Round of 64 Thursday Predictions- South and West Regions

Posted: 03/20/2014 by levcohen in NCAA

And now it begins. There were games on Tuesday and yesterday, but they were, for all intents and purposes, play-in games. Now, after my 0-2 yesterday, the real madness begins. Starting at 12:15 Eastern time with Ohio State against Dayton, there are 16 games today and 16 more tomorrow. After this weekend, 64 will be 16. That’s 48 games over four days. We can be sure there will be a ton of upsets, but I sure can’t tell you what they’ll be. I’ll try, though, starting with my Thursday picks here.

My Record: 2-2

South Region:
6 Ohio State (25-9) vs 11 Dayton (23-10) in Buffalo
Spread: Ohio State favored by 6
This is a tough one right off the bat, and it comes in a game between cross-state rivals. It has quickly become a popular upset pick, as Dayton has been very good recently. They are 10-2 in their last 12 games, and 10-0 in their last 10 games against teams not named Saint Josephs (they are 0-3 against Saint Joes). They have wins in that time over UMass and Saint Louis, the class of the A-10 this year, and they have four total top 30 wins (none in the top 20). The Flyers don’t stand out in any area, but are a solid all around team. This is a balanced team, with no player averaging more than 12 points but four averaging at least 9.9.
Ohio State, on the other hand, was once ranked very highly in the AP rankings. They were 15-0, and looked like a one seed. Since then, the Buckeyes are just 10-9, including two losses against Penn State. I’m a big fan of this Buckeye team, though. They have lost just four games by more than six points, and nearly knocked off Michigan in the Big 10 tournament semifinal. This team won a game in Wisconsin, and have allowed just 59.8 (12th in the NCAA) this season. Offensively, they have more trouble, as LaQuinton Ross is their only consistent offensive option. Keep an eye on Aaron Craft. Craft didn’t even average double figures, but he’s been here before and has the “clutch” gene, if that’s a real thing.
The key of this game is OSU’s offense. If they start hitting shots, Dayton will be blown out. But even if the Buckeyes lose their offensive touch, they can stay in the game defensively. I’ll pick Ohio State, 68-56

8 Colorado (23-11) vs 9 Pittsburgh (25-9) in Orlando
Spread: Pitt favored by 6.5
To put is simply, Colorado has not been the same team since Spencer Dinwittie got hurt. Sure, they’ve done fine, but they are just 9-8 since their star player was injured. They have beaten Kansas, but that was with Dinwittie. The Buffaloes have just seven wins when they aren’t at home, and their second best road win is over RPI 170 USC. This is a good rebounding team, but I’m going to keep the analysis short. This team proved that it was solid even without their star guard, but they haven’t shown that they can do that against a team like Pitt on a neutral court.
The Pitt Panthers have a very odd resume. First, the good: This is a team that went 25-9 with a +10 point differential, a top-25 defense, is 12-4 in neutral or road situations, and has Lamar Peterson, a fifth year senior averaging close to 18 points including more than two threes per game to go along with over four rebounds and assists apiece. He also shoots 45% from the field. They also have Talib Zanna, another senior who averaged 13 points, nine rebounds, and 58% shooting from the field. Zanna had a 19 points, 21 rebound game against North Carolina. The Panthers are good offensively, good from the line, and great defensively. They lost to one non tournament team, and that was against a Florida State team that was one of the first teams our of the tournament. That looks like a top-4 seed to me. Now the bad part. Really, there is only one bad thing on Pitt’s resume, and that is their lack of wins against good teams. If their wins against teams below 100 in RPI were discounted, and they basically can be for the tournament, they would be 7-9. If you made the threshold top 50, they would be 2-7. So now this looks like a team with a poor strength of schedule who beat who they were supposed to beat. That’s true, but let’s look at their losses. They lost just ONE of their games against the top-50 by more than five points, and that was against Duke. By three against Virginia, two against Syracuse, five at Syracuse, four against North Carolina…. The list goes on. I think they turned a corner in the tournament with that win over UNC. After a mid season swoon, I think Pittsburgh is getting hot at the right time well Colorado, well, is not. Pitt wins 74-65.

3 Syracuse (27-5) vs 14 Western Michigan (23-9) in Buffalo
Syracuse favored by 13
I’ll keep this short. Yes, Syracuse had a swoon after starting the season 25-0. But this is a game against Western Michigan in Buffalo, practically right next door. Syracuse’s zone is hard to prepare against, and it lessens the likelihood of a big upset. It’s a shame, because I think Western Michigan got underseeded. Their RPI, 69, was way better than any other 14 seed and better than two of the 13 seeds and one of the 12 seeds. All five games against the top 50 have been close, and they’ve won two of them. The Broncos also have two fantastic players, David Brown and Shayne Whittington, who average a combined 36 points and 13 rebounds per game. But Syracuse will win the 71-6o, and it won’t really be that close.

