It’s that time of the year. The time of the year that everyone wastes hours printing March Madness brackets on company printers and tells everyone in their office that will listen how much they know. Guess what? No one cares.
But if you want some researched thoughts from someone who actually watches a ton of games this year, then I’m your guy.
South Region: #1 Florida, #2 Kansas, #3 Syracuse, #4 UCLA
This is probably the third toughest bracket in my opinion, but anytime you have blue blood programs like KU, Cuse and UCLA in same bracket things could get interesting. The problem with that is the Jayhawks might be without their best inside presence in seven-footer Joel Embiid until the second weekend and the Orange have been struggling since late February to score the ball. UCLA had an impressive Pac 12 Championship win over #1 seeded Zona, but I’m not sure they have the experience to beat a senior-laden Gators squad in a possible Sweet 16 matchup.
Sleeper team: The #7 seeded New Mexico Lobos. They open with a winnable game versus Stanford and then would take on a Embiid-less Jayhawks squad in the second round. They, like Florida, have an experienced team and their bigs (Bairstow, Kirk) could give KU trouble. I wouldn’t be surprised if they made an Elite 8 run only to lose to Florida.
My pick: Florida is the most well-rounded team in the field and with KU banged up and only UCLA or VCU standing in their way to get to the Elite 8 game, I like the Gators to make it to Arlington.
East Region: #1 Virginia, #2 Villanova, #3 Iowa State, #4 Michigan State
This is the second hardest bracket and I wouldn’t be shocked to see any one of the the above teams making it through. The #1 seed Cavs are riding a monster heater with only a flukey loss at Maryland on their sheet in their last ten overall. They’re the best defensive team in the tournament and they make you play at their pace offensively. A possible Virginia/Iowa State Elite 8 match up would be an amazing contrast in styles as the Cyclones are like the 1991 UNLV Running Rebels with their 5th rank offensive efficiency (82.9 PPG). Nova, coming off an embarrassing Big East loss to Seton Hall, has a nice draw and they could compete with the Cyclones with offense (78 PPG) and head coach Jay Wright is just a winner.
But the team that would scare me most in this region is the Spartans of Michigan State. Coach Tom Izzo is just behind Coach K as the best tournament coach left in the field. That’s with apologies to Billy Donavon, Rick Pitno and Jim Boeheim of course. Sparty Party is healthy now and about as dangerous as anyone in the field (including Florida) to cutting down the nets in early April. Don’t believe me? Then would you believe Vegas?
Sleeper team: #10 St. Joes is riding high after winning the tough A10 tourney and have a winnable first round game vs. #7 UConn (Huskies -4.5). If they would to get by the mediocre at best Huskies they would get Nova an interesting match up of Nova’s shooters and the Hawks inside game. #12 Harvard is also an intriguing squad and could easily upset the #5 Cincinnati Bearcats in the first round. But even if they did, I don’t see them getting by the Spartans.
My Pick: I want to pick Virginia, but my head tells me to take the Sparty Party and go with the future Hall of Fame coach. Michigan State.
Midwest Region: #1 Wichita State, #2 Michigan, #3 Duke, #4 Louisville
Or better known as the “group of death”. The committee sure didn’t provide the unbeaten Shockers of Wichita State any favors with this collection of title winning programs. That includes the fourth seeded defending champ Louisville Cardinals and their suffocating style of defense to go along with their own Hall of Fame Coach Pitino. Add in Michigan, who was in the title game last year, Coach K and the Dookies and you can see why I don’t see the Shockers amazing season continuing past this coming weekend.
Sleeper: The Tennessee Volunteers have been one of the hottest teams heading into the tournament which is probably why they even have a chance in the “Play in Game”. But if they do go and beat a sliding Iowa team Wednesday night, I could easily see them beating an up and down UMass team in the first round. After that they would probably lose to Jabari Parker and Duke, but give the Vols a look when filing out your bracket. Someone I trust with my children when it comes to college basketball expertise likes them as well.
My Pick: This was also a tough choice, but based on the matchups I like Louisville to make a return trip to the Final Four.
West Region: #1 Arizona, #2 Wisconsin, #3 Creighton, #4 SDSU
This might be the easiest side of the bracket for the #1 seed Wildcats to advance and here’s why: The #2 Badgers are offensively challenged and couldn’t keep up with the athletes from Tucson. The #3 BlueJays and potential Player of the Year Doug McDermott relies too much on their three-balls and that’s a recipe for an early exit in the tournament. And finally, my hometown#4 Aztecs make Wisconsin look like the ShowTime Lakers in the 80’s when it comes to scoring the rock and they already lost to Arizona in the regular season at home.
Sleeper: #7 Oregon Ducks have a winnable first round game versus BYU who like Creighton relies on the three-ball and will be without one of their best players Kyle Collinsworth (Cris’ son) after he tore his ACL in the last game of the season. After that they would get Wisconsin, who you already know my thoughts on, so I wouldn’t be shocked in the least to see a Pac 12 matchup between Zona and the Ducks for right for a Final Four berth.
My Pick: Arizona is set up to win this region. That doesn’t mean it will happen since this is after all “March Madness”. But with their collection of players and a great X and O’s coach in Sean Miller (wonder if Maryland wishes he came to College Park), I think the Cat’s get to the Final 4.
My Final Four: #1 Florida, #4 Michigan State, #1 Arizona, #4 Louisville