If you happened to read my post last week, you are aware that the NCAA Tournament is, bar none, my favorite sporting event of the year. With that said, here’s my own personal preview of what to expect over the course of the next few weeks. (As a disclaimer, I should note that I’ve won only one bracket pool in my life, so you might not want to take what I say too seriously.)
The Midwest Region:
This is the region that immediately jumps out as being the toughest region. So much for earning that number one overall seed huh, Kansas? With that said, however, Kansas should still be considered a solid favorite to come out of this region. Two potential match-ups against Big Ten teams in the Sweet 16 and Elite 8 (Michigan State and Ohio State, respectively) may test them; but, in the case of the former, this Michigan State team doesn’t seem to have the intangibles and chemistry that last year’s national runner-up did. In the case of Ohio State, I’m not convinced they can make it past Georgetown – Greg Monroe (who is unquestionably the best passing big man in the country) is going to give THE Ohio State University fits.
Best first-round match-up: (6) Tennessee – (11) San Diego State
Most likely upset: (6) Tennessee – (11) San Diego State
Most intriguing possible match-up: (3) Georgetown – (2) Ohio State
Potential “sleeper” team: (7) Oklahoma State
Prediction: (1) Kansas over (3) Georgetown
The West Region:
Looking at this region, I see the potential for numerous upsets and unlike the previous region, I don’t think the number 1 seed (in this case, Syracuse) makes it to the Final Four. For that matter, Syracuse might not even make it out of the first weekend if Gonzaga survives its first-round contest with Florida State. The injury to starting center Arinze Onuaku would likely play a role in that, as Syracuse is not exactly a deep team by any stretch of the imagination, and on top of that, Gonzaga may prove to be a tough match-up for Syracuse. Ultimately, after a tumultuous first couple of rounds, I see Pitt moving on to the Final Four.
Best first-round match-up: (5) Butler – (12) UTEP
Most likely upset: (4) Vanderbilt – (13) Murray State
Most intriguing possible match-up: (7) BYU – (2) Kansas State
Potential “sleeper” teams: (7) BYU and (8) Gonzaga
Prediction: (3) Pitt over (8) Gonzaga
The East Region:
Kentucky is, by far, the most talented group in this region. That’s not to say, however, that they ultimately will make it out of this region. I fully believe that, while they will cruise through the first two rounds, either Temple or Wisconsin in the Sweet 16 will give the Wildcats all they can handle. These are two very structured and veteran teams who will pose a tough match-up for Kentucky’s inexperience and free-wheeling style. As impressive as Kentucky looks at times, I’m not sure if they can sustain it through four straight games in order to make it to the Final Four. The other side of the region is relatively uninteresting, with West Virginia clearly being the class of all eight teams there.
Best first-round match-up: (5) Temple – (12) Cornell
Most likely upset: (6) Marquette – (11) Washington
Most intriguing possible match-up: (1) Kentucky – (4) Wisconsin
Potential “sleeper” team: (11) Washington
Prediction: (2) West Virginia over (4) Wisconsin
The South Region:
Duke fans and Coach K rejoice! You have been granted the easiest path to the Final Four! In all seriousness, this gives the anti-Duke crowd quite a bit of ammunition. Duke, which hasn’t made an Elite Eight in six years, seems to have been gift-wrapped a trip there on paper – a sliding Villanova as the second seed, a talented but inexperienced Baylor Bears as the three, and a Robbie Hummel-less Purdue team as the four seed, a team which scored 11 points (11 points!!) in one half (one half!!) this past weekend versus Minnesota. While an Elite Eight trip looks likely (if it can get past the bi-polar Louisville Cardinals in the second round), I’m not convinced the Dukies get to the Final Four. Baylor and Villanova both would seem to poise match-up problems for Duke, and I believe the winner of that game advances to the Final Four.
Best first-round match-up: (6) Notre Dame – (11) Old Dominion
Most likely upset: (4) Purdue – (13) Siena
Most intriguing possible match-up: (1) Duke – (9) Louisville
Potential “sleeper” team: (9) Louisville
Prediction: (3) Baylor over (1) Duke
So there you have it, the NCAA Tournament preview extravaganza that you demand. I might as well give my Final Four thoughts: Kansas over Pitt, West Virginia over Baylor, and Kansas over West Virginia for the title. I’m as certain with my Kansas pick as I was two years ago when they won it all. That’s about all I’m certain of, however. As alluded to last week, the mediocrity in college basketball should at least make for a dynamic and exciting tournament. At least I hope so.