With the 2012 NCAA Division I Basketball Tournament brackets released, our staff writers Greg Kaplan and Vinny Ginardi attempt to weed out the weaker teams and pick this year’s national champion. Will your favorite team make it to the Final Four?
#1 Syracuse vs. #16 UNC-Asheville
VG: Syracuse may not have looked great in the Big East tournament, but there is a very slim chance they trip up here.
#8 Kansas State vs. #9 Southern Miss
GK: Kansas State has underwhelmed this year, but they’re still a heavy favorite against Southern Miss. Guard Rodney McGruder is the best player on the floor in this game. He plays strong both ways, and Kansas State was constantly challenged in the Big 12. They’re primed to take this game.
#4 Wisconsin vs. #13 Montana
VG: Montana is on fire right now, winning 14 straight heading into the tournaments. That, coupled with the fact that they are extremely dangerous from three makes them a good candidate for an upset. But, I like Wisconsin’s suffocating defense and ability to control. The Badgers have potential to get to the Elite Eight, or even the Final Four.
#5 Vanderbilt vs. #12 Harvard
GK: After watching most of the major conference tournaments, there was no single player I came away more impressed with than Vanderbilt’s John Jenkins. If he gets hot, he can literally hit a shot from anywhere on the court. I do like some of the things Harvard does, but I’m afraid they don’t have an answer for Jenkins.
#3 Florida State vs. #14 St. Bonaventure
VG: You have to go with Florida state here. They carry a lot of momentum with them after winning the ACC title and have a 6-3 record against teams ranked in the Top 25, including four wins combined against Duke and North Carolina. You look at their losses and only two of them came to teams that didn’t make the tournament.
#6 Cincinnati vs. #11 Texas
GK: Options, options and more options. That’s what Cincinnati has. They can beat you inside with Yancy Gates or they could shoot you to death from the perimeter with Sean Kilpatrick or Cashmere Wright. Texas counters with J’Covan Brown, who is probably the most talented scorer that will appear in this game. Texas just didn’t do anything this season that proved to me their ready to win a game in this tournament.
#7 Gonzaga vs. #10 West Virginia
VG: This is a tough match-up. West Virginia has the potential to win one or two games in this tournament, but I don’t like the fact that they limped into the tournament and have an ugly 1-7 record against ranked opponents. Gonzaga has a balanced scoring attack with a good defense, so I like them to advance to the next round.
#2 Ohio State vs. #15 Loyola (MD)
GK: Never bet against Pastos! OK, I’m not completely serious. I think the Greyhounds are a fun team to watch. But, we’re talking about THE Ohio State University. Jared Sullinger. Aaron Craft. There just isn’t enough talent in the MAAC to pull this upset.
#1 Syracuse vs. #8 Kansas State
VG: Kansas State definitely has upset potential, as noted by their play against teams like Missouri this year. In addition, Kansas State is a pretty good rebounding club, which is one thing Syracuse is not. That being said, Syracuse’s defense, depth and balance scoring give them a big advantage in this match-up.
#4 Wisconsin vs. #5 Vanderbilt
GK: There is nothing more frustrating to watch in the world than a Bo Ryan offense. The games are so slow and low scoring, its just…ugh. Usually, Wisconsin can control the pace of the game with this type of play, but I think that kind of game actually suits Vanderbilt. It gives them more time to find Jenkins open along the perimeter or bring in the tough interior play of Lance Goulbourne.
#3 Florida State vs. #6 Cincinnati
VG: Two teams with similar stories here. Each significantly helped out itself with great play in their respective conference tournaments and have been successful with elite efforts on the defensive ends of the floor. They’ve each been able to play well against other elite teams (Cincinnati is 7-3 against the Top 25, Florida State is 6-3) and have trouble scoring the ball from time to time. I’m going to go with Florida State because their wave of momentum is slightly larger than that of Cincinnati.
#2 Ohio State vs. #7 Gonzaga
GK: Don’t get me wrong, Ohio State has some flaws to their game. But, Gonzaga is not the team in this tournament that could exploit those flaws and pull out victory. While I don’t think Ohio State will go much further than the Sweet 16, Gonzaga will not go further than the third round.
#1 Syracuse vs. #5 Vanderbilt
VG: I have a tough time going with Vanderbilt because they are notorious for early exits. That being said, this team has a different feel to it. They have a good inside-outside balance offensively and are unyielding on defense. Still, I like Syracuse’s defense and athleticism, and the more I look at that 5-0 record against ranked opponents, the more impressed I become.
#2 Ohio State vs. #3 Florida State
GK: Remember how I said there was a team in this region that would be able to exploit the flaws of Ohio State to knock them out of the tournament? We found them. Florida State plays an elite defense and have stars like Snaer and Dulkeys that can beat you inside and outside. The Seminoles would be able to suffocate Sullinger inside while limiting the options for Craft and Buford along the wing. The Seminoles beat Duke and North Carolina a combined four times this year and won the ACC Tournament. This is their year to wow people. They just need to seize the moment.
#1 Syracuse vs. #3 Florida State
VG: This would be a great defensive battle to watch as both teams hold their opponents under 63 points per game. The big question here is which Florida State team will show up? We’ve seen them play at an elite level against some of the nation’s best and then look extremely vulnerable against some questionable opponents. Because of that inconsistency alone, I have to go with Syracuse. Honestly, Syracuse has looked vulnerable lately, too, but I think their loss in the Big East Tournament will serve as a wake up call.