March Madness Takes Over the Country
If that epic shot doesn't get you in the mood for closely contested college basketball games featuring perennial powers, cinderellas, and more upsets than you can keep up with, then I don't know what will.
This year's tournament is looking as wide open as ever. All of the top teams have some fatal flaw, and there are more non-power conference teams filling your bracket than in recent history. From the office expert to the soccer mom playing for fun, everybody fills out a bracket. With a 1 in 9 quintillion chance of a perfect bracket, don't stress too much over your picks. I'm gonna let you know who I think is ripe for the upset this year and who'll take the NCAA Championship when it's all said and done.
Starting with the #1 overall seed in the tourney, Louisville has earned their spot with a Big East tournament win. They haven't been afforded an easy walk to the Final Four though. The first and second round should be a breeze for Louisville. Their biggest competition will come before the Elite 8 where they'll likely take on the winner of Saint Louis and Oklahoma State. Some experts have Oregon upsetting OK State in the second round, but I'm not buying it. Guard play tends to rule college basketball and OK State has one of the best guards in America in Marcus Smart. Louisville's pressure should afford them berth to the Elite 8 this year. The bottom half of the bracket is very close. After Doug McDermott leads Creighton past Cincinatti, he'll take on the Duke Blue Devils. Duke has struggled in recent NCAA tourneys, but they should play well enough to reach the Sweet 16. Michigan State should slide past Memphis right into a heated battle against Duke. Michigan State's big men have the toughness and skill to shut down Ryan Kelly and Mason Plumlee, and Tom Izzo will win this Hall of Fame coaching battle.
The West bracket may feature the weakest #1 in Gonzaga. With a 31-2 record, the Zags are still not being trusted because of their weak competition all season. Gonzaga will win their second round matchup easy, and then defeat Pittsburgh going into the second weekend. Wisconsin could be a huge surprise coming out of the West. They've proven that they can beat some of the country's best (Indiana, Ohio State), but they play to a strict style and tempo that when interrupted could thwart them. I see Wisconsin moving on past Ole Miss and Marshall Henderson and upsetting Kansas St. Wisconsin will be able to shut down Kelly Olynyk and shoot well enough to reach the Elite 8 this season. My first major upset will come out of the West with Belmont beating Arizona. Zona has struggled to play consistently all year and could see their tournament hopes dashed immediately. Belmont proved they can defend talented guards after they defeated Murray St. and Isaiah Canaan in their conference championship, and they'll be able to contain former Xavier star Mark Lyons. Belmont won't be this years cinderella, losing to New Mexico's silent assassin Tony Snell. Ohio State should move past Notre Dame and New Mexico in a close one, and advance to their second straight Elite 8. Deshaun Thomas and Aaron Craft are just too good this year when playing with confidence, as Ohio State will be.
Could VCU be poised for another magical run to the Final Four?
Kansas may be the one questionable top seed, but their convincing Big 12 tournament win guaranteed them that distinction. Kansas is a great team, don't get me wrong, but I can't see them winning it all this year. They will be forced to rely too heavily on Freshman Ben McLemore, who'll falter under the pressure of the big game. Luckily for Kansas, I can's see a team beating them before the Elite 8. North Carolina is good, and will present some matchup problems, but UNC doesn't have the defensive prowess to guard Jeff Withey inside. Expect VCU to upset Michigan in the round of 32, but they won't have the magic of past years again this season. The most interesting team in the West is undoubtedly Florida. I can see the Gators taking their pain of an SEC title game loss out on the bottom half of the West bracket. Florida should be an easy Elite 8 choice. Georgetown and Otto Porter Jr. are good, but they haven't dealt with a team like Florida. I see a second round upset special with Minnesota beating UCLA. Pac-12 teams are all risky picks because they've all been extremely inconsistent at times, and all lack the toughness needed to win tournament games.
I was very surprised to see that Miami was not awarded a #1 seed for the way they manhandled the ACC all year. Indiana takes the final #1 seed instead, after putting together an impressive Big 10 regular season. The Hoosiers have a cakewalk until the Elite 8. There is not a team in the top half of that bracket that could likely compete with Indiana. After Syracuse folded completely in half against Louisville, the Orange are a possible second round upset pick. I can see Boeheim rallying the troops to get past Montana, but they'll have more trouble against either Cal or UNLV. I see Cal taking that game against UNLV, even after I picked Cal to win the Pac-12 and their getting booted in the second round of that tournament. Syracuse could make it to the Sweet 16, but if there, they'll get demolished by Indiana. Back to Miami, the Hurricanes are probably my easiest pick to make the Elite 8. Shane Larkin is unstoppable when he gets to top speed. The Point Guard is NBA ready and will prove that Miami was no fluke this year. Colorado will likely upset the Fighting Illini in the second round with their inside-outside combo, but will fall to Miami. Butler should make a Butler-type run, passing a talented Bucknell squad en route to a victory against an over-performing Marquette team. Butler will have no answer for the Hurricanes in the Sweet 16.
Louisville def. Michigan St
Ohio St. def. Wisconsin
Florida def. Kansas
Miami def. Indiana
Louisville def. Ohio St.
Florida def. Miami
NCAA Championship Game
Louisville 68-Florida 62
Despite a lull after falling from a #1 ranking earlier this season, the Cardinals have proven that they have a ton of talent, size, and athleticism. Rick Pitino has a deep bench at his discretion and it'll definitely come in handy. Peyton Siva and Russ Smith will prove they are the best back court in the entire country offensively and defensively.
Of course, nobody is perfect. If Louisville gets bounced before the Elite 8, don't come after me with pitchforks and torches. The picks are in your hands but my advice will guide you along the way. However, if you somehow manage to put together that elusive perfect bracket, I'll be taking a percentage of your winnings.
Sign up for our NCAA Bracket Challenge where your picks could earn you $1 Million.