Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Late Shows

East Region
No. 9 Wake Forrest Demon Deacons (19-10, ACC)
No. 8 Texas Longhorns (24-9, Big 12)
9:45 P.M. EST
New Orleans Arena, New Orleans, LA

A few months ago when Texas was firing on all cylinders, they were the No. 1 team in all the land. They opened the season 17-0. They had national title aspirations. And the talent to fulfill them. But at some point, the wheels came off Rick Barnes' wagon. Conference opponents pulled down the 'horns. Big 12 teams put the clamps on senior center Dexter Pittman, who had been dominant during the team's hot start, and his teammates couldn't make them pay. Seemingly shellshocked by being back in competitive games, the Longhorns scuffled to 7-9 mark after their hot start.

Just like Texas, Dino Gaudio's Wake Forrest squad hasn't been playing well lately. The Demon Deacons were mauled by lowly Miami last week in the ACC Tournament. They have been painted with same underachiever brush as Texas. But, I don't see these teams as being two sides of a coin. Barnes is a proven coach and his team was a title contender at some point. They've got upperclassmen that are established and freshman wit NBA talent. If one of those frosh can step up and help out Pittman then Texas could go far. Then Texas could beat Kentucky. I can't say the same about Wake.

And when faced with a choice between lesser evils when filling out your bracket you should always go with the team that you think might be able to stick around longer.'s Joe Lunardi: Texas
SI's Seth Davis: Texas
President Obama: Texas
WWOD?: Texas

Midwest Region
No. 11 San Diego State Aztecs (25-8, MWC)
No. 6 Tennessee Volunteers (25-8, SEC)
9:55 P.M. EST
Dunkin Donuts Center, Providence, RI

Having beaten Kentucky and Kansas this season, Bruce Pearl's Volunteers boast arguably the two best wins of the season. But they also seem to have mailed in several other games on the schedule, losing to Vandy by 19 and Georgia by 15. I'd like to think that Pearl and his players will approach this game more like a tilt with Kentucky than like a non-conference game against USC (which they lost by 22 in December).

The Aztecs just won the Mountain West Conference Tournament by knocking off New Mexico and UNLV. They're long and rebound the ball, ranking 14th in the nation in rebounding margin. With senior big man Wayne Chism standing just 6-9, the Vols don't rebound well, ranking 169th.

No matter how much I like Pearl coming back to the Northeast (he's a BC grad), the Aztecs rebounding edge makes this a pick 'em for me. I'll advance both teams in various brackets.'s Joe Lunardi: SDSU
SI's Seth Davis: SDSU
President Obama: Tennessee
WWOD?: Tennessee (I'll be rooting for Tennessee with my heart but not my wallet).

Midwest Region

No. 16 Lehigh Mountain Hawks (22-10, Patriot)
No. 1 Kansas Jayhawks (32-2, Big 12)
9:55 P.M. EST
Ford Center, Oklahoma City, OK

Rock! Chalk! Jayhawk!

EVERYONE: Kansas (but not to cover 25.5)

West Region
No. 14 Montana Grizzies (22-9, Big Sky)
No. 3 New Mexico Lobos (29-4, Mountain West)
10:35 P.M. EST
HP Pavilion, San Jose, CA

One of the most covered players of the past week was Montana's Anthony Johnson. The senior guard transferred from a nearby juco a few years back and has blossomed into a superstar. He dropped 42 on Weber State in the Final of the Big Sky Conference Tournament to punch his team's ticket to San Jose. 21 of those points came consecutively. To end the game. Which was a 66-65 win.

And if Johnson's scoring talent wasn't noteworthy enough, his backstory has drama to spare. The Tacoma, Washington native was out of school and out of the game not that long ago. His girlfriend dragged him back to both and eventually transferred with him to Montana from junior college as a package deal. She plays for the Lady Grizzlies.

