It’s that time everybody. The Selection Show came and went Sunday night and now it’s time to fill out those brackets. I’ll have some good information for you to digest before they’re locked in. First things first, let’s talk about the construction of the tournament.
It stunk this season. It really stunk. That’s why you haven’t heard the usual furor about any particular team being left out. Personally, I would’ve had TCU and Alabama in the tournament in lieu of Temple and Ohio St, but you’re quibbling over very small differences.
The No. 1 Seeds:
I definitely don’t have a problem here. It wouldn’t have been highway robbery to have Michigan St as a No. 1 seed, but I think getting swept by Indiana was a major factor.
Location Location Location:
In the South Region, there are a couple of higher seeded teams that could be at a disadvantage in the early rounds. No. 4 Kansas St will have to play UC-Irvine in California and No. 2 Tennessee could possibly have to play No. 7 Cincinnati in Columbus – making the two higher-seeded teams play would could amount to road games.
Most Intriguing First-Round Game: It is obviously No. 7 Louisville vs. No. 10 Minnesota. The Gophers are coached by Richard Pitino, the son of former (disgraced?) Louisville coach Rick Pitino. Many people will tell you this was done on purpose and as a “bracketologist” I can tell you these things happen easily. Also, the story doesn’t move the needle for the casual college basketball fan that was going to watch the game regardless.
First-Round Upset: No. 14 Yale over No. 3 LSU. As you will see below, LSU is dealing with some things and Yale has a pro on its roster in Miye Oni. It took Memphis two overtimes to beat Yale earlier this season and Yale also won at Miami.
Boom or Bust: No. 3 LSU and No. 6 Maryland both have talent to make deep runs in the tournament. They both could also lose in the first round. LSU is playing without its head coach, Will Wade, who was allegedly caught on a wiretap discussing paying a player. With Maryland the sum of the parts are greater than the whole.
Sleeper: No. 11 Temple. There are a lot of people picking Belmont to make a run, which is possible. I don’t think people have seen Temple’s guards though. Shizz Alston, Quinton Rose and Nate Pierre-Louis combine for over 49 points per game. They can take the Owls on a run.
My Pick: No. 1 Duke. Zion Williamson is back and he’s healthy. If he could run through the ACC tournament field the way he did than the teams in this region are in trouble. When he’s healthy it doesn’t matter that they aren’t a good jump-shooting team. They’re still unguardable.
Most Intriguing First-Round Game: No. 5 Marquette vs. No. 12 Murray St. Marquette’s Markus Howard is one of the elite scorers in the country. Murray St’s Ja Morant is one of the elite NBA prospects in the country. They’re both going to have the ball in their hands most of the game. There probably isn’t a game people are looking forward to more.
First-Round Upset: None
Boom or Bust: No. 7 Nevada. Most people had the Wolfpack as a top-ten team at the beginning of the season. For whatever reason, they haven’t played up to those expectations. There is a lot of talent there and one has to wonder whether they simply got bored playing in the Mountain West or if this is who they are.
Sleeper: No. 6 Buffalo. The Bulls will walk onto the court versus anyone and believe they’re the best team. They shocked the country last season when they destroyed Arizona in the first round, but they return a great deal off that team and they have the chops to make a deep run.
My Pick: No. 1 Gonzaga. The Bulldogs have had to hear they didn’t deserve to be a No. 1 seed after they lost a game in the West Coast Conference tournament to a team that rated in the top-40. Gonzaga, has a lottery pick in Rui Hachimura and another possible first-round talent in Brandon Clarke. This team is legit.
Most Intriguing First-Round Game: No. 7 Wofford vs. No. 10 Seton Hall. Two of the best scorers in the country will take the court in this game. Wofford’s Fletcher Magee shoots 42.8% from behind the arc and has no conscience. He shoots turnaround 25-footers. Seton Hall’s Myles Powell averages nearly 23 points per game and scored 29 in the first half of their Big East quaterfinal game against Georgetown. This will a fun matchup.
First-Round Upset: No. 13 Northeastern over No. 4 Kansas. Northeastern has won 16 of it’s last 18 games. Kansas has been a mess all season. This is not your typical Jayhawk team and not having its usual advantage of playing somewhere in driving takes away their usual crowd advantage.
Boom or Bust: No. 6 Iowa St. Two weeks ago, the Cyclones were literally arguing with each other on the court. This past weekend they won the Big 12 tournament. There are about 340 coaches out of 352 who would take this roster. Have they put their chemistry issues behind them?
Sleeper: No. 5 Auburn. I hate to be a victim of the error of recency, but Auburn’s run to the SEC championship was what we expected from this team. Just looks like it took them a while this season to get going. New Mexico St will be a tough first round game, but this squad has the talent to get to the Final Four.
My Pick: No. 3 Houston. Not many teams in this tournament will defend the way the Cougars do. They switch everything on the perimeter and just make life hell for opposing guards. On offense, Corey Davis Jr, Dejon Jarreau, Armoni Brooks, Nate Hinton and Galen Robinson Jr lead a deep talented backcourt. Kelvin Sampson is also a top-10 coach.
Most Intriguing First-Round Game: No. 1 Virginia vs. No. 16 Gardner-Webb. I expect Virginia to win this game by 25. However, I remember what happened last season. I want to see how Virginia reacts in this game if the Bulldogs can stay within striking distance for 20-25 minutes.
First-Round Upset: No. 13 UC-Irvine over No. 4 Kansas St and No. 12 Oregon over No. 5 Wisconsin. Kansas St plays great defense, but its best player, Dean Wade will most likely not be playing. UC-Irvine is the best team in California this season. Oregon is the best team in the Pac-12 and Wisconsin’s best player, Ethan Happ, can’t be on the floor late in the game because of his poor free-throw shooting.
Boom or Bust: No. 6 Villanova. The defending national champs rely on the three-point shot, but aren’t anywhere near as consistent making them as they were last season. If they make them, there’s nothing that says they can’t make another final four. If they miss them, Saint Mary’s can beat them by 10 in the first round.
Sleeper: No. 7 Cincinnati. As mentioned above, the Bearcats will be playing at home. I think they can score a little easier this season while playing that same trademark defense. They’ll be a tough out.
My Pick: No. 2 Tennessee. Too physical. Too experienced. Too deep. Too talented. I think the Volunteers are the best team in this region and will be looking to bounce back from a poor showing in the SEC championship game.
FINAL FOUR: Duke vs. Gonzaga. Houston vs. Tennessee.
NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP: Duke vs. Tennessee. Duke wins 76-70.
Please follow our fellow contributor George Barnette on Twitter and Instagram @BracketvilleUSA and get all your college basketball updates throughout the season on his comprehensive website https://www.everydayismarch.com/