2014 NCAA Tournament Predictions: First Four

March 17, 2014

Per usual, I will add the disclaimer that I include in my NCAA Tournament prediction articles each year to avoid having an angry mob of people beating down my door looking for the money that “I lost them”. Everything in this post and subsequent tournament posts are my opinions on the NCAA Tournament. I cannot guarantee that taking my advice on anything will help you win your respective office pool or any other bracket game you may play. The truth is, a lot of it comes down to luck and circumstance and no matter how much I analyze and stress over the matchups, I am not really giving myself (or anyone else who decides to listen to me) a true advantage over anyone else. Although I have won a bracket pool with more than five people in it in previous years, my argument still holds water. With that being said, I do this purely out of joy for the game and out of hope that I can stir up conversation between anyone who reads my work.

If you didn’t read that, how about taking a look at my new girlfriend? I’ll be here when you get back.

Hello. Welcome back. Jealous?

Now, here are my predictions and some other interesting things about the first four games of the 2014 NCAA Tournament, to be played Tuesday and Wednesday night.

First Round Games to Watch

#12 North Carolina State vs. #12 Xavier (Tuesday, following Albany vs. Mount St. Mary’s game)

North Carolina State had no idea that they’d be the last team selected to the field of 68, but the Wolfpack sure played like they knew during the ACC tournament. Mark Gottfried’s team reeled off two victories, including one with a bizarre ending against Syracuse, then played Duke tough to prove to the selection committee that it would be a mistake to send them to the NIT. It’s the kind of performance that would suggest North Carolina State isn’t the type of team you’d want to see opposite your name as a high seed. However, before the Wolfpack even get the chance to take on fifth seeded Saint Louis they will meet Chris Mack’s Xavier squad, which is always a tough tournament out.

Not surprisingly, there isn’t much to separate these two No. 12 seeds. But unlike Xavier, North Carolina State has a definite go-to guy in 6’8″ forward T.J. Warren. The sophomore has flourished in taking over for C.J. Leslie this season, averaging 24.8 points and 7.2 boards per game. If Xavier doesn’t have an answer for Warren, the Musketeers could be in trouble. At the same time, if this game turns into a perimeter battle, Xavier is the better shooting team. Expect to see contrasting offensive styles in this one with the winner feeling good about its chances in the next round. North Carolina State has been in a similar position before. As a No. 11 seed in 2011, the Wolfpack upset San Diego State and then Georgetown before coming up a bit short against Kansas in the Sweet 16.

#11 Iowa vs. #11 Tennessee (Wednesday, following Cal Poly vs. Texas Southern game)

A month ago, it would have been hard to believe that Iowa would end up in one of the four play-in matchups. But after limping to the finish dropping six of their last seven games, the Hawkeyes are looking for answers on the defensive end. Luckily for Fran McCaffery’s team, Tennessee doesn’t exactly light up the scoreboard. However, what the Volunteers do possess is a solid group of long, athletic talent which makes it very difficult for the opposition to score. The combination of Iowa’s struggles and Tennessee’s defensive prowess should make for an extremely close game.

It’s difficult to predict which Iowa team will show up, but the fact that four of its six losses during the aforementioned slide have come against the bottom half of the Big Ten is concerning. Still, statistics would suggest that at one time the Hawkeyes were a far superior team to Tennessee. If Roy Devyn Marble can get some help on the offensive end, Iowa is a tough team beat. If you’re someone to choose teams based on consistency, it’s a clear choice. But the terrific thing about March Madness is that in reality it’s hardly ever a clear choice, and this game is no exception.

Team That Could Make a Run

North Carolina State

Perhaps Mark Gottfried should always coach with his back against the wall, because it seems to produce the best results. For the second time in three seasons, the Wolfpack have come into the tournament playing their best basketball after toiling in mediocrity for most of the year. No one expected North Carolina State to immediately recover from the loss of nearly its entire starting lineup, but the young guns have finally found their footing. T.J. Warren is a game changer, and junior guard Ralston Turner can provide just enough of a spark from behind the arc to stop an opposing team’s run.

What might be the biggest reason for North Carolina State’s potential to make a run is what lies ahead. Assuming a play-in game victory, the Wolfpack would take on a Saint Louis team that is slipping and might be the most vulnerable five seed in the tournament. The vaunted Louisville Cardinals are a potential third round matchup, but a rough ACC schedule has the Wolfpack feeling confident. Very few other double-digit seeds have had to grow as much as North Carolina State has this season, and even fewer saw similar competition. This is a dangerous team.

My Picks

#16 Albany over #16 Mount St. Mary’s

#12 North Carolina State over #12 Xavier

#16 Texas Southern over #16 Cal Poly

#11 Tennessee over #11 Iowa

– K. Becks

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