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My ulcers haven’t gone anywhere yet. Fackkkkkk…
(4) Vanderbilt vs. (13) Murray State
Under coach Kevin Stallings, the Commodores (24-8) have been consistently good; never have they been great.
Vanderbilt enters the game as losers in two of its last three games. Both losses were against non-tournament teams.
The Commodores are extremely deep. Nine players average more than 12 minutes per game, while only one averages more than 30. A.J. Ogilvy is the most recognizable player on the team. The Australian center was a breakout freshman in 2008, but has not really improved much since then. He has good shooting touch but is not very physical in the paint.
The Racers (30-4) are also extremely deep. All five starters average double-digit scoring. As a team, the Racers score at a rapid pace (77 points per game), which leads me to believe they are more than ready for an up-and-down game with a slower Vanderbilt team.
The Commodores play bad defense at times, quite frankly. They allow nearly 70 points per game on average.
However, Murray State doesn’t have that signature win I’d like to see from the regular season that proves it can play with the big boys.
The Racers opened the season with a five-point loss to California, but other than that they never played anyone else that is still playing basketball.
Pick – Murray State -1
(5) Butler vs. (12) UTEP
I really, really like Butler. The Bulldogs had no fear in scheduling a brutal slate in the non-conference, and claimed wins over Ohio State and Xavier in the process. All five starters from 2008-09 returned this season, and they ran the table in the Horizon league, going 18-0 and also took home the conference tournament.
Gordon Hayward (15.4 ppg), Shelvin Mack (13.9 ppg) and Matt Howard (12.3 ppg) form one of the best trio of players this side of Durham.
The selection committee did them no favors (surprise, surprise) by matching them up with Conference USA regular season champion UTEP in the first round.
The Miners (26-6) dominated its somewhat unusually pedestrian conference, but lost to Houston in the league championship in surprising fashion.
If UTEP is able to pull off the upset, it will be because of guard Randy Culpeper. Culpeper scores 18 points per game, and has scored more than 30 points three times. In a win against East Carolina in February, Culpeper lit up the Pirates for 45 points.
The Miners just haven’t beaten anyone very impressive. Their record against teams in the NCAA Tournament is 3-4. Those wins were against a 16-seed, 12-seed and a 13-seed. It’s hard to say they can hang with Butler, but they just might.
Pick – Butler -3.5
(6) Xavier vs. (11) Minnesota
The Musketeers (24-8) finished tied for first place in the rugged Atlantic 10, a noteworthy accomplishment. That fact alone leads me to think they will succeed in the big dance. However, their record against tournament teams is subpar. In nine games against teams that made the field of 65, the Musketeers were 2-7.
Minnesota (21-13) turned a Big Ten Championship game run into an at-large bid, after nobody thought they had a chance to make the tournament a week and a half ago. In the conference tournament, they beat Purdue and Michigan State, who are four and five seeds respectively in the NCAA Tournament.
The Golden Gophers have proved they can beat the nation’s elite. They beat Ohio State, Wisconsin, and Illinois during the regular season. They have a solid backcourt with three good guards in Lawrence Westbrook, Blake Hoffarber and Devoe Joseph. Their balanced lineup allows them to play at a variety of speeds.
The Musketeers should win this game – they have the more talented team at least – but Minnesota has played better in games against better competition. This will be one of the closest games in the first round.
Pick – Xavier -1