We all know that there will be lots of surprises once the ball tips on Thursday, and you never know where the drama will come from. I can’t predict that. I will, though, try to predict some of the Round of 64 games that could have the biggest early impact on how your brackets will shape up as you go for glory.
There are no #1′s and #2′s on this list, as we don’t expect any losses there. These are also not necessarily the games with the most upset potential. They are, though, games where the outcome will have a big impact because one or both of the teams will be taken further in many brackets, or have an influence over pulling an upset later in the tournament. Thus, being on the right side of these will be key to success in March.
1. #5 Wichita State vs. #12 Virginia Commonwealth, South Region. A matchup of the two hottest mid-major head coaches entering the tournament. Wichita State is a dangerous 5 seed. Then again, VCU is a very dangerous 12 seed, and we saw what their style did last year in the tournament. Let’s start with Wichita State. I raved about them earlier. Not only do they rate highly, but we’ve seen multiple teams stylistically who have come out of the 4/5 range with their profile (strong defensive rebounding, in the paint defending) that advanced far, like Kentucky last year, Michigan State in 2010, and Kansas in 2004. Still, they are a mid-major, and there will be doubters.
Add in a matchup against VCU, who should have been seeded higher, and who plays a frenetic style that can be hard to prepare for, and we have the recipe for a major swing game. Lots of people who have Wichita State winning will have them going on to the Sweet 16, while VCU will get plenty of support in your bracket.
2. #8 Memphis vs. #9 St. Louis, West Region. Memphis, who is rated as around the 10th best team by Ken Pomeroy, Sagarin, etc., was severely under seeded. Yes, they lost to good teams early (Georgetown 2x, Louisville, Michigan, Murray State), so I didn’t expect them to get a 3 seed, but based on their RPI plus their recent performance I expected them as the last 5 seed (behind the teams they lost to early, and about even with Murray State). Since New Year’s, they have elevated their play, going 18-3, with all three losses by a basket. They absolutely rolled through the second half of the conference schedule and the tournament, including beating possible bubble teams Central Florida and Marshall by a combined 77 points in three games.
Memphis is going to get lots of support for a potential upset of Michigan State (and yes, it would still be an upset), but don’t forget about the team they are playing, St. Louis is the second highest team in Pomeroy’s rankings seeded below a 5 seed. I don’t have as much faith in St. Louis’ ranking as Memphis’, but they went 25-7 in the Atlantic-10 and play a style who can frustrate Memphis. Oh, and there’s this: Rick Majerus versus Josh Pastner. We know Majerus can coach in March.
Michigan State got a tough 8/9 draw, and the winner of this game will have a chance. Will you guess right, though?
3. #3 Florida State vs. #14 St. Bonaventure, East Region. Florida State is now showing up on lots of Final Four lists coming out of the East after they rolled through Duke and North Carolina. We know they can beat really good teams, but they can just as easily lose to lower ones. They took one of the worst losses of any top seed when they lost to Boston College this year, and were swept by the Ivy League. Their propensity to turn the ball over on offense and tendency to be inconsistent is concerning.
Meanwhile, St. Bonaventure just went through the Atlantic-10 and is a well-above average #14 seed compared to recent history. They have size and can get on the glass. They will slow this game down and potentially frustrate the Seminoles. We know that Florida State can beat teams, but also lose to teams like the Bonnies. If you picked Florida State to advance deep, you won’t rest easy until this is done.
4. #3 Georgetown vs. #14 Belmont, Midwest Region. I put this one on here because both teams will receive support in different ways. Belmont are the darlings of the efficiency stats and power rankings, and appear to be a very difficult 14 seed. They also bombed out last year in Wisconsin when they came out flat for the first 10 minutes, and if they do that again, Georgetown will bury them. The Hoyas are not as popular a 3-seed pick as Florida State, but plenty will have them advancing to the Elite 8. Belmont will be a popular upset pick, and those that take them to beat Georgetown might advance them another round.
Add that together, and you have a game that will swing plenty of brackets early.
5. #7 Notre Dame vs. #10 Xavier, South Region. I’ve got this one on here because going against Duke will be a popular pick in the tournament, as a team that plays limited defense, relies on threes, and has played several close games. I have had success picking which 2 seed is most likely to lose, but my problem is that I have been more hit and miss in getting the correct 7/10 team that ends up beating them. I had (Texas A&M instead of FSU over Notre Dame last year, but had St. Mary’s over Villanova in 2010). Who do you want here? Don’t necessarily listen to me, but I have a feeling this is a big swing game if you think the winner is then a decent value play against Duke in your bracket.
6. #5 Vanderbilt vs. #12 Harvard, East Region. Vanderbilt is getting a lot of love in early brackets, but they have a road that includes Wisconsin and Syracuse before reaching the Elite 8. Oh, and there’s Harvard, a team that won the Battle 4 Atlantis Tournament that included Florida State, Connecticut and Central Florida. Vanderbilt will be a heavy favorite, but the Crimson can throw a monkey wrench in many a bracket. We’ve also seen the Commodores lose in a similar spot each of the last two years. I expect Vandy to have quite a bit of variation in how they are picked in your bracket coming off the Kentucky upset, and this game will be a swing one.
[photo via US Presswire]