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It’s getting closer to tip-off and the tension is building…
East – (5) Temple vs. (12) Cornell
Cornell would beat every other fifth seed in this tournament. They simply got screwed over by the selection committee when they matched the Big Red up with the best perimeter defense team in the country. Cornell earns it keep with deadly perimeter shooting. They struggled the most this season against teams that play at a slow pace and play great defense. Princeton gave Cornell a lot of trouble this season.
Fran Dunphy and the Owls are probably underseeded at five after winning a very good Atlantic 10 conference this season. Because of the style both teams play, it won’t allow for a wide margin of victory. Temple simply isn’t a good match up for Cornell, which is why I give Temple, but it could go either way easily.
Pick – Temple -2.5
(6) Marquette vs. (11) Washington
Marquette has played with fire most of the season, winning eight games by five points or less. Lazar Hayward is a star that nobody has really heard of. He averages 18.1 points and 7.7 rebounds per game.
Watching Hayward go up against Huskies’ star Quincy Pondexter will be thrilling. Pondexter scores 19.8 points and 7.5 rebounds per game. Washington also enjoys a stronger backcourt, led by Isaiah Thomas.
Because Marquette plays every team so tough and has a knack for close games, it’s not crazy to think this game will be tight until the end. The Huskies are red hot – they enter the game on a seven-game winning streak.
Pick – Washington -2
South – (7) Richmond vs. (10) St. Mary’s
Just like Temple-Cornell, these are two teams I would have loved to be able to pick to win their first-round games. Instead, they face each other.
Spiders’ point guard Kevin Anderson is a hidden gem, and he pairs with David Gonzalvez for a great backcourt, which I love to rely on when picking teams in March.
St. Mary’s features a dominant big man in Omar Samhan, who averages a double-double. All five of the Gaels’ starters average double figure scoring, and they are fresh off a 19-point win over Gonzaga in the West Coast Conference Finals.
The Gaels also have a tough backcourt, and are probably deeper than the Spiders.
I think the Spiders won’t have an answer for Samhan. Picking a team because of a big man goes against all my prior values, but I can’t go back now. Take the Gaels.
Pick – St. Mary’s -1.5