Sunday, March 14, 2010
NCAA Tournament Upset Madness: Three First-Round Matchups to Watch
The brackets are out and it's official - college basketball is now the lord of the land for the next few weeks. While the top seeds will be cruising in Round One, there are plenty of juicy matchups that just scream upset potential, and as we all know, those are the games that make headlines in Opening Weekend.
Here are a few games that may bust up brackets early in the Dance:
(4) Vanderbilt vs. (13) Murray State
The Commodores had a good year in the SEC, with senior Jermaine Beal leading the way for a relatively youthful squad. But they got handled by Mississippi State in the SEC Tournament, losing by fourteen, and finished their regular season with a home loss to NIT-bound South Carolina.
By contrast, the Murray State Racers dominated the Ohio Valley all season long. Their defense stiffened in the conference tournament, allowing opponents to score only 51 points in each game as the Racers cruised to the title.
In their only matchup of the year against an NCAA Tournament opponent, State almost beat California on the road way back in December.
Murray State's rotation goes eight deep and features good size to match up with Vandy's AJ Ogilvy and Jeffery Taylor. Senior forward Tony Easley leads a balanced scoring attack that could give Vanderbilt fits.
Don't be shocked to see little Murray State race into the second round and a game against Butler or UTEP.
(6) Marquette vs. (11) Washington
Thanks to "Big School Name Recognition," it's possible that a lot of the members of your office pool will go ahead and pick this upset for no good reason.
As it turns out, they might be on to something.
Marquette's 6-foot-6 duo of Lazar Heyward and Jimmy Butler will have a job on their hands containing Washington's own 'big man,' Quincy Pontdexter. This is not exactly a game of giants; both starting Husky guards are under six feet, while Marquette mighty mite Maurice Acker is just as small - and talented.
Ken Pomeroy's rankings predict a close and exciting game here. And Washington has the edge in locker-room motivation, as the Pac-10 has gotten no respect (deservedly so) all year. They also have momentum from winning their conference tourney outright.
My general rule: If it's a coin flip, pick the underdog!
(5) Texas A&M vs. (12) Utah State
According to Pomeroy, this is one game where the underdog ought to be favored, albeit by just a point.
This game is also proof positive that the committee has a sense of humor. It'll be all Aggies as A&M and State square off in the East regional. Meanwhile, in the South, Clemson and Mizzou give us an all-Tigers game. Shockingly, no Wildcats will battle one another this year, at least not in the first round.
Back to the game. Utah State dominated the WAC this year and upset Mountain West powerhouse Brigham Young early in the season.
A&M performed admirably in the Big 12 meat grinder, but did fall to Western tourney teams Washington and New Mexico in their non-conference schedule.
Weak strength of schedule and a WAC finals loss to New Mexico State dropped Utah State to the twelve line, but both sets of Aggies play good defense and have similar offensive profiles.
State senior Jared Quayle may draw the tough defensive assignment of A&M's star Donald Sloan, and containing him could be the key in this game.
Other underdogs to watch include; (13) Siena over (4) Purdue, (11) San Diego State over (6) Tennessee, and (12) Cornell over (5) Temple.