Yesterday I previewed the First Four. Also note that as part of the Prospectus roadblock of region previews I looked at the South Region, so a lot of my thoughts on those first round games are in there somewhere. I won't repeat myself, so the first eight games here have shorter analysis sections.
Round of 64
(16) Western Kentucky vs. (1) Kentucky
First instinct Kentucky
The numbers like: Kentucky (KP - 98%, Silver - 99%, BPI - Kentucky 1, Western Kentucky 191)
Thought process: I'm picking Kentucky because they're really good and Western Kentucky is currently a 15-18 team from the Sun Belt. A reminder for everyone, though. This is the 28th year of the 64/65/68-team tournament. That means, after this season, we'll have seen 112 1-seeds play 16-seeds. If every 1-seed had a 99 percent chance of winning, there is just a 32 percent chance (retroactively) that the 16-seeds would finish 0-112. This year, there's a 96 percent chance they go 0-4, under the same assumption. But don't get too flippant, or the probability gods will get angry and slip the 1-percent shot in when you've already turned the TV off.
Final pick: Kentucky
(9) Connecticut vs. (8) Iowa State
First instinct: Connecticut
The numbers like: Iowa State (KP - 55%, Silver - 42%, BPI - Iowa State 32, Connecticut 33)
Thought process: I was really debating this one with myself, based entirely on the ageless potential vs. consistency dilemma, and then I started thinking about matchups. Who is Andre Drummond going to guard, for example? Royce White? The Iowa State point guard? Really? I've seen Drummond play defense, and he does a lot of things that are really impressive, but none of them are face-guarding someone to the three-point line with maximum intensity and consistency. And if Drummond takes, say, Melvin Ejim, then who does Alex Oriakhi guard? Or Tyler Olander? Who guards White, period? DeAndre Daniels, who'd be giving up 45 pounds? Roscoe Smith, who'd be giving up 35? Connecticut should put up some points, and if the right dudes get hot, maybe that'll be enough. But it may be time to admit that Jeremy Lamb, while he played the best basketball of his life down the stretch last year, is merely an excellent basketball player and not a future collegiate legend. Ryan Boatright, for all his quickness, is still kind of a shot-jacker. Andre Drummond isn't quite ready. Maybe this team, this year, really is just a 9-seed. And maybe a team like Iowa State, who really is just an 8-seed, can dramatically exploit the matchup problems that can exist in a game like this.
Final pick: Iowa State
(12) VCU vs. (5) Wichita State
First instinct: Wichita State
The numbers like: Wichita State (KP - 77%, Silver - 74%, BPI - Wichita State 9, VCU 49)
Thought process: VCU's an interesting team -- I'd love to see them play someone else. Wichita's just too good, barring some repeat magic from Shaka Smart.
Final pick: Wichita State
(13) New Mexico State vs. (4) Indiana
First instinct: Indiana
The numbers like: Indiana (KP - 78%, Silver - 71%, BPI - Indiana 14, New Mexico State 55)
Thought process: In a game with an out-and-out favorite, I can't back a team whose clear star player (Wendell McKines) has such a tough matchup (Victor Oladipo).
Final pick: Indiana
(11) Colorado vs. (6) UNLV
First instinct: UNLV
The numbers like: UNLV (KP - 66%, Silver - 68%, BPI - UNLV 28, Colorado 87)
Thought process: I was really intrigued with the idea of Colorado slowing down the game and Andre Roberson controlling the paint, but that BPI gap is wide. I'm taking UNLV, but every time I look at Colorado's lineup I convince myself they'll win. I can't figure out why this is.
Final pick: UNLV
(14) South Dakota State vs. (3) Baylor
First instinct: Baylor
The numbers like: Baylor (KP - 74%, Silver - 80%, BPI - Baylor 12, South Dakota State 78)
Thought process: I love Nate Wolters, but South Dakota State can't guard Baylor. The Bears have too many weapons.
