Sports

Rothstein: Thursday’s NCAA Tournament Storylines, Picks, Upset Alerts & More

Arsalan Kazemi of the Oregon Ducks (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

Arsalan Kazemi of the Oregon Ducks (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

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NCAA Tourney

By Jon Rothstein
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BEST GAME: COLORADO STATE VS. MISSOURI

This should be the most physical game of the first two days. The Rams are the best rebounding team in college basketball, and have a hidden gem in 6-10 center Colton Iverson. Missouri meanwhile, has one of the more physically imposing front lines in the sport in Earnest Ross, Laurence Bowers, and Alex Oriakhi. If you love battles in the paint, you’ll love this matchup.

BEST BET FOR AN UPSET: OREGON OVER OKLAHOMA STATE

This isn’t an upset to those who follow college basketball; the Ducks were somehow given a 12-seed after winning the PAC-12 Tournament. The Cowboys had a terrific season, but got by far the toughest draw out of any five seed in the bracket. Keep an eye on Oregon forward Arsalan Kazemi. The transfer from Rice averages close to a double-double, and has played center lately for Oregon when Dana Altman has opted to go with a smaller lineup.

BEST UPSET TO AVOID PICKING: DAVIDSON OVER MARQUETTE

I love Bob McKillop’s team and to me, he’s one of the best tacticians in the sport — but this is a bad match up for Davidson. Marquette’s power, athleticism, and depth will be much too much for the Wildcats to overcome.

BEST STORYLINE: AKRON VS. VCU

Who knew Shaka Smart before he was Shaka Smart? Zips coach Keith Dambrot. Dambrot hired Smart as an assistant coach at Akron from 2003-2006, and the two speak regularly during the season. Smart has told me that he considers Dambrot to be a mentor, and one of his better friends in the coaching business.

BEST PHYSICAL SPECIMEN: SIM BHULLAR, NEW MEXICO STATE

Who is Bhullar? To put it mildly, he’s a mountain masquerading as a man. At 7-5 and 355, Bhullar is physically the biggest player in college basketball. He’s also produced well for the Aggies, averaging 10.0 points and 6.5 rebounds per game. It will be interesting to see how Bhullar deals with the versatility of Saint Louis’ front line.

THURSDAY’S PICKS:

Michigan State over Valpo
Butler over Bucknell
Pitt over Wichita State
Saint Louis over New Mexico State
Memphis over Saint Mary’s
Marquette over Davidson
Gonzaga over Southern
Oregon over Oklahoma State
Louisville over NC A & T
Michigan over South Dakota State
Arizona over Belmont
Butler over Bucknell
Colorado State over Missouri
VCU over Akron
New Mexico over Harvard
Syracuse over Montana

Will there be a big-time upset on Thursday? Make your predictions in the comments!