The brackets are out! March Madness is officially upon us! If you’re anything like most people, this is the first time you’ve paid attention to college basketball all year. You need some help filling out your bracket.
Luckily, you’ve got me! As a resident of the Commonwealth of Kentucky, the people around me & I live & breathe college basketball all year long. Today we’ll take a look at each region and I’ll tell you what you need to know to fill out your bracket and look like you know what you’re talking about when you’re at the bar with the fellas on Thursday & Friday instead of work.
1. Villanova is just as good as they were last year. Maybe a little weaker on defense, but they’re still a bunch of guards that can shoot the hell out of the ball.
2. Duke got off to a bit of a rough start, but the Blue Devils have been on fire lately. They beat Louisville, North Carolina & Notre Dame to win the ACC Tournament. Grayson Allen went a little crazy for awhile but seems to be ok at the moment. Luke Kennard is ridiculous at the end of the game.
3. Baylor’s a very dangerous 3 seed. Wins over Oregon, Michigan State, Louisville & Xavier before the conference season started got them all the way from unvoted for in the preseason poll to #1. They’ve gone out early the last two seasons, but here’s some good news: No team has been ranked in the top 5 seeds and eliminated in the 1st round 3 seasons in a row. They’re due.
4. Florida looked really good early in the season but has been fading lately. Mostly due to Vanderbilt, who beat them three times.
5. Virginia is in the same boat as Florida. 6-7 in their last 13 games isn’t anything to get excited about, even if almost everybody they lost to is in the tournament. (Sorry not sorry, Syracuse)
6. Keep an eye on SMU. The Mustangs have only lost once since December 1. Granted, they’ve only played one ranked team since then (and all season!), but they did beat Cincinnati two out of three.
First round upset potential: UNC Wilmington over Virginia, East Tennessee State over Florida. Two fading teams at the 4 & 5 spots, and 12 & 13 seeds always pull an upset or two per year.
My pick: It’s risky, but I’m gonna roll with Duke. They were #1 in the preseason because of their potential, and now they’re realizing it.
1. Gonzaga has one loss on their record this season. This isn’t your daddy’s feel-good story with a funny name, these Bulldogs are a legitimate threat to win it all with a lights-out offense & defense.
2. Arizona won the Pac 12 Tournament and has become a trendy pick to win it all. It should be pointed out that they did lose to Gonzaga earlier in the season…that doesn’t mean they can’t beat the Zags, but pundits can’t act like the Wildcats will run over them either.
3. People been sleeping on Florida State all year, and I even see some peeps picking Florida Gulf Coast over them in the 1st round. I kind of see it, but I kind of don’t. When they’re at their best they’re damn near unstoppable. When they aren’t, they lose to Pitt. (Pitt was very bad this season.) You’ll know in the first ten minutes of the game which FSU team has shown up.
4. West Virginia scored some big wins at home over Baylor & Kansas and are their usual tenacious bunch. Notre Dame is their usual lights-out three point shooting selves.
5. Maryland has lost six out of their last ten so usually I’d be worried about picking them. However, they’re playing Xavier, who has lost seven out of their last ten. Somebody’s gotta win!
6. Shoutout to 8-seed Northwestern making their first NCAA Tournament ever. They get the losingest at-large team ever (Vanderbilt) in the 1st round, so there’s a pretty good chance they could get Gonzaga in the 2nd round. If they do, expect all your favorite sports journalists that went to Northwestern to lose their minds.
First round upset potential: Bucknell has a history of pulling 1st round upsets & could give WV coach Bob Huggins more stress than he really needs right now.
My pick: Arizona. Gonzaga’s tough, but Arizona’s been through the meat grinder since their earlier matchup and should be ready for revenge in the Shark Tank.
1. Kansas is known for breaking brackets. Hopefully for your bracket’s sake, they got their upset loss out of the way in the Big XII Tournament when they dropped a game to TCU. They got some damn good talent though, and they’re really hard to pick against.
2. Louisville actually has a pretty decent offense this season, which as a fan makes for a much better viewing experience. The defense has been leaky lately though, which makes me worry about an early upset against a team like Michigan. Donovan Mitchell will be the key to whether the Cards will advance or not.
