March Madness is less than 12 hours away as the opening round games of the NCAA Basketball tournament kick off at around 11:30 Central time tomorrow. My bracket is all filled out. Let me share my hoops wisdom with you. (For the purposes of this blog entry, wisdom = blind guessing.)
Let’s start with the Midwest region. From the perspective of a fan of the KU Jayhawks, this bracket is fairly stacked. It has Ohio State (the team with arguably the best player in college basketball, Evan Turner), tremendously talented Georgetown, Michigan State (the team that knocked out KU last year), the only two teams to beat KU this year (Tennessee and Oklahoma State, and a #9 seed mid-major team in the University of Northern Iowa that has only lost four games this year.
In the Midwest region I have all the higher ranked teams winning(1) in the first round (KU, UNLV, Michigan State, Maryland, Tennessee, Georgetown, Oklahoma State, and Ohio State.) The only pick here that I sweated over was my choice of Oklahoma State over Georgia Tech(2). GT had a great run in the ACC Tournament but I tend to be suspicious of fluky teams entering the tournament with a seemingly hot hand. Tech has already had their run. In the Sweet Sixteen, I do think the Michigan State beats Maryland(3) and Georgetown beats Ohio State(4).
In the West region I did predict two upsets in the first round. My bracket has Minnesota (a fluky team entering the tournament with a seemingly hot hand—doh!) beating Xavier(5) and UTEP knocking off Butler(6). I predict the South region Elite 8 matchup will feature Syracuse defeating Pittsburgh(7). This is somewhat of a risky pick as ‘Cuse’s big man Arinze Onuaku is injured. However, I think that ‘Cuse has enough firepower to get past Vermont, Gonzaga, and Vanderbilt and that even if Onuaku is still out ten days from now, they still have enough depth to beat Pitt. By the way, I do have Pitt knocking off Kansas State(8) in the Sweet 16.
In the East region I have all the higher ranked teams winning(9) in the first round. (Kentucky, Texas, Temple, Wisconsin, Marquette, New Mexico, Clemson, and West Virginia.) A few of these choices were not easy. Texas against Wake Forest is a battle between two underachievers. I should mention that in my alternate bracket on espn.com I have Texas salvaging their season and advancing to the Elite 8. But not in this bracket. Texas loses to Kentucky in the second round(10). Cornell over Temple is a sexy pick, and even though I saw KU nearly get defeated by Cornell only a few days after they had obliterated Temple back in early January, I think Temple’s guards are too good to lose to Cornell(11). But that won’t save Temple from losing to Wisconsin(12) in the second round. Wisconsin's secret strength? Their coach can do the Soulja Boy dance? Likewise, the Clemson matchup against Mizzou is a tough choice because both teams are going in the wrong direction. I don’t want to pick either team. But, I think that Mizzou’s injury woes have them making a first round exit(13). In the Sweet 16 I think Marquette will upset #3 seed New Mexico(14) and then lose to West Virginia(15). Kentucky makes the Final Four(16).
In the South region things get a little funky. Inspired by Louisville twice defeating Syracuse, I think Louisville knocks off Duke in the second round(17). Many people don’t think Louisville escapes the first round, but I just learned that California suspended one of their starting players, so my pick of Louisville in the first round(18) is looking better and better. No team in the country is dropping faster than Purdue and several people are picking them to lose in the first round to Siena. Not me(19). One writer has said that Purdue is not a #4 seed who has lost one of their best players, Robbie Hummel, to a torn ACL. They are a #1 seed who has lost one of their best players. I still think they lose to Texas A&M in the second round(20). In the Sweet Sixteen I think that Villanova beats upstart Baylor and then crushes Louisville in the Elite 8(21 and 22).
Looking at my bracket, I just realized that I predict six teams from the Big East (Georgetown, Syracuse, Pittsburgh, West Virginia, Louisville, and Villanova) will go to the Elite 8(23). But, I have Kentucky losing to the KU Jayhawks(24) in the Championship game. Rock Chalk Jayhawk.
Are you looking to pick against the grain? Even though I didn’t pick it in my bracket, I gave serious consideration to the idea that Notre Dame knocks off Baylor in the second round. You heard it here first; that game will be closer than most people think(25).