Most Likely Upset: No. 12 Buffalo over No. 5 West Virginia
I know this is a popular pick since everyone loves the 5-12 upsets, but this is one of the safer bets. Bobby Hurleys’s (pictured above) Buffalo Bulls are making their NCAA Tournament debut and it will be a memorable opening act.
Buffalo is lead by Justin Moss and Shannon Evans, who combine for 33 points per game and they are battle tested as well. Buffalo lead both Kentucky and Wisconsin at half time before being overmatched in the second half. That is rather impressive when you can hang with a couple of one seeds. The Bulls should also get some consideration for a Cinderella Sweet 16 pick
Favorite You Should Avoid: Kansas
You know it’s March when Kansas goes home early after the opening weekend to a lower seed. March and Kansas upsets go together like peanut butter and jelly. Since head coach Bill Self has taken over, starting in the 2003-2004 season, Kansas has lost in the opening weekend four times despite being the higher ranked seed, and a total of seven times at the hand of lower seeded teams all before the Final Four.
STAY AWAY FROM KANSAS! This year will be no different.
Best Matchup: No. 6 Butler vs. No. 11 Texas
Texas has to be one of the most disappointing teams due to their lack of production despite the talent they have on their roster. Texas head coach Rick Barnes seems to be a master at doing less with more so to speak. Although Butler’s most impressive win is against North Carolina, they haven’t done much to impress, but neither has Texas either. The Longhorns did beat Baylor a couple of weeks ago and should have the talent and size to overcome the Bulldogs and move to the next round.
Player On The Verge of Stardom: Maryland’s freshmen guard Melo Trimble. Over the past ten games, Trimble is averaging nearly 19 points per game. He along with Buffalo’s Justin Moss will steal the show.
Best Mascot: Wichita State Shockers
Everyone knows about the Shockers after a recent Final Four run in 2013 and a 34 game win streak in 2014 but there is no denying the hilarity of their mascot when their own cheerleaders throw up ‘the shocker’ sign. If you don’t know what that means, you should Google it. Just make sure you’re not at work while doing so.
Surprise Sweet 16 Team: No. 12 Buffalo, No. 7 Wichita State
The Wildcats are 34-0 and are the overwhelming favorite to take home the national championship. Kentucky faced 11 NCAA Tournament teams and went 13-0 against them. That record will continue to grow in this region. They will likely cruise through the first weekend before facing a pretty good Maryland team in the Sweet 16 or Buffalo (my surprise pick) and ultimately Notre Dame in the regional final. Notre Dame just won the ACC championship but they do not have the size or depth to beat Kentucky. Kentucky should roll to Indianapolis.
Most Likely Upset: No. 11 BYU over No. 6 Xavier
BYU has to get past Ole Miss in the play-in game before facing Xavier but the Cougars are primed to do it. Tyler Haws is a scoring machine and Kyle Collinsworth has racked up six triple-doubles this season. Those two will be the reason why BYU gets to the round of 32.
Favorite You Should Avoid: Arkansas
Calling them a favorite is a stretch, but despite having SEC Player of the Year, Bobby Portis, the Hogs have not really beaten anyone. Their best wins are against SMU, Dayton, and Georgia. The two best teams they faced this year were Kentucky and Iowa State and they went 0-3 in those and lost by 15 or more each time. Wofford or North Carolina will send them home early.
Best Matchup: No. 4 North Carolina vs. No. 13 Harvard
The selection committee had a sense of humor when they arranged this matchup. Harvard is one of the most respected academic institutions while North Carolina committed the worst academic fraud in history by funneling athletes into sham classes to keep them eligible.
Player On The Verge of Stardom: Baylor’s Taurean Prince
Prince is Baylor’s leading scorer and went 16 straight games of scoring double-digits before going 1 of 11 against Kansas in the Big 12 Tournament, which resulted in a loss. Prince will be the deciding factor in how far the Bears can go in March.
Best Mascot: Coastal Carolina Chanticleers
Raise your hand if you know what a chanticleer is…anyone? Buehler? Oh, yeah. Unless you went to Coastal Carolina, you are a liar. Apparently a chanticleer is a proud and fierce rooster who dominates the barnyard. That’s pretty cool, I guess.
Surprise Sweet 16 Team: None. The West will see chalk. All top four seeds will make it to Los Angeles.
Arizona is becoming a popular pick and to be honest, you can’t go wrong with that pick. The inevitable Wisconsin/Arizona game is going to be an amazing rematch from last year’s regional final. However, like last year, expect Frank Kaminsky and the Badgers to head to the Final Four. Outside of Kentucky, Wisconsin is the best team in this tournament.
Most Likely Upset: No. 14 Albany over No. 3 Oklahoma
This region is very difficult to pick an upset in the first round. However, if you’re looking for an unconventional upset, here’s your huckleberry. Albany’s Peter Hooley hit a game-winning three to win the conference championship after leaving midway through the season to take care of his cancer-stricken mother who eventually died in January. The basketball gods always give us at least one great story for fans to rally behind. Here you go.