Final pick: Baylor
(10) Xavier vs. (7) Notre Dame
First instinct: Xavier
The numbers like: Xavier (KP - 44%, Silver - 52%, BPI - Xavier 53, Notre Dame 60)
Thought process: I think it's interesting that the rating systems that distinguish between games without key players (Silver and BPI) like Xavier, while kenpom likes Notre Dame. This is what it came down to for me: ND can really keep you off the three-point line and the free throw line. The only Musketeer who I trust to score inside the arc at will is Dezmine Wells -- and he's a big-game player -- but I don't love his matchup against Pat Connaughton.
Final pick: Xavier
(15) Lehigh vs. (2) Duke
First instinct: Duke
The numbers like: Duke (KP - 78%, Silver - 90%, BPI - Duke 8, Lehigh 99)
Thought process: The updates about Ryan Kelly's foot injury don't sound too promising, and Duke may be overseeded even with him. Lehigh's C.J. McCollum is one of the more underhyped names nationally, and the Mountain Hawks may be underseeded as well. If you're going to pick a 15-seed to beat a 2, this is the one to pick. When you get right down to it, though, Duke just doesn't seem to lose to teams like this. In the history of the Pomeroy ratings, the Blue Devils' worst loss was on the road to a No. 86 Virginia Tech team in February 2005. Lehigh's ranked 86 right now, and Duke gets to play this one in Greensboro.
Final pick: Duke
(16) LIU Brooklyn vs. (1) Michigan State
First instinct: Michigan State
The numbers like: Michigan State (KP - 96%, Silver - 95%, BPI - Michigan State 4, LIU Brooklyn 152)
Thought process: The Blackbirds are 20-2 since December 15, even if their toughest game since then was at Wagner. Forward Julian Boyd won NEC Player of the Year and forward Jamal Olasewere joined him on the All-Conference first team. Obviously, Michigan State is a much better team than Long Island, but here's something to note, in case things get particularly interesting on Friday night: LIU Brooklyn is ranked second nationally in both offensive and defensive free throw rate. If they can get some "Let's get that upset!" whistles and non-whistles early, maybe they can keep getting them.
Final pick: Michigan State
(9) Saint Louis vs. (8) Memphis
First instinct: Memphis
The numbers like: Memphis (KP - 59%, Silver - 66% , BPI - Memphis 10, Saint Louis 15)
Thought process: In the stat geek nightmare of the bracket, two teams highly thought of by laptops face off in the round of 64 for date with one of the best teams in the country. Guard Will Barton of Memphis most definitely made The Leap this year, and his lack of All-America support is less confusing than unfortunate. This season Memphis as a team took the uncommon route of hype-downfall-success, and a mid-major can't do that and expect the "success" to be proclaimed from the mountaintops. Because of their conference affiliations, neither of these teams has beaten an opponent better than the team they'll see Friday. I'm going to take Memphis, though, and I'll tell you why. First, I don't believe Saint Louis's bigs can contain Tarik Black, and I'm not sure Brian Conklin will be able to score against Black as easily as he has for much of the season. Second, the biggest issue that SLU's excellent defense has is sending their opponents to the free throw line, and that's an area where Black, Barton, and point guard Joe Jackson really excel. Finally, Jackson may be the fastest basketball player in the NCAA right now, and things are finally coming together for him. He's always unguardable; when he's making the right decisions he's absolutely terrifying.
Final pick: Memphis
(12) Long Beach State vs. (5) New Mexico
First instinct: New Mexico
The numbers like: New Mexico (KP - 67%, Silver - 68%, BPI - New Mexico 20, Long Beach State 39)
Thought process: For whatever reason, I've had this feeling all year that Long Beach State isn't quite as good as they're cracked up to be. Looking back now, yes, Xavier and Pittsburgh are the best teams they've beaten. But they took Creighton to the horn and gave Kansas and North Carolina more than they bargained for. I don't know -- Casper Ware has proven at this point he's capable of winning games all by himself, which is worth remembering. But New Mexico has three truly dangerous offensive weapons in Drew Gordon, Kendall Williams, and Tony Snell (and I'll accept pushes for Jamal Fenton and maybe even Demetrius Walker), and they play better defense than the 49ers. I like the Lobos.
