It’s the most wonderful time of the year! (No, not Christmas. It’s March Madness.) We are about to embark upon a three week adventure in which all but one of the 68 teams waltzing upon the big dance floor will end their seasons with a loss. Millions of brackets will be filled out. In all likelihood, no one will even pick all of the first round (round of 64, whatever. It’s still the first round) games correctly. Warren Buffett will not lose $1B. The bracket was released today much to the chagrin of some teams (I hear your desperate cries, SMU) and to the elation of others (TJ Warren sends his thanks to Mike Krzyzewski for his politicking on behalf of the ACC). So, there are 68 teams. Here are some thoughts for you on who might just win the whole dang thing, or at least a game or two.
We begin in the South region, headlined by #1 overall seed Florida fresh off their SEC tournament win. They will be challenged by the likes of Kansas (#2), Syracuse (#3), and UCLA (#4) among others. A couple of first round games to watch might come from the 6-11 matchup, Ohio State vs Dayton, and the 8-9 matchup featuring Colorado and Pittsburgh. For me, most of the bracket smells quite chalky, but I see Dayton as the most likely lower seed to win, though I think OSU will win. The big question marks here come from Syracuse and Kansas. Can the Orange score even 60 points a game? Where will they find the points to advance deeper into the tournament? Be wary of a 2nd round matchup with OSU. Perhaps the biggest question mark of the tournament comes in the form of Joel Embiid’s absence for Kansas. Can the super scintillating sensational Kansas survive a potential game with New Mexico before possibly getting him back? No one knows, but to me, this seems like Florida’s region to lose. I think Florida comes out of the region due to their guard play and the unevenness of the other top seeds in the region.
We move to the East region, home to #1 seed Virginia fresh off an ACC tournament championship victory over the Duke Blue Devils (darn.) They face competition from Villanova (#2), Iowa State (#3), and Michigan State (#4) among others. Don’t get me wrong: I think Virginia’s a really good team, but I don’t see them getting out of this region. The key player here is Michigan State, a 4-seed that was ranked #2 in the preseason polls but slipped due to injuries and the brutality of a Big 10 schedule. Michigan State can play right with Virginia’s bruising defense and should be able to score enough while playing solid defense. I see Michigan State advancing in the Sweet 16 matchup with VA. I’ve gotten burned personally by putting too much stock into teams that win conference tournaments (I’m talking to you, Miami and Florida State), but I think Iowa State is for real and could easily test the waters and make it all the way to an Elite 8 or Final 4. A couple interesting first round matchups will come when Cincinnati and Harvard square off and UNC takes on Providence. Cincinnati boasts numerous talented players, most notably Sean Kilpatrick (I will feel sorry for you too next year, Mick Cronin), but Harvard boasts a solid team with many potential scorers and a Duke disciple in Tommy Amaker. I like the chances for an upset. In addition, Providence gets perhaps the most inconsistent team in the country, UNC. If Providence can rebound and defend and Mr. Cotton plays a good game, Providence can get by UNC. In the end, though, I see MSU coming out of the region.
Now we move to the West, featuring #1 seed Arizona. The Cats will be challenged by #2 seed Swissconsin, #3 seed Creighton, and #4 seed San Diego State. These top seeds puzzle me, particularly because of the disparity in talent between these four seeds and the top four seeds in the upcoming Midwest bracket. In my opinion, Arizona, Creighton, and Wisconsin will vie for the region’s bid in the Final 4. Upset bids here might come from North Dakota State (#12) over Oklahoma and Nebraska over Baylor (11 over 6). Even though they lost the tournament championship, I like Creighton to make a run to the Elite 8 behind Doug McDermott’s fantastic play. I like them more than Wisconsin because I think it’ll be difficult for Wisconsin to match up defensively with Creighton’s versatility. Wisconsin isn’t as “Bo Ryan” as they have been in years past, with more athleticism and less defensive prowess. This is a bit difficult to pick, but I like Arizona to advance to the Final Four because of their team concept and darn good guards.
Finally, we come to the Midwest, the Group of Death for you soccer fans. Undefeated Wichita State takes the #1 seed and will face stiff competition from #2 Michigan, #3 Duke, and #4 Louisville. This is easily the most stacked bracket out there, and I would have liked to see this bracket a bit more balanced, perhaps by switching Duke and Creighton’s positions. In my opinion, Duke is easily the best 3 seed in the tournament. The game makers here want to see if Wichita State is for real. They face potential matchups with Kentucky in the 2nd round and Louisville (don’t touch them, they’re too hot) in the Sweet 16. I can’t see the Shockers getting out of this bracket and think Louisville is playing as well as anyone. St. Louis will have to deal with a play-in winner in the 5-12 matchup here, possibly Xavier or NC State. I could easily see State winning two games, one over Xavier and another over St. Louis, who has struggled of late and seems vulnerable to TJ Warren an company. I like Duke to get the better of Michigan in their Sweet 16 matchup, but I think the Cardinals are playing as well as anyone right now and probably get out of Indianapolis unscathed.
As far as a champion goes, it’s a bit tough. I like Florida a lot, but I think if Michigan State gets on a roll, they’ll be incredibly tough to stop. I like Louisville to potentially take care of Zona in a Final 4 game. Ultimately, I think Florida will cut down the nets, but don’t quote me on that. I have until Thursday to rethink all of this.
This bracket to me seems like one that will feature more late round upsets than first round ones. There seems to be a lot of parity among the teams seeded in the 1-7 range and I think the upsets will come in the rounds of 32 and 16 this year. Sure, we’ll have our fair share of upsets and I’ll eat my words in a few days, but I see this as a year that will see major conference teams winning out at the end, but perhaps not the ones you thought originally.
My humble thanks to this blog for letting me write as a guest. Thanks, and Go Duke. (Had to get that in there.)