By the time you read this, the Madness will have begun. The NCAA men’s college basketball tournament, aka March Madness, inspires betting on the same scale as the Super Bowl as 65 Cinderellas, Sleepers, and Powerhouses collide on courts across the United States for the vaunted championship title. And with the philosophy that anything can happen-and often does-here’s a look at some key games in the first round that may save you from drowning in your office pool.
Phoenix bracket: #2 Connecticut Huskies vs. #15 Vermont Catamounts
On paper this game is a blowout, but with UConn’s big man Emeka Okafor suffering from back problems and his back-up Charlie Villanueva out with busted ankles, the stage may be set for an upset. Vermont just happens to be lead by behemoth Taylor Coppenrath, who dropped 43 points on rival Maine after coming off his own injury. If Okafor bows out early, will Coppenrath run wild, or will UConn star Ben Gordon keep them in the game from the perimeter?
East Rutherford bracket: #8 Texas Tech Red Raiders vs. #9 Charlotte 49ers
The winner of this match-up will most likely meet #1 St. Joe’s, who all of the sudden look very vulnerable down the middle after their first loss of the season at the hands of Xavier. Could they be the first top seed to drop? The Red Raiders have been up and down in the Big 12 all year, and Charlotte is a solid team from a strong Conference-USA contingent, but either team could catch St. Joe’s napping after they sleepwalk over Liberty in the first round. In this classic #8/#9 tilt, blood will be shed, but will it be red?
Phoenix bracket: #6 Vanderbilt Commodores vs. #11 Western Michigan Broncos
Time for another Big MAC attack? The Mid-American Conference has constantly wreaked havoc in March, and Western Michigan survived the MAC tourney to represent to the fullest this year. Vandy dropped fellow SEC bullies Mississippi State last week, but the Commodores will have to make like Neil Young and remember Kent State if they want to move on to the second round.
St. Louis bracket: #8 Washington Huskies vs. #9 UAB Blazers
After drubbing previously undefeated Stanford, Washington, the darlings of the PAC-10, have it in tough against UAB, who kept up with Conference USA big boys like Louisville and Cincinnati all season. After dropping their first five PAC-10 match-ups, Washington has been on a tear, and hope their stumble against Stanford in the rematch was simply a hangover. With Kentucky looming in the second round, the Huskies may have to play giant-killer once again.
Atlanta bracket: #5 Illinois Fighting Illini vs. #12 Murray State Racers
Illinois benefitted from a weak Big 10 conference this year, but had to pull up their socks to beat lesser lights such as Ohio State. Murray State looked like a strong candidate to upset until their second-leading scorer got arrested on drug charges. Will his loss be too much for the Racers to overcome, or will it make the Cinderella upset that much sweeter? Hey, when you’ve got nothing to lose…