So these predictions have been going pretty well so far! I went three for four on the First Four, and 14 for 16 on Thursday. I know it can't last, but I might as well report success while I can, right?
(8) Kansas State vs. (1) Syracuse (Saturday: Pittsburgh, 12:15 on CBS)
First instinct: Syracuse
The numbers like: Syracuse (KP - 66%, Silver - 72%, BPI - Syracuse 2, Kansas State 23, all numbers ignorant of the Fab Melo situation)
Thought process: OK, everyone needs to calm down a little bit. Fab Melo is a big part of the Syracuse basketball team, absolutely. He's an extraordinarily effective defender in the middle of the 2-3 zone, and he's become a perfectly effective offensive post option. But that doesn't mean that Syracuse shouldn't be making the Sweet 16. Jordan Henriquez was already going to have something to say about a big scoring day from Fab, and Rakeem Christmas and Baye Moussa Keita, while nowhere near the complete defensive package Melo has been, are capable enough shot-blockers to stop opposing forwards from going nuts. Angel Rodriguez is not a steady enough hand at the point, and Dion Waiters and Brandon Triche are good enough at forcing decisions that Kansas State will have trouble moving the ball effectively. Orange fans shouldn't be as confident as they once were in their Final Four chances, but an exit here should still be considered a disappointment even without Melo.
Final pick: Syracuse
(7) Gonzaga vs. (2) Ohio State (Saturday: Pittsburgh, 2:45 on CBS)
First instinct: Ohio State
The numbers like: Ohio State (KP - 82%, Silver - 85%, BPI - Ohio State 3, Gonzaga 21)
Thought process: The numbers just love Ohio State this season, don't they? I'm not sure I agree with them on the Buckeyes in general, but I do for this game. Thad Matta's team just has too much firepower, and Gonzaga's best players (Kevin Pangos and Robert Sacre) will have to continue their success against the likes of Aaron Craft and Jared Sullinger. That seems unlikely.
Final pick: Ohio State
(6) Murray State vs. (3) Marquette (Saturday: Louisville, 5:15 on CBS)
The numbers like: Marquette (KP - 67%, Silver - 68%, Marquette 17, Murray State 34)
Thought process: I don't think this game should be written down for Marquette as easily as it seems to have been thus far, but I do have a hard time imagining the Racers dealing with the Eagles' scorers. Everyone knows about Murray State's three-point shooting prowess, but the Racers also put up a surprising number of points from the free throw line, Ed Daniel especially. If he can get Jae Crowder in foul trouble -- the less foul-inducing Ivan Aska will likely be guarded by Davante Gardner -- then Marquette could be in trouble. Racer guard Jewuan Long won the OVC Defensive Player of the Year award, and he'll give Darius Johnson-Odom problems, even if DJO can out-strong him on the interior. I can't pick Murray State, but this game should be taken more seriously.
Final pick: Marquette
(5) Vanderbilt vs. (4) Wisconsin (Saturday: Albuquerque, 6:10 on TNT)
First instinct: Vanderbilt
The numbers like: Wisconsin (KP - 66%, Silver - 60%, BPI - Wisconsin 13, Vanderbilt 19)
Thought process: I do feel like the Wisconsin backlash is starting to overshoot itself, by which I mean that everyone has cast so much doubt over -- particularly -- the Badgers' KenPom rating that people are assuming they're overrated at every step of every discussion. I like this game for Jordan Taylor, a lot. He should put on quite a show with Brad Tinsley and John Jenkins guarding him. The issue is that he'll be largely on his own, because Jeffery Taylor and Festus Ezeli will be so tough defending Ryan Evans and Jared Berggren. There's also a fear Jenkins may be mitigated by the Badgers' defense, which allows a tremendously low number of three-pointers to be attempted (although Jenkins' release is so famously quick that I can't imagine he'll be taken out of the game). For whatever reason, it's just very easy for me to see the Commodores scoring on Wisconsin, but on the other end I picture (and this is ridiculous and entirely unfounded) a never-ending series of Jordan Taylor isolation sets. Wisconsin rarely puts on an impressive show, but they win a lot, and I imagine a lot of people pick against them for a reason nearly as silly as the one I just outlined. Nevertheless, I'm taking Vandy.
Final pick: Vanderbilt
(12) VCU vs. (4) Indiana (Saturday: Portland, 7:10 on TBS)
First instinct: Indiana
The numbers like: Indiana (KP - 74%, Silver - 71%, BPI - Indiana 14, VCU 49)
Thought process: I think I've now learned never to pick against Shaka Smart in March. And the more I think about it, the more I like the Rams in this game for other reasons. VCU's calling card is their high-pressure defense (all eight rotation players have steal rates over two percent and four are over three percent, not to mention Briante Weber), and Jordan Hulls can have some turnover issues. I'd assume Cody Zeller would have a really nice game, but Juvonte Reddic's performance against Garrett Stutz is giving me pause. The Rams' offense should go largely as usual -- their responsibilities are so spread so evenly that it's tough to figure out who, specifically, needs to be shut down. Victor Oladipo can guard Bradford Burgess as well as anyone, but everyone on this team contributes. Let's see just how much magic Shaka's got.
Final pick: VCU
(8) Iowa State vs. (1) Kentucky (Saturday: Louisville, 7:45 on CBS)
First instinct: Kentucky
The numbers like: Kentucky (KP - 80%, Silver - 90%, BPI - Kentucky 1, Iowa State 32)
Thought process: Not only is Kentucky the best team in the country, but they match up really nicely with Iowa State. There aren't many people who can guard Anthony Davis, but none of them are Cyclones. And there aren't many people who can shut down Royce White, but Davis is athletic enough to follow White to the perimeter if need be. I don't think I'm declaring any news when I say that Iowa State could have drawn an easier round of 32 opponent than Kentucky, but even more than that, UK could have drawn a less favorable matchup than Iowa State.
Final pick: Kentucky
(11) Colorado vs. (3) Baylor (Saturday: Albuquerque, 8:40 on TNT)
First instinct: Baylor
The numbers like: Baylor (KP - 78%, Silver - 77%, BPI - Baylor 12, Colorado 87)
Thought process: I feel like I learned more about UNLV than Colorado on Thursday. The Rebels were 5-5 in their last ten games against a schedule that wasn't terribly impressive, and I (hindsight bias alert!) should've taken that more seriously. This is what I wrote before that game: "I'm going to take UNLV, but every time I look at Colorado's lineup I convince myself they'll win. I can't figure out why this is." That's not the case in this game. Baylor is one of the least guardable teams in the country. Very few teams have a lightning-quick perimeter defender, an athletic seven-footer, a true power forward, and a long, athletic 3-man. Colorado's offense isn't fantastic, and I think their generally strong defense is in for a long night against the Bears.
Final pick: Baylor
(5) New Mexico vs. (4) Louisville (Saturday: Portland, 9:40 on TBS)
First instinct: New Mexico
The numbers like: New Mexico (KP - 56%, Silver - 54%, BPI - Louisville 11, New Mexico 20)
Thought process: Something about the way Louisville plays just keeps me from trusting them. (I think it's watching them play offense.) I really trust Drew Gordon and I really trust Kendall Williams, and I just feel like New Mexico is going to force Peyton Siva into turnover after turnover. What's scaring me away from the Lobos, though, is that New Mexico seems to have been pretty three-point lucky this season on both ends. They've shot a bunch of threes and still hit 39 percent of them, and they've allowed a lot of threes to be taken against them and only 31 percent of those have gone in. That adds up over the course of the season. I'm taking the Cardinals.
Final pick: Louisville
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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