I am filling out my bracket, and taking you along for the ride. I read everything tournament related I come across, I love Ken Pomeroy’s website, and I have my biases. All of that combines into my picks. Let’s start with the Midwest region:

THE FIRST ROUND:

(1) Kansas vs. (16) NC Central/UC Davis

Vegas Line: N/A

KenPom Prediction: #10 Kansas vs. #218 UC Davis (lowest in the tournament) OR #152 NC Central

Location: Tulsa, Oklahoma

One-seeds don’t lose to sixteen seeds.

Winner: Kansas

(8) Miami vs. (9) Michigan State

Vegas Line: Miami -2

KenPom Prediction: #32 Miami 62, #43 Michigan State 61

Location: Tulsa, Oklahoma

The Hurricanes are big, athletic, and defend well. With only two players under 6-5 in their rotation, Miami presents matchup problems for just about everyone they face. They play a slow tempo – and rely on points inside the arc. Jim Larranaga has a solid team coming out of the ACC that is battle tested, with wins at home against North Carolina, Duke, and Virginia Tech & a win on the road at Virginia.

Michigan State does not have the size to quiet the Miami frontcourt, but they will try to combat it with freshmen Miles Bridges and Nick Ward. It will take a team effort for the Spartans to get this win – and they have the bodies to do just that, going 9 deep, and lead the nation in bench minutes.

I’m going with Miami here. I think it will be a physical game, and I don’t see MSU stealing one unless they string together an abnormal amount of threes. Miami moves on.

Winner: Miami

(5) Iowa State vs. (12) Nevada

Vegas Line: Iowa State -6

KenPom: #17 Iowa State 81, #55 Nevada 74

Location: Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Both these teams take care of the ball and rely on the 3-pointer to win games. Monte Morris and Deonte Burton have Iowa State as hot as any team in the country, but Nevada is going to give them everything they can handle. I think this game comes down to the 3-point line: Iowa State and Nevada both rank in the top 35 in the country in 3P% – while the Nevada defense has been much better defending the arc throughout the season. Nevada’s opponents have scored 54.9% of their points in 2-point territory (21st highest in the country), which makes me believe Iowa State will be forced to adapt and beat them inside – or force up 3s and face elimination.

All this leads me to strongly consider the upset, and I’m going to take my first gamble.

Winner: Nevada

(4) Purdue vs. (13) Vermont

Vegas Line: Purdue -8.5

KenPom: #15 Purdue 72, #63 Vermont 64

Location: Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Vermont pounds the rock inside. They score 56.3% of their points inside the 3-point line (30th highest in the country) – and do it efficiently, ranking 20th in eFG% and 13th in 2P%. However, once they step back to 21 feet, the world gets much harder for the Catamounts. While they shoot a good percentage, Vermont does not take very many 3s.

Trying to beat Caleb Swanigan inside is not a recipe for success. I’m taking the Boilermakers.

Winner: Purdue

(6) Creighton vs. (11) Rhode Island

Vegas Line: Creighton -1

KenPom: #27 Creighton 73, #37 Rhode Island 70

Location: Sacramento, California

This is one of the toughest games of the first round for me to predict. Both teams are very similar statistically – and it’s hard to find an area where one will have a notable advantage. But outside of the statistical world, Rhode Island has the advantage in health and momentum. I’ll focus on that.

Rhode Island has dealt with injuries all season, but they have everybodyyy back! EC Matthews is a potential pro, Hassan Martin is an animal, and it goes on. I love what Indiana transplant Stanford Robinson brings to the Rams in limited minutes.

Creighton, on the other hand, has learned to deal with its massive loss. Mo Watson is gone for the year, and they have handed the reigns to the offense to Kansas State transfer Marcus Foster. The Jays finished the regular season 5-7 after losing Watson, then rattled off two straight wins against Providence and Xavier to reach the Big East championship. Villanova handled Creighton, but the run to the title game brought confidence back to the Omaha faithful.

I’m here to tell you: I’m not buying it. Rhode Island will handle Justin Patton, and will control the tempo of the game against a team without a true point guard. Creighton had legitimate Final Four aspirations with Watson, but they’ll end the season with a losing record without him.

Winner: Rhode Island

(3) Oregon vs. (14) Iona

Vegas Line: Oregon -14.5

KenPom: #16 Oregon 82, #118 Iona 69

Location: Sacramento, California

Even without Chris Boucher, Oregon has size that Iona simply cannot match on either end of the floor. Oregon has everything you look for in a Final Four contender: a star player, an experienced core, and a top 25 offense & defense on KenPom.

Iona will have to beat the Ducks with the 3-pointer. I just don’t think they have enough firepower to keep up with the Ducks.

Winner: Oregon

(7) Michigan vs. (10) Oklahoma State

Vegas Line: Michigan -2

KenPom: #21 Michigan 78, #24 Oklahoma State 77

Location: Indianapolis, Indiana

Oklahoma State has the top rated offense in the country, but just the 133rd rated defense. Michigan has the 5th rated offense, but just the 69th rated defense.

