The month of February is extremely depressing to sports fans outside of Montreal, it marks the end of the NFL season and the wait for the annual NCAA basketball tournament known lovingly as March Madness. Thankfully for us, that wait is now over.
Now that all teams that qualified have been given their proper seeding, analysts can finally begin dissecting the bracket, searching for the next Cinderella or simply looking for a way to beat their friends or co-workers for a cash prize. With the “real” tournament starting on Thursday, (there’s a game between the 64th and 65th best teams on Wednesday, with the winner playing Duke), college basketball die-hards and even casual fans are scrambling to fill up their brackets. It is because of that that I offer you, my readers, a bit of advice. Full disclosure: this is an extremely preliminary bracket of mine, and I’ll likely change it constantly before the Thursday deadline. Use this by all means, but make sure to do your own research as well. Let’s get down to business, region by region.
Many people are projecting Kansas as the favourite to win the whole tournament, and for good reason. The Jayhawks are the top-ranked team in the nation and have lost only two games all season, both eight-point losses on the road. They should have an easy path to the Elite Eight, but Ohio State or Georgetown could prove to be a tough matchup, because they both have players likely to go in the top ten of this year’s NBA draft (Evan Turner and Greg Monroe, respectively). On the upset front, Georgia Tech should be able to overpower a weak Oklahoma State team while Tennessee or Michigan State could be surprised by a Cinderella story. Otherwise, this bracket might be one of the easier ones to project, with few likely shockers.
This bracket gets a little harder to predict. People are worried about Syracuse, the third-ranked team in the nation, because they lost early in their conference tournament. To make matters worse, the Orange lost starting center Arinze Onuaku to injury, which could prove devastating to their tourney chances. Kansas State appears to be the most talented team in the group, but they face a tough potential second round opponent in BYU. No team other than the “Cuse or K-State, (even Vanderbilt) appears to have the talent level to even make a Final Four trip, so pick cautiously in this one.
Even though they won their conference’s tournament, Duke appears to be the weakest one-seed team in the tournament. Inexplicably, they were gifted with the weakest bracket, with the four, six, seven, and eight seeds posing almost no threat. The Blue Devils’ dynamic trio of Jon Scheyer, Kyle Singler, and Nolan Smith make for a dynamic offense, but if one or two them can be shut down, the whole team will fall. Like the saying goes, “you cut off the head, and the body dies.” If any potential roadblocks (Louisville, Texas A&M, or Villanova) cut off the proverbial head, Duke will have a tough time reaching the final four.
As a West Virginia fan, this was an extremely tough bracket for me to project objectionably. While Kentucky does have one of the most talented players in the country in John Wall, West Virginia’s own Da’Sean Butler has proven he can step up under pressure, a highly valued trait in the stressful tournament. Both Kentucky and WVU seem to have an easy path to the Elite Eight, but almost every year a double-digit seed manages to sneak their way past a high-seeded favourite. While the East doesn’t seem to have any teams that fit this profile, you never know. If Kentucky and WVU manage to get through, a very close game would likely result. To be completely honest, this game could go either way, despite my fandom for WVU or my desire to always appear to be right.
Last year, two one-seeds, a two, and a three made the Final Four. In 2008, for the first time ever, four one-seeds made it. The year before, it was two twos and a one. While it is clear that the lower seeds generally perform very well, a three or four sometimes manages to sneak in. In 2006, an eleven-seed, George Mason, shocked the world and advanced to the final four. Other than that surprise though, you can generally count on the final four being all ones, twos, threes or even fours. If you want to be brave and go otherwise, you may, but proceed with caution. Most of the one and two seeds are very strong this year and will all be fighting to prove themselves to people who doubt them for some reason (except for Kansas, everybody loves Kansas).
I usually hate going with the favorite, but this year I’ve made an exception in selecting Kansas. Having lost just two games all season (both on the road), and blowing away all Big 12 competition (Kansas State, Texas A&M, and Baylor are all in the top 25) they clearly deserve the tourney’s top seed. While they could run into some trouble with an Elite Eight matchup against Ohio State or Georgetown, they should otherwise be able to breeze through to the finals. Once there, Kentucky, West Virginia, or Villanova could make for a competitive game, but Kansas’ combination of a dynamic offense and shutdown defence should be able to keep challengers at bay.
Still, this IS March Madness after all, and anything can happen. Pick carefully and good luck.