Let’s take a look at some 2016 NCAA Tournament predictions that are sure to be 100%, totally correct. Today, we’ll cover the East and Midwest regions; yesterday, we looked at the South and West corners, and on Wednesday, we’ll go through the Final Four and the National Championship matchups.
East Region, First Round:
1 North Carolina over 16 FGCU/16 Fairleigh-Dickinson: Another year, another 4-0 record for the No. 1 seeds in the first round.
9 Providence over 8 USC: When you’re looking at a potential Cinderella low-seeded team, one of the biggest things to look at is whether or not that squad has a superstar. Providence’s Kris Dunn, an All-America senior point guard, definitely qualifies. The Friars spent the bulk of the year in the Top 25, and I think they’re underseeded and a very dangerous No. 9 seed.
12 Chattanooga over 5 Indiana: I’ve been known for being a big Indiana advocate all year. I loved the job that Tom Crean did this year with a team that clunked miserably in November, only to turn it on and be terrific for the rest of the year. However, warning sirens blared in the Hoosiers’ Big Ten tournament loss to Michigan on Friday. No team has ever won the NCAA tournament after losing in the first round of its conference tournament, and the trend will continue here. The Mocs make their money turning teams over, and Indiana is one of the worst teams in the country at not turning the ball over. That’s a bad recipe.
4 Kentucky over 13 Stony Brook: This disappoints me. The Seawolves (what a great name, by the way) are playing in their first NCAA tournament. The chip on their shoulder will be enormous, and I so was hoping that they got paired up with a team that I could actually see them taking down. But the Wildcats got screwed in their seeding, and John Calipari’s last two Kentucky teams that were a four-seed or worse both made the Final Four. They’ll be very motivated, and they’re clicking at the right time. Give me Paypal Cal to advance.
11 Michigan over 6 Notre Dame: Notre Dame was buzzsawed in its loss to UNC Friday, but fortunately for the Fighting Irish, this won’t be like that. However, I like the Wolverines to not only get past 11-seed Tulsa, who shouldn’t even be in the field, on Wednesday, but I also like them to win this game. If Tulsa manages to win the play-in game, however, I’ll switch my pick to Notre Dame.
3 West Virginia over 14 Stephen F. Austin: SFA is another team that I was hoping got a better draw, because I really do think that the Lumberjacks can do some damage. The matchup with West Virginia should be one of the most hideous battles of the tournament – both teams turn their opponents over a ton. Ultimately, I like the toughness and stamina of the Mountaineers to get it done.
10 Pittsburgh over 7 Wisconsin: Nobody is talking about Jamie Dixon’s team, and that’s a big mistake. Wisconsin, like Indiana, is a team that I’ve been high on all year. I think the Badgers got a horrible draw here though. They’re young and inexperienced, while the Panthers are the opposite. Their only weakness is rebounding, which shouldn’t hurt them much in this first game.
2 Xavier over 15 Weber State: Xavier’s 1-3-1 zone is the nastiest defense in the NCAA tournament. The Musketeers have the rare ability to be scrappy yet also appear so polished at times.
9 Providence over 1 UNC: Y’know what? Let’s roll the dice. Kris Dunn vs. Marcus Paige is terrific. The Tar Heels got the toughest draw of the four No. 1 seeds, and this is why. They’ll need to turn it into a track meet to beat Providence, and this UNC team, despite its supreme rebounding ability, can’t shoot the dang ball. Oh, and you thought Dunn’s 16 points per game led the team? You forgot about how Providence has a big man, Ben Bentil, that’s averaging 21.2 points and 7.8 rebounds. Yikes. The Friars are underseeded, and they prove it by bouncing the first #1 seed of the tournament.
4 Kentucky over 12 Chattanooga: I’m still trying to figure out how Kentucky was a No. 4 seed while Texas A&M was a No. 3. The Wildcats had an argument to be a No. 2, honestly. The talent gap is just so wide, here, and Calipari gets his team to another Sweet 16.
3 West Virginia over 11 Michigan: All year, we’ve had to hear about how teams will struggle to prepare for West Virginia’s press on just a day of rest. I think that comes to fruition here, sending the Mountaineers to a second-straight Sweet 16.
2 Xavier over 10 Pittsburgh: I really wanted to take the Panthers to upset Xavier here, which I think is quite possible. However, I just can’t pick against that zone when teams only have one day to prepare for it. The Panthers don’t shoot it well enough from three to really exploit the defense, and that’s what dooms them in the round of 32.
4 Kentucky over 9 Providence: This will be an old-fashioned shootout in Philadelphia, which would be a geographic advantage to the Friars. However, the Wildcats just have the depth that no other team in the region can match, and when fatigue sets in, Skal Labissiere (wait, him?) will come up big for both his team and his NBA Draft stock.
