Picking the Perfect Bracket - Round 2

We discussed Round 1 earlier. I’m sure you’re all beaming with pride and snarkiness now that all 32 teams you picked have advanced (Editor’s note: Middle Tennessee St got robbed!). Now, like every mother that spoiled rotten their bratty, future-stripper daughters on MTV, let’s move on to give you the perfect Sweet 16!

West Region – Round 2

(8) Pittsburgh OVER (1) Gonzaga

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 There’s always that one second round upset everybody has their eyes on. I mentioned before, this season is turbulent at the top. Gonzaga sits at #1 on both polls, but have reached this summit mostly by not screwing up. The 31-2 record is impressive, but their best win is over Oklahoma St. by 1 point in before the New Year. Gonzaga’s offense is highly touted (1st in offensive efficiency), but Pitt (8th in offensive efficiency, 16th on defense) will be the best defense they played all year. Pitt also specializes in dominating the offensive boards, ranking 4th in offensive rebound rate, while Gonzaga is 68th on the defensive end. Gonzaga has stolen our hearts with March success in the past, but never as a heavy favorite. They’ll taste the bitter side of an upset this year.

(4) Kansas State OVER (5) Wisconsin

Every year, Wisconsin puts up a great regular season with surgical precision. They get the shots they want while their relentless defense (3rd in defensive efficiency) denies the shot the other team wants. Then, right as we are ready to buy into Bo Ryan’s brainwashed crew, they run into a team that is simply more athletic and better. Kansas State and their dangerous wing Rodney McGruder, are the more athletic team that annually reminds everybody that Wisconsin’s brat and cheese diet has them too slow to compete.

(3) New Mexico OVER (11) Belmont

The Belmont Bruins are 2nd in the nation at effective field goal percentage, so expect this to be a close one thanks to some knocked down open shots. New Mexico has a limited offense that would suffer a hiccup against a strong defense, but Belmont's defense is hardly strong. Steve Alford’s Lobos also display a tenacious defense, and has the height and range to disrupt the outside shooting enough to win this game. Plus, with Indiana’s success, I’m sure he wants to remind everybody that he’s still the best Hoosier alive.

(2) Ohio State OVER (7) Notre Dame

Notre Dame’s outside shooting and torpid pace is the exact formula that makes Ohio State vulnerable (if any of you caught the OSU/Northwestern game, you know what I mean). It will keep them close, but this is March. In March, you need a transcendent player to make the difference. Ohio State has a couple of them in Aaron Kraft and Deshaun Thomas that will make the difference.

Midwest Region – Round 2

(1) Louisville OVER (9) Missouri

Missouri specializes in the run and gun, which, unfortunately, is exactly what Louisville is best at defeating. Their pesky full-court press will slow down the Tigers and force them into bad shots, which the Tigers have showed all year they have no problem taking. Plus, when the velocity ramps up, Peyton Siva and Russ Smith will be like Paul Walker and Vin Diesel after hitting the Nas.

(4) St. Louis OVER (12) Oregon

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St. Louis is an amazing story. The interim head coach, Jim Crews, met Rick Majerus 35 years ago on the recruiting trail. They stayed in touch through the years as Majerus went from Marquette to the Milwaukee Bucks before eventually settling back in college at St. Louis University. Crews went to Army, where he was fired amid rumors of verbally abusing a player in 2009. Before the 2011-2012 season, Majerus’ assistant left for the D-League and Crews got the call.

Last summer, it was announced that Majerus would take a leave of absence because of an ongoing heart condition, naming Crews interim head coach. With the season underway, and St. Louis sitting at 3-3, the news came that Majerus passed away on December 1, at the age of 64.

The Billikens have gone 24-3 since Majerus' girlfriend gathered the team after practice because she thought they should be the first to know about the passing of their beloved coach. It’d be easy to attribute the success to the sports story narrative, but this is real life and therefore, more raw. St. Louis is winning because they are good, very dangerous, and very mature. They don’t preach to win for Rick, because they don’t want to put the pressure of dishonoring him with a loss on any player. Crews only preaches, “Do like coach did: Live your life forward. Live your life forward. That’s all you can do, guys.” They’ll move forward to play Louisville.

