven years. Four times, they've lost to a lower seeded team. That's not going to happen here.
(5) Illinois (12) Western Kentucky Western Kentucky did make the Sweet 16 last season, but Courtney Lee, Tyrone Brazelton, buzzer-beater hero Ty Rogers and Coach Darrin Horn are all gone. Look for Illinois, which holds opponents to 39.3 percent from the field, to try to suffocate the Hilltoppers. That could be tough for the Illini, who may only get a few minutes from Chester Frazier (hand), but they should survive.
(6) Arizona St (11) Temple Arizona State guard James Harden can fill up the box score, but Christmas comes but once a year. Actually, Temple guard Dionte Christmas (19.2 ppg) wants to make his final trip to the tourney last a little longer than his first, a first-round exit last year at the hands of Michigan State.
(7) Clemson (10) Michigan Clemson had the misfortune last year of being a No. 5 paired with an underrated No. 12 (Villanova). That didn't work out so well for the Tigers, and neither will this matchup with a Michigan team that beat Duke and UCLA in the pre-conference season.
(8) LSU (9) Butler The Tigers didn't play a great schedule, and they mailed it in after clinching the SEC regular-season title, but they still have the kind of athleticism that gives mid-major teams -- even really good ones like Butler -- trouble. Guard Marcus Thornton makes LSU go, and 6-6 guard Garrett Temple can defend just about anyone. The Tigers' frontcourt will have to stop Bulldogs forward Matt Howard, who led Butler in scoring, rebounding and blocks.

You May Like