NCAA TOURNAMENT BRACKET PICKS - Guess Who's Back

USA TODAY Sports

I'm picking NCAA Tournament games on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday and hope to carry some momentum all the way to the Final Four. All the information you need is here - Picks, Previews, highbrow humor, Over/Unders and more.

In recent weeks, two stories have captured the imagination of Twitter and the Internet. Conspiracy theories have been running wild about the disappearance of Flight 370 and the disappearance of John Pickens. In the year 2014, how does a plane that size just vanish? Why has John Pickens been afraid to face his critics after a losing bowl season? At last, one of these mysteries has been solved...Guess who's back. My two-month paternity leave has come to an end. Since you last heard from me during bowl season, my life has changed quite a bit. I have a newborn son who is eight weeks old. He now has dozens of Miami onesies, shirts, hats, and socks. Making your kid the unofficial mascot of your favorite team is an underrated perk of my new life. 

‪You might be wondering: "How does this guy think he can pick games if he's been so busy dealing with with the whirlwind of initial fatherhood?" The answer is simple. I am responsible for feeding him from 9pm - 1am every night, which means I have watched an unlimited number of college basketball games the past two months. While my son eats and sleeps, I've been busy preparing for the NCAA tournament. Showtime is upon us. Get your popcorn ready and prepare to win.

After an average season of picking college football games on State of the U, I need something to help build back my confidence. In honor of Rick Reilly's recent "decision to retire from writing," I thought about simply plagiarizing some of my football jokes and or misquoting my father-in-law, but instead I've decided to keep things fresh. You might be wondering why I'm not posting my entire bracket to help you win your pool with friends or colleagues. To be honest, I'm just selfish and want to keep the One Billion Dollars that Warren Buffett is going to pay me for my perfect bracket. That being said, I do appreciate all of my readers and fellow Miami fans. If I end up winning it all, we'll take over downtown Lincoln and host one heck of a State of the U party at the UM Nebraska game in September. If the Oracle of Omaha agrees to wear a Sebastian the Ibis costume and attend the party, I'll help ease his financial burden. Follow me @JPickens15 for picks and thoughts all Tournament long. 

WEDNESDAY

(11) IOWA -1 vs (11) Tennessee   9:10pm - truTV (If you can find it)

This will be an emotional game for the Iowa Hawkeyes. Head Coach Fran McCaffrey will be in Iowa City on Wednesday morning to be with his 13-year old son while he has surgery to remove a thyroid tumor. McCaffrey plans to return to Ohio in time for the game and I expect his team to rally around him. Iowa has struggled down the stretch, losing six of their last seven games, including three in a row to finish the season. This team will benefit from finally facing teams outside of the Big Ten. Iowa plays with great pace and averages more than 80 points a game. Iowa's star senior Roy Devyn Marble won't let his career end on a low note. Tennessee isn't as explosive on offense and rely heavily on the outside shooting of G Jordan McRae. Iowa has the depth inside to deal with Tennessee's Jarnell Stokes. Look for Iowa to regain some confidence and win by 5-10 points, setting up an interesting matchup against UMass on Friday afternoon. 

THURSDAY

(8) COLORADO +5.5 vs (9) Pittsburgh   1:40pm - TBS

Pitt has been overrated all season. Jamie Dixon refuses to challenge his team by scheduling real opponents, so the Panthers haven't really beaten anyone this season that is noteworthy. Pitt went 11-7 in the ACC, but four of those wins came in overtime. Pitt F Lamar Patterson has shot well down the stretch, but his teammates really aren't much of a threat to shoot 3's. Although Colorado has been up and down since the loss of leading scorer Spencer Dinwiddie to injury, their losses have come either on the road or against Arizona (3 times). Askia Booker and Xavier Johnson have picked up their games and have improved since Dinwiddie's absence. I expect them to carry the Buffs on Thursday. This game will come down to the final possession and will be low-scoring. 

