NCAA Tournament First Round: Who are the locks?

As poorly constructed as this year’s bracket is, there are far fewer first-round games I look at and say, “Without a doubt, team X will win this one.”

There are a number of teams seeded highly that just aren’t that much better than the rest of the field. Also, many of the lower seeded teams are either a) red-hot mid-majors, or b) teams with one star that can carry a team to an upset.

Even still, there are 16 games that I’m positive won’t drain my bank account. Here are the teams I guarantee will make the second round:

Midwest – (1) Kansas, (2) Ohio State, (3) Georgetown, (4) Maryland, (5) Michigan State.

All of these teams should feel comfortable getting through the first round. The Spartans face New Mexico State, who shocked Utah State in the WAC Tournament, the only way it would have made the field. The Aggies would barely have made the NIT if they hadn’t won the conference championship.

Maryland went one-and-done in the ACC Tournament, but prior to that game the Terrapins were playing their best basketball of the season. They beat Virginia Tech on the road and Duke at home in the final week of the regular season. Houston stunned Memphis and UTEP in the Conference USA tournament, but neither of those teams are anywhere near the Terp’s level.

West – (1) Syracuse, (2) Kansas State, (3) Pittsburgh, (5) Butler, (7) BYU

I love BYU. I think the Cougars were the most tournament-ready team in a ridiculously underappreciated Mountain West Conference. Jimmer Fridette looks to me like the Stephen Curry of the 2010 Tournament. He lights teams up from behind the arc, shooting 45 percent. They play a Florida team that struggled against the better teams it faced, and isn’t known for its perimeter defense.

It’s not crazy to think Butler could have trouble with Conference USA regular season champion UTEP, but the Bulldogs are prepared to make a deep run in this tournament. Brad Stevens has put this team through a grinding non-conference schedule, and he has an experienced bunch that pointed to this season and next as potential Final Four years.

I’m not in love with Pittsburg, but Oakland won’t take down the Panthers. This could be a game that is close at halftime. Oakland may even have a lead, grabbing the attention of the country, before Pitt closes the game out in convincing fashion.

East – (1) Kentucky, (2) West Virginia

This is the bracket where we’ll see the most first-round upsets. Both of these teams are safe, no doubt. Enough said. More on what should be the craziest region later.

South – (1) Duke, (2) Villanova, (3) Baylor, (13) Siena

You read correctly, Siena is a lock to move on to the second round, and anyone who watched the debacle that was Purdue’s loss to Minnesota on Saturday knows why. The Boilermakers are a shell of their former selves after Robbie Hummel was lost for the season to a torn ACL. Here are Purdue’s wins after losing Hummel: Indiana, at Penn State, and Northwestern, three bottom-feeders. Here are its two losses: Michigan State and Minnesota. Any team that has guards who can dribble with both hands can beat Purdue.


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