Round of 64 Friday Predictions- West and Midwest Regions

Posted: 03/21/2014 by levcohen in Basketball, NCAA

When Dayton beat Ohio State and knocked out one of my Final Four teams in the first game of the tournament, I knew March Madness had started. Then two 12 seeds won, four games went into overtime, and Louisville and San Diego State, both #4 seeds, barely won. I ended up 12-4, which isn’t horrible at least. Now on to Friday’s games, which could be just as crazy
Record: 14-6
—Midwest Region—

3 Duke (26-8) vs 14 Mercer (26-8) in Raleigh
Spread: Duke favored by 12.5
We know that Duke is a good team. They were ranked all season, and have five top-25 wins. But how good are they? The Dukies definitely have a lot of talent. Jabari Parker is the obvious one, but this is a team that can really put up a lot of points in a hurry. In Rodney Hood, Quinn Cook, Rasheed Sulaimon, and Andre Dawkins, they have four players who can absolutely fill it up. If any of those four gets hot, Duke is hard to beat, because Jabari is also usually hot. But this team definitely has some weaknesses. Their biggest weakness has to be lack of frontcourt depth. The Blue Devils have just two real big men in Amile Jefferson and Marshall Plumlee. They both have their moments, but neither is great, and they often get in foul trouble. As a result, Duke has had to play Parker, normally a small forward, at center, much like Magic Johnson in college. Parker’s not a great defender in general, so when he plays center, he struggles to get stops. A team with good big men can beat Duke.
Is Mercer that team? Probably not, but they might be troublesome for Duke. They are a top-25 team offensively, and rank 38th in college basketball with 38 rebounds per game, well above Duke. Mercer obviously doesn’t have the resume or players that Duke does, but if they outrebound the Blue Devils and get their big men in foul trouble, they could keep the game close. I still think Duke wins, but it won’t be a blowout. 75-68

6 Massachusetts (24-8) vs 11 Tennessee (22-12) in Raleigh
Spread: Tennessee favored by 5.5
Yes, you read that right. Tennessee, the 11 seed, is favored over UMass, the six seed. And it’s by a large amount. Since I’ve already written about Tennessee in the first four prediction, I won’t write that much more. But in their win over Iowa, they showed again that they are great defensively (65 points allowed in 45 minutes against a good offensive team) and outrebounded Iowa by seven. They are getting hot at the right time. Massachusetts, on the other hand, is not. They lost three of their last five games, and their last top-150 win was on February 21st. UMass is also very poor defensively, giving up 70.8 points per game, and isn’t as good offensively as the team Tennessee neutralized. I just don’t see UMass winning this game. Tennessee wins 74-60

1 Wichita State (34-0) vs 16 Cal Poly (14-19) in St. Louis
Spread: Wichita State favored by 16
Even if you are a “Wichita State hater”, which I’m not, then your problem is their lack of wins against top teams. They have shown time and time again that they can beat teams like Cal Poly, which is why they are 34-0. The question isn’t will they win, but by how much they will win by. Wichita State wins 79-59.

8 Kentucky (24-10) vs 9 Kansas State (20-12) in St. Louis
Spread: Kentucky favored by 6.5
Kentucky should be very nervous about this game. They have been a popular pick to knock off Wichita State and even some have them beating Louisville and advancing to at least the Elite Eight. They have the talent to do so, right? Well yes, and they could well do it, but we’ve seen this before. A team underperforms for a whole season, makes a small run at the end of the season, immediately becomes a popular sleeper pick, and then flames out in the first round and bursts brackets. Now, Kansas State might not be the team to do it. They have a lot of trouble scoring and have lost their last three and five of their last eight games. But Kentucky needs to walk out. Because while they do have a lot of talented players, and they were the preseason favorite, those players have just not gelled, and I don’t think they are going to put it all together in time. And because of that, I’ll go with K-State. Kansas State wins 68-64

—West Region—

6 Baylor (24-11) vs 11 Nebraska (19-12) in San Antonio
Spread: Baylor favored by 3.5
I don’t know why, but I really like Baylor. They started the season 12-1, and then promptly lost eight of their first 10 Big 12 games. And then they won 10 of their final 12 and made the Big 12 final. I think the team that started and ended the season will show up here, rather than the team that was on the bubble for most of the season. They are a balanced team with a lot of talented players (Brady Heslip is a great three point shooter, Isaiah Austin is a 7-footer who averages 11 points and 3.3 blocks per game, Cory Jefferson averages 14 points and eight rebounds per game, Kenny Chery is a point guard who averages 12 points and five assists per game) and they are hot at the right time.
Nebraska is back in their first tournament in a very long time, thanks to their coach, Tim Miles, who has been fantastic. Looming ahead is a possible match-up against rival Creighton in the next round, so they will be very motivated. Nebraska went 11-7 in the Big 10, finishing fourth in the conference. They have won eight of their past 10 and have wins over Wisconsin, Michigan State, and Ohio State. But I’m worried, because this Nebraska team reminds me of the Ohio State team that just lost yesterday. They struggle to score points, and they rely heavily on Terran Petteway, who scores 18 points per game. If he goes cold, Nebraska won’t be able to score enough. Baylor wins 64-58.

1 Arizona (30-4) vs 16 Weber State (19-11) in San Diego
Spread: Arizona favored by 19.5
Not much to  say here. Arizona is going to win, and they are going to win by a lot. This might be the most lopsided pure match-up in the round of 64. Arizona wins 81-54.

3. Creighton (26-7) vs 14 Louisiana-Lafayette (23-11) in San Antonio
Spread: Creighton favored by 13.5
LA-Lafayette is a fairly good team. Their nickname, the Rajun’ Cajuns, is also very good. With their 82-81 win over Georgia State, they stole a bid from a team that arguably had the better season, but this isn’t a Milwaukee stealing Green Bay’s bid scenario. This is going to be a high scoring game, because LA-Lafayette grabs a lot of rebounds, scores 81.4 points per game, forces some turnovers defensively, and also gives up a lot of points. They have two players, Elfrid Payton and Shawn Long, who average 19 points a piece. Long averages a double double with 2.7 blocks per game, and Peyton has a very rare line: 19 points, six rebounds, six assists, 51% shooting, and 61% free throw shooting. He’s a point guard, but not a normal one. I think the Rajun’ Cajuns year is next year. Neither of their top players are seniors, and seniors account for only 6.2 points per game. They are underrated, but then again, they don’t have Doug McDermott. Creighton does. Creighton wins 86-75

8 Gonzaga (28-6) vs 9 Oklahoma State (21-12) in San Diego
Spread: Oklahoma State favored by 3
Gonzaga wasn’t as good as they usually are this year, with few good wins and two really bad losses (against Portland and San Diego). Oklahoma State scores 80 points per game, was in a conference that got 70% of its teams into the tournament, and haven’t lost a game in regulation in their past eight. They also have Marcus Smart, a man who has been on a mission since his fan-shoving incident. Smart, a likely top-7 pick in the upcoming draft, still has a lot to prove, and he always plays hard. I just can’t bring myself to believe that Oklahoma State will lose this game, even though I still really like Gonzaga. 78-73

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