3. Oregon could be higher than a three seed, but the loss of Chris Boucher (may be related to Bobby, ask Dustin) knocked them down to a three in the committee’s eyes. They still have Dillon Brooks though, and as long as that’s the case they’ll be dangerous in the clutch.
4. Purdue is the highest-seeded Big 10 team this year, rocking it as a 4 in this region. No, it hasn’t been the best year for the conference, but the Boliermakers were the best of the bunch all season. Forward Caleb Swanigan had the most double-doubles in Division 1 this season.
5. Iowa State won the Big XII Tournament and it’d be pretty interesting if they made it to a Sweet 16 matchup with the Jayhawks. Kansas won the first game between these two teams in Ames, but ISU got a rare win in Allen Fieldhouse to even the series. Will there be a rubber match?
6. 7-seed Michigan had probably the most interesting week out of any of these teams. Their plane skidded off the runway on their way to DC for the Big 10 Tournament, then they won four games in four days to take the championship. Talk about a team with momentum.
First round upset potential: 11-seed Rhode Island beating 6-seed Creighton wouldn’t shock me in the slightest. Wouldn’t shock Vegas either, as Creighton is only favored by 2 points. I have a feeling that the second round could be where the upsets come. Michigan State isn’t great this year but would anybody be surprised if they went on a run that took them through Kansas in the second round? The Spartans & Wolverines could bust some brackets here.
My pick: I have a feeling we could see a weird result here. So I’m going to go with Dustin’s Oregon Ducks overcoming the loss of Boucher & making their first Final 4 since 1939.
1. People complaining about North Carolina as a 1 seed either haven’t watched any college basketball this year, just hate UNC, or both. They’ve got one of the best rosters in America and when they’re on their A-game they’re nearly impossible to beat. They’ve had a couple slipups, but when you win this year’s ACC regular season title by two games you pretty much have to be a 1 seed.
2. Kentucky is peaking at the right time. As a Louisville guy I hate to admit it, but much like Duke, Kentucky is finally realizing the potential they had in the preseason. Malik Monk is ridiculous, De’Aaron Fox is a difference maker, and Bam Adebayo is dangerous down low. Now that these freshmen have some experience, it might be winning time. Their one problem? Their draw.
3. UCLA is another dangerous 3-seed out of the Pac 12. They already beat UK once this season. Lonzo Ball is almost as good as his dad says he is, and his teammates are pretty damn good too. It’s a fun team to watch.
4. I thought Butler would go back to being Butler when Brad Stevens left to coach the Celtics. They haven’t made it back to the championship game yet, but they can still be dangerous at times. I don’t think that includes this season, they’ve lost two straight & stumble in as a vulnerable 4 seed.
5. Minnesota was godawful last season and people were beginning to wonder when Richard Pitino would be working for his dad again. They’ve gone from not winning ten games last season to sitting on their ninth loss of the season entering the tournament. Pretty impressive.
6. Cincinnati actually has an offense for the first time I can remember in Mick Cronin’s time coaching the team. They also have the best record during Mick’s run, but I’m a little reticent to get on the bandwagon due to one simple thing: they haven’t played anybody. They have three wins against teams that made the NCAA Tournament this season. That’s…not good.
First round upset potential: Tennessee directional schools are tricky in this round. Middle Tennessee State as a 12 seed could be a tough test for Richard Pitino in his first NCAA Tournament appearance. I don’t think anybody would call Wichita State beating Dayton an upset even though it would be according to seeding. That’s a team I know UK fans want no part of on Sunday. I’ll be rooting for Northern Kentucky on Friday but I’m not getting my hopes up.
My pick: Give me the Kentucky Wildcats. John Calipari has a knack for getting his freshmen to their potential this time of year.
My Final 4: Duke, Arizona, Oregon, Kentucky
My Championship Game: Duke vs. Kentucky
My National Champion: Duke
There’s a pretty good chance I’m trying to jinx people here. But the two most talented teams reaching their potential at the right time seems like a pick that makes sense to me. And how much would CBS love a Duke vs. Kentucky final? Everybody would be hate-watching the hell out of that one.
Enjoy the madness!