Deep breath everyone…we made it.
Yes, two number ones are already down and out. And yes…half the two seeds are gone as well. But the opening weekend of the tournament is always crazy…that’s why we love it so much.
Sure, this might have been the craziest of opening rounds in this tournaments history, but when the dust settles on the opening weekend, you realize that these teams are really just one third of the way to glory. Two weeks is an eternity for these student athletes, and each of these teams has two weeks left if they want to be champions. So, let’s look at the remaining matchups as best we can, and figure out who’s for real, and who is just a pretender.
(11) Loyola Chicago vs. (7) Nevada
The pick: Loyola
The Nevada wolf pack may have a trending coach who loves to tear his shirt off, but the one thing lost in their surprise victories over Texas and Cincinnati is how lucky they were. This team plays with fire, and they were frankly lucky to get through the weekend. They are good…but if they try to play from behind for a third game in a row, they are asking for it. I think Loyola is the smart pick here, though Nevada does have a Cinderella vibe. Still…Thursday night might be midnight for the wolf pack.
(7) Texas A&M vs. (3) Michigan
The pick: Michigan
Texas A&M has the same sort of cultural momentum that Nevada has…they just knocked out a really well-known number 2. While beating UNC in Charlotte was incredible, I just can’t get over the fact that Michigan is Michigan. It seems like a cop out, especially with Michigan just squeezing by Houston in the previous round, but the Wolverines were one of the teams the experts picked to win this thing. Pick Michigan.
(9) Kansas State vs. (5) Kentucky
The pick: Kentucky
Whenever I have a tough game to pick, I always role with the best coach. Kansas State took care of everyone’s darling UMBC, but they’ll find that John Calipari’s Kentucky squad is another thing entirely. If Calipari is as great as he thinks he is, they’ll win this handily.
(9) Florida State vs. (4) Gonzaga
The pick: Gonzaga
I don’t believe in Gonzaga to make finals, even though they did a year ago. This school has a history of going out early, and so this is the pick I am most afraid of. Still, I look at the fact that this team was playing in the final a year ago, and I can’t see Mark Few’s men regressing this bad. I have them going out in the next round, but they should beat the Seminoles.
(5) Clemson vs. (1) Kansas
The pick: Kansas
I think that the first weekend of the tournament has become such a cultural staple that it brings something out of the lower seeded teams. Once we get through that weekend, the surviving teams really assert themselves and we get a clearer picture of who can win. Kansas is going to assert themselves. They are a deserving one seed who handled themselves respectably in the first two rounds. They’ll be playing beyond this weekend. Take ‘em.
(5) West Virginia vs. (1) Villanova
The pick: Villanova
This one doesn’t need much breakdown. They are the best team in the country, they should have been the overall one, and they are the most likely team to win the championship at this point.
(11) Syracuse vs. (2) Duke
The pick: Duke
The sexiest game of the week in terms of star power, Jim Boeheim and Coach K face off for what could possibly be the final time in the tournament. These are two legendary coaches, and because of that Syracuse can’t be dismissed like most other 11 seeds facing a 2. This game should be a doozy, but I am reminded by something ESPN analyst Jay Bilas said when the bracket was announced. “When Duke is on their game, they’re the best in the country.” Coach K will get his boys up for this game, and Duke will prevail.
(3) Texas Tech vs. (2) Purdue
The pick: Purdue
Lock in for this one baby, it’s going to be tight. While Syracuse/Duke might be the best game of the sweet 16 in terms of star power, this game should be the closest. I’m not going to pretend that I have followed these two teams all season because I haven’t, I follow the legacy schools through the regular season, not Texas Tech and Purdue. Still, the glimpses I’ve seen through the first two rounds show that Purdue is easily top five in the country, and Texas Tech can win big and can win a close one. I got Purdue going through just because I believe in their coach Matt Painter, but buckle in for this one: it’ll be one hell of a ride.
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Alex Taylor is a graduate of McMaster University, with degrees in Anthropology and History, and a minor in classics. Alex currently attends Sheridan College, where he is working on a Journalism diploma.
Alex is also a novel writer, having written a manuscript, and he is currently working on another (fiction)
Alex Taylor writes more frequently on his website, TheFanLife.net
Alex has also written a published paper while attending McMaster University: an academic journal piece on the depictions of aging in the media.
And avid sports fan, Alex Taylor will be starting a podcast soon (titled thefanlife. It will be on Soundcloud).