(5) CINCINNATI -2.5 vs (12) Harvard   2:10pm - TNT

Everyone feels obligated to pick several 12 seeds to beat 5 seeds, regardless of looking at the individual matchups. There is no doubt in my mind that Harvard is an elite level team that is well rounded, with five players averaging double digit PPG. Unfortunately for the Crimson, they were unlucky to draw Cincinnati in Round 1. In addition, given Harvard's success last season, this year's team has higher expectations and won't be sneaking up on anyone. Cincy is one of the most physical teams in the nation and Justin Jackson will impact this game with his length and athleticism. Senior G Sean Kilpatrick has matured into an All-American and I expect him to play well in the NCAA Tournament. Cincinnati controls the paint and wins the rebounding battle, en route to a hard fought victory. Mick Cronin's facial expressions alone are reason enough to tune in. 

(14) WESTERN MICHIGAN +13 vs (3) Syracuse   2:45pm - CBS

Syracuse limped into the tournament, losing five of their last seven games, including embarrassing performances against Boston College and Georgia Tech at home. F Jerami Grant is back from injury, but this team still struggles to score, averaging just 68 points a game. Syracuse doesn't have enough shooters to stretch defenses and is too reliant on C.J. Fair's ability to create on the baseline. This game will be relatively low-scoring and I expect Western Michigan to be patient against the zone defense of the Orange. The Broncos have won 12 of their last 13 games, with the only loss coming in overtime at Toledo, who finished 27-6 on the season. C Shayne Whittington and G David Brown are both seniors and have been great all season for WMU. They will be ready for their opportunity on the big stage. Syracuse has an advantage with the game being played in nearby Buffalo, but this team isn't good enough to blow out a quality opponent. Expect this game to be close throughout. 

(7) OREGON -5.5 vs (10) Byu   3:10pm - truTV

Following a midseason skid, Oregon got back on track and has been one of the hottest teams in the country since mid-February. The Ducks won eight straight before losing to UCLA in the Pac 12 Tournament. G Joseph Young is a talented player and had 25 points when these teams met on December 21st, a game Oregon won in overtime 100-96. Oregon F Mike Moser has big game experience and his maturity has helped the Ducks this season. BYU's Tyler Haws is one of the nation's best scorers and had 32 against UO, but he may struggle without his team's best all around player. G Kyle Collinsworth is out with an injury and will be sorely missed, given he is the team's leader in assists per game and rebounds per game. Collinsworth was hurt in a WCC Tournament loss to Gonzaga, so BYU hasn't played without him yet this season. Oregon has more depth and will force someone besides Haws to beat them. Oregon wins by ten in a shootout.

(5) OKLAHOMA -4 vs (12) North Dakota State   7:27pm - truTV

Oklahoma can really score in bunches, led by 3-point shooting specialist Buddy Hield and the all around ability of Cameron Clark. Ryan Spangler has controlled the paint for the Sooners and his physical play fires up his teammates. The Sooners have contributors off the bench and are nearly unstoppable when they shoot well. NDSU is led by G Taylor Braun, who leads his team in points, rebounds, and assists. The Bison dominated the Summit League this season by leading the nation in field goal percentage. NDSU is efficient, but hasn't faced anyone with the scoring ability of the Sooners. This game will go back and forth, but in the end, Oklahoma will play the game at their pace and pull away. As you'll continue to find out, I have a lot of respect for the Big 12. 

(4) LOUISVILLE -15.5 vs (13) Manhattan   9:50pm - TNT

This game will be about as suspenseful as the results of a Crimean referendum. Louisville has looked unstoppable recently, winning their last five games by significant margins. The Cardinals have the experience of last year's title run on their side and G Russ Smith is an elite level scorer. Sophomore F Montrezl Harrell will dominate in the paint against the undersized Jaspers. Manhattan has a talented player in George Beamon, but he won't have enough help to keep this game competitive. UL starts fast and pulls away with relative ease. If you don't want to take my word for it, Nate Silver loves Louisville in this tournament. He's apparently been anointed as the Internet's best statistician after guessing the results of 4 swing states correctly in 2012, but his new website does actually look legit. 

