Hoops expert O’Connell picks Louisville to win
At a time when everybody from college basketball experts to those who don’t know the difference between Michigan and Michigan State has an opinion on the NCAA tournament, here’s one look at what could happen over the next three weeks.
The bracket breakdown (winners in all caps):
MOUNT ST. MARY’S vs. Albany — Both teams won the automatic bid on an opponent’s home court but you have to go with a team that has a leading scorer (17.7) named (Rashad) Whack.
CAL POLY vs. Texas Southern — At 13-19, the Mustangs are the only sub-.500 team in the field and they will keep the great story going for one more game.
NORTH CAROLINA STATE vs. Xavier — A matchup of two outstanding players in Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year T.J. Warren and unanimous All-Big East pick Semaj Christon.
IOWA vs. Tennessee — The Hawkeyes will be so glad not to face another Big Ten team that their offense will return.
(1) FLORIDA vs. (16) Mount St. Mary’s — The Gators start their run with a defensive gem.
(9) PITTSBURGH vs. (8) Colorado — The Panthers have started playing well and Talib Zanna’s rebounding has been the key.
(5) VCU vs. (12) Stephen F. Austin — The Rams created enough havoc to reach the Atlantic 10 title game and they will end the Lumberjacks’ 28-game winning streak.
(13) TULSA vs. (4) Ucla — This is Danny Manning’s first tournament as a head coach and he should be able to give a great pregame speech about his last as a player when he led Kansas to the title in 1988.
(6) OHIO STATE vs. Dayton — A game a lot of people in the Buckeye State have wanted to see during the regular season should be a win for OSU.
(3) SYRACUSE vs. (14) Western Michigan — The Orange might not get back to the way they were when they were 25-0, but the zone should be a problem for the Broncos.
(7) NEW MEXICO vs. (10) Stanford — The Lobos took two of three from San Diego State and should come in irked about being seeded lower than the Aztecs.
(2) KANSAS vs. Eastern Kentucky — Freshman center Joel Embiid’s back injury won’t be much of a problem for this game.
FLORIDA vs. Pittsburgh — The Gators’ experienced backcourt will be the advantage.
VCU vs. Tulsa — The Rams know all about surprise runs to the Final Four so they will be on their guard against the Golden Hurricane.
SYRACUSE vs. Ohio State — These teams met a few years ago with a Final Four berth at stake. There are fewer future NBA players on the roster this time, but the matchup of Orange freshman point guard Tyler Ennis against Ohio State’s veteran Aaron Craft should be one of the best of the tournament.
KANSAS vs. New Mexico — Andrew Wiggins will come up with his breakout game in his only NCAA tournament.
FLORIDA vs. Vcu — The Gators will be able to handle the full-court havoc unleashed by the Rams.
KANSAS vs. Syracuse — This could be the game Embiid makes his return and even if he doesn’t the Jayhawks have enough wing players to be able to handle the Orange’s zone.
FLORIDA vs. Kansas — The Gators have plenty of size up front to make it tough on Wiggins even if Embiid is back.
(1) VIRGINIA vs. (16) Coastal Carolina — The Cavaliers play the kind of defense that could make this a rout.
(9) GEORGE WASHINGTON vs. (8) Memphis — The Colonials have some veteran transfers including center Isaiah Armwood who will do enough inside to offset the Tigers’ frantic pace.
(12) HARVARD vs. (5) Cincinnati — The Crimson are a chic pick for a reason: They are good.
(4) MICHIGAN STATE vs. (13) Delaware — The Spartans are healthy and are one of the hottest teams in the country.
(11) PROVIDENCE vs. (6) North Carolina — The Friars showed a zone defense that forced Creighton into one of its worst games of the season and the Bluejays are a much better shooting team than the Tar Heels.
(3) IOWA STATE vs. North Carolina Central — The Cyclones are an offensive juggernaut. Watch for Melvin Ejim to have one his monster games.
(7) CONNECTICUT vs. Saint Joseph’s — The Huskies have one of the quickest backcourts in the country and they should be able to limit Langston Galloway from breaking out from 3-point range.
(2) VILLANOVA vs. (15) Milwaukee — The Wildcats are eager to get back on the court after being upset by Seton Hall in the Big East quarterfinals.
VIRGINIA vs. George Washington — The Cavaliers should still be riding high on their selection as a No. 1 seed and their defense will show why.
MICHIGAN STATE vs. Harvard — The Spartans are just too big and strong up front for the Crimson.
IOWA STATE vs. Providence — Depth will be the difference.
VILLANOVA vs. Connecticut — In an old-fashioned Big East matchup the Wildcats use their 3-point prowess to offset the backcourt of Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright.
MICHIGAN STATE vs. Virginia — The Spartans have enough both up front and in the backcourt to score against the Cavaliers.
IOWA STATE vs. Villanova — The Cyclones have a big point guard in DeAndre Kane and being able to keep the Wildcats from hitting 3s will be the key.
MICHIGAN STATE vs. Iowa State — Tom Izzo is due for another visit to the Final Four.
(1) ARIZONA vs. (16) Weber State — The Wildcats will win this game. OK, the Arizona Wildcats will win this game.
