NCAA Tournament Predictions

Sadly, I once again failed to correctly predict all 65 teams in this year’s tournament, as I fell two teams short for the second straight year, and still have never nailed them all. I truly felt that St. Mary’s and Penn State deserved the last two spots in the field based on their entire body of work, but the committee disagreed, and opted instead for Maryland and Arizona, two very talented basketball teams that have had trouble with consistency, but also have strong out-of-conference victories. And that was the message that this year’s selection committee sent–schedule strong opponents out of conference. That’s really all there is to say about that. As Arizona and Maryland were my last two teams out among many that I looked at, I can see many reasons why they deserve to be included, and won’t waste any more time on that. We have 65 teams, and those are the teams that are going to play.

I like the East/South side of the bracket a bit more, as most of my “sleeper teams” ended up on that side along with the two teams that I like most in this tournament. It kind of reminds me 2004, when Duke and UConn were on the same side of the bracket in the Final Four and everyone knew that the winner of that game would easily win the championship on Monday. In any event, I’ve got to fill out a bracket, and here are my best guesses. I don’t think I’ve ever liked less teams seeded under #1, and this may be the most conservative bracket I’ve ever filled out. I don’t think that four number one seeds making last year’s Final Four was a coincidence, I think it was a sign that the parity between these teams isn’t what most people think it is.


BEast Syracuse Louisville Basketball

To me, this is the toughest region, although I’d argue that the four regions are about as balanced as we’ve seen in quite a while. The strength comes in the talent of the lower seeded teams, such as Arizona and West Virginia, as well as Louisville, the top-seeded team in the tournament, and of course, the defending champion Kansas Jayhawks. That list doesn’t even include regular season Big Ten champions Michigan State and former number one Wake Forest. Suffice to say, there is a lot of potential for chaos here.

I like the way that Arizona matches up size-wise against Utah in the 5-12 matchup, and like their chances even better in the next round to knock off a fading Wake Forest team that lacks experience and could be susceptible to the Arizona zone defense, as they struggle mightily from beyond the arc. The bottom half of this bracket is absolutely stacked both with experience (Michigan State, Kansas) and athleticism (West Virginia, USC). I could see the inconsistent Spartans anywhere from winning this region to losing second round, so from a risk/reward perspective I’ve got them losing in the Sweet 16 to a rapidly improving West Virginia team that has both offensive and defensive efficiency ratings that are off the charts and a style of play that could cause trouble for the Spartans.

Of course, WV will have to get past Kansas first, but I have a feeling that these Big 12 teams are going to be exposed in a big way once this tournament starts. Louisville’s defense is arguably the nation’s toughest, and they showed in the Big East tournament how they wear teams down. The 30-point loss at Notre Dame still has me a bit worried and confused, but if you look at that game as an apparition, their two previous wins over West Virginia make Louisville my best bet to win this region.

First round upsets: #12 Arizona over #5 Utah (best bet), #10 USC over #7 Boston College (good bet) #13 Cleveland State over #4 Wake Forest (longshot)

Regional Final: Louisville vs. West Virginia

Champion: Louisville


Connecticut Pittsburgh Basketball

If the Midwest is the toughest, this region immediately stuck out to me as the weakest. There simply isn’t a single team here outside of the top two seeds that I can get excited about picking to the Final Four, and I’m not exactly crazy about a Jerome Dyson-less UConn squad or a watered down Memphis team that plays great defense but hasn’t won a meaningful game in almost two months.

Purdue and Washington should meet for a second round matchup that at least adds intrigue to this region. I like the Boilers to prevail despite having to play in Portland, but don’t really like their chances against UConn’s size. Marquette was my sleeper Final Four team all year and I would have been all over them here, but they’ve been a different team since the loss of senior point guard Dominic James to injury, and I just don’t see them getting it together at this point. That leaves a mysterious Missouri team, who is probably the best of a vastly overrated slew of Big 12 teams. Their pressure defense could pose serious problems for Memphis and make that game one of the second weekend’s most interesting if the seeds hold. Still, even if they win that game, they won’t be able to handle UConn’s size. So I guess I am forced to take the Huskies to the Final Four in what will probably be a less popular pick nationwide than Memphis despite the fact that UConn is the higher seed.

And as far as Memphis goes, I’ve faded them hard the last two years and got burnt both times, and considering this team is younger and that Tyreke Evans, while impressive, isn’t exactly Derrick Rose, I’d be beside myself if I took them further this time with a team I feel is inferior and was wrong again. Early losses to Syracuse and Georgetown don’t make me feel like this is a team that could could compete in the top tier of the Big East. Remember, Memphis was a borderline top-20 team before they rolled off sixteen straight wins in the incredibly weak Conference USA.

