Over the next few days we here at Skyway Shoutout will be previewing each region of the NCAA Tournament, providing predictions for each game with a bit of analysis sprinkled in the mix. This will culminate with a Final Four and National Champion prediction. For those of you who are desperate enough to use this analysis as your source of truth for filling out your bracket, we’ll offer up one stipulation. If, by any chance, you use our bracket predictions and analysis to win your March Madness pool, we’d ask that you please feel free to donate a portion of your winnings to our Adult Spring Break 2K14 slush fund (The plan is to attend the Masters). Or you can be selfish and slap the hand that feeds you. It’s totally up to you.
FIRST ROUND GAMES
(1) Arizona Wildcats vs. (16) Weber State Wildcats
Friday, March 21st @ 2:10 p.m. on TNT
How They Got Here: Arizona (30-4, 15-3) spent 8 weeks atop the polls this season, though the Wildcats begin March Madness having just lost in the Pac 12 title game to UCLA. Weber State defeated North Dakota in the Big Sky conference championship to cap off a 19-11 (14-6) season.
Analysis: I’m sure you all already knew this, but just in case, Weber State is located in Ogden, Utah, just north of Salt Lake City in the state’s panhandle. Ogden is a cute little town that served as a major railway hub for most of its history. Forbes recently ranked it as the 6th best place to raise a family. If you’re ever in the area or just passing through, be sure not to blink, or you might miss it. And speaking of quick, Weber State’s trip to the tourney will be over quicker than a pass through Ogden.
(8) Gonzaga Bulldogs vs. (9) Oklahoma State Cowboys
Friday, March 21st @ 4:40 p.m. on TNT
How They Got Here: Gonzaga defeated BYU in the West Coast Conference championship game to finish off a 28-6 (15-3) season. Oklahoma State began the season with high expectations but struggled through the Big 12, finishing at 21-12 (8-10) and losing to Kansas in overtime in the Big 12 quarterfinals.
Analysis: This is one of the more intriguing match-ups in the West, given the talent on both squads. OK State has a high-powered offense that includes Marcus Smart, Markel Brown, and Phil Forte III. The Zags are a balanced team led by Sam Dower and David Stockton. Nate Silver’s mathematical model on FiveThirtyEight.com has this game as a toss-up, but the edge goes to the Cowboys, given their natural ability and performance in big games.
(5) Oklahoma Sooners vs. (12) North Dakota State Bison
Thursday, March 20th @ 7:27 p.m. on truTV
How They Got Here: Oklahoma finished the season with a 21-9 (12-6) record in the Big 12, getting upset by Baylor in the conference quarterfinals. North Dakota State (25-6, 12-2) took down the IPFW Mastodons* to win the Summit League title.
*This could be one of the best mascots/team names in all of college basketball, in my opinion. BTW, IPFW stand for Indiana University Purdue University Fort Wayne
Analysis: This is a fitting showdown between two mascots you’d expect to find while playing Oregon Trail. It never failed that every time I’d get to a river, I’d make the wrong decision. I’d try to ford the river in my wagon (a wagon and the Sooners are synonymous in my head) and as a result, my family would end up drowning or fall ill with dysentery and die. The Bison, on the other hand, was an easy hunting target on the range, and a great source of food. You would end up with about 500 pounds of food, only to be told you can only carry 100 pounds (again, a limitation of the wagon). In this case, I’m taking out my rage for the wagons in Oregon Trail on the Sooners. Bison for the upset.
(4) San Diego State Aztecs vs. (13) New Mexico State Aggies
Thursday, March 20th @ 9:57 p.m. on truTV
How They Got Here: San Diego State (29-4, 16-2) enters March Madness having lost to New Mexico in the Mountain West Conference finals. They’ll open the tournament against a team from the “Land of Enchantment”, facing the Aggies (26-9, 12-4), winners of the Western Athletic Conference.
Analysis: Did you ever think you see a day where New Mexico had more teams playing in March Madness than the state of Indiana? In fact, Indiana doesn’t have any teams in the tournament this year (to New Mexico’s two). The Aggies are a well-rounded team, but will face one of the top defenses in the country–San Diego State is allowing only 56.6 points per game. When in doubt, side with defense–Aztecs advance.
(6) Baylor Bears vs. (11) Nebraska Cornhuskers
Friday, March 21st @ 12:40 p.m. on truTV
How They Got Here: Baylor (24-11, 9-9) enters the NCAA tournament after losing to Iowa State in the Big 12 conference championship game. They face-off against a former Big 12 foe in Nebraska (19-12, 11-7), who is looking to recover from an opening round loss to Ohio State in the Big 10 tournament.
Analysis: Baylor fields a top ten offense per Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted efficiency metric and they are averaging over 75 points per game. Vegas has the Bears listed as 3.5 points favorites over the Cornhuskers, who are a very boring team. This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, given that Nebraska itself is a pretty boring state. Hell, it doesn’t even get a shout out in Jason Aldean’s song about fly over states. Da Bears move on to the weekend.
(3) Creighton Bluejays vs. (14) Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns
Friday, March 21st @ 3:10 p.m. on truTV
How They Got Here: Creighton had a great season (26-7, 14-4), but is coming off of a disappointing showing against Providence in the Big East title game. Meanwhile, the Ragin’ Cajuns (23-11, 11-7) are riding high on momentum after upsetting top seeded Georgia State in overtime to clinch the Sun Belt championship.
Analysis: I have to give the Ragin’ Cajuns props for having the best nickname of the teams that made March Madness. Other than that, my analysis consists of the following video in honor of Dougie:
(7) Oregon Ducks vs. (10) BYU Cougars
Thursday, March 20th @ 3:10 p.m. on truTV
How They Got Here: Oregon (23-9, 10-8) got crushed in their last game, losing to UCLA in the Pac-12 quarterfinals. BYU (23-11, 13-5) enters March Madness attempting to recover from a West Coast Conference championship loss to Gonzaga.
Analysis: This game is shaping up to be a shootout. The Cougars are owners of the third ranked offense, averaging over 84 points per game. Oregon averages almost 82 points per game. The difference maker will be the play in the paint and on the boards, an area in which BYU excels. Similar to the Ducks on the football field, the basketball product will get out-muscled, resulting in an early out from the tournament.
(2) Wisconsin Badgers vs. (15) American University Eagles
Thursday, March 20th @ 12:40 p.m. on truTV
How They Got Here: Wisconsin lost to Michigan in the Big 10 semifinals to end the season with a 26-7 (12-6) record. The American Eagles (HEH!) punched their ticket to the dance by upending #1 seed Boston University in the Patriot League championship to cap off a 20-12 (13-5) season.
Analysis: Wisconsin plays some suffocating defense and prides itself on controlling the pace of the game. American University is atrocious on offense, averaging less than 64 points per game. I think you are picking up what I’m laying down. Bo Ryan and the Badgers move on.
Click the NEXT button to check out the Second Round games.