Final pick: New Mexico
(13) Davidson vs. (4) Louisville
First instinct: Louisville
The numbers like: Louisville (KP - 71%, Silver - 77%, BPI - Louisville 11, Davidson 81)
Thought process: As I started thinking harder about this one, I started really getting pulled onto the Davidson side of things. SoCon Player of the Year De'Mon Brooks and fellow first-team All-Conference selection Jake Cohen both present matchup problems for the Cardinals. Both play such a perimeter-oriented, cut-heavy game that Gorgui Dieng and Chane Behanan will have trouble staying with them. And I still think this is true -- the Wildcats will put up some points, and maybe enough to get everyone suitably excited about the 2013 Wildcats, who will be fantastic. The problem is that Davidson, defensively, doesn't have the instincts (Brooks) or athleticism (everyone else) to really put the pressure on Louisville to make them make mistakes. If you let the Cardinals get settled in, they're much more effective (so long as they don't get too three-point happy).
Final pick: Louisville
(11) Colorado State vs. (6) Murray State
First instinct: Murray State
The numbers like: Murray State (KP - 61%, Silver - 67%, BPI - Murray State 34, Colorado State 70)
Thought process: Colorado State is an offense-first team whose ball pressure leaves something to be desired. Murray State plays both ends well, and their only question mark offensively is turnovers. I do think the Racers may be slightly undervalued by the statistical community, but I'm with the numbers on Colorado State. I don't get them.
Final pick: Murray State
(14) BYU vs. (3) Marquette
First instinct: Marquette
The numbers like: Marquette (KP - 70%, Silver - 74%, BPI - Marquette 17, BYU 47)
Thought process: Marquette's defense is outstanding in all respects, excepting the defensive glass. While I like Brandon Davies and Noah Hartsock, I'm not convinced that they can pick apart Davante Gardner and Jae Crowder inside. Nor am I convinced that Matt Carlino and company can keep turnovers under control under the Eagles' heavy pressure. And the Cougars have shown little ability to take advantage of Marquette's defensive rebounding weakness. I think BYU's best shot is to get Gardner in foul trouble early, forcing Crowder and Jamil Wilson to shift up and guard suddenly much more sizeable opponents. And nobody on this BYU team can guard Big East Player of the Year Crowder. The Cougars' best move is probably to play zone, but Crowder and Darius Johnson-Odom can make that look like a bad idea quickly. I feel like BYU will be walking a tightrope here.
Final pick: Marquette
(10) Virginia vs. (7) Florida vs. 10 Virginia
First instinct: Florida
The numbers like: Florida (KP - 55%, Silver - 64%, BPI - Florida 16, Virginia 27)
Thought process: It's a classic all-offense vs. all-defense battle. When Virginia has the ball, they'll likely have the rougher time of it because Patric Young is a tough matchup for Mike Scott, and Scott is a gigantic chunk of the Cavalier offense. Young is one of the few bigs in the country who can push Scott around, but he's still quick enough to be in Scott's face for his go-to mid-range jumper. On the other end, Florida's three guards are borderline unguardable by Virginia's personnel. Jontel Evans and Sammy Zeglinski are very capable, but if they can slow down Erving Walker and Kenny Boynton, who goes after Brad Beal? Joe Harris? Malcolm Brogdon? I don't like those matchups. Furthermore I refuse to believe that the dismissal of Boynton's incredible season can go on any longer.
Final pick: Florida
(15) Norfolk State vs. (2) Missouri
First instinct: Missouri
The numbers like: Missouri (KP - 96%, Silver - 97%, BPI - Missouri 7, Norfolk State 180)
Thought process: This one's unusual because Norfolk State does have a monster to lean on in Kyle O'Quinn, and Ricardo Ratliffe will have to take him on largely by himself. I picture an impressive game from O'Quinn, but not one that can combat the offensive destruction brought on by the Missouri guard foursome.
Final pick: Missouri
(16) UNC Asheville vs. (1) Syracuse
First instinct: Syracuse
The numbers like: Syracuse (KP - 91%, Silver - 93%, BPI - Syracuse 2, UNC Asheville 124)
Thought process: Asheville really does have a strong backcourt in Matt Dickey and J.P. Primm, and you remember that if you watched last year's First Four. Their tallest rotation player is 6-5. That's Michael Carter-Williams' height. Think they might have a little trouble with Kris Joseph and C.J. Fair and scoring on Rakeem Christmas, even without Fab Melo? The Fabulous One is a destructive defensive force, to be sure, and he would've helped a lot on offense against such a small team. I can't say his loss makes Asheville the favorite.
