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Basketball

VIEWER’S GUIDE: Narber’s top watches for the NCAA Tournament

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South Region

A Good One: (5) Maryland vs. (12) South Dakota St.| Spokane, WA |Friday, 3:30 PM, TBS

If there were ever a perfect time to celebrate an upset, it’s Friday after work. I’m taking SDSU in this game behind the leadership of its four senior guards. Freshman center Mike Daum was named both Summit League Sixth Man and Freshman of the Year and can give Diamond Stone fits. The Jackrabbits are 41st nationally in rebounding margin. 

KenPom Line: Terrapins by 6

A Better One: (4) California vs. (13) Hawaii| Spokane, WA |Friday, 1:00 PM, TBS

Hawaii kind of got a favorable geographical draw here, if that’s even possible. The Rainbow Warriors remain largely a mystery, having played most of their games while the continental United States was asleep, but let’s not forget this is a team whose only two losses the first 18 games of the season were to Texas Tech and Oklahoma by a combined 11 points. But Cal should be loaded with enough talent and interior strength to stave off the upset.

KenPom Line: Golden Bears by 4

The Best One: (8) Colorado vs. (9) Connecticut| Des Moines, IA |Thursday, 12:30 PM, TNT

Colorado is 240th nationally in effective field goal percentage, 336th in 2P%, 226th in turnovers and scores nearly a quarter of its points at the free throw line. Despite Tad Boyle’s deep bench, it’s not hard to see why this has been thought of as an automatic win for Connecticut in most brackets. But, even winning the AAC tournament title, the Huskies did lose seven games away from Storrs this season. Then again, the Buffaloes lost 10.

KenPom Line: Huskies by 3

West Region

A Good One: (7) Oregon St. vs. (10) VCU| Oklahoma City, OK |Friday, 12:30 PM, TNT

The moment they announced this matchup, I legitimately thought the seeds had been accidentally switched. Oregon State belonged in the tournament but certainly not as a 7, and VCU has been another wildly popular “upset” pick as a result. Just a single spot ahead of Hawaii in KenPom rankings, the Beavers have only two top-50 wins during a 17-game stretch to end the season in which they went 8-9. The Rams’ depth and aggressiveness should make this an easy dispatching.

KenPom Line: Rams by 2 

A Better One: (8) St. Joseph’s vs. (9) Cincinnati| Spokane, WA |Friday, 8:57 PM, truTV

Balance, discipline and a tough interior game are typically stressed by both sides here, and the icing on the cake will be watching two great head coaches in Phil Martelli and Mick Cronin go at it on college basketball’s biggest stage. St. Joseph’s won the A-10 tournament championship despite dropping three of its last five (including an eight-point home loss to Duquesne), so the streakiness is concerning. We Iowa State fans have seen Cincinnati firsthand, and they’re no easy out.

KenPom Line: Bearcats by 1

The Best One: (5) Baylor vs. (12) Yale| Providence, RI |Thursday, 1:45 PM, CBS

I’ll say this once: Yale is a bad upset pick here in a variety of ways, but I always tend to believe Las Vegas knows much more than I do. Baylor is a mere 5.5-point favorite tomorrow afternoon over a Yale team making just its fourth NCAA Tournament appearance in over a century. That alone is reason enough to tune in. The Bulldogs are an outstanding rebounding team, but so is Rico Gathers & Co. And you have to think Georgia State is still fresh in Scott Drew’s mind. 

KenPom Line: Bears by 3

East Region 

A Good One: (7) Wisconsin vs. (10) Pittsburgh| St. Louis, MO |Friday, 5:50 PM, TNT

One might say Wisconsin started to peak at just the right time to get itself an NCAA Tournament berth, but then I’m not sure what you call the 12-point loss to Nebraska in the Big Ten Tournament. Nonetheless here they are, as if Bo Ryan were just wearing a Greg Gard bodysuit, and the Badgers get a Pittsburgh team that went 4-7 down the stretch and boast zero top-100 non-conference wins. Weird matchup here, weirder KenPom line. 

KenPom Line: Badgers by 1 

A Better One: (8) USC vs. (9) Providence| Raleigh, NC |Thursday, 8:50 PM, TBS

Kind of interesting to see a team on the 9-line (and they’re appropriately seeded) with two surefire NBA players on its roster. Kris Dunn and Ben Bentil lead a relatively young Providence team against sure-to-be-jetlagged USC that has lost seven of its last 10 games and is 4-10 away from Los Angeles this season. Honestly, if the Trojans can establish their tempo, they might have a chance here. But this PC defense is not something to take lightly.

KenPom Line: Friars by 1

The Best One: (3) West Virginia vs. (14) Stephen F. Austin| Brooklyn, NY |Friday, 6:10 PM, CBS

Brad Underwood was an assistant under Bob Huggins at Kansas State in 2006, so it’s no surprise that a lot of what makes West Virginia who they are also happens to be Stephen F. Austin’s bread and butter as well. The two squads are 1st and 2nd nationally in turnovers forced, top-30 in defensive efficiency and will go 9-10 players deep on any given night. The Lumberjacks — winners of a whopping 20 straight games — are a sexy upset pick. But if we’re being honest here, it’s like looking in a mirror, and WVU’s guys are just flat out better. Think of it like Iona and Iowa State.

KenPom Line: Mountaineers by 5

Midwest Region 

A Good One: (7) Dayton vs. (10) Syracuse| St. Louis, MO |Friday, 11:15 AM, CBS

Dance Card gave Syracuse a 3.19% probability of receiving an at-large bid on Selection Sunday. The Orange boast a résumé tailor made for a First Four game in Dayton. Instead, they literally drew Dayton in a completely improbably 7/10 matchup. The Flyers are the 10th best defensive team in this field, honestly a horrid matchup for a Syracuse team that shoots poorly and turns the ball over a lot. Jim Boeheim plays seven guys max. Dayton? Ten saw the floor Saturday against St. Joe’s. The fresh legs should win this, in my opinion.

KenPom Line: Orange by 1

A Better One: (8) Texas Tech vs. (9) Butler| Raleigh, NC |Thursday, 11:40 PM, truTV

Butler is 33-15 in the month of March over the last 10 years with two national championship appearances. Texas Tech is 14-25 with, well, definitely none of those.

KenPom Line: Bulldogs by 1

The Best One: (6) Seton Hall vs. (11) Gonzaga| Denver, CO |Thursday, 8:57 PM, truTV

I suppose we’ll save the best for last. This is undoubtedly the First Round game to watch this year, and who prevails here really depends on what you think of Gonzaga. Is this a less talented team under Mark Few that finally gets to play “hunter” instead “hunted” while being constantly under a microscope throughout the month of March? Or is it simpler than that? Maybe these just aren’t your father’s Zags anymore. One thing is for certain, though: this is an outstanding Seton Hall team — Big East champions, no less — with an NBA point guard in Isaiah Whitehead.

KenPom Line: Pirates by 1

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Austin Narber

contributor