No. 9 Northern Iowa Panthers (28-4, Missouri Valley)
UNLV Runnin' Rebels (25-8, Mountain West)
7:10 P.M. EST
Ford Center, Oklahoma City, OK
Northern Iowa may be from the lesser conference but their 15-0 home record and 15-3 conference mark reveal that this is a prideful group that didn't let its guard down very often. They also held opponents to 54.3 points per game with a ferocious man-to-man defense. They are 19-0 when holding a team under 60 points. The Rebels club that they're facing averages better than 73 per game this season. So, somethings got to give.
The UNLV offense utilizes a lot of ball screens along the perimeter. Will NIU switch? Go under the screener? Through the screener? The success of the UNLV offense could hinge on this. If UNLV can get a shooter going then it might be hard for NIU to win a game that goes into the high 60s or 70s. The Rebels also make their hay on the defensive end, applying a lot of pressure.
Turning me off of the Panthers, who I've already written into a few brackets, is the fact that when you go to the website of The Northern Iowan, which appears to be the student newspaper, one of three stories rotating on the home page is about local Klu Klux Klan activity. I believe the article even has quotes from the local Imperial Wizard. Really?
Although this is a game that I'll end up going both ways with on various brackets, I'm going to go with UNLV in this space. I'm doing it for Larry Johnson. Also because of the KKK thing. But seriously, it looks like we've got two defensive minded teams so I'm going to go with the one that's got an identifiable go-to scorer: UNLV's junior Tre'Von Willis averages 17.7 per game whereas NIU has no player within five points of that average. They've got the scorers, the better experience coming out of the Mountain West and may be as good defensively.
Also, did I mention the Klan issues at NIU? Did I? Really?
ESPN.com's Joe Lunardi:Northern Iowa
SI's Seth Davis:Northern Iowa
President Obama: Northern Iowa
No. 16 East Tennessee State Buccaneers (20-14, A-Sun)
No. 1 Kentucky Wildcats (32-2 SEC)
7:15 P.M. EST
New Orleans Arena, New Orleans, LA
When we all woke up this morning, No. 16 teams were 0-100 against No. 1 seeds in this tournament. And, while it would be sort of neat to see a lowly 16 seed pull off a historic upset, I would pretty bummed out if I didn't get to watch one-and-done sensation John Wall play for the next few weeks.
According to Jeremy Lundbald over at the WWL, there have only been two titles teams that won after missing the dance the previous season. The first was Louisville in 1986 and the second was Syracuse in 2003. That '03 club was famously piloted by one-and-done sensation Carmelo Anthony. Putting aside the fact that I don't really care for Kentucky, the Ashley Judd as hoops fan phenomenon, or Coach Cal, I would still sign on the dotted line for nearly a month of Wall awesomeness even if it meant a Kentucky title. For months, we've all heard that Wall is a once-in-a-generation athlete. Well, let's see it.
No. 14 Ohio Bobcats (21-4, MAC)
No. 3 Georgetown Hoyas (23-10, Big East)
7:25 P.M. EST
Dunkin Donuts Center, Providence, RI
Georgetown's Greg Monroe is the best collegiate basketball player that I saw in person this year. And, I'm a guy who saw a whopping six games. In other words, that's saying
In this way, he exemplifies the ceiling and the floor for this team. Up against the talented but sometimes misfiring G'Town squad is the team that finished in sixth place in the MAC during the regular season. Ohio finished three spots back of Miami (OH), who closed the year with a 14-18 record. How are the Bobcats here? By winning the end-of-season MAC Tournament and winning the automatic bid that went along with that honor.
In his breakdown of the Midwest Region, ESPN's Andy Katz wrote that "The one thing this bracket does have is three teams that I don't see having a shot to advance: No. 16 Lehigh, No. 15 UC Santa Barbara and No. 14 Ohio."
All of that being said, the Hoyas got beat by Rutgers this year. That sort of defeat is not exceedingly less offensive than a loss to Isiah Thomas' FIU squad. It's not quite that bad. But it's closer than you might think. Rutgers was garbage this year. And it's baffling when you consider that Georgetown lost to Syracuse in the next game by nearly the same margin as they lost to the Scarlet Knights.
ESPN.com's Joe Lunardi: Georgetown
SI's Seth Davis: Georgetown
President Obama: Georgetown
No. 11 The University of Washington Huskies (24-9, Pac 10)
No. 6 Marquette Golden Eagles (22-11, Big East)
7:55 P.M. EST
HP Pavilion, San Jose, CA
Earlier in the day I passed on a team because they had lost to Isiah Thomas's FIU squad this season. And, now I'm faced with a team, the Huskies, that have a star player named Isaiah Thomas. What am I to do?
Washington's Thomas is a sophomore who netted better than 17 per game. The kid can play. But that playing takes place for a Pac 10 team that is facing a Big East team.
Along with my noted anti-Isiah bias, my Big East favoritism is a staple of my bracket methodology. And with USC, UCLA, Arizona, Arizona State, Oregon and Stanford all having down years, there is no reason to respect the PAC 10.
ESPN.com's Joe Lunardi: Marquette
SI's Seth Davis: Marquette
President Obama: Marquette