Before we get to Thursday and Friday's college hoops mayhem, we have to get through the formality of the, now four, play-in games. These poor schools, usually small, play their entire season only to get stuck having to play a game to get into the field of 64. If they win their play-in games their prize is they get to play a much higher seeded team. So before the person in the office that won their pool in the past because their wife's nephew went to George Mason, so let's pick them, or their husband's cousin's childhood BFF goes to Butler, so let's pick them gets a shot to choose Belmont this season for some far fetched reason other then knowing something about college basketball gets to hand in their bracket, there are these four play-in games to pick.
The NCAA set this up very well, they have two games that are playing for a 16 seed, who will get to play number 1 seed's Ohio State and Pitt. One game for the 12 seed in the East for the chance to play 5 seeded West Virginia and another game for the 11 seed in the Southwest who will get to play 6 seeded Georgetown. Let's face it, the 16 seeds will probably not make it past Thursday and Friday's opening round. A 16 seed has never beaten a 1 seed. Does that mean it can't happen or won't happen? No it doesn't, but it is not going to happen this season. The winners of the 12 and 11 seeds have a much better shot at moving on and it will be interesting to see how it plays out. So let's get to my picks:
We will start with the two games for the 16 seeds. UT-San Antonio vs Alabama State: UTSA won the Southland conference with a 75-72 victory over McNesse state. They finished the season at 19-13 overall and 9-7 in the Southland. They started the season 6-2, then lost 5 in a row and 6 of their next 7 before rebounding to finish out the season 12-5. Alabama State won the SWAC title with a win over Grambling 65-48. After starting the season 6-16, the Hornet's came buzzing back, winning ever game in February and going 11-1 in their final 12 games. This game is pretty evenly matched so I will go with the hot hand and say Alabama State advances.
In the other battle for the 16 seed UNC-Ashville faces off against Arkansas - Little Rock. UNCA won the Big South by beating Coastal Carolina 60-47. They finished 19-13 over all with no real quality wins. They did lose to UNC, GTOWN and OSU by a combined 263-190. Arkansas - Little Rock earned their first NCAA bid in 21 years with a win over North Texas in the Sun Belt championship game. They finished the season 19-16, but only 7-9 within the conference. I have to go with UNC-Ashville for the 16 seed. UNCA might have had some bad loses against the big boys, but at least they have experience.
The play-in game for the 12 seed in the the East has UAB vs Clemson. A lot of people in the media are arguing that UAB should not even be in the tournament. I have to say I agree, but this is who the committee chose. UAB lacked any quality wins in the regular season, of the schools that are in the tournament, they lost to Georgia, Duke and Memphis twice. Clemson finished the season 21-11 and 9-7 in the ACC. Clemson lost to UNC in all three tries this season and was 0-2 against Florida State. They were however, 2-0 against Boston College and had a nice win against Virgina Tech. I am going with Clemson in this game. They play in a better conference with better competition, which should make them better prepared to advance.
The Southwest region of the bracket's 11 seed with be decided between USC and VCU. USC finished the season 19-14, 10-8 in the Pac 10. They had quality wins over Texas, Tennessee and split the season 1-1 with Arizona and UCLA. VCU went 23-11 and 12-6 in the Colonial Athletic Association. The Rams lost by 5, 77-72 early in the season against Tennessee but bounced back with a win at home against UCLA two days later. Again, I have to side with the better conference and go with USC to advance as the 11 seed.
Looking at all four of these games honestly, I could go 4-0 or 0-4. There is such parity in college basketball, especially when it comes to the mid level schools. I have to admit, that I was not so sure about expending the tournament, but having two games to watch on Tuesday and two more on Wednesday leading into Thursday makes me believe that the NCAA made a great decision and this should be more exciting then in years past.