Pennsylvania has Punxsutawney Phil. We in Las Vegas prefer March Madness to wipe away our winter blues.
One hundred college basketball teams from across the nation received invitations to postseason play, 68 in the Big Dance known as the NCAA Championships, plus 32 others headed toward The Little Dance better known as the NIT (which is now owned by the NCAA… but that’s another story).
While it’s obvious which team is going to win – usually! – when the No. 16 seed plays Our Lady of the Blind Girl in the first round, with respect to the 5 vs. 12 match-ups (often a position producing upsets), here’s some capsules for the more competitive 8 vs. 9 and 7 vs.10 pairings coming Thursday and Friday this week in the Round of 64.
Thursday, March 17
(9) UConn vs. (8) Colorado: Ignore the seeds, which are based on the “body of work” for the entire season.
The Huskies are on a roll, coming an American Athletic Conference title; the Buffaloes own just a single quality victory, plus wins over Northern Colorado and Fort Lewis (Durango, Colo.) – yawn.
Colorado has a go-to center in senior Josh Scott, a two-time all-Pac 12 performer. But a 6-foot-10 opponent should be no big deal for UConn.
How or why a record seven Pac 12 schools made the tournament is beyond the reach of my periscope. (my telescope, too). UConn, 75-59.
(9) Providence vs. (8) USC: Everyone of the Friars shoots the 3-ball, especially guard Rodney Bullock, which gave Villanova fits in the Big East semifinals, so the Trojans should be of little concern.
The Men of Troy are led by Las Vegas’ own Julian “JuJu” Jacobs, an all-Pac 12 junior guard.
The Trojans’ Galen Center opened 10 years ago, yet it took this long to finally put together a respectable basketball team – the Trojans’ first Dance since 2011. Thus, a lack of experience (only one senior) and a less-than-daunting schedule make USC completely untested even in this pairing.
The Friars can shoot; USC doesn’t play much defense. Providence 79-72.
(9) Butler vs. (8) Texas Tech: Brad Stevens reached the NCAAs in each of his 12 seasons at Butler, but it’s now Chris Holtmann guiding the Bulldogs after Stevens took over the NBA Celtics. And not much has changed.
Butler continued to be a high-scoring, up-tempo side, second only to Xavier in team scoring in the conference. Senior Kellen Dunham leads in scoring, but in the wings is sophomore Kelan Martin to keep the Dogs in the NCAAs for years to come.
The key for TTU is forward Aaron Ross, one of the team’s top scorers, yet without a single start all season. His energy off the bench will be to take the pressure off guard Toddrick Gotcher.
The NCAA seeding committee loved placing the smaller school as the higher seed, just to prove to the world they know what they’re doing. But now that Butler is in the Big East, we receive an honest appraisal that the Red Raiders are the better squad.
However, TTU has lost three of four, so maybe the committee is getting too suave. Butler 81-76.
Friday, March 18
(10) Temple vs. (7) Iowa; (9) Cincinnati vs. (8) St. Joseph’s; (10) VCU vs. (7) Oregon State; (10) Pittsburgh vs. (7) Wisconsin – the 1941 champion Badgers; (10) Syracuse vs. (7) Dayton. (Check back for picks on Friday)
Contact Nick at [email protected].