The NCAA Tournament has officially begun, with Albany and North Carolina State advancing to the round of 64 in last night’s play-in games and two more games — between Cal Poly and Texas Southern, and Iowa versus Tennessee — taking place tonight. But tradition holds that the Tournament hasn’t really commenced until we can start evaluating brackets and seeing whether our picks hold water or sink into obsolescence.
In that spirit, several of our writers here at Sports Unbiased have made their brackets public. Here is how they see March Madness shaking out.
Zach Bigalke’s Bracket
In the South Region, Florida simply looks like the most experienced group in that section. I like them to make the Final Four, knocking off a surprise Elite Eight team in New Mexico. Given Embiid’s injury for Kansas, I see the Lobos sneaking pass the Jayhawks in the second round and upsetting Syracuse in the Sweet Sixteen before making life tough for the Gators. New Mexico’s bigs won’t have the answer against Billy Donovan’s crew, but they’ll put a scare into the top overall seed and barely miss out on a trip to Jerry World.
In the West Region, a lot of people like Arizona for similar reasons. But they’re a team that has dangerously cooled off as of late, and making the Final Four might be a stretch for the Wildcats. They should be able to survive a trio of States — Weber State, Oklahoma State, and San Diego State — but ultimately I have a feeling that Doug McDermott and the Creighton Bluejays will take down Arizona in the Elite Eight. Creighton is going to prove to be too much for Bo Ryan’s Badgers to handle.
Michigan State has been a trendy pick to reach the Final Four, as much on how they are heating up at the right moment of the season as on principle (given that Tom Izzo has never had a recruiting class play out its eligibility without reaching the national semifinals at least once). The Spartans have one of the most favorable routes to Dallas, with their biggest challenge looking like either Villanova in the Elite Eight or Memphis in the Sweet Sixteen. This is where time runs out on a team like Virginia, who plays molasses-slow compared to other elite squads.
In the Midwest, everyone is going to be looking at whether Wichita State can live up to the hype as a top seed. The team that benefits most from the seeding in this regional is not the Shockers but defending champions Louisville. About to leave the American Athletic Conference for the ACC, the Cardinals have all the tools to get out of this region and make a serious bid for back-to-back national titles. I see them toppling Wichita State in the Sweet Sixteen and then taking out Michigan for their trip to AT&T Stadium.
Once these four arrive in Texas, Florida is going to prove too much for the Spartans to handle and Creighton’s Cinderella bid will face midnight against Pitino’s Cardinals. In the championship game, the score will undoubtedly be much closer than the 2013 Sugar Bowl matchup between these two schools’ football teams, but the result will be the same. Look for Louisville to have a second shining moment under the giant flatscreen.
Chris Markham’s Bracket
It’s hard to deny Florida a spot any shorter than the Final Four just because of how weak the South Region is. The loss of Embiid for Kansas will catch up to them as they lose to New Mexico, paving the way for Florida to cruise into Arlington.
I may be jumping on the Spartan bandwagon, but it is too hard not to. Tony Bennett’s Virginia team is really good, but nobody in that program has any experience making a run in the tournament. I would be pleasantly surprised to see them knock off MSU, but my gut is telling me that Tom Izzo will do his thing, which is being one of the greatest NCAA tournament coaches of all time. Shabazz Napier is good enough to take the Huskies to the Elite Eight, but one man cannot beat the Spartans.
Wisconsin has been overlooked because they have a tough bracket, having to deal with Oregon, Baylor and Creighton in the bottom half of the West region. Baylor presents a huge challenge for anybody they face, with their ability to score in bunches and their 7’1” rim protector, and will give Wisconsin a run for their money, but ultimately come up short. I think that the Badgers are a dangerous team that, if they get out of the first few rounds, can make the Final Four and will beat Arizona because the loss of Brandon Ashley will finally catch up to them when they need him most.
Never sleep on a defending champion, especially when their best player is a senior with something to prove. Russ Smith has been playing like a man on a mission as of late and I can’t see anybody in the Midwest Region stopping this Louisville locomotive. Wichita State simply can’t score with the Cardinals and Michigan can’t run with them in transition. And yes, I do have Duke losing to UMass and NC State beating St. Louis. Why? Well, why not?
The toll taken by Wisconsin in the West Region will catch up to them in the Final Four and lose big to the Cardinals. Florida will be fresh from a relatively easy road to North Texas and will squeeze past the Spartans. That leaves us with Florida and Louisville for the championship. This one is way too close to call, but the Gators are so deep and talented on defense that I think they will prevent the Cardinals from repeating.