Ah. It's that time again. March Madness.
Or, if you're a fan of basketball teams in this fine state of South Carolina, you're more likely to call it March Sadness. Yep, not a single team from the Palmetto State has made the Big Dance. Moving on...
Our goal is to generally keep this blog only for local area sports, but I found this to be a great opportunity to branch out and touch on something national. Why? Because we want you to take part in it with me and the rest of the sports staff here at The Island Packet and Beaufort Gazette. If you noticed on our sports page, we have a link available for you to make NCAA Tournament selections of your own. We highly encourage you to participate, mainly so you can gloat in my face when you undoubtedly beat me. My user name is chriscox, so feel free to follow along and laugh as my picks flounder one after another.
Here is the direct link to the registration for our bracket challenge:
Now on to my first-round selections. One of our bracket challenge declares winners on a round-by-round basis, and we'll take that approach with this blog post. Mainly because it will help me create a new blog a week from now when all my selections bite the bullet.
We'll start in the South region with overall No. 1 seed Kentucky. The Wildcats -- who would probably give the Charlotte Bobcats a good run this season -- look well on their way to a Final Four appearance. I'm going to go ahead and pencil them in that far. They've looked practically unbeatable.
I like them to beat UConn in the second round, so I'm taking the defending national champs over upstart Iowa State. The Cyclones have been more consistent this season, but it's hard to go against Jim Calhoun. Plus, ninth-seeded teams actually hold an edge over eighth-seeded teams.
I think Wichita State-VCU could go either way, but I'll take No. 12 Virginia Commonwealth because of its tournament experience. Shaka Smart led the Rams to the Final Four last year while the fifth-seeded Shockers are making their first appearance under Gregg Marshall. (Will it be their last? Gamecock fans think Marshall is theirs to be had.)
Indiana-New Mexico State? Gimme the Hoosiers. Tom Crean has done wonders for that program in just under a year. It's hard to believe he was on the hot seat at the start of the season. I'll also take UNLV over Colorado (The Pac-12 was horrendous this season), Baylor over South Dakota State (a trendy upset pick but I don't see it), Notre Dame over Xavier (for no reason whatsoever) and Duke over Lehigh.
Now to the West region....
I like No. 1 Michigan State to meet No. 8 Memphis in the second round, but the pair of games matched up with those two teams in the Sweet 16 is a toughie. I'll take 12-seeded Long Beach State over No. 5 New Mexico. LBSU has wins over then-No. 9 Pittsburgh and a victory over Xavier. They also lost to both North Carolina and Kansas on the road by less than 10 points each.
I'll wager that the 49ers meet Louisville in the second round, but I wouldn't be shocked if they met Davidson instead. After all, Rick Pitino's crew lost its first-round tournament games in both 2010 and 2011.
My other second round projections for the West are No. 3 Marquette vs. No. 6 Murray State and No. 2 Missouri vs. No. 7 Florida.
Now jumping over to the East region...
All of the talk right now is about Syracuse starting center Fab Melo, who has been declared ineligble for the NCAA Tournament. The Orange won't need Melo to get past UNC Asheville in the opening round. They may not need him against Kansas State, either (who will beat Southern Miss in a first-round clash).
But I'm not sure about that once Jim Boeheim and Co. get to the Sweet 16 against Vanderbilt. The red-hot Commodores, who topped Kentucky in the SEC Tournament Championship, will finally break their recent curse against double-digit seeds with a win over Tommy Amaker's bunch at Harvard.
Another trendy pick I've decided not to bite on is Montana over Wisconsin. Sure, the Grizzlies are backed by a 14-game win streak. But the Badgers have just two not-so-great losses (a sweep at the hands of Iowa) and they almost always seem to make a tournament run that no one sees coming.
Since I've done it for the entire region so far, let's go ahead and basically finish it off. Give me the higher-seeded teams in the remainder of the East except for West Virginia, which will top Gonzaga after getting the Zags in its backyard. That also means victories for Cincinnati, Florida State and Ohio State.
Last but not least, we take on the Midwest region.
It's a safe bet that North Carolina will face Creighton in the second round. Why Creighton? Let's be honest. Alabama lost to a 21-loss team in South Carolina and then almost lost to the Gamecocks again in the SEC Tournament. I can't bet on that team.
I'm going to get suckered into the trendy pick and say Ohio earns the right to play Temple in the second round, as the No. 13 Bobcats will get by Michigan in the opener. I'm not really sure why other than it's just a gut feeling. (Aren't you glad you're not paying for this analysis?)
Rounding out the field, I like No. 11 N.C. State to beat San Diego State, Georgetown to beat Belmont, Purdue to beat St. Mary's and Kansas to beat Detroit.
That's the field. We'll check back in a week to see just how wrong I was. I've got some gutsy picks on the way – provided I get some of these wins in the first round – so be sure to come back around for my second round selections.
And remember, sign up for The Island Packet and Beaufort Gazette's March Madness bracket challenge!