Round of 32, Saturday selections

Credit: Syracuse University Athletic Communications
Credit: Syracuse University Athletic Communications

Bill Koch, National Columnist

After going missing for most of Day 1, the Madness returned to March for Friday’s Day 2 of the NCAA Tournament.

No. 2 seeds Missouri and Duke went down in a historic pair of upsets that busted brackets from coast-to-coast and left the surviving schools with a golden opportunity to make deep runs in their respective regions.

Will the carnage continue into the weekend? You can see by reading the first two days of picks in this column that we don’t know much more about picking these games than the next guy, but we’ll at least give you a little information so that you can sound like you know what you’re talking about before you draw red lines through the rest of your Final Four.

South Region

No. 1 Kentucky (33-2) vs. No. 8 Iowa State (23-10)

Anthony Davis turned in another defensive tour de force in an 81-66 victory over in-state rival Western Kentucky, piling up 16 points, nine rebounds and seven blocked shots as the Wildcats advanced through their opening game without incident. Kentucky will be a very tough out as long as it guards the paint and is able to find enough offense from the perimeter.

The Cyclones shot 48.1 percent from the field and were an outstanding 19-for-20 at the foul line while eliminating defending champion Connecticut with ease, 77-64. Four players reached double figures for Iowa State, topped by 20 points from Michigan State transfer Chris Allen. The Huskies and NBA-bound stars Jeremy Lamb and Andre Drummond were thought to pose to the tougher challenge for Kentucky to reach the Sweet 16, but it looks like the steady Cyclones will provide an even stiffer test. We’re about to see what the Wildcats possess in terms of toughness.  (Hoiberg photo courtesy Iowa State Athletics Communications).

The pick – Kentucky

No. 3 Baylor (28-7) vs. No. 11 Colorado (24-11)

The Bears overcame an early 12-point deficit to turn back feisty South Dakota State, 68-60, and avoided being at the forefront of the rash of upsets that broke out a day later. Baylor was staring at a 19-7 deficit and received very little help from star Perry Jones III, who sputtered to a 1-for-6 outing from the field and was held to just two points. Pierre Jackson (18 points) and Brady Heslip (17 points, 5-for-10 from 3-point range) picked up the slack, but the Bears need Jones III and their frontcourt to dominate in order to advance much further.

The Buffaloes built an early 20-point lead and held on for a 68-64 victory over UNLV in their opener, continuing a stampede that started with victory in the Pac-12 tournament. Colorado crushed the Runnin’ Rebels on the glass, 46-33, and was a strong 7-for-12 from 3-point range to key the mild upset. The Buffaloes will need another bruising effort up front from Texas native Andre Roberson (12 points, 16 rebounds against UNLV) and must take better care of the ball (23 turnovers) if they hope to extend their blistering run.

The pick – Baylor

No. 4 Indiana (26-8) vs. No. 12 VCU (29-6)

The Hoosiers celebrated their return to the NCAA Tournament after a five-year absence with a solid 79-66 victory over New Mexico State. Indiana rode the hot hand of junior guard Jordan Hulls (8-for-12 shooting, game-high 22 points) to a 59.3 percent showing from the field and controlled the Aggies from start to finish. This was a composed effort from a team with very little postseason experience, yet another byproduct of the outstanding coaching job done by Tom Crean.

The Rams called to mind their gritty performances of last year’s Final Four run by winning a 62-59 grinder against fellow mid-major hopeful Wichita State. Bradford Burgess finished with a game-high 16 points for the winners, none bigger than a 3-pointer in the final minutes to put VCU on top for good. The Rams harassed the Shockers into 38.7 percent shooting in a typical display of defensive doggedness, and we’ve finally learned our lesson after watching VCU do this over and over again to favored opponents. You pick against them at your own peril.

The pick – VCU  

West Region

No. 3 Marquette (26-7) vs. No. 6 Murray State (31-1)

The Golden Eagles toyed with BYU in their opener, enjoying a double-digit lead the most of the way while handing the Cougars an 88-68 defeat. Jae Crowder produced a performance worthy of the Big East Player of the Year, posting game highs with 25 points, 16 rebounds and four steals. Darius Johnson-Odom chipped in 20 points for Marquette, which laid a 48-33 whipping on the taller BYU frontcourt in the rebounding category. That bodes well going forward for the Golden Eagles, who have plenty of options on the perimeter to overmatch most opponents.

Marquette will need to rely on that strong will up front against the Racers, who wore down Colorado State in a 58-41 victory in their opener. Murray State forced 21 turnovers and held the Rams to a dismal 33.3 percent from the field, including a 2-for-14 mark from 3-point range. More stinginess will be required to take down Marquette, but the Kentucky-based Racers will enjoy the home court advantage in Louisville and the favor of the neutrals in the crowd as the underdog. Look for them to produce yet another surprise.