Final pick: Syracuse
(9) Southern Miss vs. (8) Kansas State
First instinct: Kansas State
The numbers like: Kansas State (KP - 72%, Silver - 66%, BPI - Kansas State 23, Southern Miss 46)
Thought process: I'm not sure this one is as cut-and-dried as the numbers say, because I think K-State is really, really susceptible to ball pressure. I don't trust Angel Rodriguez to hold that team together, although there are certainly things he does well. Southern Miss has that odd ability to force turnovers without a huge number of steals. That said, a lot of Larry Eustachy's scorers do their work inside the arc (Jonathan Mills and, when he's in, Darnell Dodson), and Jordan Henriquez is one of the best shot-blockers in the country. Even most of Neil Watson's effectiveness as a scorer comes from free throws. But what if K-State gets in foul trouble because of this interior scoring? Ugh, I don't like this one. I'll just trust the numbers.
Final pick: Kansas State
(12) Harvard vs. (5) Vanderbilt
First instinct: Vanderbilt
The numbers like: Vanderbilt (KP - 67%, Silver - 75%, BPI - Vanderbilt 19, Harvard 44)
Thought process: Before we get too deep into this, I should admit that I, over the course of the SEC tournament (but with signs beforehand), have fallen madly in love with Vanderbilt. So take the following with that grain of salt. Y'all, I'm not sure I see it with Harvard, here. They beat Florida State and UCF in the Bahamas on back-to-back days. They beat a good Saint Joseph's team, at home. Other than that? They dropped games to Penn, Princeton, and Fordham, and failed to dominate their conference in their wins. Obviously, forwards Kyle Casey and Keith Wright are good players, and point guard Brandyn Curry is one of my favorite players in the whole country. But I just don't see them stopping the Commodores. Casey will be guarded by Jeffery Taylor (one of the best defenders, period, in the nation), Wright by Festus Ezeli (no slouch as a shot-blocker). This one feels open and shut for me.
Final pick: Vanderbilt
(13) Montana vs. (4) Wisconsin
First instinct: Wisconsin
The numbers like: Wisconsin (KP - 87%, Silver - 85%, BPI - Wisconsin 13, Montana 90)
Thought process: Everyone seems to be writing this off as an automatic Wisconsin win, which I'm not sure is fair to the quality of season Montana had. Then again, Wisconsin tends to rate too high in Ken Pomeroy's system -- because they beat the snot out of teams like Montana early in the season. Now, let's all take a moment of silence for Damian Lillard's season for Weber State, which will henceforth be ignored.
Final pick: Wisconsin
(11) Texas vs. (6) Cincinnati
First instinct: Texas
The numbers like: Texas (KP - 52%, Silver - 40%, BPI - Texas 25, Cincinnati 36)
Thought process: I love this matchup for Texas. I have been, and continue to be, a doubter of the 2012 Bearcats, and the reverse is true of the 2012 Longhorns. Texas hasn't quite clicked on all cylinders yet, but they are extraordinarily young and very talented. Myck Kabongo will give Cashmere Wright fits, and Clint Chapman is capable of at least keeping Yancy Gates from annilihating the Horns. J'Covan Brown has quietly had one of the most explosive offensive seasons in the nation, and freshman wings Sheldon McClellan and Jonathan Holmes are also underrated assets.
Final pick: Texas
(14) St. Bonaventure vs. (3) Florida State
First instinct: Florida State
The numbers like: Florida State (KP - 66%, Silver - 88%, BPI - Florida State 26, St. Bonaventure 65)
Thought process: Andrew Nicholson is an absolute monster for the Bonnies, but Florida State has the perfect counter in Bernard James. The question here is really whether the Seminoles will show up at all. Will they be the team who lost to Princeton and Boston College or the team who beat North Carolina by 33? I think as long as they're a team from one of the 29 games besides those two aforementioned losses, they'll be fine here. The Pomeroy probability seems low, and the 'Noles were bringing it last week.
