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As the year started to come to a close it seemed clear that there were three solid NCAA championship contenders – Kansas, Kentucky and Syracuse.  That is still the case, but I think there are six other teams that are capable of winning the title – West Virginia, Villanova, Georgetown, Ohio St., Kansas St. and Duke.  After you get past those nine teams I think almost anything could happen in the tournament.

Here are my 2010 NCAA Tournament predictions:

Midwest

First Round
#1 Kansas v. #16 Lehigh
#8 UNLV v. #9 Northern Iowa
#5 Michigan St. v. #12 New Mexico St.
#4 Maryland v. #13 Houston
#6 Tennessee v. #11 San Diego St.
#3 Georgetown v. #14 Ohio
#7 Oklahoma St. v. #10 Georgia Tech
#2 Ohio St. v. #15 UC Santa Barbara

Second Round
#1 Kansas v. #9 Northern Iowa
#4 Maryland v. #5 Michigan St.
#3 Georgetown v. #6 Tennessee
#2 Ohio St. v. #10 Georgia Tech

Sweet 16
#1 Kansas v. #5 Michigan St.
#2 Ohio St. v. #3 Georgetown

Regional Final
#1 Kansas v. #3 Georgetown

West

First Round
#1 Syracuse v. #16 Vermont
#8 Gonzaga v. #9 Florida St.
#5 Butler v. #12 UTEP
#4 Vanderbilt v. #13 Murray St.
#6 Xavier v. #11 Minnesota
#3 Pittsburgh v. #14 Oakland
#7 BYU v. #10 Florida
#2 Kansas St. v. #15 North Texas

Second Round
#1 Syracuse v. #8 Gonzaga
#4 Vanderbilt v. #12 UTEP
#3 Pittsburgh v. #11 Minnesota
#2 Kansas St. v. #7 BYU

Sweet 16
#1 Syracuse v. #12 UTEP
#3 Pittsburgh v. #2 Kansas St.

Regional Final
#1 Syracuse v. #2 Kansas St.

East

First Round
#1 Kentucky v. #16 East Tennessee St.
#8 Texas v. #9 Wake Forest
#5 Temple v. #12 Cornell
#4 Wisconsin v. #13 Wofford
#6 Marquette v. #11 Washington
#3 New Mexico v. #14 Montana
#7 Clemson v. #10 Missouri
#2 West Virginia v. #15 Morgan St.

Second Round
#1 Kentucky v. #8 Texas
#4 Wisconsin v. #12 Cornell
#3 New Mexico v. #6 Marquette
#2 West Virginia v. #10 Missouri

Sweet 16
#1 Kentucky v. #4 Wisconsin
#2 West Virginia v. #6 Marquette

Regional Final
#1 Kentucky v. #2 West Virginia

South

First Round
#1 Duke v. Play-In Winner
#8 California v. #9 Louisville
#5 Texas A&M v. #12 Utah St.
#4 Purdue v. #13 Siena
#6 Notre Dame v. #11 Old Dominion
#3 Baylor v. #14 Sam Houston St.
#7 Richmond v. #10 Saint Mary’s
#2 Villanova v. #15 Robert Morris

Second Round
#1 Duke v. #9 Louisville
#5 Texas A&M v. #13 Siena
#3 Baylor v. #6 Notre Dame
#2 Villanova v. #7 Richmond

Sweet 16
#1 Duke v. #5 Texas A&M
#2 Villanova v. #3 Baylor

Regional Final
#2 Villanova v. #5 Texas A&M

Final Four

So that leaves three one seeds and a two seed in the Final Four.  Also, while I didn’t pick a lot of upsets along the way there were a lot of early games I could have gone either way with, and will not be surprised if they go in the opposite direction.

Kansas v. Syracuse
Kentucky v. Villanova

I think the Jayhawks will find a way to beat the Orange zone by moving guys in and out of the free throw line and block areas, and then finding the open man.  They also have the big bodies down low to challenge Arinze Onuaku and Rick Jackson and force the Orange to rely on the outside shot.  Kentucky has a lot of talent and certainly speed, but against Villanova I think their big guys, DeMarcus Cousins and Patrick Patterson, will make the difference.

National Championship Game

Kansas v. Kentucky

I think the Wildcats will score the mild upset victory in this great battle and be the ones cutting down the nets in Indianapolis.  I think Coach John Calipari will be very determined to beat Kansas and Coach Bill Self in this game after losing to them a couple of years ago.  I like Kentucky’s quickness, of course with John Wall, and their ability to match the Kansas frontline.

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After playing listlessly over the weekend against Cincinnati, Connecticut was written off by most everybody.  They were not even considered a bubble team anymore.  Well last night they jumped right back into the bubble discussion with an extremely impressive win over Villanova. 

Their long term challenge is that to fight their way back into heavy consideration they are probably going to have to win four of their last five regular season games and a couple in the Big East tournament.  Not an easy task with this remaining schedule: at Rutgers, West Virginia, Louisville, at Notre Dame and at South Florida.

Going back to the Huskies win over the Wildcats…the box score highlights a couple of the keys to the victory:

  • Starting UConn guards Kemba Walker and Jerome Dyson combined to take 30 free throws.  No that’s not a typo – 30 FREE THROWS!  They made 23 of those shots from the charity stripe.
  • Villanova shot very poorly from three point range – 7-24 (29.2%).  On the season they are shooting 37.5% from three, good for fifth in the Big East.

Interesting to note though:

  • The Huskies lost the turnover battle 9-17.   This is not surprising as they are second to last in the Big East in average turnover margin at -2.12.  But it’s not often that a team will get a win with that large of a disparity in turnovers.  Especially against a top five team.
  • UConn had only four steals in the game.  Villanova had 13.

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