NCAA Tournament Predictions: Round of 64

This is my favorite time of year for many reasons.

My birthday is this month (today actually), it’s getting warmer outside, Major League Baseball is getting underway, and, last but not least, March Madness – College Basketball’s NCAA men’s tournament.

As always, it’s been a great regular season of college basketball.

The Big 12 was arguably the best conference, constantly having 4 to 6 six teams ranked in the Top 25. Kansas, Iowa State, Baylor, Oklahoma, West Virginia, Texas and Oklahoma State were ranked teams at some point during the regular season.

The ACC was the only other conference to put up a fight in that regard with the likes of Virginia, Duke, Notre DameNorth Carolina, Louisville.

Obviously the big story all year has been the undefeated streak of the Kentucky Wildcats.

“What are the odds Kentucky loses today?” “Who is going to beat this Kentucky team?” “How long can Kentucky keep this up?” Those questions have been asked all year about the Wildcats, and so far the only response John Calipari’s team has given us is ‘W’ after ‘W’.

Kentucky enters the tournament as the overall No. 1 seed with an unblemished 34-0 record.

Midwest Region

Speaking of Kentucky, not only are the Wildcats the No. 1 overall seed, but they are also the top team in the Midwest Region. Calipari’s squad will play (and crush) Hampton, the winner of one of the four play-in games.

I don’t see any of the other top five teams in this region – (2) Kansas, (3) Notre Dame, (4) Maryland, or (5) West Virginia – having much trouble, either, in their opening games.

The 6-11 matchup between Butler and Texas is interesting.

Butler has a better record, but other than that, statistically, these two teams are about even. Even though Texas underperformed in comparison to preseason predictions in the very tough Big 12 Conference, I have the 11th-seeded Longhorns upsetting the Bulldogs.

Seven seed Wichita State avoids being “shocked” and beats Indiana, and I have the Purdue Boilermakers upsetting Cincinnati in the tough-to-decide 8/9 games.

Teams advancing to the Round of 32: (1) Kentucky, (2) Kansas, (3) Notre Dame, (4) Maryland, (5) West Virginia, (7) Wichita St., (9) Purdue, (11) Texas.

West Region

Want to witness a wild prediction? Wisconsin wins the West Region.

Alliteration aside, that’s a very serious possibility.

The Badgers, led by Player of the Year Candidate Frank Kaminsky, along with Sam Dekker, are certainly one of the best teams in the country and deserving of a No. 1 seed in the West.

Wisconsin, along with top seeds (2) Arizona, and (3) Baylor all get past their first round opponents easily.

North Carolina was a streaky team this year, but I don’t think the Harvard geniuses will find a way to knock off the Tar Heels.

I have (5) Arkansas and (6) Xavier winning their first round games, as well.

The 7-10 matchup between VCU and Ohio State is where I see an upset waiting to happen.

Ohio State is a bit better offensively and defensively than the Rams, and also defeated Maryland by 24 points in the regular season. The Buckeyes played against better competition in the Big 10 than VCU did in the A-10, and that’s why I have Ohio State moving on to the Round of 32.

In the 8/9 game I have Oregon defeating Oklahoma St. simply because the Cowboys were too inconsistent this year – defeating Baylor twice but losing three times to Oklahoma. Due to that inconsistency, I have the Ducks advancing.

Teams advancing to the Round of 32: (1) Wisconsin, (2) Arizona, (3) Baylor, (4) North Carolina, (5) Arkansas, (6) Xavier, (8) Oregon, (10) Ohio St.

East Region

Villanova is the top dog – I mean Cat – in the East Region after winning both the Big East regular season and Tournament Championships. The Wildcats lost just twice this season, once to Georgetown and Seton Hall. (There is a very slight chance of a Villanova-Georgetown rematch in the Final Four.)

Number 1 seeds have never lost to a 16 seed. 120-0. That stays true this year. Villanova easily beats Lafayette.

Second seeded Virginia should have no trouble against Belmont, even though the Cavaliers haven’t played to par since Justin Anderson has returned to the lineup. Although, one this to look out for is Belmont’s 3-point shooting could keep them in the game longer than Virginia would like.

Oklahoma should get past Albany, and (4) Louisville shouldn’t have any problems in its first game of the tournament, either.

The 5/12 matchups aren’t favorable in recent history for this year’s five seeds. Of the four 5 vs. 12 games in this year’s tournament, Northern Iowa/Wyoming is the one that is most likely to have the upset.

Wyoming doesn’t give up a lot of points and is riding a hot streak after winning the Mountain West Tournament. However, Northern Iowa also won its conference tournament, so I say Northern Iowa advances.

I do have two upsets happening in this region in the Round of 64. One is (11) Dayton, which won its play-in game last night over Boise St., playing on its home floor for the second year in a row in the tournament and defeating (6) Providence. My other upset is (9) LSU over (8) NC State.

Also in this region is a potential Cinderella team in Michigan St.

At this time of year, it’s so hard to pick against Tom Izzo because his teams always seem to make a run. And after the Spartans nearly came away with the Big 10 Tournament title, they are riding a hot streak, which bodes well for this team.

I predict Michigan St. gets past the Georgia Bulldogs with little difficulty.

Teams advancing to the Round of 32: (1) Villanova, (2) Virginia, (3) Oklahoma, (4) Louisville, (5) N. Iowa, (7) Michigan St., (9) LSU, (11) Dayton.

South Region

“I Hate Christian Laettner” aired on ESPN Sunday night, soon after this year’s bracket was released. In related news, top-seeded Duke will easily get past its play-in-game-opponent, Robert Morris .

Gonzaga and Iowa State will win their first round games easily.

The 4/13 and 5/12 games in this region will be interesting. Both lower seeds – (12) Stephen F. Austin and (13) Eastern Washington – will have a chance at upsets since both are better scoring teams than their higher seeded opponents.

Both games will be exciting, but in each case, I have the higher seed moving on.

Larry Brown and SMU will get past UCLA, a team that is making a questionable tournament appearance given its poor in-conference play.

Davidson will upset Iowa, and the Aztecs of San Diego St. will hold off the Red Storm of St. John’s.

Teams advancing to the Round of 32: (1) Duke, (2) Gonzaga, (3) Iowa State, (4) Georgetown, (5) Utah, (6) SMU, (8) San Diego St., (10) Davidson.

Check back Saturday for my predictions on the Round of 32.

FUN FACT: Each region has a team with its mascot being a Wildcat. Kentucky, Arizona, Villanova, and Davidson are all nicknamed the Wildcats.

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