As nice as it is that Johnson has totally turned his life around in just a few years time, I think the heartwarming aspect of his journey and the shocking way that his club reached the tournament (because they weren't getting an invite if they lose to Weber State) has raised their profile to an unjustified degree. Add that to the fact that the favorite they're playing hails from Albuquerque and not Tobacco Road and you've got a lot of people thinking upset.

I am not one of those people. The Lobos play their home game in a building called The Pitt. They have better than an .800 winning percentage at home because this venue is one of the toughest around. When you walk in the doors you are at the level of the "highest" seats in the building. You will only walk down to your seats. The playing surface is sunk well below street level and the nearly 15,000 fans hover over and around court. The ceiling lays flat just above the top row of seats. The place is like an aquarium. Filled with noise. Any team that plays half their games in that building is ready for the atmosphere of the tournament.

Chad Millman is's gambling guru. You'd know this if you ponied up for an Insider account. Or if you googled "ESPN Insider password" until you found one. Which you can. Trust me. But I digress, Millman appears on Bill Simmons' podcast all the time and his very existence at the Worldwide Leader shows how much sway the Sports Fellas as over there. A fixture of Millman's work is a mysterious person known as Teddy Covers. We're told that he's the best handicapper in Vegas. Here's what Mr. Covers had to say about the game:
New Mexico is really good; it deserves to be a 3-seed. Montana is a "live" dog, though. It has size and good D and a superstar in Anthony Johnson. It has the makings of a 'dog that can hang around. If I'm betting that one, I like the 'dog, but I'm taking New Mexico to advance.

Ditto. I think New Mexico is here to stay and that they'll hit their stride once/if they're playing against Goliaths from BCS Conferences. This one will be tight but I don't think Johnson will come close to duplicating his efforts. I'm thinking about last year when Dionte Christmas of Temple came into the tourney hyped for a huge performance but couldn't keep alive the magic from the conference tournament.'s Joe Lunardi: New Mexico
SI's Seth Davis: New Mexico
President Obama: New Mexico
WWOD?: New Mexico

Dinner-Bell Beaters

Midwest Region

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?'s Joe Lunardi:Northern Iowa
SI's Seth Davis:Northern Iowa
President Obama: Northern Iowa
WWOD?: Northern Iowa UNLV

East Region
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.

EVERYONE: Kentucky

Midwest Region
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 something very little. Monroe is long and lean, he can handle, pass and flush with authority. The 6 foot 11 sophomore runs the floor well and at times almost plays almost a point center in transition. Yet for all his raw talents, there is something coltish about his movements. He doesn't seem to have fully grown into his body and doesn't always seem to be able to play to his potential. Monroe could go for 27 points and 16 rebounds with four blocks on any night. Or he could go for 8 and 11 with four fouls over 22 minutes.

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.'s Joe Lunardi: Georgetown
SI's Seth Davis: Georgetown
President Obama: Georgetown
WWOD?: Georgetown

West Region
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.'s Joe Lunardi: Marquette
SI's Seth Davis: Marquette
President Obama: Marquette
WWOD?: Marquette

Tea-Time Tipoffs

West Region
No. 13 Murray State Racers (30-4, OVC)
No. 4 Vanderbilt Commodores (24-8, SEC)
2:30 P.M EST
HP Pavilion, San Jose, CA

With three games under our belts, we've got our first advertised bracketbuster of the day. The 13th-seeded Racers are one of the handful of the teams that have already been fitted for a pair of glass high tops. And Vandy is a major conference middler that nobody believes in. This one's got all the makings of an upset and no lesser authority than President Obama has tapped Murray State to advance.

According to some formula crafted by the stats folks at the Worldwide Leader, Murray State has a "Giant Killer" rating of 94.5%. That seems like it's probably a good thing even though I'm not really sure what it means. I do understand, on the other hand, that coming up with the ball after 39.5% of their missed shots is a big deal. Murray State does that, even though I didn't know that we had a state named "Murray." Was it annexed like Puerto Rico? Is it a protectorate like Guam?