(3) Michigan State OVER (11) Middle Tennessee State St. Mary’s

Beating Memphis, the patsy of the region, is nothing to get excited for anymore. Michigan State is ruthless, physical, quick and talented. They’ll move on easily to the Sweet 16.

(2) Duke OVER (7) Creighton

You beat Duke with athletic defense. Or if Mason Plumlee plumbles around like he does half the time. With Creighton having no significant size to speak of, that shouldn't happen until Michigan State. Seth Curry, Ryan Kelly and the Duke offense is going to be too much for the Blue Jays to handle.

East Region – Round 2

(1) Indiana OVER (9) Temple

Temple’s luck in drawing the schizophrenic Wolfpack in Round 1 is short lived. Here, they run into the powerful Hoosier team. Indiana won the regular season title for the best conference, Victor Oladipo and Cody Zeller are both lottery picks in waiting, and Tom Crean recently married into the Harbaugh family. And we all know this is the year of the Harbaugh family.

(4) Syracuse OVER (5) UNLV

Syracuse is all primed to confuse everybody, like always. Right after losing 4 of 5 to end the regular season and Jim Boeheim openly hated his life, they went on a tear in Madison Square Garden. James Southerland and C.J. Fair are playing as well as any forwards in the tournament and Brandon Triche has the experience to keep it all together. UNLV hits a really low percentage of 3s, at 33%, which is not good against a team with an overwhelming 2-3 zone.

(6) Butler OVER (3) Marquette

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Let me just say, Marquette is the better team here. But this is Butler we are talking about, the same Butler that is coached by Baby-Blue-Eyed Brad Stevens, the most incredible boy genius since Doogie Howser. This is the same Butler that is tough as nails. Marquette can run, they have great big men, and great ball movement. When they run into a slow and plodding team (a la Notre Dame in the Big East Tourney), though, they lack the individual scoring to lift them out of their funk.

(2) Miami OVER (7) Illinois

Miami began to show some holes when they dropped to lowly Wake Forest and Georgia Tech toward the end of the regular season. After great performances in front of two of the most raucous fan bases, Duke in Cameron and UNC in Greensboro, it seems like those losses were the side effects of boredom. Trey McKinney Jones is a great defender that had plenty of practice shutting down Seth Curry in order to prepare for Illinois’ Brandon Paul. Miami gets more basketball spoils as the Canes cruise to the Sweet 16.

South Region – Round 2

(1) Kansas OVER (8) UNC

This is a tempting upset to pick here, partially because of Roy William’s history with Kansas and partially because Kansas just got blown out by 23 points to Baylor. According to ESPN Stats and information, no team that has lost by 20 points or more in a season has ever won a national championship. They won't bow out here, though, because UNC is flawed, too. And their main weapon, James McAdoo, will be shut down by the wild man, Jeff Withey. UNC also has nobody to shut down Ben McLemore, who seems to be in the midst of his coming out party.

(4) Michigan OVER (5) VCU

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Shaka Smart is a savant. His defense wreaks havoc. In fact, it is nicknamed the Havoc press. They create turnovers on 28.6 of its opponent’s possessions, an unheard of rate. What do you need to overcome a staunch, aggressive, full court defense? Well, you need a good point guard, of course. Trey Burke, a player of the year candidate, is arguably the best in the land. He is a Chris Paul type player with good vision and blazing speed that should help instill some stability in the Havoc. Michigan struggled against other strong Big Ten defenses, namely Wisconsin, so this is more of a toss-up than most, but I’m reverting to my belief that you need a transcendent player in these games. Trey Burke will take the Wolverines to the Sweet 16.

(3) Florida OVER (6) UCLA

UCLA is dead in the water. The only reason they won a game in the tournament is because they met the equally dull Minnesota Gophers. The lethargic Shabazz Muhammad will finally get to quit, and Florida will blow UCLA out of the water.

(2) Georgetown OVER (7) San Diego State

After starting the season hot, San Diego State has lost 8 of their last 16 against not so impressive competition. Georgetown is the Big East champions with superstar Otto Porter and an awesome defense. This is another no contest. In honor of the Mayans being completely wrong about 2012, I’m predicting the end of the Aztecs, as well.

 

Tomorrow we knock out the remaining tournament games all the way through crowning a Champion. Hint, mascot names won’t help you anymore.

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