FRIDAY

(9) OKLAHOMA STATE -2 vs (8) Gonzaga   4:40pm - TNT

Where is Texas Tech's loser fan Jeff Orr these days? I'm glad Oklahoma State finished strong after Marcus Smart returned from suspension. He seems to have refocused and has been playing his best basketball of the season. The Cowboys are a dangerous team in their region. Markel Brown and Le'Bryan Nash will be tough for the Zags to deal with. This isn't your older brother's Gonzaga squad. Kevin Pangos is a great player, but he'll struggle to get looks with Smart shadowing him all game. The WCC wasn't very strong and Gonzaga hasn't beaten an elite team this season. Sam Dower has played well, but he will be overmatched by the athleticism and versatility of OKST's wing players. The Cowboys win by ten behind Smart's leadership, and hopefully lack of flopping. 

(3) IOWA STATE -9 vs (14) North Carolina Central   9:50pm - TNT

If this game isn’t as rigged as the 2022 World Cup bidding process, Iowa State will roll past NCCU. I have loved the Cyclones all season. Iowa State leads the nation in assists and averages 83 points a game. ISU is confident after winning the Big 12 Tournament and has three guys capable of putting up 25 points on any given night. Kane, Niang, and Ejim will all create matchup problems for North Carolina Central. The Eagles have won 20 straight games, but the MEAC doesn't exactly prepare you for the NCAA Tournament. ISU Coach Fred Hoiberg will have a game plan to stop NCCU's best player Jeremy Ingram, who is averaging 20 points a game. The Cyclones have too much talent and will dominate on the backboard and in transition. The sky is the limit for Iowa State. Expect to see the entire population of Ames, IA descend on New York City next weekend.

OVER/UNDERS

Last but not least, I wanted to include a few picks from my friend who is known throughout the Northeast as an "Over/Under Specialist." Including his picks in my article is a win-win situation for me. If he struggles, I'll blame him. If he dominates, I'll take the credit for his discovery. There are few things more exciting than picking the Under and watching shot after shot clang off the rim.


THURSDAY

(5) Cincinnati -3 vs (12) Harvard UNDER 122.5 2:10pm – TNT

Not only is Cincinnati a defensive-minded team, but their offense has been struggling as of late, a powerful combo that leads to Under success. Since the beginning of February, Cincy has gone under the total in 4 of the 5 games against NCAA tourney teams and has scored under 60 in 3 of those 5 games. Worth noting, of the 351 NCAA D1 basketball schools, Harvard ranks 233rd and Cincy ranks 304th in number of possessions per game. Also note that Harvard is coming off a 12-day layoff since their last game and Cincy hasn’t played in a week. Couple this with cross country travels out to the west coast and an 11am local start time and we should set up nicely for a slow start.

(10) Saint Joseph’s vs (7) Connecticut UNDER 130 6:55pm – TBS

Over its last 9 games, UCONN has only given up more than 64 points twice and both those were to the hottest team in the country, L’ville.  Along the same lines, St. Joes won the A10 conference with a couple good defensive performances over the past couple games including holding VCU to 61 after averaging 75 all season.  Both of these teams rank in the bottom half of the NCAA in possessions per game and this game’s pace should be no different.

FRIDAY

(14) Mercer vs (3) Duke OVER 141 12:15pm – CBS

After coming off an ACC championship loss to one of the stingiest defenses in the nation, Duke should get its offense back on track against a Mercer team that gives up almost 70 points a game. Jabari Parker is playing lights out right now and will surely have a big game to get the Blue Devils going. However, don’t count Mercer out of this double-digit spread, as they are 25th in the nation in scoring at just over 79 points a game. After watching what Dunk City did last year to Gtown and SDSU to get to the Sweet 16, Mercer should have the confidence to compete with Duke and keep this game close down the stretch. 65 points from Mercer should put the total over the number.

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