Let's face the facts...Filling out an NCAA Tournament bracket sucks! It is enjoyable up until Tuesday evening when you lose the first play-in game, curse play-in games, curse 12 seeds, curse in general, all while watching the winner of said play-in game reach the sweet sixteen, imploding the once "perfect," and future recycled mess, that is your bracket. All this while dealing with a wife or boss, who laments the six hours you spent "perfecting" your bracket, while ignoring work, chores, your family, or that desk assembly which was never fully completed. (April honey, I promise!)
That being said, there is nothing greater than those six hours you spend analyzing every aspect of every team...height, offensive sets, defensive philosophies, match-ups, whether they wear Nike or Under Armour. It all factors in. Unfortunately, for the majority of college basketball fans, all the knowledge in the world goes out the window when it comes to this sacred tournament.
Every Cinderella thinks they can take down a giant. I know this because I was once a sixteen seed playing for Monmouth University. We walked into Greensboro, North Carolina certain that we would be the first sixteen seed to take down a number one.
(No need to check the Almanac on that game...All I'll say is we played Duke, they won the National Championship that year, and we lost by a number that rhymes with porty pree.)
This mindset makes predicting a few of the first round match-ups a major headache. Let's take a look at some of the more difficult games in round one, starting in the South.
#9 UCONN vs #8 Iowa St.
The toughest 8 v 9 game on the board. UCONN is definitely the more talented team; however they have not played like it for most of the season. Iowa St. has one of the best players in the Southern bracket in Royce White. If he goes off, expect the Cyclones to move on. If Connecticut can find some resemblance to their championship form, UCONN should role. I always go team over individualism; therefore I have UCONN moving on.
#5 Wichita St. vs #12 VCU
A juggernaut defensive team against a juggernaut on offense. I feel like VCU is too young and too small to handle the offensive firepower of the Wichita St. Shockers. I think Wichita St. wins this, in one of the most exciting games of the first round.
#10 Xavier vs #7 Notre Dame
Xavier has been underachieving for most of the year after such lofty expectations. Notre Dame has been doing the opposite...Excelling, after what was supposed to be a down year. At this point it is all about confidence; therefore I am taking Notre Dame.
Upset Special: VCU
Although I don't think VCU has enough to compete with Wichita St., I believe they have the best chance to pull out an upset in the South. The remainder of the first round games should go to the higher seed, with the exception of UCONN who should beat Iowa St.
The West features some of the best transition teams in the NCAA Tournament. It should be a fast paced, up-tempo region. Let's look at some of the more exciting games.
#8 Memphis vs #9 St. Louis
Another 8 v 9 game, which should be very entertaining. St. Louis, coached by Rick Majerus, is a disciplined, tough team. Memphis is long, athletic and can put points on the board in a hurry. Expect Memphis to hold off the Billikens in a tight one.
#6 Murray St. vs #11 Colorado St.
Isaiah Cannan is one of the players to watch for in the West. He is a tremendous playmaker, who paved the way for the Murray St. Racers' 30-1 record this year. Expect Murray St. to reach 31-1 after defeating Colorado St. in a battle of undersized teams.
#7 Florida vs #10 Virginia
Another defense against offense scenario. Florida has a tremendous backcourt led by sharpshooter, Bradley Beal. Virginia is another defensive minded team, intent on slowing down the Gators. In the end it will be too much Florida as the Gators will move on to a highly anticipated showdown with Missouri.
I again think the top seeds should take care of business in the West, however the one game that is intriguing, is New Mexico against Long Beach St. The 49ers of Long Beach St. have played a strong out of conference schedule, with near upsets of Kansas and UNC. They will come into this game with a favorable matchup. I see the 49ers pulling off the upset in this one.
The East is loaded with teams currently on hot streaks. Vanderbilt rolled through the SEC conference championship, and Florida St. took the ACC title. Both of these teams are riding momentum coming into the tournament. Two games really catch my eye in the Eastern bracket.
#4 Wisconsin vs #13 Montana
Doug Gottlieb of ESPN has this game being one of his sleeper picks in 2012. I agree that this will be a tight game throughout, however I disagree with the outcome. Wisconsin has too many seniors to let the Big Sky Champions oust them from the tournament. In the end it will come down to Wisconsin's ability to make jump shots.
#7 Gonzaga vs #10 West Virginia
This game scares me unlike any other. Gonzaga takes on a tough West Virginia team. The Mountaineers create several match-up problems for the Zags. They are a big, strong, physical team that will try to use their size against the smaller Bulldogs. In the end, I believe Gonzaga, who need to rely heavily on their shooting, pull it out in a tight physical battle.
J'Covan Brown could single handedly put Texas on his back. Although the Longhorns are young, they are talented and more than capable of pulling out a win over the Bearcats of Cincinnati. The Bearcats will bring their experience and physical play, but I take Texas moving on to take on Florida St.
In the Midwest, my upsets, and close games are limited. I don't see UNC, Creighton, Michigan, San Diego St. Georgetown, St. Mary's or Kansas having a difficult first round matchup. Notice how I left Temple off that list.
#5 Temple vs #12 South Florida
First let me start off by saying, I always end up picking with my heart. The pundits tell me not to, yet it is hard to say no. That being said, I am not picking Temple based on my heart. They are the better team. No matter who they face in the first round, they are the better team. Not many teams match-up well against the three guard front of Ramone Moore, Juan Fernandez, and Khalif Wyatt. Add Mike Eric who has returned from injury and Temple is a team that has the ability to go deep into this year's tournament.
As I mentioned last year, there are several rules you will need to follow when filling out your bracket. Number one being, in case of a close game, always go with the bigger conference. Don't pick a mascot, flip a coin, or ask your wife. UCONN vs Iowa St.? Go with the Big East.
Another rule is limiting your upsets. Sure it happens every year. An 11, or 12 seed reaches the Sweet Sixteen, however be careful who you have Cinderella knocking off. VCU may beat Wichita St. and Indiana, but not Kentucky. Have fun early on, but when it gets to the third or fourth round, make strictly business decisions.
My final rule, is one I constantly break. Don't follow your heart. You may be able to relate to some of the "loveable teams," but if your bracket makes you vulnerable to huge pay-outs, thumb breakage, or constant ridicule, keep your heart out of it.
Follow Kevin on Twitter @Waiting4Godunk