3 West Virginia over 2 Xavier: The matchup of unique defensive strategies will be quite the battle on this stage. The over/under in turnovers for this game would have to be like, 45. However, The Mountaineers took an ass-kicking from Kentucky in this round, and Bob Huggins is one of the best coaches in the country at motivating his players. They’ll get it done here.
4 Kentucky over 3 West Virginia: While this result certainly won’t be as bad as last year’s, the winner won’t change. The Wildcats can handle the West Virginia press by shooting it well. They also have the nation’s best point guard in Tyler Ulis running the show, which is exactly what you need to neutralize West Virginia’s swarming attack. Jamal Murray is named Most Outstanding Player of the region, and the Wildcats go to their fifth Final Four in six years.
Midwest Region, First Round:
1 Virginia over 16 Hampton: Everybody is baffled as to how Virginia scored a No. 1 seed over Michigan State, but it really doesn’t matter. The Cavaliers will dismiss Hampton quickly.
9 Butler over 8 Texas Tech: I want to say that the Red Raiders have a great shot at unseating Virginia should they win this first game. The bad news is that I don’t think they do make it past this one. The Bulldogs, like Providence, are a savvy, veteran-lead team that spent a big chunk of the year ranked. They overwhelm the overachieving Red Raiders in the first round here.
12 Arkansas Little Rock over 5 Purdue: The Boilermakers are really good, but UALR is a nasty draw for a team that nearly just won the Big Ten tournament. At 29-4, the Trojans are legitimately as good as any of the teams that were ranked in the 20’s for most of the year. They are third nationally in allowing under 60 points per game. I’ll buy into it.
4 Iowa State over 13 Iona: This is going to be an absolute track meet. Both teams average more than 80 points per game. The only question is whether the Denver altitude will impact the game late, because we know that defense won’t interfere. It’s also a potential upset, as any time you have a team that can score like Iona, anything can happen. However, this Iowa State team was trumped in the first round by a 14-seed last year. They’re experienced and won’t let it happen again.
11 Gonzaga over 6 Seton Hall: The Bulldogs may be the best 11-seed or worse in the history of the NCAA tournament. Mark Few’s team is peaking at the right time, and they’ll clip a Pirates team that comes in hot, having just won the Big East tournament.
3 Utah over 14 Fresno State: Fresno State’s story is great, but the Utes are ready to take out some frustration after getting curb-stomped by Oregon in the Pac 12 title game. Jacob Poeltl will have little trouble doing what he wants in the paint.
7 Dayton over 10 Syracuse: How in the world did the Orange get into the field? According to RPI, they’re the worst team to ever earn an at-large bid. The Fliers have been one of my sleepers all year, and I think they get it done against an opponent that simply shouldn’t be playing in this tournament.
2 Michigan State over 15 Middle Tennessee State: The Spartans are overrated by the national media right now, but they ain’t losing to a #15 seed.
1 Virginia over 9 Butler: Tony Bennett needs a good run after getting knocked out early in each of his last two seasons. This matchup is a bit easier compared to last season’s draw, where No. 2 Virginia was dealt No. 7 Michigan State, who ultimately went to the Final Four. I like the Cavaliers to get it done.
4 Iowa State over 12 Arkansas Little Rock: The Cyclones’ offense vs. the Trojans’ defense will be must-watch TV, but in the college basketball, I think offense beats defense. This isn’t the case with very many other sports. The senior-led Cyclones have one of the nation’s best point guards in Monte Morris, and guards like him make it significantly harder to shut a team down’s scoring.
3 Utah over 11 Gonzaga: Utah has Jacob Poeltl. Gonzaga does not have Jacob Poeltl. Advantage: the team with Jacob Poeltl.
2 Michigan State over 7 Dayton: I really hate going chalk here, especially in a predictions article. But Tom Izzo’s team isn’t losing this early. Or, should I say, Denzel Valentine’s team isn’t losing this early.
1 Virginia over 4 Iowa State: The rumor out there is that the Cavs can’t score. That’s complete garbage. The game pace dictated in their amazing defensive abilities would indicate that they can’t score, but really, that’s not true. They’ll prove it here by putting up enough points to bounce the Cyclones.
2 Michigan State over 3 Utah: Denzel Valentine guaranteed a national championship win for the Spartans. He’ll get one step closer by eliminating the Utes in overtime.
1 Virginia over 2 Michigan State: Third time is the charm, right? This would be the third straight time that Virginia and Michigan State meet up in the NCAA tournament. This time, I’ll go with the deeper, more physical team, and it’s rare to not be talking about Tom Izzo in that spot. The Cavaliers are hungry for the Final Four, and they’ll win a first-to-50 grinder here.
Check back tomorrow for predictions for the Final Four and national championship game!