|(USA Today Sports)|
Here are my predictions for the Thursday slate of games of the 2014 NCAA Tournament.
#6 Ohio State vs. #11 Dayton - South - CBS, 12:00
This is an intriguing matchup here in Buffalo, and not just because these are intrastate rivals. Ohio State was thought to be a top contender just a few months ago, but they stumbled down the stretch in losing nine of their last 19. Meanwhile, Dayton looked like they were on the outside looking in before winning ten of their last 12, with the only two losses coming to St. Joe's. I like the Flyers in an upset. Ohio State is awful offensively, while Dayton has a balanced and efficient offensive attack where they love to control the clock and have a number of guys that can carry the load. That makes the difference.
#2 Wisconsin vs. #15 American - West - truTV, 12:30
For disclosure concerns, I do currently go to American. That said, don't expect a 15 seed upset here in Milwaukee, which will essentially be a home game for the Badgers. Yes, AU plays strong defense and run a classic Princeton offense that utilizes a lot of the shot clock, and they shoot very well from the field, but they are not very deep in the frontcourt and they do a terrible job with turning the ball over. Meanwhile, Wisconsin has an excellent offense, have a strong frontcourt, and does a great job with controlling the orange, even as they do not force turnovers. The Badgers move on but it won't be easy.
#8 Colorado vs. #9 Pittsburgh - South - TBS, 1:30
This game will be a grinder as both teams are strong on the defensive side of the court but this Colorado squad is much different without Spencer Dinwiddie than with him, and weaker as a result. Meanwhile, Pitt played some strong basketball in the ACC tournament, they take care of the rock and Lamar Patterson is a rock. Give me the Panthers.
#5 Cincinnati vs. #12 Harvard - East - TNT, 2:00
I think we are very much poised for an upset in this showdown in Spokane. Cincinnati does play excellent, physical defense that would remind some of a classic Bob Huggins squad, but they really only have one offensive threat in Sean Kilpatrick. Harvard is a veteran squad that won a tournament game last year, they're varied offensively with a troika of guards that can shoot from the perimeter and they play tough defense. The Crimson advance.
#3 Syracuse vs. #14 Western Michigan - South - CBS, 2:30
The one thing you cannot be against the Cuse is careless with the basketball, but the Broncos do have that problem with averaging over 14 turnovers a game. That's a problem and gives the Orange a big advantage even with . Western Michigan can score and is very good at getting to the free throw line, but they are not deep enough to advance.
#7 Oregon vs. #10 BYU - West - truTV, 3:00
We have got two offensive forces in this Milwaukee matchup, but BYU is going to be without one of their top weapons in Kyle Collinsworth, who tore his ACL in the West Coast Conference tournament. That is a big blow, and a problem for a team that is very inconsistent defensively away from Provo. Oregon has been playing great basketball of late, with their excellent offense leading the way, and I think they'll get it done with relative ease.
#1 Florida vs. #16 Albany - South - TBS, 4:00
Now let's be honest here, the Danes have no shot at taking out the top overall seed. Sure they had a nice win in their First Four contest on Tuesday night, but it will take a glorious effort to even make it a ballgame in Orlando.
#4 Michigan State vs. #13 Delaware - East - TNT, 4:30
The Spartans are finally healthy and they showed in by smoking the Big Ten Tournament and winning it convincingly, that's why they're a chic Final Four pick. I do not see them having too much trouble with the Blue Hens, who can score very well but they play awful defense, and they should advance to the round of 32.
Pick: Michigan State
#7 UConn vs. #10 St. Joseph's - East - TBS, 6:45
This should be a fun matchup in the Nickel City between the Huskies and the Hawks. St. Joe's shoots very well and has an excellent player in Halil Kanacevic who can do it all, but they are terrible at the charity stripe and they also do not force turnovers defensively. I like Connecticut a lot, they have great guard play, led by one of my favorite players in Shabazz Napier, they shoot well, they're a quality defensive club that blocks a lot of shots, and they're playing pretty well of late.
#2 Michigan vs. #15 Wofford - Midwest - CBS, 7:00
Wofford has played well of late in order to get into the NCAA's but without much size and an inconsistent offense, the Wolverines are a tough matchup for them and thus I would be quite surprised to see an upset here.
#5 Saint Louis vs. #12 NC State - Midwest - TNT, 7:15
I sure got NC State wrong in the First Four, and they played an excellent game led by ACC Player of the Year T.J. Warren, who survived early foul trouble to put up 25 points with 19 coming in the second half, and they were able to pull away from the Musketeers for an easy win. Not too bad for a team that did not deserve to get an at large bid. Now I think they are poised for an upset of a Saint Louis team that has looked terrible of late, having dropped three of four while their vaunted defense has taken a step back.
Pick: NC State
#5 Oklahoma vs. #12 North Dakota State - West - truTV, 7:15
The Sooners will be an interesting team to watch this tournament because their excellent offense could lead them into the second weekend, but their awful defense could lead to be a one and done affair. And especially against a veteran club that is very efficient offensively as the Bison are, they could fall victim to an early upset. However, I think their offense, led by sophomore guard Buddy Hield, and coach Lon Kruger will be why they escape this bad boy to advance.
Pick: North Dakota State
#2 Villanova vs. #15 Milwaukee - East - TBS, 9:15
I am far from a fan of this Villanova squad, after all they have not beaten a ranked team in months and the last times they have faced a ranked team they got blown out, but I'm not that bearish to where I think they would lose to the Panthers, who do not shoot very well nor do they take care of the basketball.
#7 Texas vs. #10 Arizona State - Midwest - CBS, 9:30
With both teams having strong defenses, I have a feeling that you will not be seeing too many points Thursday night in Milwaukee. And both teams have stumbled down the stretch with both the Longhorns and the Sun Devils finishing 6-6 in their last 12. I give Texas a slight advantage because I have more confidence in their offense than I do with ASU's, which I feel is too overly reliant on sophomore guard Jahii Carson.
#4 Louisville vs. #13 Manhattan - Midwest - TNT, 9:45
A lot of people, including myself, think that the Cardinals are potentially poised for a deep run in the tournament and may be in position to repeat as NCAA champions. That said, they better not overlook a tough and very Manhattan squad that scores well and does great work at swiping steals on defense. I still think Louisville wins, but closer than the experts think.
#4 San Diego State vs. #13 New Mexico State - West - truTV, 9:55
Even with how mediocre their offense has looked of late, the Aztecs have been awesome defensively all season long and would reasonably expect that to continue. Opponents have averaged 56.6 points per game on 38% shooting, while SDSU averages 7.9 steals and 5.2 blocks a game. Yes, their offense has their fair share of problems, although I do like the senior Xavier Thames, but against an Aggies squad that struggles to hold on to the rock, they will advance.
Pick: San Diego State