The story on day one of the tourney has to be the stellar play of the West Coast, particularly the Pac-12. The oft-maligned conference showed well yesterday, going 3-0 including two seed upsets with #12 Cal dispatching #5 UNLV and #12 (and ridiculously under-seeded) Oregon taking care of Oklahoma State. Add in #6 seed Arizona handily beating a veteran Belmont team many had tabbed for an upset, and it becomes a fantastic day for the Pac-12. They still have a little way to go in order to cap it off, with #6 UCLA being a Vegas underdog to #11 Minnesota and Colorado with a toss-up against Illinois tomorrow – but if even one of them wins, it becomes likely the best opening round performance by any conference.
As of writing (the late games are still going on) we haven’t had the earth-shattering upset yet. So is one coming today?? Last year’s tourney went much the same way on the opening day before back-to-back bombshells with a pair of #2 seeds losing within the span of a half hour (Duke & Missouri). Will we see a repeat performance in 2013? Let’s dig into the morning/afternoon sessions and take a closer look.
#15 Albany Terriers vs. #2 Duke Blue Devils -18
Will Duke make it two stunning upsets two seasons in a row?? I don’t think so. This team is more balanced than last year’s squad spearheaded by the mercurial Austin Rivers. Mason Plumlee is much improved as a scoring threat and defender and a healthy Ryan Kelly gives them the ability to really stretch the floor-particularly against lesser-skilled teams.
I like Duke to be very sharp and very focused and to put Albany away early. Coach K might clear the bench enough to make the cover a little nerve-wracking late, but I think Duke wins this game by 20-plus.
Free Pick: Duke Blue Devils -18
#12 Ole Miss Rebels vs. #5 Wisconsin Badgers -5.5
His name is Marshall Mathers. Ok, it’s actually Marshall Henderson, but the antics have made for the easy leap to nickname and its starting to stick. I can’t think of a layer in the nation more entertaining, and more likely to both shoot his team INTO or OUT OF any game (maybe Russ Smith at Louisville). What would be the WORST possible matchup for a team like ole Miss and a player like Marshall? Yup. A team like Wisconsin.
Ole Miss doesn’t just play a team LIKE Wisconsin, they play the real thing. Look for the Badgers to play smarter, control tempo and frustrate the hell out of a frenetic Ole Miss team not noted for great shot selection. I like Wisconsin to control this game from tip to buzzer.
Free Pick: Wisconsin Badgers -5.5
#13 La Salle Explorers vs. #4 Kansas State Wildcats -5.5
I was impressed with La Salle on Wednesday against Boise, as they possess a much more athletic backcourt than I gave them credit for. However, I think they are going to struggle against a tough defensive Kansas State squad. Lead guard Rodney McGruder should have a big offensive game and carry the Wildcats to a win. They may have struggled with Kansas, but they have wins over Florida, Oklahoma State, Oklahoma and Iowa State. They are a little more battle-tested than La Salle and I think it will show this afternoon.
Free Pick: Kansas State Wildcats -5.5
#10 Cincinnati Bearcats vs. #7 Creighton Blue Jays -3.5
This is a tough matchup for Creighton. They are undoubtedly the more sophisticated and poised offensive team, but Cincinnati has a ton of athletes and big bodies to bang Doug McDermott around with. It happened today in the Michigan/ South Dakota State game – the deeper, more athletic team was able to funnel enough help to take the primary scoring option and make it less effective. For Creighton, everything begins and ends with McDermott.
I like Sean Kilpatrick to exploit some matchup weaknesses with Creighton’s wings and have a big game. Give me Cincy in a mild upset.
Free Pick: Cincinnati Bearcat +3.5
#16 James Madison Dukes vs. #1 Indiana Hoosiers -21.5
James Madison was celebrating their win over LIU and the chance to play Indiana. Suffice it to say the celebrating is done. Indiana will overwhelm the Dukes who have little chance to contend with the size, speed, athleticism and depth of Indiana. This will be much like the Duke game; will Crean call off the dogs early enough for JMU to sneak a back-door cover? I don’t think it will matter. Look for the Hoosiers to win by 30-plus.
Free Pick: Indiana Hoosiers -21.5