Best Game: #6 SMU vs. #11 UCLA
Mustangs coach, Larry Brown faces his former team, the Bruins. UCLA's inclusion in the Tournament was probably the most debated part of Selection Sunday. The Bruins played well the latter part of the season but early on in the year they lost five games in a row and suffered blowout losses to Kentucky, Utah, and Oregon. They are playing better as of late, having won four of their final five games. People always talk up the importance of guard play in the NCAA Tournament and the Bruins excel in that area. Coach's son Bryce Alford teams up with Normal Powell in the Bruins backcourt. The Bruins then have a bruising presence on the glass in Kevon Looney. The Bruins are also balanced offensively, with five players averaging double figures in scoring. Brown has the Mustangs back in the NCAA Tournament after a 22 year absence. The Mustangs feed off their big bodies inside, C Yanick Moreira and F Markus Kennedy. Nic Moore is a solid point guard, but you have two teams with slightly different philosophies offensively. I think the Bruins are playing improved basketball and won't be the pushover most expect. However, I think the difference in this game will be coaching, and I will take Larry Brown over Steve Alford any day.
Player to Watch: Duke center Jahlil Okafor
Okafor appears to be the consensus #1 pick in this June's NBA Draft assuming he leaves early as most expect. Okafor was just a rebound shy of averaging a double double per game and he also averages 1.5 blocks per game. Where Okafor struggles is at the foul line, shooting just 51%. If Duke is in tight games, expect to see a lot of Hackafor strategy being employed by teams late in games. Okafor would do himself a favor if he just remains close to the basket, because if teams do try to foul him he earns a ton of and one opportunities.
Best Potential Game: #6 SMU vs. #3 Iowa State
This would be a great game of highly differing philosophies. SMU is all about size and defense, while Iowa State plays defense when they have to but mostly just looks to outscore teams. The Cyclones do have 6'8 forward Georges Niang and 6'9 forward Jameel McKay to contain SMU's bigs. The Cyclones recent trend has been to get down big early and then produce furious comebacks in the second half. Against a team as accomplished defensively as the Mustangs, that may not work though.
Lowest Seed to Make It Through the Weekend: #12 Stephen F. Austin
The Lumberjacks broke the hearts of VCU last year when they miraculously came back from down 4 with seconds to go. They look to continue that string of success when they face sliding Utah in the Second Round. I foresee a battle of Cinderellas in Round Three, as I expect Georgetown to have their annual Tournament loss to a double digit seed, which would give us a Lumberjacks/Eastern Washington matchup. The Lumberjacks return most of last year's tournament tested team, including F Jacob Parker and G Thomas Walkup. That experience will serve them well this year.
#16 Robert Morris over #16 North Florida
#1 Duke over #16 Robert Morris
#8 San Diego State over #9 St. John's
#12 Stephen F. Austin over #5 Utah
#13 Eastern Washington over #4 Georgetown
#6 SMU over #11 UCLA
#3 Iowa State over #14 UAB
#10 Davidson over #7 Iowa
#2 Gonzaga over #15 North Dakota State
#1 Duke over #8 San Diego State
#12 Stephen F. Austin over #13 Eastern Washington
#3 Iowa State over #6 SMU
#2 Gonzaga over #10 Davidson