March Madness 2015 Predictions: South Region- Tuesday, March 17th
Round of 64 picks(1) Duke over (16) North Florida
While Duke has two shocking losses in the past three tournaments (Mercer in 2014 and Lehigh in 2012), I don't see them losing to a No. 16 seed, likely the North Florida Ospreys, in Round 1. (Yes, I know the NCAA calls it "Round 2," but if 60 teams get a first-round bye, it's not really Round 2.)
(8) San Diego State over (9) St. John's
They have some challenges offensively, but the Aztecs rank fourth in the nation in adjusted defensive efficiency (88.3 points per 100 possessions), via kenpom.com.
(5) Utah over (12) Stephen F. Austin
Stephen F. Austin is in a familiar role as a No. 12 seed once again. Last year, they pulled off an overtime upset over VCU and it wouldn't surprise me if they did it once again, but I like Utah to advance into the Round of 32.
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(13) Eastern Washington over (4) Georgetown
Georgetown's tournament woes continue. The Hoyas were one-and-done in 2013 (Florida Gulf Coast), 2011 (VCU) and Ohio (2010) with a 1-4 record in their past five tournament games. Their lone win during that span was against Belmont in 2012.
(6) SMU over (11) UCLA
Many thought that UCLA wouldn't make the tournament this year and SMU was one of the bubble teams last year that many felt should have made the tourney despite being left out. Finishing 27-6 and winning the AAC tournament, imagine how good Larry Brown's SMU team would have been had Emmanuel Mudiay decided to not play in China (after committing to SMU).
(3) Iowa State over (14) UAB
The Cyclones have won more than 20 games in each of the past four seasons under coach Fred Hoiberg, who's in his fifth season. They have won 20-plus games in only four of the previous 14 seasons prior to Hoiberg, who has the best winning percentage (.676) in school history.
(10) Davidson over (7) Iowa
Davidson ranks seventh in the nation in fewest turnovers per game (9.6) and 14th in the country in three-point percentage (39.7 percent). I like Davidson, who ranks eighth in adjusted offensive officiency, to win a close game to advance.
(2) Gonzaga over (15) North Dakota State
Gonzaga has failed to get beyond the first weekend of games in five consecutive tournaments, but this may be their most talented tourney team ever.
Round of 32 picks(1) Duke over (8) San Diego State
This is a classic offense-versus-defense matchup as Duke averages the fourth-most points (80.6/G) in the nation and San Diego State allows the second-fewest (53.1/G). Duke's Jahlil Okafor is one of the most-polished offensive freshmen in a long time and is expected to be a top-two selection in the 2015 NBA Draft.
(5) Utah over (13) Eastern Washington
Per kenpom.com, Utah is one of just seven teams in the nation to rank in the top 20 (of 351 teams) in both adjusted offensive efficiency and adjusted defensive efficiency. Utah advances to the Sweet Sixteen for the first time since 2005.
(3) Iowa State over (6) SMU
Last year's broken foot early in the tournament was a tough break for the Cyclones, but Georges Niang is once again having a terrific season -- 15.5 points, 5.4 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game with 40.2-percent shooting from three-point range. I expect the Cyclones to advance and make some real noise this year.
(2) Gonzaga over (10) Davidson
This should be one of the highest-scoring games of the entire tournament as both teams rank in the top 10 in the country in scoring offense. Only Kentucky has posted a larger scoring margin this season than Gonzaga.
Sweet Sixteen(1) Duke over (5) Utah
Among odds by fivethirtyeight.com, no team seeded fourth or lower has better odds to make the Elite Eight than the Utes (27 percent). That said, Duke's odds are set at 55 percent. If Duke advances to the Elite Eight, as I project, they will have alternated between Elite Eight appearances and one-and-done ousters over the past four tournaments.
(3) Iowa State over (2) Gonzaga
Both teams are ranked in the top-seven in adjusted offensive efficiency so this should be a high-scoring affair. The Cyclones have faced some adversity recently, but have demonstrated the toughness to persevere. Despite trailing each of their past five games by double digits, they have won all five of those games including the Big 12 Championship against Kansas (despite trailing by as many as 17 points).
Elite Eight(3) Iowa State over (1) Duke
As noted earlier, the Cyclones have fought through double-digit deficits in each of their past five games (wins). One of the things I like in this matchup is Niang's ability to shoot from outside and help spread the floor. While Niang leads the team in scoring, all five of their starters are averaging double digits. The Cyclones last advanced to the Final Four in 1944 -- until now.
-> 2015 March Madness Final Four Predictions
-> Other brackets: East Region - Midwest Region - West Region
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