My 2015 March Madness Picks

Last year’s bracket did fine considering it was a crazy year. Picking Mercer to beat Duke was enough credibility for me to roll my bracket on the internet again.

I have Kentucky winning it all and that sounds boring I know. The Wildcats are just that good. Sure, Kentucky will be tested (I have them playing Wisconsin in the semifinals and Virginia in the title game), but they should pass those tests. This Kentucky team is obviously superior to the team that scrapped past Wisconsin a year ago and came up short in the title game with UConn.

Virginia was the team I struggled with the most as I don’t know how healthy it will be. I just think the Cavaliers have gone too far to have another season end before the Final Four, though Michigan State and even Belmont could give them problems.

To the picks.

Midwest

My Midwest is crazy outside of Kentucky rolling through. Valpo is a solid team as I have it moving on to the Sweet 16. The Crusaders can defend and shoot 3s and that is a lethal combo. Texas is another surprise team here as the Longhorns are among the leaders in blocks in rebounds. When you look at their losses you see that most came to good Big 12 teams on the road and at Kentucky. Wichita State is the next hidden gem in the region as the Shockers have been waiting for a shot at Kansas for a long time. No way they let this slip.

In contrast the West is more predictable.

West

The East is about Virginia staying healthy. I added some upsets from the winner of Boise State/Dayton and Louisville having another deep run.

East

The South can be anyone but I like Utah as it is one of the few squads who can defend and score. This is also Gonzaga’s best chance at a deep tournament run. For a good upset, I’m going with Eastern Washington to shoot the 3 over a bigger Georgetown team.

South

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1st round NCAA tourney games to love and hate

The first round is all about upsets and mid-majors getting their chance. Sometimes the committee enables the upsets and other times they deny them. Here are some examples.

Love: 13 Seed Eastern Washington vs. 4 Seed Georgetown
Georgetown is becoming the punching bag for Cinderella teams in the past few years (VCU and Florida Gulf Coast) and Eastern Washington gets crack at extending the streak. The team strength of the Hoyas is protecting the rim but the Eagles are a top 10 3-point shooting team and can circumvent the size of the Hoyas. That makes this interesting and a must watch as the opportunity for the upset or a close game is there.

Hate: 12 Seed Wyoming vs. 5 Seed Northern Iowa
See the problem here? Both these mid-majors could top a power conference team but have been denied that opportunity with this pairing. I love Northern Iowa but it would not benefit the exposure and prestige of the program by beating Wyoming. Wish this game was against a Texas or an Indiana team so that the nation would respect UNI more for after a win.

Love: 15 Seed Belmont vs. 2 Seed Virginia
Virginia is one of the best defensive college basketball teams you’ll ever see, but tiny Belmont of the Ohio Valley Conference can score, score, score. Belmont is a top 50 offense and 3-point shooting team. If the Bruins heat up from the field, this little 15 vs. 2 bracket buster could become a very real.

Hate: 8 Seed North Carolina State vs. 9 Seed LSU
Some 8/9 games are compelling but this is not one of them. LSU just lost to a 14-19 Auburn team in its first game of the SEC tournament. NC State was eviscerated by Duke in the ACC tournament in a game that was never competitive. The winner will probably get Villanova but I would rather pass on this game involving two teams combining for 23 losses on the year.

Love: 13 Seed UC Irvine vs. 4 Seed Louisville
Welcome to the block party! Both UC Irvine and Louisville are in the top 50 in blocks per game. The Anteaters have a 7’6” center in Mamadou Ndiaye and if you have a guy like that you have a chance. Louisville is a strong defensive team but UC Irvine can shoot the 3. That’s enough intrigue for me.

Hate: 7 Seed Iowa vs. 10 Seed Davidson
You have no idea how hard it was to write that. How is Davidson the underdog here? The Wildcats went 14-4 in the Atlantic 10 and was rewarded with a 10 seed? Iowa is a 7 seed despite losing to bottom of the conference Penn State team in the Big Ten tournament. The only way this game is worth watching is if Davidson takes to Iowa and blows it out to rectify the poor seeding from the committee.

FCS Playoff Preview 2014

It's that time of year. We're talking playoffs.

It’s that time of year. We’re talking playoffs.

Most of you will be watching your favorite rivalry game in FBS ball this weekend, but Saturday is also a big day for the FCS level. It’s the first round of the FCS Playoffs. Sixteen of the 24 teams will be in action and it’s time to break the field down.

1. Is New Hampshire really the best team?

The Wildcats went undefeated against FCS foes this year, only losing to FBS Toledo 54-20. While the CAA has three other teams in field, UNH did not play two of them. Villanova, the six seed, and James Madison were not on the schedule. Therefore, it’s hard to justify a CAA crown with that conference slate.

Its toughest opponent, Richmond, was a close three-point win. Last week, New Hampshire survived a 5-5 Maine team 20-12. Doesn’t really sound like the best team in the FCS. The Wildcats are good, you have to be to go 10-1, but the top seed seems generous.

