Hello, college basketball fans!
Now it's the time where I analyze the actual NCAA bracket and tell you who I think will win in the NCAA Tournament.
Last year, I didn't do that well but show me anyone who did. Not one of the top seeds made the Final Four and the only people who had VCU going to the Final Four probably had some connections to the school.
Normally, I start with Illinois's regional but Illinois is not in it this year.
I will start in the South Regional, the first regional announced.
Kentucky is the obvious favorite. John Calipari said at the end of the SEC semifinal game against Florida that he was worried about arrogance and that would lead to complacency. Maybe the loss to Vanderbilt will wake up the team that they are beatable and they will play at a higher level. We all know UK was virtually guaranteed the No. 1 overall seed so the game was kind of meaningless to them.
A big eye opener was UK is scheduled to meet last year's national championship Connecticut if the Cats and Huskies win their first games. This game (assuming it happens) may not be the best game of the "third" round but I think it will easily be the most watched. I give UConn the edge over an Iowa State team that hasn't been in the tournament since 2005.
Speaking of experience, the next pod has Indiana, Wichita State, VCU, and New Mexico State. Indiana hasn't made the NCAA field since 2008. Wichita State's last was 2006. The experience edge here has to go to VCU and it looks to be the classic 12 over 5 upset. I am personally hoping VCU loses early so Illinois might have a chance at Shaka Smart if Brad Stevens turns down the job (Stevens is by far my first choice).
Another team I feel is beatable is Baylor. They did get to the Elite Eight in 2010 but they were the higher seed in each game. Last year, they didn't make the NCAA's. This year, they were just 1-4 vs. Kansas and Missouri. I probably would have taken Belmont (another No. 14 seed) to beat Baylor but South Dakota State is playing in its first ever NCAA Tournament. Look out for UNLV to possibly make the Sweet 16 (they have a Pac-12 team in its first game). I would also like to see Scott Drew leave Baylor for Illinois (again if Brad Stevens says no).
We haven't seen Kentucky and Duke in the NCAA's since 1998 and I am hoping to see it again. I can imagine the Georgia Dome will be sold out if it happens. I think it will happen and I think Kentucky will win just like 1998 (as opposed to the thrilling 1992 Duke win).
South Regional Final Pick: Kentucky over Duke
We go to the West.
Tom Izzo is as good as it comes when it comes to the NCAA Tournament. He's coached the Spartans to six NCAA Final Fours, including the 2000 national championship. This season, the Spartans are a No. 1 seed, Izzo's first since 2001. Izzo has previously been seeded No. 1 three times. Michigan State made the Final Four all three of those years.
People think Missouri is the biggest challenge. Missouri had a terrific season and won the Big 12 conference tournament this season. Frank Haith clearly did a great job after many people criticized him being selected as head coach. Still, the NCAA Tournament is a whole other beast. Would you rather play Missouri or Duke or Kansas? It's an easy choice. In fact, Charles Barkley thinks coaching is more important late in the tournament than seeding. Tell me who you think is the better coach, Haith or Billy Donovan? I think Missouri will suffer an early exit to the Gators.
I think the bigger threats to the Spartans are the two Big East teams, Marquette and Louisville. Louisville won the Big East Tournament and the last team to win the Big East Tournament won it all. Michigan State drew a tough Memphis team (who I had as a No. 6 seed) in the third round. It should be a tough road but it's hard for me to pick against Izzo.
West Regional Final Pick: Michigan State over Marquette
I'll next head East.
Of course the big story is that Syracuse's Fab Melo has been declared ineligible. That changes a lot. I wouldn't count out Syracuse and I think Syracuse should be fine through the first weekend but I am picking Wisconsin to pull the Sweet 16 upset. As for Vanderbilt, remember that they choked the last two seasons in their first NCAA game (both years seeded No. 5 or higher). Also, will they suffer a letdown after beating Kentucky? Harvard is screaming pick me over Vanderbilt. I wouldn't be surprised if Harvard makes the Sweet 16 like Cornell did in 2010 (in fact, Cornell won its second game against Wisconsin, Harvard's likely second opponent).
Ohio State has a likely matchup against either West Virginia or a scary Gonzaga team that loves the underdog role. Some people have said West Virginia should have a home crowd advantage in Pittsburgh. But Pitt fans hate West Virginia with a passion (it's very intense), so I wouldn't be surprised if they cheer against the Mounts. Kentucky looks to be in a similar situation in Louisville but the rivalry is not as bitter and plenty of Kentucky fans should make the trip.
The other wild card is Florida State. They made the Sweet 16 last year as a No. 10 seed. This year's team only beat Duke and North Carolina twice each, including back to back wins over the two to win the ACC Tournament. I think the actual final will be the semifinal between the Buckeyes and Seminoles and in an upset, I think Florida State will make the Final Four.
East Regional Final Pick: Florida State over Wisconsin
Finally, we have the Midwest Regional.
I figured either Kansas or Missouri would get to play in St. Louis. It was Kansas and they look to have a huge home court advantage against North Carolina. On the other hand, Kansas has had a history of underachieving (outside of 2008 of course). They lost to Northern Iowa in 2010 in the second round (despite being the No. 1 overall seed) and lost to VCU last year in the regional final. I give the St. Mary's/Purdue winner a good shot at beating Kansas in the third round. I'm sure Roy Williams is not looking forward to playing his old school but I'm sure many fans are. Both the Midwest and South Regional finals are scheduled for Sunday. Could we get UNC/Kansas and Kentucky/Duke in the same day? It will be a terrific Sunday to me if we do.
No. 3 seed Georgetown lost its last two opening round games, to Ohio in 2010 (as a No. 3 seed) and to VCU last year. Belmont looks to be the team that could upset the Hoyas. They were in the tournament last season and four times since 2006 and are looking for their first win. I am looking forward to Temple vs. Michigan in the third round but also watch out for Ohio (No. 13 seed and Michigan's first opponent). NC State is another sleeper at No. 11.
Midwest Regional Final Pick: North Carolina over Kansas
Final Four: Kentucky, North Carolina, Michigan State, Florida State
I think Florida State will be the happy to go lucky team and North Carolina should be looking for revenge. While the Spartans won the Big Ten Tournament, they lost Branden Dawson for the season. I'm also wondering about John Henson's wrist. That being said, I will go with the same choice.
Championship Pick: Kentucky over North Carolina