The main difference between these two teams is Michigan’s reliance on the three-ball. Despite a top-five offense, the Wolverines are in the bottom-50 in terms of percentage of points coming on 2-pointers and free throws. Oklahoma State has a better ability to change its gameplan if the shots aren’t falling – by attacking the rim and getting to the FT line. Michigan has the size to defend this, however, and has been very good this season about staying under the foul limit.

Oklahoma State is coming off three straight losses, while Michigan is riding a wave of momentum that started with a February 7 win at home against Michigan State. After starting 4-6 in conference, they won 10 out of 12 games and a Big Ten tournament title to come into the tournament smoking hot. I am going to ride the heater – but this game will come down to the 3-point line.

Winner: Michigan

(2) Louisville vs. (15) Jacksonville State

Vegas Line: Louisville -20

KenPom: #6 Louisville 74, #158 Jacksonville State 58

Location: Indianapolis, Indiana

Louisville has the 6th ranked defense and will be playing the 153rd ranked offense.

Louisville has the 23rd ranked offense and will be playing the 177th ranked defense.

Winner: Louisville

THE SECOND ROUND:

(1) Kansas vs. (8) Miami

KenPom: #9 Kansas vs. #32 Miami

Location: Tulsa, Oklahoma

The last time we saw Miami, they got waxed by North Carolina in a 25-point blowout. Miami has size, and Kansas does not, but in just about every other facet, Kansas has the advantage.

Size will catch up to the Jayhawks, but they will find a way to win this one.

Winner: Kansas

(4) Purdue vs. (12) Nevada

KenPom: #15 Purdue vs. #55 Nevada

Location: Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Again, Nevada has all the tools to be an upset maker. But the high risk/high reward upset picks are just that: high risk. The physicality of Purdue – and the shifts when Haas and Swanigan play together – will just be too much for the Wolf Pack. Spike Albrecht will have his first tournament moment since telling Kate Upton “Sup?”

Winner: Purdue

(3) Oregon vs. (11) Rhode Island

KenPom: #16 Oregon vs. #37 Rhode Island

Location: Sacramento, California

We are still figuring out what Oregon can do without shot blocker Chris Boucher. Without the extra body down low, the team will presumably rely more on its strength: Dillon Brooks. Brooks put up 25 against Arizona in the Pac-12 title game and did everything to keep his team in the game despite foul trouble. Tyler Dorsey is also playing as well as he has all season.

I just have a thing for the Rams… EC Matthews is 8 of his last 9 from 3. The team has completely bought in, and are playing the type of basketball its fans expected prior to EC Matthews’ season ending injury last season. I think this one has potential to be one of the most memorable first weekend games with a EC Matthews/Dillon Brooks showdown. Give me the A-10 champs in a close one.

Winner: Rhode Island

(2) Louisville vs. (7) Michigan

KenPom: #6 Louisville vs. #21 Michigan

Location: Indianapolis, Indiana

This Louisville team is very similar to West Virginia. Strong defensively and incredibly efficient offensively, without that one player you fear down the stretch in a game.

Michigan is used to bringing 3-pointers to a rock fight, so this one won’t drag into your typical Big Ten slugfest, but it will require smart and calculated basketball (both are in the top 10% in the country protecting the basketball). Louisville will depend on its ground and pound style, forcing the ball into the lane.

There is no doubt Michigan could win this game, but I will lean on Rick Pitino to figure out the Wolverines, chasing them off the 3-point line and forcing them to beat Louisville with something else.

Winner: Louisville

THE SWEET SIXTEEN:

(1) Kansas vs. (4) Purdue

KenPom: #10 Kansas vs. #15 Purdue

Location: Kansas City, Missouri

Kansas will not have to travel far for its tournament games, starting in Tulsa, Oklahoma and moving on to the Sprint Center in Kansas City for the Sweet Sixteen.

They also won’t have to travel too far when they end up being sent home by Purdue.

I said it in my last Kansas blurb: size is going to be the issue for Kansas. I’m not exactly sure when it will get them, but it’s going to get them. I hate betting against the player of the year Frank Mason, but let’s get nuts.

Winner: Purdue

(2) Louisville vs. (11) Rhode Island

KenPom: #6 Louisville vs. #37 Rhode Island

Location: Kansas City, Missouri

Nobody is safe when you give Rick Pitino a week to prepare for your offense. He could end up with Dan Hurley’s social security and Marriott reward points.

Winner: Louisville

THE ELITE EIGHT:

(2) Louisville vs. (4) Purdue

KenPom: #6 Louisville vs. #15 Purdue

Location: Kansas City, Missouri

I do not think Louisville is the most complete team. I do not think Louisville is the best team in this region.

I believe Louisville will have favorable matchups each time they play in the next two weeks – and it will happen here no matter who they play. Louisville beats Kansas. Louisville beats Iowa State. Louisville beats Miami. Louisville beats Purdue.

Winner: Louisville

See you in Phoenix, Cardinals.

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