The pick – Murray State

No. 4 Louisville (27-9) vs. No. 5 New Mexico (28-6)

Peyton Siva (right, courtesy Louisville Sports Information) looked right at home playing within driving distance of his native Seattle, quarterbacking the Cardinals to a 69-62 victory over Davidson in Portland. Siva finished with 17 points and six assists while teaching the Wildcats a lesson in ball control and discipline while battling through foul trouble for most of his 25 minutes. Louisville’s defense remained in fine form by holding Davidson to 35 percent shooting from the field, including a 4-for-19 finish from 3-point range.

The Lobos can take a couple things from their 75-68 victory over dangerous No. 12 seed Long Beach State. The first is that they can shut down a prolific guard like Siva, as 49ers star Casper Ware went just 5-for-19 from the field and worked much too hard for his 17 points. The second is that Drew Gordon can repeat his 18-point, 13-rebound performance against Long Beach State if he follows the 24-point, 10-rebound example of Davidson big man Jake Cohen. New Mexico is a dangerous club in this game, maybe too much for even an NCAA veteran like Rick Pitino to handle.

The pick – New Mexico

East Region

No. 1 Syracuse (32-2, at-large) vs. No. 8 Kansas State (22-10)

We won’t delve into the controversy surrounding the officials and a couple of calls that might have changed the outcome of the Orange’s 72-65 win over UNC-Asheville. Syracuse, despite the beliefs of coach Jim Boeheim, was lucky to survive a game in which it finished just 5-for-23 from 3-point range, posted a mere 33-32 advantage in rebounding and nearly folded down the stretch in the second half against the determined Bulldogs.

Don’t bank on the Wildcats to feel sorry for Syracuse. Kansas State edged past Southern Mississippi, 70-64, thanks to 30 points by Rodney McGruder and some dominant play by center Jordan Henriquez, who finished with 15 points, nine rebounds and six blocked shots. Another performance like that by Henriquez and the Orange won’t miss suspended big man Fab Melo for much longer – they’ll be joining him at home and watching the final two weekends of the tournament. Look for Syracuse to show some pride and play a bit better in its second game, but don’t be surprised if the first No. 1 seed in the field falls here.

The pick – Syracuse

No. 2 Ohio State (28-7) vs. No. 7 Gonzaga (26-6)

The Buckeyes turned in a powerful display of defense (35.2 percent shooting) and rebounding (a 49-24 wipeout on the glass) while downing Loyola (Md.), 78-59. It’s been a championship recipe time and again for basketball teams at every level, and Ohio State appears to have an opportunity to run through this bracket with Syracuse reeling. The Buckeyes received a career game from Deshaun Thomas, who poured in a game-high 31 points and grabbed 12 rebounds, but they’ll need more in the post from All-American Jared Sullinger (4-for-14 shooting, 12 points) and must take better care of the ball (18 turnovers) going forward.

The Bulldogs were superb while crushing West Virginia, 77-54, in a game where the result was never in doubt. Gonzaga shot 56 percent from the field, including a 52.9 percent effort from 3-point range, to hand the sliding Mountaineers their worst postseason defeat in almost three decades. The Bulldogs should find a little more trouble against the Buckeyes mainly due to the matchup at the point guard position. Look for sticky-fingered Ohio State defensive menace Aaron Craft to hound Gonzaga freshman Kevin Pangos and his teammates into the offseason.

The pick – Ohio State

No. 4 Wisconsin (25-9) vs. No. 5 Vanderbilt (25-10)

This is one of the best matchups of the third round, with the Badgers and Commodores both coming off outstanding opening games and both more than worthy of advancement to the Sweet 16. Wisconsin produced a 73-49 skunking of Montana while Vanderbilt dispatched Harvard, 79-70.

Jordan Taylor led the way for the Badgers by playing one of the best games of his career, no small statement to make for Wisconsin’s terrific senior. Taylor rolled up 17 points, eight rebounds and six assists without committing a single turnover, keying an offense that went 10-for-19 from 3-point range and enjoyed a 37-21 advantage on the glass. Bo Ryan’s teams are always tough to beat and this season will prove no different.

The Commodores warmed up for Wisconsin by overwhelming a Crimson team that also likes to slow the pace. John Jenkins hit for a game-high 27 points while senior guard Brad Tinsley added 16 while missing just one of his 10 combined attempts from the field (5-for-6) and the foul line (4-for-4). Vanderbilt’s execution against a similar foe can’t be discounted in this one, and the Commodores are much more talented than the Grizzlies. Look for them to edge through to the second weekend.

The pick – Vanderbilt

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