Final pick: Florida State
(10) West Virginia vs. (7) Gonzaga
First instinct: Gonzaga
The numbers like: Gonzaga (KP - 56%, Silver - 42%, BPI - Gonzaga 21, West Virginia 42)
Thought process: So the big deal with this game is that West Virginia gets to play in Pittsburgh, over 2000 miles closer to them than the higher seeded Zags. Which, agreed, sucks for Gonzaga. But here's the thing -- Pittsburgh hates West Virginia. And Pitt fans can be, or at least in my experience have been, loud. A lot of the fans at these games are just people from the area, who bought their tickets long ago. And a lot of those fans are probably Pitt fans, expecting to see the highly-ranked Panthers at the CONSOL Energy Center, and now they have nobody to cheer for. Except against West Virginia. So, travel, yes, bad for Gonzaga. Atmosphere? I'm not so sure. As for the game, I think Gonzaga is the better team, without a ton of question marks. And I really like that they have three reasonably strong, reasonably mobile bigs (Elias Harris, Robert Sacre, Sam Dower) to go at West Virginia's two (and Deniz Kilicli is rarely described as particularly mobile). Kevin Jones has carried this team all year, and I respect that, but I have a hard time seeing the Mountaineers shutting down the Bulldog offense regardless of Jones' performance.
Final pick: Gonzaga
(15) Loyola MD vs. (2) Ohio State
First instinct: Ohio State
The numbers like: Ohio State (KP - 95%, Silver - 96%, BPI - Ohio State 3, Loyola MD 115)
Thought process: The Greyhounds played a game at Kentucky, which they lost by 24, but after that their best opponents were St. Bonaventure and Iona (twice). Loyola won games this year on offensive rebounding and getting to the free throw line. Unfortunately, Jared Sullinger is great at preventing one of those things and the rest of the Buckeyes are great at preventing the other. I can't find a reason to question Ohio State here.
Final pick: Ohio State
(16) Vermont vs. (1) North Carolina
First instinct: North Carolina
The numbers like: North Carolina (KP - 90%, Silver - 96%, BPI - North Carolina 5, Vermont 139)
Thought process: I don't see any particular reason to buy Vermont as likely to beat the Heels. If, however, they can control the tempo (the Catamounts play 64 possessions a game, while the Tar Heels play 72) and increase the variance of the game by shooting lots of three-pointers (Carolina gives up an unusually high proportion of their points allowed from behind the arc), then they have at least an outside shot. A 10 percent chance seems a tad high, but if Matt Glass and Four McGlynn get hot at the same time, this one could at least get interesting.
Final pick: North Carolina
(9) Alabama vs. (8) Creighton
First instinct: Creighton
The numbers like: Alabama (KP - 54%, Silver - 53%, BPI - Creighton 22, Alabama 24)
Thought process: What's really bad for Creighton? Two things. First, Doug McDermott hasn't played as strong and bouncy a defender as JaMychal Green all season long. Creighton's schedule was quietly mediocre. Second, they never, ever force turnovers on the defensive end, and that's an area where the Crimson Tide can be attacked. The good news for the Bluejays is that, with Tony Mitchell off the team, Alabama's offense is really down to just Green and point guard Trevor Releford. If McDermott's game has advanced to the point that he isn't smothered by Green (and I think it has), Creighton will score too many points for Alabama to take over.
Final pick: Creighton
(12) California vs. (5) Temple
First instinct: California
The numbers like: Temple (KP - 50%, Silver - 59%, BPI - Temple 29, California 30)
Thought process: I have a hard time imagining a version of this game where Cal doesn't light up the scoreboard. Micheal Eric and Anthony Lee can probably come together to give Harper Kamp and David Kravish a lot of trouble on the interior, but I can't see the Owls' perimeter guys shutting down Justin Cobbs and Jorge Gutierrez and Allen Crabbe. I like those matchups for the Bears going the other direction, as well. It's really too bad Richard Solomon's no longer playing, because the Bears could use his total rebounding and shot-blocking dominance for this game, but this version of Cal is still way too good to be a First Four competitor.
