The gavel has been dropped. Gonzaga makes history out West. Tears are falling in Big Blue nation (who cares). For weeks this field of teams has been labeled as the biggest toss up for tourny champ we have seen in decades. Here is my breakdown of the bracket – initial thoughts, potential matchups, and sleepers – that is guaranteed to be absolutely ripped to shreds come this time next Sunday.
(my reaction as a Duke fan) “ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!? To make it to Atlanta we have to go through Izzo AND Pitino? Not to mention I hear the McDermott kid from Creighton has the ability to score the basketball on occasion. Duke is the #1 team in the RPI yet they landed the #2 seed that lined them up with the top seed in the tournament in Louisville. I know I’ll get accused of being a homebody, but GIMME A BREAK! Tough draw for my Blue Devils.
All that aside, the Midwest is the toughest region by far. Loaded with experience, scoring, and defense; hardly any game is a lock. Oregon is an extremely talented and surging basketball team looking to make a statement after being given a 12 seed, so look for them to advance. The athletic boys from Memphis notched another 30 win season, and can run with anyone. Cincinnati and their Big East bully attitude is always a tough out come tournament time. Lastly, Saint Louis flew under the radar almost all season, but was shown respect tonight receiving a solid 4 seed.
All that being said, I have the two Generals (K and Izzo) meeting in the sweet sixteen for a battle of epic proportions. Louisville coasts to elite 8 to face the winner of Duke and Michigan State. Final Four pick = Louisville.
Here we have a traditional powerhouse conference loaded region, and my second toughest region thus far. Big names round out the top – Kansas, Georgetown, Florida, Michigan. Championship hounds North Carolina and UCLA are lurking in the shadows. This bracket has a large potential with an even larger fan base. The South region promises a lot of excitement.
Shaka Smart is no stranger to surprising tournament runs with his savvy VCU squad. Look for them to make noise as a 5 seed. Minnesota looked prime to make a deep run around February, but they dropped off the map to end the season winning only three of their final 10 contests. I see Florida being the lone SEC team to make the sweet sixteen. Georgetown has one of the best players in the country in Otto Porter, and the Hoyas always seem to come out on top in low scoring trench style games.
Kansas is my pick for the final four. Four returning starters from last years tournament run, then toss in the dynamic diaper dandy in McLemore who can go for 30 any given night and you have a dangerous combination. Withey is Mutumbo esk in the paint. Kansas commandingly advances to Atlanta. Look for Georgetown or Florida to meet them from the bottom half.
No matter what direction this bracket ends up going, the outcome will be magical. Can Indiana make the leap back to the heralded Hoosiers of old? Will the Butler Bulldogs make another improbable run to the final four behind genius coach Brad Stevens? Can preseason snub Miami continue to impress as they represent the ACC as champs for the first time ever behind electric point guard Shane Larkin? Will N.C. State repeat last years story and get hot again at just the right time? A variety of plot lines, only one conclusion.
Where will the big upset occur in this bracket? Will #13 Montana upset the Orange? Will #11 Bucknell out “Butler” Butler? Or maybe it will be the standard #10 over #7 Colorado defeating Illinois. My vote is the latter. Butler losing in the first round would be like Gonzaga getting a number one seed. Wait a minute….
This region was the hardest for my to choose my team for the final four. Syracuse and coach Jim Boeheim have played really well down the stretch. Indiana is 3-0 against top 10 teams this season, and with MJ comparisons made to Victor Oladipo, they don’t have much downside. Miami is loaded with seniors, however, they lack tournament experience which could come back to haunt them. Marquette is one of the forgotten great teams in Division one, and they know how to handle themselves in big games. But in the end, I sent Miami to the final four due to pure grit and something to prove.
There always has to be an “easy” region, and I believe the award this year goes to the West. Sure I can give homage to history being made – congrats to Gonzaga for their first ever #1 seed. But I also want to say congrats to Ohio State who now finds themselves among the ranks of New Mexico, Kansas State, and Gonzaga as the top four teams in the West. It’s tough to even name 5 players from those three teams combined.
An easy bracket comes hand in hand with some upsets. I see the first number one seed going down when Gonzaga faces a physical Pittsburgh team in their second game. Ole Miss is coming off an improbably SEC tournament championship. As a Nashville guy, I would do an injustice to not mention Rick Byrd’s Belmont Bruins who know have to navigate the tournament and have given many top teams a scare in game 1. My personal favorite from this bracket is Wisconsin. So good against top tiered teams, and when your Hall of Fame coach looks exactly like your mascot (Bo Ryan is a badger straight up), you know you have final four potential.
I project Ohio State to make the final four for a second straight season. Scoring, rebounding, and a shut down defender and leader in point guard Aaron Craft – the Buckeyes have all the tools to make it to Atlanta.
Elite Eight: Louisville, Duke, Wisconsin, Ohio State, Kansas, Georgetown, Indiana, Miami
Final Four: Louisville, Ohio State, Kansas, Miami