(9) OKLAHOMA STATE vs. (8) Gonzaga — The Cowboys have been a different team since the return of Marcus Smart. It’s almost unfair to the Zags that they get an under-seeded team at its best.
(5) OKLAHOMA vs. (12) North Dakota State — The Sooners can score and they won’t be facing a Big 12 defense in this game.
(4) SAN DIEGO STATE vs. (13) New Mexico State — The Aztecs can defend with the best of them and — after losing to New Mexico twice — they will be relieved to see the word “State” on the Aggies’ uniforms.
(6) BAYLOR vs. (11) Nebraska — The Bears were a lock for the NIT just a few weeks ago. Now they are one of the hottest teams in the country.
(3) CREIGHTON vs. (14) Louisiana-Lafayette — This will a chance for Doug McDermott to add to his point total, the fifth-best in Division I history.
(7) OREGON vs. (10) Byu — The Ducks have turned things around and the Cougars will have to find a way to make up for the loss of the injured Kyle Collinsworth.
(2) WISCONSIN vs. (15) American — The Badgers were in the running for the Big Ten title. Enough said.
OKLAHOMA STATE vs. Arizona — The Cowboys have more than just Smart and this is the kind of matchup where Phil Forte, Le’Bryan Nash and Markel Brown can stand out.
SAN DIEGO STATE vs. Oklahoma — Who doesn’t love a game where a team that prides itself on defense meets one that loves to score.
BAYLOR vs. Creighton — The Bears might not have a star like McDermott but they have a number of players who can cause headaches for the Bluejays.
WISCONSIN vs. Oregon — This isn’t a typical Badgers team under Bo Ryan. These guys can score and even outscore a team like the Ducks.
SAN DIEGO STATE vs. Oklahoma State — The Aztecs’ biggest win of the regular season was at Kansas. Their biggest win of the tournament will be over another Big 12 team.
WISCONSIN vs. Baylor — The Bears’ great run will end when Ryan comes up with another game plan to shut down their offense.
SAN DIEGO STATE vs. Wisconsin — Steve Fisher went to the Final Four three times with Michigan. This time he gets there by keeping a Big Ten team from reaching it.
(1) WICHITA STATE vs. (16) Cal Poly — The Shockers keep their perfect record intact, easily.
(8) KENTUCKY vs. (9) Kansas State — The Wildcats scared Florida in the SEC championship game and coach John Calipari will keep the freshmen improving.
(12) NORTH CAROLINA STATE vs. (5) Saint Louis — The Wolf Pack and T.J. Warren will keep the Billikens’ staggering finish going.
(4) LOUISVILLE vs. (13) Manhattan — Hall of Fame coach Rick Pitino starts the defending champion Cardinals on their way by beating his former assistant, Steve Masiello.
(11) IOWA vs. (6) Umass — This is a matchup made for the Hawkeyes who can use their speed, height and depth to move on as a play-in team.
(3) DUKE vs. (14) Mercer — The Blue Devils will run and run and freshman Jabari Parker will be the leader.
(7) TEXAS vs. (10) Arizona State — The Longhorns need Jonathon Holmes to remain healthy to be the team they were in midseason.
(2) MICHIGAN vs. (15) Wofford — Just a mismatch, a pretty big mismatch.
WICHITA STATE vs. Kentucky — The Shockers can quiet a lot of doubters with a win like this. Their problem, however, is there are more tough teams to come.
LOUISVILLE vs. North Carolina State — The Cardinals can handle a scorer like Warren. Not many teams can stop Russ Smith.
DUKE vs. Iowa — The Blue Devils want to play in transition and so do the Hawkeyes, but Duke has Jabari Parker.
MICHIGAN vs. Texas — The Wolverines have Big Ten player of the year Nik Stauskas and coach John Beilein, a combination that can make a huge difference at this stage of the tournament.
LOUISVILLE vs. Wichita State — The Shockers’ run will come to an end in a repeat of one of last season’s Final Four matchups.
DUKE vs. Michigan — These teams met in early December and the difference was Duke’s defense. It will be again.
LOUISVILLE vs. Duke — Pitino has the Cardinals playing at their peak as the tournament gets started. Mike Krzyzewski has been trying to get the Blue Devils to be consistent on offense. It’s a repeat run to the Final Four for Louisville.
MICHIGAN STATE vs. Florida — Two of the most experienced teams in college basketball shouldn’t suffer from nerves and two of the toughest teams in terms of defense shouldn’t give up many points. The comparison continues with coaches Izzo and Billy Donovan and their combined three national championships. The difference will be rebounding and nobody rebounds like Michigan State.
LOUISVILLE vs. San Diego State — The Cardinals will prevail in a defensive matchup because they have more players capable of taking the game over on offense, specifically the backcourt of Smith and Chris Jones.
LOUISVILLE vs. Michigan State — Pitino went into the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame last year. He enters the record books as a coach of repeat national champions this year.
Editor’s note: Jim O’Connell is AP’s national basketball writer, having covered the college scene for almost 40 years. He is a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame.
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