Favorite You Should Avoid: Virginia
A lot of ‘experts’ are picking the ACC regular season champions to go to the Final Four. I’m telling you to avoid that mentality. Before guard Justin Anderson went down with an injury, I may have agreed with the experts. However, since he has come back in a limited role, it is obvious that he is very hampered with his injury and is unable to make a major impact. He played a total of 26 minutes in two games and failed to score. The Cavaliers are fading as well with recent losses to Louisville and North Carolina.
Best Matchup: No. 8 NC State vs. No. 9 LSU
The winner of this game will give No. 1 seed Villanova all it can handle in the next round and have a legitimate chance to knock off the Wildcats. When you look at the matchup, there are some ballers on these rosters. NC State’s Trevor Lacey and Anthony Barber can light up any team in the nation. LSU’s frontcourt is no joke with Jarell Martin and Jordan Mickey leading the way. This will be a total toss up.
Player On The Verge Of Stardom: Northern Iowa’s Seth Tuttle
Northern Iowa forward Seth Tuttle is the only player on the roster averaging double digits in scoring with 15.3 points per game. He has scored over 19 points nine times this season. Wyoming does not have the bigs to contain this guy and Montrezl Harrell will be neutralized when Tuttle gets his shot in the following round. Tuttle will put his team on his back all the way to the Sweet 16.
Best Mascot: UC Irvine Anteaters
There is no way anyone else could compete with the Anteaters for the coolest and most unique mascot. I actually attended the Anteaters’ Big West conference championship win over Hawaii and got to hear the student body chant “Zot, Zot, Zot!” I wondered to myself “What the hell is zot?” It turns out, that is the sound an anteater makes. Hopefully the CBS cameras get some close-ups of their hilarious mascot.
Surprise Sweet 16 Team: No. 7 Michigan State
This is probably one of Tom Izzo’s weakest teams but with an average Georgia team in the first round and a fading Virginia waiting in the next round, the Spartans have the horses to pull off the upset. This isn’t Izzo’s first rodeo. His teams come to play in March and although they have had a disappointing season, they were mere seconds away from beating Wisconsin in the conference championship game on Sunday before a blown call near the end of regulation.
Winner: No. 1 Villanova
This is Jay Wright’s best team he’s ever had. Although the Wildcats are not very big, they make up for it in scoring ability with stellar guard play. They rank 23rd in the country in scoring and 13th in assists per game. Wright’s squad had put up over 80 points 13 times on their way to a 32-2 record.
The East is by far the weakest region but this is the safest bet when picking a winner. The intriguing thing about this region though is that both No. 1 and No. 2 seeds could legitimately get beat in the opening weekend as well.
Most Likely Upset: No. 10 Davidson over No. 7 Iowa, No. 13 Eastern Washington over No. 4 Georgetown
Davidson has an amazing set of guards and should beat an overrated Big Ten team in Iowa with no problems. As for Georgetown, they have no business as a No. 4 seed with what they have done this year; add that with the fact that Eastern Washington ranks third in the nation in scoring and their best player, Tyler Harvey, leads all of college basketball in scoring with 22.9 points per game, you can see why they’re ripe for an upset.
Favorite You Should Avoid: Gonzaga
Gonzaga has been everyone’s favorite mid major for the past 16 years. When they burst onto the scene on their way to the 1999 Elite 8, everyone thought the sky was the limit. Do you know how many times the Bulldogs have reached the Elite 8 since 1999? ZERO! Gonzaga is overrated yet again. They have two great players in Kyle Wiltjer and Kevin Pangos. Their best win is against SMU. Experts picking Gonzaga every year is like seeing the same lazy sequels of a franchise like The Fast and The Furious. Enough is enough.
Best Matchup: No. 5 Utah vs. No. 12 Stephen F. Austin
This is a toss up because it will be a battle of scorers in SFA’s Thomas Walkup and Utah’s Delon Wright. The Lumberjacks made noise last year when they defeated VCU in the 5-12 matchup last year but expect 2015 to not be as kind.
Player On The Verge Of Stardom: Iowa State’s Georges Niang
Niang is among the most versatile players in the country and a total nightmare to guard for opposing teams. He has scored over 20 points three of his last six games and averages an impressive 15.5 points per game.
Best Mascot: Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks
Who doesn’t like a rugged guy with an axe? I know that probably describes a serial killer, but in this case it is an attractive and cartoonish lumberjack. Those are cool.
Surprise Sweet 16 Team: Davidson
Winner: Iowa State
I bet you thought I was going to say Duke, didn’t you? Everyone is penciling in Kentucky and Duke for the national championship game since that is what the majority of the nation wants to see. Hell, I want to see it too. But as impressive as Duke is, they’re soft and the Big 12 champion Iowa State will be able to drive and take advantage of their weaknesses. Head coach Fred Hoiberg’s group will be cutting down some more nets to add to their collection.
Kentucky over Wisconsin, Villanova over Iowa State
Kentucky will complete the historic 40-0 season and take home their ninth national championship and the haters’ heads will immediately explode.
Photo Credit: Getty
Joshua Caudill is a writer for CraveOnline Sports, a surfing enthusiast, an unhealthy sports fanatic, and an expert on all things Patrick Swayze. You can follow him on Twitter @JoshuaCaudill85 or “like” CraveOnline Sports on Facebook.