While a lot of smart folks take point differential heavily into consideration when deciding which teams are actually good and which have just won a bunch of games, I really dig offensive rebounds. They can suck the life out of a team and sap the clock like few things can.

On the other hand, the only thing I like about Vanderbilt is that they play home games at Memorial Coliseum. The court is essentially on a stage in this multi-purpose arena that was built during the 1950s. It always struck me as an awesome venue and one that really suited Nashville (where the school is located). Both teams from the South are far from home, playing California. This truly neutral-court game should favor Murray State since impartial fans gravitate toward the underdog.

Frankly, there's so much hype for the Racers that part of me wants to run the other way. I want to say that for all its weaknesses, Vandy has played a far tougher schedule and has better atheltes. And that they're better prepared physically and emotionally for this game. But I'm going to pencil Murray State into my bracket against that instinct. And this is a strategic play. Even if they win this game, I don't see Vandy sticking around past this weekend. So, I'm going to take a calculated risk by keeping alive a potential Cinderella.'s Joe Lunardi: Murray State
SI's Seth Davis: Vanderbilt
President Obama: Murray State
WWOD?: Murray State (for bracket purposes but I'm not putting any money on them)

South Region
No. 14 Sam Houston State Bearkats (25-7, Southland)
No. 3 Baylor Bears (25-7, Big 12)
2:52 P.M. EST
New Orleans Arena, New Orleans, LA

Stephen Colbert is likely staying away from this one. Bears vs. Bearkats? Who ya got?

Usually when picking tournament games, I tend to overlook the actual records of the teams in question. This helps when a 30-win Memphis team is going out early but in general it is not wise. But I do it all the time in search of some Rosetta Stone stat (like offensive rebounds or point differential) that is going to unlock the secrets of the game. I repeat: This is not wise. In this case, I'm going to pay attention to regular-season wins and regular-season losses.

Both of these ballclubs are 25-7. Baylor achieved that record playing in the Big 12 alongside Kansas, Kansas State, Missouri, Texas A&M, Oklahoma State and Texas. Those teams are all playing in the Big Dance. The Bears beat Texas three times, the importance of which can't be overstated for a team that hails from Waco, TX. They split with Texas A&M and beat Missouri when those two tangled. On the flip side, Baylor went 0-2 against the two Kansas powerhouses (lost by a combined 8 points) during the regular season and were dumped out of the Big 12 Tournament by K-State. On the whole, they had a very impressive season before we even examine how they did what they did.

The "Bearkats" don't boast nearly the same resume. The Southland Conference sent one other teams to the dance. That team is the Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks. Not exactly a world beater. In an unrelated note, I can't shake the fact that I think of Yosemite Same whenever I see the words "Sam Houston State." I'm not exactly sure why, but ... I just ... it just happened again.

This being two Texas teams, I'm guessing/hoping that there is some simmering animosity about whom played high school ball against whom and which schools did or did not recruit so-and-so. There are few things that can even up a matchup like a simmering grudge. SHS has three players that average double digits in points per game. So these guys can fill it up and can't be stopped by one lockdown defender. They've thrown up 90 or more points on 11 occasions this season. That's gosh darn impressive, Yosemite Sam might say. Being able to score 100 points is a mighty fine ability for a team looking to pull an upset if you ask me.

If they weren't facing, the Baylor Bears - the "underdog" favorite of this tournament - then I might be inclined to advance them. But I can't. Not just because Baylor has competed against very good teams all year long. But also because one of the top three players on the team is named Tweety Carter. And he is one of three Baylor upperclassmen to average in double figures. In the age of Twitter, how can you not expect the player named Tweety to break out as one of the darlings of this tournament?'s Joe Lunardi: Baylor
SI's Seth Davis Baylor
President Obama: Baylor
WWOD?: Baylor

West Region
No. 15 North Texas Mean Green (24-8, Sun Belt)
No. 2 Kansas State Wildcats (26-7, Big 12)
2:40 P.M. EST
Ford Center, Oklahoma City, OK

To be honest, I hadn't paid much attention to Kansas State until Michael Beasley arrived on campus a few years ago. Before that I knew that the school was based in Manhattan, Kansas. And, I inferred that the University of Kansas was their natural rival. But that's really it.

