Round of 32 Saturday Predictions

Posted: 03/22/2014 by levcohen in Basketball, NCAA

I had a bad day yesterday. During March Madness, it happens to the best of us. I went 7-9, and my record for the tournament is now a ghastly 21-15. I feel like yesterday in particular, all of the games that I was 50-50 on, I lost. I originally had Stephen F Austin, but switched to VCU. Same goes for UCLA-Tulsa, Memphis-GW, and Providence-North Carolina. I also went 0-3 on the 8-9 games yesterday, which is tough to do. I did have a 14 seed beating a three, but it was the wrong one, even though I had Mercer keeping it close against Duke. Oh well. In related news, there is now only one perfect bracket in America. Let’s go Brad! I can’t say that an all-Michigan final is all that likely, but Brad’s done well thus far. Let’s hope he keeps it up. Anyway, there’s no time to breath, as the next round happens this very weekend. I’m not going to get this post done in time for the Pittsburgh-Florida game, but I won’t look at the score before I post.

Record: 21-15 (very imperfect)

—South Region—

1 Florida (33-2) vs 9 Pittsburgh (26-9) in Orlando
Spread: Florida favored by 5.5
And here is that very enticing aforementioned first game of the day. For me, it was one of the toughest games to pick when I originally made a bracket that now lies in some dumpster. Florida, as the #1 overall seed, was everyone’s favorite to make the Final Four out of the South, but I was more skeptical. I ended up taking Ohio State to make it, which is a totally different issue. Anyway, Florida has shown cracks all season long, and those cracks were clear in their rocky 12 point win over an Albany team that frankly should have been overwhelmed. To be fair, the Gators did out shoot the Great Danes 51% to 39%, but they never really pulled away. This Florida team is one of the best in the country defensively, and they have won 27 straight games, but they do sometimes struggle to put up points even when they are shooting well, with the Albany game as evidence. Part of that has got to be a lack of offensive rebounding, and another is 67% free throw shooting. It’s clear that Florida can’t score at will. To be fair, neither can any of the other #1 seeds this year with the possible exception of Wichita State.
Based on their thrashing of an undermanned Colorado team on Thursday, Pittsburgh is going to be tough to beat. Methodical is the word that best describes their win over the Buffs. Defensively, they were terrific, as they have been for most of the season. Colorado managed just 18 points in the first half after scoring five points in the first 11 minutes of the game. Even with star Lamar Patterson playing poorly, Pittsburgh still put up 77 points, thanks mostly to 51% shooting and 17 turnovers forced. For the season, they’re averaging 72.5 points, 46% shooting, and 10 turnovers forced per game. If they have the same success against Florida in the transition game and offensively as they did against Colorado, then this will be a rout, because Florida won’t be able to score easily. But I don’t think Pitt is tremendous offensively either, and I think the first to 60 will win this game. It’ll be a nail biter, and the Panthers haven’t been great in close games. In the end, it comes down to free throw shooting, and the Panthers shoot the ball better (71%) than the Gators. I don’t feel great about it, but I’ll take Pittsburgh by a score of 56-54

3 Syracuse (28-5) vs 11 Dayton (24-10) in Buffalo
Spread: Syracuse favored by 7.5
After picking them to lose in the round of 32 before the tournament, I’m back on the Syracuse bandwagon. It didn’t take much, but then again I probably never should have doubted this team. They were magnificent in the first round, proving that they are, in fact, a good basketball team, and not the one that lost five games in such a swift manner. People forget that Jerami Grant, the team’s fourth leading scorer and leading rebounder, was out injured. He’s back now. People also forget that just over a month ago, Syracuse was the consensus #1 overall seed with a 25-0 record. Then there’s the zone. It really is tough to prepare against, and Syracuse should probably be considered the favorite to come out of the South. Kansas doesn’t shoot the three very well (vital to beat the zone) and Florida (and Pittsburgh, for that manner) can’t be considered jump shooting teams.
Dayton won the game on Thursday against Ohio State, but the Buckeyes really lost it with a poor performance. As mentioned before, Dayton also struggles to hit threes. I don’t think they have much of a chance. Syracuse wins 72-60.

— Midwest Region—

4 Louisville (30-5) vs 5 Saint Louis (27-6) in Orlando
Spread: Louisville favored by 9.5
It makes me sick. It really does. Since I don’t really care about my bracket anymore, the biggest thing I’m rooting for in this tournament (besides a Villanova championship) is for Louisville to lose. As soon as possible. It’s nothing personal, but I’m tired of Rick Pitino. I love Russ Smith and the rest of them, but they won it last season. I want to see something new. And though Manhattan were in their first round game against Louisville throughout, they never really had a chance. This was probably the best case scenario for Louisville. Their first round game is close, but they win it. They now won’t take any opponent likely. A Manhattan team that had a former Pitino disciple coaching and probably new most of the tricks in Pitino’s book kept it close, but were not able to win. And in the other Midwest game in Orlando, we saw a poor (there is no other way of putting it) Saint Louis team edge North Carolina State in overtime. This was an NC State team that led for most of the game and was the better team throughout. I don’t want to say they “choked”, but they did miss free throws and handed the game to Saint Louis. It’s fair to say that, like Dayton, Saint Louis didn’t win the game but their opponent lost it. I fear a blowout here. Louisville wins 78-62.