2. What Top 8 Seeds are on Upset Alert?

There is always a team or two who go down in the second round as a top eight seed. The four/five seeds need to look out as Illinois State and Eastern Washington may have tough match-ups. Illinois State shared the Missouri Valley Football Conference (FCS best five teams in the field) with North Dakota State but may have to deal with a dangerous Northern Iowa club. UNI lost to Illinois State by 14 on Nov. 1 but the Panthers did beat North Dakota State and almost shocked Iowa.

Montana should cruise through San Diego and meet conference rival Eastern Washington in the second round. Again, EWU won the first meeting but it was close. Beating a team like Northern Iowa and Montana twice in the same year is not easy. Montana is number one in FCS in turnover margin at plus 16. Eastern Washington better protect the ball in that game.

Chattanooga, the eight seed, would be favored against the Eastern Kentucky/Indiana State winner but it will not be a cake walk. And if you think Villanova is looking forward to the winner of James Madison/Liberty you’re crazy.

3. Will North Dakota State make it four straight championships?

The Bison have the best defense in the field giving up just 255 yards per game. The question for them will be on offense. North Dakota State averaged 429 yards per game so it’s hard to see them struggling, especially at home. Their first two games should be a breeze as the semifinals and championship will be the only places for the Bison to falter. But there is one team I think can beat them.

4. The Dark Horse: Jacksonville State

The Gamecocks are number four in offense and number 14 in defense. That’s a juggernaut folks. Jacksonville State won at Chattanooga in week 2 and should be ready to challenge anyone, including North Dakota State. That’s why I’m picking Jacksonville State to win it all this year.

Now if it loses to Southeastern Louisiana in the second round then you never read this column. Here is my bracket.
FCS top
FCS Bottom

Week 2 Upset Alert

Soft scheduling is a bit of an epidemic in the second week of the season. Only two games are between Top 25 teams and eight of the Top 25 scheduled a FCS school. Here is a look at some of the games that can put a member of the autonomous five in jeopardy.

Eastern Washington at Washington

Washington dropped out of the Top 25 despite defeating Hawaii last week 17-16. That’s how vulnerable the Huskies looked against a 1-11 team and in comes the No. 2 FCS school in country this Saturday. Eastern Washington posted 625 yards of offense in its win over PAC 12 Oregon State last season and that was second highest total OSU allowed all year. Washington will have to have a solid performance to avoid the upset. I don’t think it will as the FCS will get its third win on the season against a FBS school. Hawaii outgained Washington last week and that is a giant red flag.

Oregon State at Hawaii

To the school that nearly defeated Washington as Hawaii gets another crack at a PAC 12 team this week at home. The Rainbow Warriors are better than last season’s 1-11 team and look for them to come out wanting to prove it. FCS Portland State actually had a 14-13 lead at the half last week against Oregon State before the Beavers pulled away in the second half for a 29-14 win. I’ll pick Hawaii since I don’t think Oregon State is stronger than Washington. Plus, this pregame Hawaiian chant is just too cool.

Missouri at Toledo

A MAC frontrunner hosting a SEC team that’s in for a bit of a regression year. Now we’re talking. Toledo pulled away from a very good FCS team in New Hampshire Saturday and has an experienced team. The Tigers defeated the Rockets last year 38-23 but it was only 24-23 in the third quarter. Toledo is going throw everything into this game and that’s why I’m picking them.

Western Kentucky at Illinois

This is a slam dunk, Illinois nearly lost to FCS Youngstown State last week. Now comes CUSA Western Kentucky, who trashed the defending MAC champion Bowling Green State 59-31. The Hilltoppers scored over 30 points per game last season and the Fighting Illini could only do 28 against a FCS squad. Not good. I’m taking WKU.

Central Michigan at Purdue

Purdue is coming off a 1-11 year and showed little improvement against Western Michigan last Saturday who was also 1-11. While the Boilers won 43-34 they are going up against a stronger MAC school in the Chippewas this week. I knew Central would struggle against a quality FCS team in Chattanooga but its defense held a good offense to just 16 points. Honestly, I think Chattanooga’s offense is better than the Purdue squad Central Michigan will face. Purdue has to prove to it can beat an average team before I feel comfortable picking them.

Northern Illinois at Northwestern

This one is also obvious as Northern Illinois has a history of devouring weak Big Ten teams. It beat Iowa and pummeled Purdue 55-24 last season and Northwestern is a sitting duck. The Wildcats have lost eight of their last nine games so it’s insane to see them as a favorite against anyone. My main concern is that NIU winning is not really an upset. Maybe the Huskies will take this game lightly while the Wildcats will be in redemption mode? Until Northwestern shows some life I have to go with NIU.

Old Dominion at NC State

NC State will always be on upset alert when it plays a team from the group of five. CUSA Old Dominion hung in there against Pittsburgh last season in a 35-24 and returns most its team. NC State barely survived Georgia Southern of the Sun Belt last week 24-23 and lost its last eight games of 2013. This is a coin flip and always go with the underdog in that case. Look for ODU to get a big win over an ACC school.

Other upset alert games: Texas Tech at UTEP, Stony Brook at Connecticut, Alcorn State at Southern Miss, Washington State at Nevada