By watching Beastly two years ago I did learn that coach Frank Martin is a live wire. That dude can yell and gesticulate and freak out with the best of them. Alas, when the Beastley and company meakly bowed out of the tournament in 2008, I mostly stopped thinking about the Wildcats. At least, until the Knicks acquired Bill Walker as part of the Nate Robinson trade. Walker was one of Beasley running mates. He can't shoot particularly well, but the kid is a phenomenal athlete with a nose for the hoop. He's paced the Knicks in scoring on several nights since joining the club. And, yes, I do understand that isn't a major feat. But, Walker has made me realize that Beasley wasn't the lone gifted athlete to come through the Midwest's Manhattan. To continue to be honest about my ignorance, I didn't realize they were getting these sorts of players on campus. This may be old news to someone who actually follows a lot of college basketball but to this guy who mostly sees Big East and ACC hoops, that was news.

The knock on Martin's squad is they dropped all their games against Kansas. This would seem to indicate that they're a notch below the best teams in the country. And, I wouldn't quibble with that. But I would say that they are still very capable of making a deep run.

As far as the Mean Green as concerned, I Iove the nickname. It's the best of the tournament so far. But, I will never ever pick a team that surrendered one of Florida International Atlantic's seven wins. They lost to an Isiah Thomas-coached team. Kansas State advances. And covers.'s Joe Lunardi: Kansas State
SI's Seth Davis: Kansas State
President Obama: Kansas State
WWOD?: Kansas State

South Region
No. 11 St Mary's Gaels (26-5, WCC)
No. 7 Richmond Spiders (26-8, A10)

Before the finals of the WCC Conference Tournament, Bang the Book (a gambling website) wrote "Poor St. Mary’s is going to be thrown to the wolves once again in this game."

This seemed to be the prevailing attitude before that game. But the Gaels stepped up and rolled favored Gonzaga, nailing 10 of 21 three-point attempts and running away with the game in the second half. One of the many biases that (mis)guide me as I fill out my many tournament brackets is an aversion to mid-major teams that needed a miracle just to be invited. Now, I'm not saying that St. Mary's misses out if they lose that game. They would still have had 25 wins in a respected midmajor conference. And some would say that St. Mary's is the new Gonzaga. But I'm not so sure. I also never saw them play once this year. Which is obviously a huge factor in these games.

I did manage to catch the latter stages of Richmond's OT win over Xavier in the semifinals of the Atlantic 10 Conference Tournament, though, and I came away very impressed by junior guard Kevin Anderson. The diminutive yet powerful ball handler wouldn't surrender and his team mirrored his intensity. Anderson dropped 27 points on the Musketeers after averaging more than 17 per game for the season. Richmond would go on to fall in the A10 Final to Temple, but I don't hold it against them. The Owls are no scraps and were looking for payback after being routed by the Spiders during the regular season.

Forgetting my crush on Anderson, Omar Samhan of St. Mary's is the best player in this game. He's 6 foot 11 and goes for 20 and 11 per night. Which would lead one to think that Gaels will be able to go inside if they're not knocking down shots like they were in their previous game.

In Richmond's favor, they did play a better conference schedule, with wins over Xavier, Temple and Rhode Island. They also have non-conference triumphs over Missouri, Mississippi State, Old Dominion and Florida.

