Here's how the NCAA Tournament will play out
My favorite part of the old Blue Ribbon Tournament Preview edition was counting down the entire field from the first loser to the last winner. Now, for the second year in a row at ESPN.com, we forecast every game in every round (with every score!) of the upcoming NCAA Tournament.
If these picks work out, thank me. If they don't, blame ESPN.com for running them. But, during my four previous March visits to Bristol, I have projected 10 of a possible 16 Final Four teams. So here goes:
In the Jaguars' last visit (1993), they took out No. 3 seed Georgia Tech. This time, Duke crushes Southern in Greensboro, 83-56.
Who wins between a Husky and a Great Dane? In the wild? Who knows. In the arena? UConn brings a quick end to Albany's first dance, 82-64.
62. ORAL ROBERTS
Oral Roberts can score, so the Golden Eagles figure to hang with Memphis for a while. Tigers run away late, though, 80-68.
The Hawks get two games in four days, getting closer to home with each date. Villanova completes its week unceremoniously, besting Monmouth 75-53.
There are No. 16 seeds in this bracket that don't have as rough a matchup as the Quakers. Texas? In Dallas? No chance for Penn, which falls 76-58.
The Wildcats were 4-9 in true road games this season. Friday in Dayton is going to be worse than a road game. Ohio State prevails 74-61.
Bruins win! Bruins win! The UCLA Bruins, that is. Enjoy San Diego, Belmont, before losing, 68-59, in a closer-than-expected contest.
57. NORTHWESTERN STATE
The Demons can play (ask Oklahoma State and Mississippi State). But they can't beat suddenly surging Iowa. It's a game for 30 minutes, but NW State drops a 66-58 decision.
56. SOUTH ALABAMA
USA routed Western Kentucky for the Sun Belt championship. Florida doesn't figure to be nearly as accommodating in this contest. Another game underdog goes home, 80-65.
55. MURRAY STATE
These Racers don't race all the much. So they hang with young (and potentially nervous?) North Carolina before falling 70-62.
If Xavier had a healthy Brian Thornton, this might be an upset against Gonzaga (although Xavier wouldn't be a No. 14 seed). Instead, X can't stop both Adam Morrison and J.P. Batista. Zags in a tight one, 75-71.
With only one holdover from last year's team, these Tigers won a very watered-down Big West. BC is no longer in the Big East, but don't count on the Eagles forgetting what UOP did to Big East foes the last two NCAA Tournaments. BC breezes, winning 76-63.
52. AIR FORCE
The least worthy at-large team of this era is no match for Illinois. The Illini speed past the Falcons 69-55.
Iona would need Jeff Ruland in the lineup, not coaching, to match up with Baby Shaq and the LSU Tigers. The defensively challenged Gaels do down 85-71.
The Braves could have been a factor if their seed were remotely fair. Instead, they're up against a Kansas team that is on a serious roll. Bradley loses 74-64.
A decent seed and a decent draw for the Grizzlies. Nevada is more decent across the board, though, and bests Montana by a 75-66 count.
48. KENT STATE
Shades of 2002 against Pittsburgh? I don't think so. This Pitt team is underseeded, and Antonio Gates now plays football. The Flashes get panned, 72-65.
47. TEXAS A&M
Aggies really have trouble scoring, which has not been an issue for Syracuse of late. A&M enjoys the dance but falls, 72-60, to the Orange.
46. SAN DIEGO STATE
I suppose the Aztecs were a lock, regardless, considering the committee's treatment of Air Force. Indiana makes it a moot point in Salt Lake City with a 71-56 victory.
45. GEORGE MASON
For the committee's sake, I hope Tony Skinn's replacement doesn't turn it over 10 times against Michigan State. Either way, it's not going to be a good day for GMU. Patriots make a quick exit, 69-58.
44. SOUTHERN ILLINOIS
The Salukis make you earn every inch of real estate, but West Virginia can score from every one of those inches. It's WVU over SIU 65-60.
Crimson Tide just aren't the same team outside Tuscaloosa. They should figure out that out pretty quickly after getting a look around San Diego. It's Marquette over Alabama 74-69.