2 Michigan (26-8) vs 7 Texas (24-10) in Milwaukee
Spread: Michigan favored by 4.5
Michigan needs to watch out here. I’m not a big fan of this Texas team, but if Michigan goes cold from the floor, they can easily lose. I wasn’t impressed with their win over Wofford. Wofford looked pretty bad, and Michigan put up just 57 points. More than ever, this looks like a vulnerable team. If Big 10 player of the year Nik Stauskas goes cold, watch out, because the Wolverines don’t really have any other good scorers with Mitch McGary out. Caris LeVert and Glen Robinson III, both NBA prospects, show flashes, but they are nowhere near the consistent second and third options a contender should have. I think that will come back to bite them, but I’m not sure it will against Texas.
Texas beat Arizona State 87-85. So yes, they won the game, but they gave up 85 points. In regulation. And Michigan is one of the most efficient teams offensively in the NCAA. The one thing Texas really has going for them is Cameron Ridley. Since Michigan is without a consistent big man, Ridley might have a huge game here. He put up 17 and 12 against the Sun Devils, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see more of the same against Michigan. I just don’t think it will be enough to knock off the Wolverines. Michigan wins 72-68. All I can say is that, if you expect Michigan to go far in the tournament, you’d better hope that Stauskas stays hot.

— West Region —

4 San Diego State (30-4) vs 12 North Dakota State (26-6) in Spokane
Spread: San Diego State favored by 3.5
SDSU is another team that got very lucky in the first round, as it took them overtime to defeat a New Mexico State team that had outplayed them for the entire second half. San Diego State’s vaunted defense showed itself in the first half, when they gave up just 20 points. In the second half, though New Mexico State put up 40. That’s concerning. Also concerning is San Diego State’s poor shooting. They have shot it poorly all season, and Thursday night was no exception, as the Aztecs shot just 39% from the field against a mediocre defensive team. You might why their poor shooting matters. They did shoot just 44% during the season and still lost just four games, right? It’s a fair point, but North Dakota State is 19-1 when they give up 70 or fewer points. San Diego State averages just 70. The way to beat NDSU is offensively, because they showed against Oklahoma that they can really put the ball in the basket. Four players hit double figures, the team shot 53%, and the Bison also shot 43% from three point land and 91% (20-22) from the free throw line. Those numbers aren’t flukes, either; the Bison shot 51%-75%-37% over the course of the season. So while you could argue that NDSU hasn’t faced a defensive team as good as SDSU, I would counter with the fact that SDSU hasn’t faced an offense as good as North Dakota State’s. I think the Bison are just better defensively than the Aztecs are offensively, which will be the difference in this strength against strength and weakness against weakness game. North Dakota State wins 71-64.

2 Wisconsin (27-7) vs 7 Oregon (24-9) in Milwaukee
Spread: Wisconsin favored by 5.5
A couple points were added to the spread because the game is basically being played in Wisconsin University’s backyard, because otherwise I wouldn’t be able to explain the 5.5 point spread. Oregon is a very good team, probably at the level of Wisconsin. Both teams were good in first round wins, as Wisconsin’s 75-35 win over American really jumps off the page. But I think Oregon’s win over BYU, which was in doubt for at least part of the second half, was even more impressive. The Ducks ended up winning 87-68, but it’s not the final score that was so impressive. It’s the fact that Oregon shot just 2-13 from three point range and still managed to put up 87 points that impresses me. I wouldn’t say that Oregon lived and died by the three point shot, but they definitely relied on it to an extent. They hit nearly eight threes a game and shot it at a 39% clip. To put that in perspective, Oregon finished 20th in college basketball in three point percentage and 47th in three pointers made. Somehow I don’t think they’ll finish 2-13 again. What really saved the Ducks was the fact that they shot 31-38 from the free throw line against BYU. Free throw shooting, I think, will quickly turn into a storyline in this game between the Ducks and the Badgers. The Ducks’ performance against Brigham Young was not a fluke, as they shot 77% over the course of the season. But Wisconsin allows opponents to shoot free throws fewer than almost any other team. In a game between evenly matched teams, the number of times Oregon gets to the line will likely decide it. I picked Oregon to get to the elite eight before the tournament, and I don’t know why I’d change my pick here. Oh, besides the fact that all my other predictions have been wrong. Oregon wins 75-72.

— East Region —

4 Michigan State (27-8) vs 12 Harvard (27-4) in Spokane
Spread: Michigan State favored by 7.5
It’s telling that Harvard was able to pull off the mini upset over Cincinnati without even playing particularly good basketball. The Crimson turned the ball over 12 times, shot 43% from the field, missed 11 free throws, and shot just 6-17 from three point land. And they still won the game over the regular season AAC Co-Champion. Impressive. But I can’t bring myself to pick them over Michigan State. Michigan State is basically Cincinnati except they can also score. So they aren’t really like Cincinnati at all. I’ll be cheering for Harvard but picking Michigan State. I like how that works. 70-65.

2 Villanova (29-4) vs 7 Connecticut (27-8) in Buffalo
Spread: Villanova favored by 3.5
3.5? Really? I know, I know. Connecticut matches up really well against Villanova with their fantastic guards (Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright) and they have their mojo back after beating Saint Joe’s in overtime on Thursday. In fact, this looks like a similar team to the one Kemba Walker led all the way to the NCAA Championship, with Napier starring instead of Walker this time around. Plus, Villanova hasn’t beaten a really good team since November and struggled to put Milwaukee away on Thursday after losing their first game of the Big East tournament against Seton Hall. They seem ripe for an upset. But I was still shocked to see the spread at 3.5. Connecticut will probably win this game, but Villanova had a heck of a season, even if they were blown out by Creighton twice. And because I’m shocked by the low line, I’m going to take Villanova. Take that, oddsmakers! By the way, I probably just doomed Villanova. And I didn’t talk about the specific match-ups for a reason (hint: it’s because it doesn’t look good for the Wildcats). Oh well. 77-70.

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