Halfway home in previewing the four regionals, and 1-1 in "First Four" play-in picks if you're scoring at home. Nonetheless, we move on in giving a closer look into the NCAA Tournament; with the Southwest next up in the field of what is now 66.
#1 Seed Kansas vs. #16 Seed Boston University - If you look at this Jayhawks team, you'll wonder how they fell victim to Northern Iowa in the second round last year. However, what does not kill makes you stronger. Led by guards Tyshawn Taylor and freshman Josh Selby, Kansas does not always need their twin towers (literally) of Marcus and Markieff Morris to pull them out of the fire. The Terriers make their return to the NCAAs out of the America East under new coach Pat Chambers, a former Villanova assistant.
#8 Seed UNLV vs. #9 Seed Illinois - One of two matchups in the second round (oh, the technicalities) where a coach takes on his former program, as UNLV head man Lon Kruger faces an Illini team he coached in the early 2000s before leaving to take over the Atlanta Hawks. While UNLV can score with the best of them, Illinois poses two big men in Mike Tisdale and Mike Davis that will give any opponent fits. The key will be how much freshman Jereme Richmond will be able to exert his will for Bruce Weber and Illinois.
#5 Seed Vanderbilt vs. #12 Richmond - Vandy is getting overlooked due to a lackluster SEC resume and the late-season run from the Atlantic 10 champion Spiders. While the Commodores will look to run from the opening tip, Richmond point guard Kevin Anderson will feed it inside to senior power forward Justin Harper, who I feel is just moments away from breaking out on the national landscape.
#4 Seed Louisville vs. #13 Seed Morehead State - Louisville is a wise guy pick to upset Kansas and potentially make the Final Four out of the Southwest; but Rick Pitino's team will need to use its myriad of shooters to do that as they start off against a Morehead State team led by NCAA all-time rebounding leader Kenneth Faried, who will undoubtedly be at the center of every Cardinals miss.
#6 Seed Georgetown vs. #11 Seed Southern California or Virginia Commonwealth - Georgetown gets a huge boost with the return of Chris Wright, their point guard who missed the last week of the regular season and the Big East tournament with a broken left hand. The Hoyas would also benefit from USC winning tonight's First Four matchup, as the Trojans are still distracted with the incident surrounding head coach Kevin O'Neill at last week's Pac-10 tournament. If VCU emerges victorious, however, watch out. Jamie Skeen is a double-double waiting to happen, and Joey Rodriguez is capable of going for 20 points on any given night. The Rams will also have some numerology on their side as well. The last three CAA teams to enter the "Big Dance" as an 11 seed all won their first games. (George Mason in 2006, who of course went to the Final Four; this VCU program that defeated Duke as an 11 in 2007 on a last-second shot by Eric Maynor, and Old Dominion after the Monarchs upset Notre Dame in last year's tournament)
#3 Seed Purdue vs. #14 Seed St. Peter's - Kelsey Barlow being suspended may hurt the Boilermakers, but not right away as Purdue should be able to dictate the pace against a St. Peter's team making their first appearance in the field of 68 since 1995. If the Peacocks are able to stay with Purdue, it will be an audition for head coach John Dunne to parlay his success into a job at a major program.
#7 Seed Texas A&M vs. #10 Seed Florida State - Probably a matchup that could go either way in this regional, as Khris Middleton and the Aggies will look to overcome an FSU team that defeated Duke at home back in January and didn't stop there on the way to a third-place finish in the ACC. Former St. John's recruit Derwin Kitchen is still playing, and has influenced many a game for the boys from Tallahassee. Look for him to do the same in this one.
#2 Seed Notre Dame vs. #15 Seed Akron - The Zips come out of the Mid-American Conference to take on fellow Midwest program Notre Dame, who could very well have been a No. 1 seed given the way they have played. If Akron has any chance of contending with the Fighting Irish, their biggest key to victory is this: Guard the perimeter.
The Way I See It: Predictions
First Four play-in game:
VCU defeats USC
Kansas defeats Boston University
Illinois defeats UNLV
Richmond defeats Vanderbilt
Louisville defeats Morehead State
VCU defeats Georgetown
Purdue defeats St. Peter's
Florida State defeats Texas A&M
Notre Dame defeats Akron
Notre Dame defeats Akron
Kansas defeats Illinois
Louisville defeats Richmond
Purdue defeats VCU
Notre Dame defeats Florida State
Sweet 16: (Regional semifinals)
Kansas defeats Louisville
Purdue defeats Notre Dame
Elite 8: (Regional final)
Kansas defeats Purdue
Kansas defeats Purdue