42. SETON HALL
The Hall deserves to be in the tournament, but the Pirates did not earn a No. 10 seed. This is actually a break for Wichita State, which advances with a 67-63 victory.
41. NORTHERN IOWA
We appreciate the fair seeding of UNI, but Georgetown is a very difficult matchup for the Panthers. Even though Northern Iowa beat LSU and Georgetown did not, this one goes to the Hoyas, 65-59.
The Bison won't be sneaking up on anyone this year. And they don't have the size or speed to overcome Arkansas in Dallas. The Hogs end Bucknell's great two-year run, 72-63.
The Blazers took out No. 1 overall seed Kentucky two years ago in the second round. The teams are more evenly matched this time around, but it's UK's turn to advance in a thriller, 72-70.
Arizona is no more a No. 8 seed than I'm going golfing with Billy Packer. Even slumping Wisconsin is better than any team the Wildcats have beaten lately. Assuming 'Zona even comes to Philly, the Cats lose, 71-67.
37. GEORGE WASHINGTON
No one crushed GW for its nonconference schedule more than yours truly, but a No. 8 seed? In Greensboro? Against UNCW and then Duke? That's just wrong. Colonials come in angry and leave worse, losing 67-66 in the first round.
Leon Powe can carry any team, and he'll have to for the Golden Bears to advance. NC State is no great shakes right now, but the Pack have more balance and win 75-69.
I just don't see the fascination with Oklahoma as a trendy pick. This team has done next to nothing all year and will leave this tournament early, falling 73-68 to UW-Milwaukee.
Can Washington win a low-scoring game that matters? It couldn't against Washington State ... twice. Utah State does it even better than WSU and upsets the Huskies, 69-64, in the annual 5-12 special.
Here's your first-round stunner (and I do mean stunner!). Vols have hit a wall and now face a very good basketball team in Winthrop. No Pearl Jam in Tennessee, which falls 72-67.
The only thing fair about Winthrop's unfair seeding is playing the overseeded Vols. Look for the upset before the Eagles go down to Wichita State, 68-61, in the second round.
31. UTAH STATE
For the record, even though I missed on Utah State, the Aggies (unlike Air Force) are more than deserving. They get the annual 5-12 upset (of Washington) before bowing to Illinois 71-54.
The Panthers served notice last year by wasting No. 4 and No. 5 seeds on the way to the Sweet 16. This year, they take out a No. 6 (Oklahoma) before Florida gets them, 73-65, in Round 2.
29. NORTH CAROLINA STATE
NC State has done next to nothing down the stretch, but neither has Cal. The Wolfpack are no match for Texas in Dallas, however, taking a second-round exit by a 76-67 count.
28. UNC WILMINGTON
The Seahawks are no stranger to winning in the NCAAs. But a second-round date with Duke in Greensboro will be their Waterloo, 82-67. Enjoy the "upset" of George Washington.
Normally, I'd say the Badgers could give Villanova trouble in the second round. But not in Philly, and not with a 2-8 road record. Wisconsin loses 75-63.
Have the Wildcats proved they can beat a very good team? The answer doesn't bode well for playing very, very good UConn in the second round. UK can't keep up offensively in a 75-65 defeat.
If any team knocks off a No. 1 seed early, it would be Arkansas over Memphis. The Hogs have size and versatility, but not quite enough on the perimeter. Razorbacks go 1-1 in Dallas, losing to the Tigers 70-65.
This Wolf Pack is better than the other Wolfpack, but it's not a great draw in the second round. Nick Fazekas & Co. are outmuscled by the Boston College front line, falling 74-66.
A dramatic and unlikely ride has to end somewhere. 'Cuse wins one more game before losing in the paint to LSU, 74-69. Thanks for the memories, Gerry.
This seed is way too low, and the result is an unnecessarily difficult matchup with Kansas in the second round. The young Jayhawks are too much for the young Panthers, 72-62.
The Hawkeyes made a very nice run in the Big Ten tournament. The Hawkeyes also aren't nearly as gifted as West Virginia. Mountaineers might even be favored as a lower seed on the way to a 70-66 victory.