FINAL PICK: California
(13) Ohio vs. (4) Michigan
First instinct: Michigan.
The numbers like: Michigan (KP - 70%, Silver - 72%, BPI - Michigan 31, Ohio 74)
Thought process: Ohio's two key players are point guard D.J. Cooper and forward Reggie Keely. It's not particularly controversial to suggest that Michigan point Trey Burke and center Jordan Morgan (or, for that matter, Evan Smotrycz) are better players than both of those Bobcats. And the Wolverines add in Tim Hardaway, as well. Ohio has a lights-out three-point shooter in Nick Kellogg? Well, Michigan has Zack Novak, who's been nearly as effective against considerably tougher competition. The Wolverines have beaten Ohio State. The only win Ohio has over an NCAA tournament team is against play-in 16-seed Lamar.
Final pick: Michigan
(11) NC State vs. (6) San Diego State
First instinct: NC State
The numbers like: NC State (KP - 54%, Silver - 60%, BPI - San Diego State 40, NC State 45)
Thought process: I'm not sure any Aztec can handle defending C.J. Leslie, or Lorenzo Brown, or Richard Howell. I like San Diego State, I do, but they haven't played anyone with this kind of size and athleticism since Baylor.
Final pick: NC State
(14) Belmont vs. (3) Georgetown
First instinct: Georgetown
The numbers like: Georgetown (KP - 59%, Silver - 55%, BPI - Georgetown 18, Belmont 35)
Thought process: I'd typically just get excited that there was a 3-14 this tightly contested and pick the Bruins for the gusto. But who do I actually think will win this game? My first thought is that Belmont has an impressive number of weapons to throw at Georgetown defensively. They have a big body to battle Henry Sims (Scott Saunders), a lanky forward with the size (if not athleticism) to stay with Hollis Thompson (Mick Hedgepeth), and a lightning-quick perimeter defender to go to work on Jason Clark (Kerron Johnson). On the other end of the floor, the Bruins are very effective shooting the three-pointer, while the Hoyas are tops in the nation at defending it (27 percent). However, Ken Pomeroy recently taught us that maybe that doesn't mean so much. I like Belmont a lot, and I'm not sure I love Georgetown.
Final pick: Belmont
(10) Purdue vs. (7) Saint Mary's
First instinct: Saint Mary's
The numbers like: Purdue (KP - 61%, Silver - 61%, BPI - Purdue 38, Saint Mary's 43)
Thought process: The first thing that hopped out at me when looking over both teams' Kenpom pages was that Lewis Jackson is having a really, really good season. He's played well when I've watched Purdue this year, but either he's playing fantastic in the games I haven't seen or I'm missing something, because his numbers are All-Big Ten material. The second thing that jumped out was just how incredible Purdue has been at preventing turnovers this season. They're not just first nationally in turnover rate, they're comfortably first. The way, it seems to me, to beat Purdue this year is to crush them on the boards and overpower their bigs. Hummel, while no slouch defensively, can be overpowered, and forcing another of their interior defenders off the bench really takes a chunk out of the Boilermaker offense. The problem is this: Saint Mary's can't really do that, and I feel like the Gaels will have lots of trouble guarding Jackson. I'd feel more comfortable if I had Kelsey Barlow to lean on for this pick, but I'll take the Boilers.
Final pick: Purdue
(15) Detroit vs. (2) Kansas
First instinct: Kansas
The numbers like: Kansas (KP - 92%, Silver - 95%, BPI - Kansas 6, Detroit 127)
Thought process: Ray McCallum is really good. I know. But this is a situation where if basketball writers hadn't been following McCallum since he was 15, there would be much less backing of Detroit. Sometime around now every year, the "eye test" starts to mean "the potential I saw in their players in high school." McCallum aces that test, and it doesn't hurt that Eli Holman was also a Top 100 player and Jason Calliste was at least visible on the circuit. Detroit's a fine basketball team, but I don't see any reason to believe they'll beat Kansas.
Final pick: Kansas
Drew Cannon is a college student and a regular contributor to Basketball Prospectus. Click here to see Drew's other articles. Follow him on Twitter at @DrewCannon1.
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Drew Cannon is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
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