Temple is going to be a popular pick to be upset by Cornell. The Owls have won 10 straight games coming into the tournament, but they are not going to take anything for granted. They have lost in the first round of the NCAAs the last two years. They are not an overpowering team on offense, but that is also not how they are built. Temple grinds teams up with defense and it values the ball and keeps down the turnovers. The defense and ball security do not look flashy for the camera — and contribute to why they are underrated. Don’t forget: Temple beat Villanova long before Nova’s season went south.
Can you believe Texas was No. 1 for two weeks? The Longhorns were stripped of their reputation as a national championship contender weeks ago, so we have to find somebody else to pick on. New Mexico? It has to be. Plenty of people are going to be suspicious of a No. 3 seed from the Mountain West.
Most likely first-round upset
Temple vs. Cornell? Forget it. The Owls were picked fifth in the preseason in the Atlantic-10 so this is not a team with an inflated ego that is primed to get knocked off. No way Cornell sneaks up and wins with a protégé. Sure, Big Red almost knocked off Kansas, but Kansas does not play that well early in the season. So where is the surprise? Texas is a higher seed than Wake Forest, but the Longhorns losing would not be a surprise given the Horns slump. It has to be Missouri over Clemson, a battle of Tigers. They are two pressing teams who want the action to be non-stop. Clemson’s Trevor Booker has not been as trustworthy the last few games as he was earlier in the season. He will need to get right against a Missouri defense that will run at him for 40 minutes. Take Mizzou. Clemson does not win NCAA Tournament games.
That looks easy. Kentucky vs. West Virginia. The Wildcats have slashers and drivers and the scowling DeMarcus Cousins. The Mountaineers have relentless offensive rebounders. When they play in the regional final, Cousins and Patrick Patterson will have their hands full trying to keep the Mountaineers off the offensive glass. No team in the tournament assaults the rim like the Mountaineers. WVU has experience, but UK has better guards in John Wall and Eric Bledsoe. The good news for the Mountaineers is that Kentucky does not pressure up the floor, which helps a WVU team thin at guard play. The next most interesting game is Clemson vs. Missouri. It will be up and down, fast-paced.
West Virginia needs a guard to step up and play. It won the Big East Tournament with its guard/forward type players, like Devin Ebanks, Da’Sean Butler, and Wellington Smith, but Darryl Bryant, a 6-2 sophomore, needs to be steady with the ball. Surely, the game tape is going to come out that showed Purdue pressuring the ball at halfcourt in its Jan. 1 victory against the Mountaineers. Ebanks and Butler can’t be asked to bring the ball up the floor throughout the tournament.
Kentucky. Wall makes plays over and over in the last two minutes. He is exactly the kind of player a team needs to survive and advance. Over and over in the NCAA Tournament the player bringing the ball up the floor has to break down a defense and make something happen. Bledsoe is no slouch either. Even if he doesn’t go in the first round of the NBA draft, the Alabama native could head to Europe and get a big payday.