1 Florida (32-2) vs 16 Albany (19-15) in Orlando
Florida favored by 21
If you saw Albany’s first four game, you know that they aren’t capable of coming close to knocking out Florida. They turned the ball over too much and let a team they had outscored 21-2 without even playing that well to start the game get back into it. More on the Gators later in the tournament. Because I think they’ll be merciful, it might not be a huge blowout, so I’ll pick Florida by a score of 73-56.

West Region:
2 Wisconsin (26-7) vs 15 American University (20-12) in Milwaukee
Wisconsin favored by 13.5
I do think the Badgers are vulnerable because they haven’t played great defense recently, but American University won’t be the team to do it. They’ve beaten just two top 150 teams, although they only lost to Ohio State by 11. Wisconsin shouldn’t have any problem stopping American defensively, as the Eagles average just 63.9 points per game. Defensively, they are good, allowing just 58.6 points per game, eight in the country. They haven’t faced a team like Wisconsin though, as the Badgers are led by a big man (Frank Kaminsky) who can shoot. This team hits a lot of threes, and is very polished both offensively and defensively. I think American will be tough defensively and keep Wisconsin under their season average, but they won’t be able to score much. Wisconsin wins 65-48.

7 Oregon (23-9) vs 10 BYU (23-11) in Milwaukee
Oregon favored by 5
Oregon is another polarizing team. They are a tremendous offensive team, pushing the pace and scoring more than 80 points per game. After an exciting tournament run last year, they were expected to be great this year, and haven’t quite lived up to expectations. They were on the bubble for much of the Pac-12 season but they got super hot, winning eight straight and turning a 3-8 Pac-12 record into a respectable 10-8 one. During their streak, they beat three tournament teams, including over UCLA (a four seed) and Arizona (a one seed). I like the way Oregon is playing right now, and think they could have a nice tournament run.
BYU is another team that lost one of their best players to injury. In their case, it was center Kyle Collinsworth in the conference tournament. Since we haven’t really seen them without Collinsworth, it’s hard to say how they’ll play without him, but since I would have liked Oregon anyway, this just makes my decision easier. Both of these teams score, as BYU is at nearly 85 points per game, third in the country, with Tyler Haws leading the way at 23.4 with 47% shooting from the field and 88% from the line. Oregon wins 93-84

5 Oklahoma (23-9) vs 12 North Dakota State (25-6) in Spokane
Oklahoma favored by 3.5
I like the upset here. NDSU is the best shooting team in the country, shooting an amazing 51% from the field. They are top-60 in both offense and defense (65.4 points allowed per game) and force turnovers. With an RPI of 36 and a senior Taylor Braun who averages 18 points per game, I’m going to take the more experienced North Dakota State team against an Oklahoma team that puts up a lot of points (82.2 per game) but also allows a lot (75.9, outside of the top 300). 81-77 NDSU.

4 San Diego State (29-4) vs 13 New Mexico State (26-9) in Spokane
San Diego State favored by 7
I like the Aztecs here, but just barely. I think some people forget what a great season San Diego State has had because of their two recent losses to New Mexico, who are a pretty good team themselves. The Aztecs won in Kansas and also beat Creighton on a neutral court and New Mexico once. That’s three top-20 wins, and their losses were against Arizona, New Mexico twice, and Wyoming. The Wyoming loss is the fluke, as playing in Wyoming is tough and the game ended 68-62. I don’t think you can take much from that, but I do think you can take a lot from the fact that SDSU played so well in non conference. In their three big tests, they went 2-1, scored more points than they allowed, and went 2-0 off of their home court. The Aztecs, allowing 56.6 points, are the second best defensive team in the country, and they also rebound well, and force a lot of turnovers. Their offense is hit or miss, but as long as you play defense and rebound like that, you should be fine against a 13 seed.
New Mexico State is not a normal 13 seed, though. They have a 7’5″, 355 pound man named Sim Bhullar. Bhullar, a sophomore, obviously makes a huge impact with his size and also shoots 65% from the field to go with his 3.4 blocks per game. As you would expect, this team rebounds well, shoots well, and defends well. They are a pretty good all-around team and also beat New Mexico, a mutual opponent who SDSU went 1-2 against. The problem is that the New Mexico win came on December 17th, and the Lobos have improved greatly since then. The Aggies, on the other hand, have losses to three teams with an RPI well below 200 since then, and have played just two games against the top 150, winning one and losing one against #150 Utah Valley. I like the Aggies, but they haven’t played enough against the big teams for me to pick them against San Diego State. 68-63.

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