Lastly, Spiders are scarier than wind. Even gael-force wind.'s Joe Lunardi: Richmond
SI's Seth Davis: St. Mary's
President Obama: St. Mary's
WWOD?: Richmond (barely and I'm not putting any money on it)

West Region
No. 12 University of Texas, El Paso Miners (26-6 C-USA)
No. 4 Butler Bulldogs (28-4, Horizon)
4:45 P.M. EST
HP Pavilion, San Jose, CA's Joe Lunardi: UTEP
SI's Seth Davis: Butler
President Obama: Butler
WWOD?: UTEP (I'd take the 2.5 or 3 points here since I see this going down to the wire).

NCAA 2010: Mid-Day Madness

The Noon-ish Games of Day 1

Alright, let's put some lipstick on this pig, lace up our dancing shoes, and get ready for a big weekend.

With the 2010 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament set to tip off, your brackets should be turned into your neighborhood bracketmaster and/or your trusted online sports company. Hopefully you've managed to cross the T's and dot the lower case j's of your daily workload and can coast until quitting time. If so, there is live footage of the games being simulcast over at CBS

We've got a manageable three midday games to keep tabs on from our cubicles, officles, work stations, and assorted places of business. Without further ado, here is everything you need to know to act like you know something about these games.

West Region
No. 10 Florida Gators (21-12, SEC)
No. 7 Brigham Young Cougars (29-5, Mountain West)
12:20 P.M. EST
Oklahoma City, OK

BYU played in the first set of games in last year's tournament as well. They were matched up with Texas A&M (just as they were in the first round of the 2008 tournament). When previewing that game, I wrote:
"I can't pick a team whose out-of-bounds plays may have been revealed on a set of golden plates that was dug up somewhere in New York state during the nineteenth century. And, I'm not saying that isn't a perfectly reasonable way to uncover information. I'm just saying that the game has evolved so much."
And my snarky anti-Mormon cracks (although I'm going to guess that the hoops team isn't quite as Mormon as the rest of the student population) were rewarded as the Aggies defeated the Cougars. Just like they had the year before.

This year, however, I'm leaning towards the boys from Povo, Utah. BYU's Jimmer Fredette is the best player in this game. The junior guard from upstate New York dropped 49 on Arizona this year and 45 on TCU. He's played heavy minutes since his freshman year and can shoot free throws if it gets close. And the rest of his squad isn't too shabby either. They may end up with more wives than years of pro ball when all is said (although Freddette will get a long look from scouts and probably will get a shot at the next level) and done but this is a solid team. They play hard. They play smart. And they excel at both ends of the floor.

Ken Pomeroy's predictive rating system (which you should have been using when filling out your bracket) has BYU as the No. 8 team in the country heading into today's games. Ken Pom has Florida ranked as the 49th best team in the land. Billy Donovan is trading on past success and his current squad doesn't seem to have the profile to match up against a potentially underseeded BYU team. The Gators played soft non-conference schedule and the only wins over tourney teams came early on against intra-state rival Florida State and then later in the year against the erratic Tenneseee Volunteers. Could Donovan amp these kids up enough for an upset? I guess he could. It's also worth noting (while still being largely irrelevant) that Florida is riding a 12-game tourney win streak that goes back to its two national title runs a few years back. It they manage to survive and advance then they would tie Duke's early '90s streak.

But after first-round exits in the last two years, BYU's star is mature and this group is primed for its run. This is the year for this group and they seem to realize it. On the other hand, this tournament berth seems a reward in itself for the Gators. Salt Lake Tribune columnist Gordon Monson went as far as to write that "If BYU doesn't beat a fringe Florida team, a team that probably had no business getting into the tournament, a team that was issued a favor by the selection committee because Billy Donovan finally got a little something for the effort from a few seasons back after being left out the past two seasons, the Cougars will never again win a tournament game."

Now. I don't know if I'd go as far as Monson, but I am willing to lay the five points that BYU is giving to Florida and take the Cougars to advance.'s Joe Lunardi: BYU's Game Simulator: BYU wins 71% of the time
SI's Seth Davis: BYU
President Obama: BYU (although he'd written in Florida first on his bracket)
WWOD?: BYU (betting money line and probably laying points as long as they don't give more than 6).

