I have my bags packed and I'm hitting the road for the next three weeks. As it turns out, I'll see the No. 1 overall seed Florida Gators as long as they're alive because I'll be in Orlando, Memphis and Dallas (which happens to be located in North Texas).
This time of year, Orlando is packed with families on spring break getting their mouse on. The Orlando Arena though, will be packed with basketball teams trying to see if they can get by the Gators and the defending national champions, Louisville.
Florida doesn't figure to get much of a test in Thursday's game. Albany was the fourth seed in the America East conference tournament, but won three games there and a First Four game in Dayton over Mount St. Mary's to get a shot at the Gators. All that travel may leave the Great Danes a little tired, so if it looks like they forgot to change out of their pajamas into their uniforms, you'll understand.
This is the advantage of being a No. 1 seed. Top seeds rarely get much of a fight in the first round and get a chance to get the tournament butterflies out in a game they have almost no chance of losing.
That won't be the case in the 8-9 game. No. 8 seed Colorado plays No. 9 Pittsburgh in the first game here today. The Buffaloes overcame a season-ending injury to their best player, Spencer Dinwiddie, to make the tournament. Josh Scott has stepped up to the starring role, averaging 14.5 points and 9 boards per game. A win over Pitt would be Colorado's best of the year away from home.
The Panthers are led by Lamar Patterson, who leads the team in scoring and assists, and is second in rebounding. Pitt is tough, physical, defensive oriented. Basicially, the same thing every year. Their style keeps them in every game, but the Panthers have had trouble finishing the job against better teams.
The night games feature two games from, to borrow a soccer term, The Group of Death, or as the NCAA calls it, the Midwest Region. The pod led by fourth seed Louisville is here and the Cardinals get MAAC champion Manhattan in the first game. I'm required by law to mention that Manhattan is coached by Rick Pitino protege Steve Masiello.
The teams play similar styles. They'll press full-court and try to force turnovers. Manhattan has a ten-man rotation, which keeps guys fresh. Rhamel Brown is third in the nation in blocked shots per game at 3.8 despite standing only 6'7".
Many feel the Cards are underseeded as a four because they were as hot as anyone at the end of the season. That streak has them considered by many to be on the short list of favorites to defend their championship. Russ Smith is still the engine that makes the Cards go, and Montrezl Harrell will play at the next level.
The Billikens are another tough, defensive team led by Jordair Jett, who has one of the best names in college basketball. SLU starts five seniors, which is something you don't see much these days. Jett and Dwayne Evans are the leading scorers at 14 ppg. The Billikens started the season 24-2, but lost four of their last five, including a home game to Duquesne and a quarterfinal conference tournament loss to St. Bonaventure.
The one player I am most excited to see here in Orlando is the electric TJ Warren of the Wolfpack. Warren averaged 25 ppg for the whole season, which is good for third nationally. The Player of the Year in the ACC scored 25 against Xavier on Tuesday, which was his 13th game of 25 or more.
Warren isn't alone though, or the Wolfpack wouldn't be here. Ralston Turner also scores in double figures.
The picks: Florida, Colorado, Louisville, NC State.