The Zags really need a Sweet 16 run to validate the last three years, but they're going to fall short yet again. Indiana's defense frustrates Morrison in a mini-upset, 75-72.
19. NORTH CAROLINA
I'm hardly an ACC guy, but there's no way the Tar Heels should have been bypassed for Greensboro in favor of the Vols. And no way should they be playing Michigan State in Big Ten country. Heels could be Final Four-bound next year, but this tourney ends in the second round, 80-73.
These Bruins are a tad overseeded, and the Pac-10 this year was truly mediocre. If Marquette can manhandle UConn in a Big East game, the Golden Eagles can get past UCLA in San Diego. Bruins last only a round before falling, 74-68.
17. OHIO STATE
It's dicey to pick against Ohio State in Dayton, but Georgetown has enough talent inside to neutralize Terence Dials. Buckeyes last only two rounds before the Hoyas send them back to Columbus, 78-75.
16. WICHITA STATE
The Shockers are the most dangerous team from the Missouri Valley. They got a good draw, and absolutely can win two games. I don't see Wichita State losing until the Sweet 16, where the Spartans win 68-61.
I'd be even more confident about the Hoyas as a Sweet 16 team if they didn't have to go through Ohio State in Dayton. But I still think Georgetown makes it to the regionals before bowing out against Florida, 65-59.
The Golden Eagles have begun to prove their mettle away from home. I also think Steve Novak can shoot them past UCLA and into the Sweet 16. Indiana ends their season in Oakland, though, 71-65.
13. WEST VIRGINIA
WVU is dangerous enough to repeat last year's Elite Eight run. But the Mountaineers will come up against Texas for a second time, and with a similar result. Longhorns advance, 79-75.
It has been some second half of the season for the young Jayhawks, who could be a No. 1 seed next year. This group plays to its seed before coming up short against more experienced Memphis in the Oakland regional, losing 80-74.
11. BOSTON COLLEGE
The Eagles did everything except beat Duke in a pair of meetings this year. Can they get over the hump against former Big East rival Villanova in the Sweet 16? I don't think their guard play is strong enough. BC goes home by a 75-71 count.
Not sure why the Illini are seeded here, and even less sure why they are being discounted. If anyone can take down UConn in this region, it's Illinois. UConn prevails, but only by 69-63.
Eight No. 1 seeds in nine years is the accomplishment of the modern era in college basketball. But the Blue Devils have been looking vulnerable of late, and LSU can make trouble as a physical matchup in the Sweet 16. Duke comes up short of the Final Four for a second straight year, 74-68.
8. MICHIGAN STATE
For whatever reason, the whole has not been equal to the sum of State's individual parts. The Spartans pull it together for three wins in the D.C. regional before falling to UConn 81-73.
The Hoosiers could win the Oakland Regional or go down in the first round. I'll split the difference and put IU in the regional final, where Memphis has too many weapons in a 71-65 victory.
The ride ends for the Bayou Bengals in the Elite Eight in Atlanta. Texas finally puts it together when it matters most, 76-74 for the regional championship.
Can't put my finger on it, but I have a bad feeling about a possible rematch with Florida after the Cats nipped the Gators last year in the second round. Villanova's great season ends in the Elite Eight, 75-70.
The Gators seem to have regained their early-season swagger. Two games in Jacksonville should continue their momentum and provide enough confidence to win two more in Minneapolis. The party ends at the Final Four when UConn explodes in a 91-80 track meet.
It wouldn't surprise me to see Memphis play on Monday night, but if Texas can beat these Tigers on the road, the Longhorns should be able to repeat their success on a neutral floor. This one is closer, but Memphis falls a game short, 76-72.
Almost all of this depends on Daniel Gibson, who can be, well, erratic. When the Longhorns are clicking, though, they play at the Duke/UConn level. All the pieces are in place for a long, long stay in the tourney, as well as a title-game loss to the Huskies, 81-76.
Ever notice how the team that wins the NCAA title usually has the most future NBA players? This isn't about Jim Calhoun's getting a third championship as much as it is the nation's best talent winning the final game.
Joe Lunardi is the resident Bracketologist for ESPN.com.
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