It’s the annual rite of spring, filling out an NCAA Tournament bracket — a task I generally fail at miserably.
Historically, most people see my picks and lean the other way. There’s many ways to attack this endeavor, such as going with “name teams” — the blue bloods — while others go by favorite mascots and team colors, sometimes getting an astounding number of games right.
The tournament begins today with four “First Four” games, one of which involves Wichita State as it goes up against Vanderbilt, a far more impressive first-round game than, say, an OU against Cal-State Bakersfield.
Kansas is the overall No. 1 seed, but the tournament committee for whatever strange reason eschewed its expected spot in the Midwest and shipped it South. Being a No. 1 seed, KU should have the easiest road to the Final Four, but land mines abound. In fact, a second-round game with an emotionally charged UConn team could be perilous, and you still have lurking teams like Maryland and Villanova.
Of the four No. 1s, my best bet for an early exit is Oregon, a team that has flown under radar but picked up steam in recent weeks. That is a gut punch to Kansas State fans, as the Ducks are coached by one-time KSU boss Dana Altman, who has thrived in the Greater Northwest.
Every year there’s wonderment if a No. 1 will lose to a No. 16, but that doesn’t look probable this year. For a 16 to win, my belief is it has to fill it up from 3-point and play almost the perfect game.
Enough rambling. Time for the picks:
• SOUTH •
I see the championship game coming down to Kansas and Arizona, a No. 6 seed but much better than that. There are so many people picking KU to make the Final Four I just hope it doesn’t buckle under the heavy expectations. The X-factor is Wayne Selden, who reminds me of the weather in Kansas, hot one day and then 30 degrees cooler the next. I’m still going with the Jayhawks because of their upperclassmen-loaded roster.
• WEST •
As I stated earlier, I’m not a big believer in Oregon. I can see it losing in the third round to Duke. I know the Devils have struggled, but it’s hard to go against Coach K. Oklahoma would appear to have a glide path to the regional finals. Call this a hunch, but so little has been expected of Duke I think it shocks the world.
• EAST •
Many believe North Carolina has been given an easy road to Houston, but not so fast. I like Kentucky to make the regional title game because it has been in the shadows and just waiting to explode. It also has the best player in the country in Tyler Ulis, who can control the game from the point. The bottom half of the draw is among the weakest of any regional. Don’t be surprised if West Virginia emerges. No matter, Kentucky moves on.
• MIDWEST •
I have been on Iowa State’s bandwagon all year and I think it knocks off No. 1 Virginia in the Sweet 16. The Cyclones then advance to the regional finals, where Michigan State ends their season to make the Final Four.
• FINAL FOUR •
As you can see, my Final Four is loaded with historic programs.
I think KU gets past Duke in one semi, while Michigan State clips Kentucky. Tom Izzo owns this time of year and his Michigan State Spartans’ mental toughness allows it to cut down the nets.