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UCLA vs. Mississippi Valley State: Quite possibly the biggest mismatch of the first-round. UCLA is one of the favorites to win the national championship, and the clear-cut leader in this region to reach the Final Four. On the other hand, MVSU was 0-9 in non-conference play and scored just 26 points against Washington State earlier in the year. The Bruins scored 81 against WSU. Just a thought.
BYU vs. Texas A&M: BYU was a No. 8 seed last season and lost at the wire to Xavier; will this season hold the same result? The Cougars won the Mountain West regular-season title, but fell in the conference tournament. On the other side, A&M struggled during most of the Big 12 season but found a way to get a No. 9 seed after its victory over Kansas State in the tourney. The battle down low will be fun to watch: BYU’s Trent Plaisted vs. A&M’s Joseph Jones and DeAndre Jordan. Lee Cummard of BYU is one of the best players you’ve never heard of.
Drake vs. Western Kentucky: Wow, what a surprise – two mid-majors pitted against each other in the first-round. I’m not sure why the Committee had to do this all over the bracket, but that’s for another day. This game will match two of the best three-point shooting teams in the country, as both teams live and die with the three for the most part. WKU’s Courtney Lee vs. Drake’s Josh Young will be a great one-on-one match-up. The key in this one will be if either frontcourt can provide consistent production, and which team knocks down more threes.
Connecticut vs. San Diego: Some people think that this is going to be a potential upset, while others feel that UConn will roll. I’m somewhere in between those two camps. I don’t think San Diego has the depth and size to match-up with the Huskies, but Gyno Pomare is a solid big man and Brandon Johnson can single-handedly keep the Toreros in the game. Furthermore, Connecticut is inconsistent enough to get behind early. The difference might be Jim Calhoun’s tourney experience.
Purdue vs. Baylor: Two teams heading in the wrong direction as the NCAA Tournament gets underway. Purdue had won 11 in a row before losing three of its last six, while Baylor lost eight of its last 13, including a Big 12 tourney loss to Colorado. The Boilermakers are an extremely young team, with four freshmen in their top six players. On the other side, Baylor is carried by its deep and experienced backcourt, led by do-it-all star Curtis Jerrells. This game should go down to the wire; which team’s go-to-guy will step up late?
Xavier vs. Georgia: An interesting first-round match-up between one of the best stories of Championship Week and one of the best teams in the country. Xavier didn’t finish very strongly, but the Musketeers were consistently dominating opponents all season long. They are very balanced and can execute their offense against anyone. Georgia won four games in, technically, three days to grab the SEC’s automatic bid to the Big Dance – will that momentum carry over? If Xavier can slow down Sundiata Gaines, the Bulldogs are done.
West Virginia vs. Arizona: A battle between two teams going in opposite directions heading into the NCAA Tournament. West Virginia picked up two big wins in Championship Week to clinch an at-large bid, led by the emerging Joe Alexander. He is ready to make a name for himself on a national stage. Arizona had 14 losses on the season, including eight in its last 12 games. However, the Wildcats are loaded with talent, including the perimeter duo of Jerryd Bayless and Chase Budinger. Which Arizona will show up? That might have the most say on the outcome.
Duke vs. Belmont: This might be the least talked-about No. 2 seed in the Tournament – and it’s Duke, of all teams. Simply put, the Blue Devils have fallen off the radar after losing two of their last three games; they probably didn’t deserve a No. 2 seed. Still, they have a plethora of very solid perimeter players that will create match-up problems with any team in the country. The only question is when their lack of a big man will catch-up to them. It certainly won’t be against the Bruins, even though they have won 13 in a row heading into the Big Dance.
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