It’s here. It’s finally here. A half-month of lost productivity, illegal betting, and Cinderella stories starts now. Check out BlogDailyHerald’s predictions below.
The shoo-ins: Not many potential first-round upsets here. Both Middle Tennessee and St. Mary’s are pretty dangerous for First Four teams, so they might give Memphis a run for their money, but I’m going all top seeds in the first round. Don’t listen to any talk about Valparaiso as a potential Cinderella, Tom Izzo has the Spartans way too well-prepared—he always does—for them to lose so early.
The upsets: Creighton over Duke, second round. I’m sorry, I can’t help but root against Coach K and whoever happens to be playing for him. This is how much I don’t like Duke. Makes my day every time. For real, though, Doug McDermott has been averaging 23.1 points per game (2nd in Division I) with a near 50% 3-point shooting percentage. He’s my pick for mid-major breakout player of the tournament (see below). Also, as I mentioned before, Memphis might have trouble with its play-in opponent, but this is sadly a kind of boring bracket, especially compared with the South. Though Oregon is the Pac-12 champ, I don’t think this is the 5-12 upset to pick.
Player to watch: Wooden Award finalist Doug McDermott of Creighton. Just like Jimmer and Gordon Hayward before him, this guy is due to become a household name. Don’t expect him to carry the Bluejays to the national championship, but they might have an upset or two in them.
Regional champ: There are three perennial superpowers in this region, but Louisville isn’t #1 overall for nothing. The team is coming off a huge Big East Tournament victory over Syracuse, and there aren’t many teams who can stop them. Look for them to bounce Michigan State in the Elite 8 and maybe even take the whole thing.
The shoo-ins: The presence of Gonzaga in this region causes major headaches (see below), so there are only a couple locks. Ohio State owns the bottom half of the bracket, and barring a burst of genius on New Mexico’s part, the Buckeyes are headed to the Elite Eight. Wisconsin plays with ice-cold blood in their veins (almost literally, since Bo Ryan’s methodical pace slows molecular movement to near absolute zero), so I’m pumped to see them gently strangle K-State for a Sweet Sixteen berth and beyond.
The upsets: Whatever you do, do not bet on Gonzaga. The Bulldogs are horrifyingly overrated (blame the Weak Coast Conference and America’s infatuation with their pre-Y2K Cinderella run), meaning a second-round bounce at the hands of battle-hardened Pitt is a serious possibility. Long-haired wunderkind Kelly Olynyk can only shoulder so much of the load, so count on the Zags to once again fall short of the Elite Eight mark they set in 1999. After the Bulldogs, pencil in Iowa State. The Cyclones took #1 seed Kansas to overtime twice this season, which is enough to convince me not to sleep on them in March. Plus, now’s the time to finally get the lingering monkey that is the 2001 Hampton fiasco off their backs.
Player to watch: Pay close attention to the five nobodies on the floor for Wisconsin during any given play. Those nobodies swept both Indiana and Michigan this year. If you get tired of the Big Ten’s glacial offense, flip the channel over to K-State and laugh hysterically as Rodney McGruder steamrolls La Salle.
Regional champ: In a rematch of the Big Ten title game, Wisconsin will battle Ohio State in one of the most hateful and monochromatic Elite Eight contests in modern memory. This time, the Badgers will close it out.
The shoo-ins: The #1 seed in the region, the Jayhawks of Kansas, should be a relatively safe lock to make the Sweet 16. Although nine-seed Villanova boasts one of the best dressed men in college basketball, Kansas’ star freshman and resident king of Bar Mitzvah parties Ben McLemore will be too much for any his early round opponents to counter.
The upsets: The most interesting showdown in the South is the six- vs. 11-seed matchup between UCLA and Minnesota. Minnesota has some impressive wins over Memphis, Michigan State, and Indiana; UCLA will be missing star guard Jordan Adams, who injured his foot in the Pac-12 conference tournament. Tubby Smith’s Golden Gophers dance like we’re going to die young, and will sweep past the Bruins. Also, not saying it’s going to happen, but don’t sleep on Florida Gulf Coast. They beat a #2 seed–Miami–earlier this year and will be game against their first-round foe, fellow #2 seed Georgetown.
Player to watch: Talent abounds in the South region. Just take a look at the list of finalists for National Player of the Year and you’ll see that most of them are featured in the region, but people should particularly look out for Nate Wolters of South Dakota State. You’ve probably never seen him play before, and his team’s first-round date with Michigan means you’ll probably never see him play again… in college. The kid’s got talent and is a projected late-first-round NBA draft pick.
Regional champ: There are a lot of good teams in the region–Kansas, Georgetown, and Michigan come to mind–but no great one. Usually that means bracket pickers go with the best player, but since nearly every team has a great player, this is more of a judgement call. Kansas lost in the finals last year; they cruised through their conference tournament this year; they know how to Harlem Shake. Rock Chalk Jayhawk.
The shoo-ins: Indiana gets to make mincemeat of Long Island or James Madison and then under-performing North Carolina State or over-seeded Temple. Even after that, no team on Indiana’s half of the bracket (Syracuse, UNLV, Cal, Montana) is exactly the Los Angeles
Lakers Clippers. Push Indiana through to the Elite Eight easily, and do the same for Miami. This is a weak region, and in weak regions, the top teams dominate.
The upsets: Just about every favorite in this region not named Indiana or Miami should be on upset alert. But let’s single out Syracuse (against Montana) and Illinois (against Colorado) as being on upset watch: Syracuse because they just blew a big lead in the Big East final and also…ew; Illinois because few teams are as inconsistent as the Illini (creative nickname!), and Colorado is pretty solid. Butler is somewhat vulnerable against Bucknell, too, if you’re looking for upsets but not sold on picking against Syracuse.
Player to watch: Indiana’s Victor Oladipo is a player of the year candidate; he also has a last name that is really fun to say and HOLY SHIT CAN DO THIS. Miami’s Shane Larkin is the heart and soul of this season’s biggest surprise, and is also the son of former Cincinnati Reds great Barry Larkin, which means gratuitous shots of the proud, recognizable parent during Miami TV broadcasts. NC State’s CJ Leslie and Syracuse’s CJ Fair (attack of the CJs!) are also studs, though their teams may not be around long enough for you to get a good glimpse of their play.
Regional champ: Miami. Sexy sexy sexy. Indiana is safer, but the ‘Canes are more fun. Take your talents to South Beach.