By Mark Paulette,
In case you need some last-minute advice while filling out your brackets, do not fear for Nostramarkus is here! This time, I’m forecasting every first round match-up in no more than a sentence, for a quick and easy guide to the most wonderful days of the year.
I’ll break it up by quadrant, so let’s start in the East with the upper-left portion of your bracket.
1. Duke vs. 16. NC Central/N. Dakota St – One word, four letters – not Duke, but rather, Zion. Duke by upwards of 40.
8. VCU vs. 9. UCF – VCU is a strong team at 25-7 but UCF has flirted with the top-25 this year and has a 7’6″ center named Taco who will carry them through to the weekend. UCF by single digits.
5. Miss State vs. 12. Liberty – Some are looking at this match-up as a potential upset but I’m not buying it. Miss State by at least 10.
4. Va. Tech vs. 13. St. Louis – St. Louis had no right in dancing this year, and battle-tested Va. Tech out of the ACC will make sure the Billikens don’t make it past the first song. Va. Tech by at least 10.
6. Maryland vs. 11. Belmont/Temple – UPSET ALERT: Maryland is the youngest team in the tournament and I expect them to be bounced by either Belmont or Temple. Belmont by close to 10, or Temple by mid-single digits.
3. LSU vs. 14. Yale – I know it’s a sexy upset pick because LSU has all the distractions and Ivy League schools are easy to trust, but let’s use our brains, shall we? LSU by 10.
7. Louisville vs. 10. Minnesota – Strength of conferences is about the only separator I see in an otherwise ugly game and the ACC > Big Ten. Louisville by single digits.
2. Michigan St. vs. 15. Bradley – This likely bloodbath pits one of Tom Izzo’s best-ever squads vs. a team that wasn’t even the favorite in their mid-major conference. Michigan St. by close to 30.
Onto the West (lower-left)…
1. Gonzaga vs. 16. Fairleigh Dickinson/Prairie View – The two latter teams sound more like high schools from Wyoming rather than competition for one of the nation’s top teams. Zags by more points than the other team scores.
8. Syracuse vs. 9. Baylor – All I have to say about this game is yuck…and the Orange have the upper hand when it comes to conference play. Orange by single digits.
5. Marquette vs. 12. Murray St. – UPSET ALERT: Led by star guard Ja Morant, the Racers will sprint past Marquette and into the 2nd Round. Murray State by a dozen.
4. Florida St. vs. 13. Vermont – This is not the same Vermont team and has fed off a bad conference while the Seminoles may be under-seeded as a four. Florida St. by high-teens.
6. Buffalo vs. 11. Arizona St./St. Johns – Doesn’t matter who wins the play-in, the Bulls are 31-3 and have been a fixture in the AP Poll all season. Buffalo by 10-15.
3. Texas Tech vs. 14. Northern Kentucky – Sadly, the Norse will not be able to channel their forefathers for strength against a 26-win Texas Tech team. Texas Tech by 20+.
7. Nevada vs. 10. Florida – The Wolfpack have been a top-10 team in America at times this year while Florida got to the dance by upsetting LSU and playing Auburn tough. Nevada by close to 10.
2. Michigan vs. 15. Montana – The Wolverines possess one of the most suffocating defenses in the country, and from what I here, Grizzlies are prone to asphyxiation. Michigan by 25.
We head South (top-right)…
1. Virginia vs. 16. Gardner-Webb – Virginia learned their lesson last year and history will not repeat itself. Virginia by 20+.
8. Ole Miss vs. 9. Oklahoma – As has been the trend over recent years, OU started fast in non-conference play and faded just as fast, while Ole Miss is playing slightly better basketball of late. Ole Miss by a hair.
5. Wisconsin vs. 12. Oregon – UPSET ALERT: Wisconsin found their way into the top-25 late in the year but Oregon is hot after winning the Pac 12 Tournament. Oregon by single digits.
4. Kansas St. vs. 13. UC-Irvine – UPSET ALERT: The Anteaters ride the nation’s longest winning streak into this match-up and will be adding some Wildcat to their diet Friday afternoon. UC-Irvine by single digits.
6. Villanova vs. 11. St. Mary’s – It’s been an uphill battle for Nova all season and they’ve been tasked with a tough first game against a Gaels team that knocked off #1 Gonzaga, but I think Jay Wright can get enough out of his team for the W. Nova by single digits.
3. Purdue vs. 14. Old Dominion – Some are calling for an upset and I call those ‘some’ crazy. Boilermakers by close to 20.
7. Cincinnati vs. 10. Iowa – Don’t be fooled by their seeding, Cincinnati is an extremely dangerous team and one capable of making a deep run in the tournament. Cincy by 10+.
2. Tennessee vs. 15. Colgate – Sorry, Joe Castig, the only “Can You Believe It” you’ll be dropping in reference to this game is when you confuse Admiral Schofield for a Civil War General. Tennessee by 25.
And lastly, the Midwest (bottom-right)…
1. UNC vs. 16. Iona – It’s a second Gaels sighting in the last few games, and Iona’s stay will be as brief as St. Mary’s. UNC by close to 30.
8. Utah St. vs. 9. Washington – Washington never seems to amount to anything in March while Utah St. has 28 wins. Utah St. by single digits.
5. Auburn vs. 12. New Mexico St. – The Tigers could prove to be a dangerous team after their showing in the SEC Tourney but they’ll have their hands full with the 30-win Aggies. Auburn by close to 10.
4. Kansas vs. 13. Northeastern – A down year by Jayhawk standards, but it’s still Kansas vs. Northeastern on the hardwood. Kansas by 10+.
6. Iowa St. vs. 11. Ohio St. – Ohio St. should probably be thankful that they were even invited to the dance…and Iowa St. will quickly show them to the exit. Iowa St. by close to 10.
3. Houston vs. 14. Georgia St – You’d be silly to sleep on the 31-win Cougars, not in this game, but as the tournament progresses. Houston by 25.
7. Wofford vs. 10. Seton Hall – Seton Hall always seems like a thorn-in-the-side kind of team, but Wofford is no joke this year, entering the tournament at 29-4. Wofford by 10.
2. Kentucky vs. 15. Abilene Christian – No funny business here, other than Calipari’s slicked back hedge hog hair. Kentucky by 25+.
Mark Paulette is the executive producer of The Drive, weekdays 4pm to 6pm on 92.9fm The Ticket and streaming live at DriveShowMaine.com. Follow us on Twitter, @DriveShowMaine and “Like Us” on Facebook, Drive Show Maine