The greatest three weeks known to man have started with a resonating bang. That's right, it's NCAA Tournament time. Today, (and for the next three days) we'll take you through the brackets one regional at a time as we reveal the players and teams to watch before ultimately trying to make sense of this 68-team field to determine who represents who in Houston. Up first is the East regional, whose finals will be contested at Newark's Prudential Center, just about an hour away from "Daly Dose" headquarters.
#1 Seed Ohio State vs. #16 Seed Texas-San Antonio or Alabama State - The Buckeyes should roll over whoever their play-in opponet is. Led by freshman sensation Jared Sullinger and three-point threats Jon Diebler and William Buford, Ohio State also gets solid contributions from point guard David Lighty on a team that is a threat to win the whole thing on April 4th.
#8 Seed George Mason vs. #9 Seed Villanova - Five years ago, the Patriots shocked the world and knocked out three former national champions on their way to a Final Four appearance as an 11 seed. Jim Larranaga's bunch starts out with a former champion once again, (Michigan State in 2006, Villanova this time around) with another former champion probably waiting in the wings in Ohio State. The Wildcats come in looking to prove their late-season swoon was an aberration after their shocking first-round Big East tournament exit at the hands of South Florida.
#5 Seed West Virginia vs. #12 Seed Alabama-Birmingham or Clemson - Another team that won't immediately know its opponent, as the Mountaineers look to complete what would be an improbable road back to the Final Four after getting there a year ago. Led by Kevin Jones and point guard combo Truck Bryant and Joe Mazzulla, West Virginia will need to take advantage of their "First Four" play-in winner's fatigue in order to avoid the trendy 5/12 upset.
#4 Seed Kentucky vs. #13 Seed Princeton - If John Calipari can get past the Ivy League champion Tigers and West Virginia survives its first opponent, there will be an early rematch of last year's Elite Eight matchup in which the Mountaineers got the better of a highly regarded freshman class that included the names Wall, Cousins and Bledsoe. Kentucky's free throw inefficiency will be the center of attention if they are in a tight game early on.
#6 Seed Xavier vs. #11 Seed Marquette - Probably the best and most underrated matchup in the first week of the tournament. The Musketeers are always capable of their typical under-the-radar Sweet 16 run, and Tu (no longer Terrell) Holloway will bring his clutch act into Cleveland to meet the Golden Eagles of Marquette, who locked up an at-large bid with a run to the Big East tournament quarterfinals. Pay attention to Xavier's physical game against an undersized Marquette frontline. By the way, this game will be close. Want to know why? Two words: Gus Johnson. If you follow college basketball religiously, nothing else needs to be said.
#3 Seed Syracuse vs. #14 Seed Indiana State - The Orange pick up after an overtime (only one) loss to eventual Big East champion UConn in their conference tournament semifinals to face a Sycamore team that is getting hot at the right time after defeating the top two teams in their conference (Wichita State and Missouri State on consecutive nights) on their way to the Missouri Valley championship. Freshman Jake Odum will need to replicate his sensational showing in Arch Madness to have any shot of effectively breaking the vaunted 2-3 zone defense employed by Jim Boeheim.
#7 Seed Washington vs. #10 Seed Georgia - Usually, a 7/10 matchup is close; but this one is probably the most decisive of the four. Led by Isaiah Thomas in the backcourt and Matthew Bryan-Amaning up front, Lorenzo Romar's team gets a boost by bringing Venoy Overton back after he was suspended during the Pac-10 tournament to face a Georgia team that, by all accounts, may be a surprising inclusion into the field of 68. The Bulldogs will need to rely upon their supporting cast to bail out Trey Thompkins if the star forward gets into foul trouble.
#2 Seed North Carolina vs. #15 Seed Long Island University - LIU makes its return to the "Big Dance" for the first time since 1997 against a Tar Heels team that fell on its face against Duke in the ACC championship. You may call me crazy here, but DO NOT BE SURPRISED to see the Blackbirds not only stay in contention; but also take Carolina to the limit. Jamal Olasewere and Julian Boyd may be small in stature, but both are capable of shutting down a bigger Heels frontcourt that will be the key for Roy Williams. The most intriguing matchup of the night will be the one between the freshman point guards; as Kendall Marshall (North Carolina) and Jason Brickman (LIU) are both capable of scoring and dishing it out equally.
The Way I See It: Predictions
First Four play-in games:
Texas-San Antonio defeats Alabama State
Clemson defeats UAB
Second round: (I still call it the first round, but we have to be technical here)
Ohio State defeats Texas-San Antonio
George Mason defeats Villanova
West Virginia defeats Clemson
Kentucky defeats Princeton
Xavier defeats Marquette
Syracuse defeats Indiana State
Washington defeats Georgia
North Carolina defeats LIU (in a closer game than everyone will expect)
Ohio State defeats George Mason
Kentucky defeats West Virginia
Syracuse defeats Xavier
North Carolina defeats Washington
Sweet 16: (Regional semifinals)
Ohio State defeats Kentucky
Syracuse defeats North Carolina
Elite 8: (Regional final)
Ohio State defeats Syracuse