South Region
No. 11 Old Dominion Monarchs (26-8, CAA)
No. 6 Notre Dame Fighting Irish (23-11, Big East)
12:25 P.M. EST
New Orleans Arena

Last Wednesday night, I sat in a very good seat at Madison Square Garden to watch a pair of games in the Big East tournament. Up first on the docket was a matchup between Seton Hall and Notre Dame. Hall had edged the Irish earlier in the year and ND was cruising towards an NIT berth. But they won that game and then knocked off Pittsburgh the following evening. And now they're a No. 6 seed with a huge national following that is penciling them into the Sweet 16. Seton Hall, on the other hand, has since fired its coach and seen a player arrested for charges that include kidnapping more than five folks. So, that happened.

Much has been made about the way in which the Irish hit its stride late in the season sans Luke Harangody. Without its leading scorer, the team became more methodical, limiting possessions and wearing teams down with their motion offense. Sadly for those in South Bend, this is precisely the style that a 26-win ODU team wants to play. They play lockdown defense inside and out. They rebound on both ends of the floor, especially at the offensive end. This is how they knocked off Georgetown, a team that also employs a slower half-court style, earlier this year.

The KenPom rankings give the slight edge to ODU (ranked 33rd while ND is at 40) but ESPN's game simulator gives the slight edge to Notre Dame. There is an argument floating around out there that ND is the "hot" team in this matchup but I don't entirely agree. OD has won 17 of its last 20 and five straight. They won the regular season and conference tournament titles in Colonial Athletic Conference. Aside from a three-game swoon in November, they have been on fire all year long.

But they have a glaring weakness: they can't shoot. Not from the free-throw line. Not from beyond the arc.

Therefore, I think the most pivotal person in this game is ND coach Mike Brey. Does he revert back to his up-tempo style and play Harangody heavy minutes or does he keep the ball in the hands of point guard Tony Jackson and try to edge ODU in slow-down slugfest? If I were Brey, I would at least attempt to speed up the tempo at some point because ODU is notoriously bad from the three-point line. If ND can make this a shootout then I don't think that the Monarchs can keep up. They don't have a stud scorer (leading scorer Gerald Lee averages less than 15 per game) and could be forced to abandon their preferred style (which I think they are better at than ND).’s Joe Lunardi: Old Dominion's Game Simulator: ND wins 53% of the time
SI’s Seth Davis: Notre Dame
President Obama: Notre Dame
WWOD?: Old Dominion (and I'm taking ODU to cover in a close game)

South Region
No. 15 Robert Morris Colonials
No. 2 Villanova Wildcats
12:30 P.M. EST
Dunkin Donuts Center, Providence, RI

I have nothing insightful to say about this game. Along with everyone else, I expect Nova to roll over Robert Morris. Wildcats senior guard Scottie Reynolds is one of those players who I feel like I've watched for 10 years. He's played about 30 minutes per game in each of his four seasons and he's not going down in round one.

There are only two things worth discussing about this game. First, can Villanova cover the 16.5-point spread? And, secondly, who is this Robert Morris character?

To address the first question, I think that Nova can cover the spread playing in Providence in front of a lot of their fans. They had a scare in the first round last year against American and I'm willing to wager, literally, that they've learned from their mistake.

And as far as this Morris character is concerned. Mr. Robert Morris was a financier and signer of the Declaration of Independence. He was a member of the second Continentla Congress and paid some of General George Washington's troops out of his own pocket just before a series of key battles in New Jersey. Paying the troops, I would imagine, is a crucial but oft-overlooked aspect of the Revolutionary War. Morris is also the man who brought us decimal coinage. Without him, there may have been no penny loafers. Which is why the Brooks Brothers money is leaning heavily towards Robert Morris to cover.

EVERYONE: Villanova