First round upsets: #11 Utah State over #6 Marquette (longshot)

Regional Final: UConn vs. Memphis

Champion: UConn


Connecticut Pittsburgh Basketball

There is certainly potential for chaos here as well, but I think things set up quite nicely for the top seeded Pittsburgh Panthers. If seeds hold into the regional final, there might not be a worse matchup in the country for Duke, who probably had a good claim to snag the final #1 seed in the west from UConn. Instead, they get a tough regional where they will likely meet either UCLA or Villanova in the regional semifinal before meeting a Pittsburgh team that will be way too big and physical for them.

Of all the teams here, Villanova arguably got the biggest break by getting their opening weekend games in Philadelphia. Some people are very high on these Wildcats, but I still think they need one more year to reach the status of the elite. In Philly or not, UCLA has experience after making it to the last three Final Fours, and the leadership of Darren Collison will make the difference here. UCLA has struggled defensively this season, but has been one of the most efficient offenses and has flown somewhat under the radar in a very underrated Pac-10. Look for the Bruins to finally gel and get to the Sweet 16, but the road likely ends there, as a better-shooting, better-passing, and much better-defending Duke team awaits.

I don’t see any teams on the top that can really challenge Pittsburgh as long as DeJuan Blair stays out of foul trouble. Underneath them is arguably the best of the 8-9 games, where I predict Tennessee’s size and athleticism will be just enough to beat an improving Oklahoma State team. Wisconsin plays tough defense, and by singling in on one-man scoring show Toney Douglas and shutting him down, I think they have a great shot to pull the upset over Florida State, who is still riding high after upsetting a Lawson-less North Carolina. Xavier has been struggling of late, but a week off and a wake-up call might be just what they need to regain their earlier form and advance to the Sweet 16. Remember, this team beat Memphis earlier this year. They won’t be any match for a Pitt team at full strength though.

First round upsets: #12 Wisconsin over #5 Florida State (best bet), #9 Tennessee over #8 Oklahoma State (good bet)

Regional Final: Pittsburgh vs. Duke

Champion: Pittsburgh



I’ve said all year that if North Carolina is healthy, there’s no reason to even play this tournament, and I still feel that way. What throws a bit of unanticipated handicapping back into the event is the chance that Ty Lawson won’t be able to play at some point. Having Lawson in the lineup is the difference between the Tarheels winning their fifth National Championship and losing in the regional final. Luckily, not much stands in the way of getting at least that far, as neither Butler, LSU, Illinois or Gonzaga has the firepower to keep up with even an undermanned North Carolina squad. The real power of this bracket is underneath.

Syracuse was the team of the week during Championship Week, as an unconscionable seven overtimes over a two night span left the Orange’s legs a bit tired for the championship game against Louisville. Syracuse likely gained a lot of confidence from such tough contests, and if they are able to rest up this week and come in fresh, this will be a dangerous team. I love all of the #6 seeds in this year’s tournament, and the potential for an Arizona State- Syracuse second round matchup might be most exciting of the possible 3-6 games. I favor the Orange to win that one narrowly if they contain the explosive James Harden, but either way I like the winner to knock off Oklahoma, the #2 seed in the region that seems to have lost its way down the stretch. Likely player of the year and NBA #1 pick Blake Griffin is truly something to behold, but as a whole the Sooners will suffer from their shortcomings defensively against either of these two dynamic offenses.

If I’m right about Wisconsin beating Florida State, why not parlay it into some more Big 10-ACC Challenge revenge and look for Michigan to knock off a Clemson team that I think is overrated year after year. The Tigers are admittedly dangerous from behind the arc and Michigan has been all over the place from game to game, but if both teams play to their fullest potential and Michigan is hitting shots, I like the Wolverines here. A lot of people will be picking Illinois to lose to Western Kentucky, but as Chester Frazier is looking more and more likely to play, I’ll use my 5-12 upset picks elsewhere. In any event, I’m banking on Lawson being healthy and a hungry North Carolina team to pretty much wipe up the floor with the rest of this region.

First round upsets: #10 Michigan over #7 Clemson (good bet)

Regional Final: North Carolina vs. Syracuse

Champion: North Carolina

So, there you have it, I’m officially picking four #1 seeds for the first time in my life. It certainly takes some of the fun out of it, but last year proved that such a thing can happen when four teams are head and shoulders better than the rest of the country, and I believe that to be the case again this year. I’m also picking five Big East teams to the Elite Eight, and am pretty confident I will get at least four of those correct, which is a great start. As for my Final Four, I like North Carolina to squeeze by Pittsburgh in a tough, physical game and for Connecticut’s size and shooting ability, even without Dyson, to trump Louisville’s tough defense. I like the winner of the North Carolina-Pittsburgh game to cut down the nets and win the championship game with relative ease. In this case, that’s the Tarheels, although I’d probably rather see Pitt gets its first ever title than have to watch UNC tie my Hoosiers for championship number five.

National Championship: North Carolina vs. Connecticut

CHAMPION: North Carolina

Let the games begin!

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