THE TOURNAMENT IS HERE! Get ready, sports fans, because we’re about to go through the best postseason tournament in sports for another year, and if you’re not ready you’re gonna miss it. Most of the bubble teams got in except for Drexel, who surprisingly was left out and Iona put in. The format for Bracketology for Dummies is going to change a little. Tonight is a special Selection Sunday pre-tournament edition and then we will roll on with Tuesday weekly writings starting on Tuesday, March 20. Tonight will be a preview of what’s to come in the tournament while the following Tuesdays beginning on the 20th and continuing for the duration of the tourney will look back on the weekend that was and preview the upcoming weekend action. My bracket will also be posted and now I’m going to explain a couple of my picks.
Early Round Upsets
South Regional: 12 VCU over 5 Wichita State
While I labeled Wichita State as a potential Cinderella team earlier this season, I don’t know if the slipper fits. Obviously we all know about what VCU did last year. This is a much different VCU team, but the biggest constant that carries over from last year to this year for VCU is the mastermind behind the run last year. His name is Shaka Smart. He’s got VCU playing well at the right time again, as they won the CAA tournament and heading in the right direction at a time when it helps to be playing well. I think they beat Indiana in the following round and roll through to the sweet 16. Indiana impressed me early in the season with wins over Kentucky and Ohio State but has since came back down to Earth. I don’t expect another Cinderella run from VCU, but I do expect a couple wins for the Rams in the tournament.
South Regional: 7 Notre Dame over 2 Duke
I don’t think too highly of Duke. They got hammered by UNC on their home floor, which was their third conference loss at Cameron Indoor this year. That in itself is already unlike Duke. Then throw in a second loss of the season to Florida State in the ACC tournament and I have my doubts as to if they can play with some of the teams in this field. I think John Cooley takes advantage of some mismatches in the low post against what will probably be one of the Plumlee brothers, and similar to the Notre Dame win over Syracuse this year, Cooley puts the team on his back and takes Notre Dame to the Sweet 16.
East Regional: 10 West Virginia over 7 Gonzaga
I like West Virginia. I’ve liked them all season. I was hoping they would be a higher seed and I could pick them farther, but that’s not the case. They have some talented big men in Kevin Jones and Deniz Kilicli and have Darryl “Truck” Bryant in the backcourt who’s a nice veteran to have keep things under control. As for Gonzaga…well it seems like this is their normal position. They’re always around the five to seven range in seeding because they play in a weak conference so winning the WCC doesn’t mean a whole lot to the committee in terms of seeding. I think the Big East team that’s battle-tested prevails in this one.
Midwest Regional: 10 Purdue over 7 St. Mary’s
This is also a case like West Virginia and Gonzaga where I’ll tend to give the nod to the power conference team against a team from a conference that America doesn’t get to see a lot of during the regular season. Purdue was featured in the sleeper section of Bracketology for Dummies earlier in February. I referenced the leadership I think Robbie Hummel can provide for the Boilermakers. I think if you couple that with the burn that still sits in Coach Matt Painter’s heart from the early exit to VCU last year as a number three seed, you get a win for Purdue over St. Mary’s.
Midwest Regional: 11 N.C. State over 6 San Diego State
N.C. State was another team featured in Bracketology for Dummies though they were in the bubble section. With two wins in the ACC tournament they solidified their spot in the field and almost took down North Carolina yesterday afternoon in the tournament semifinals. Kudos to Mark Gottfried for coming in as a first year head coach and getting this team to the tournament after years of being at the bottom of the ACC, and I don’t think their season ends here. San Diego State is coming off a tough loss to New Mexico in the Mountain West Conference Tournament. I was expecting the winner of that game to be in business for at least one NCAA tournament win, and I do have New Mexico over Long Beach State. But now that San Diego State has slipped to a six and N.C. State used the ACC tournament as a springboard to the NCAA tournament, I think they’ll use San Diego State as a springboard to a date with Georgetown with a trip to the sweet 16 on the line.
My Final 4:
Kentucky: Their loss to Vanderbilt certainly exposed some flaws. However, that said, there really isn’t a team in the South region who I think can take down the number one overall seed. As you saw in my early round upsets I have Duke going out early to Notre Dame. The three seed in that section is Baylor who I think poses the biggest threat to Kentucky and I think the two teams meet in the regional final. That’s a game I wouldn’t be shocked if Baylor won but give the slight edge to Kentucky in and think they win a close game to get to back to New Orleans, the city they just played in for the SEC tournament.
Missouri: Frank Haith’s squad is firing on all cylinders right now and mid March is a good time to be doing so. I like the strong guard play the Tigers have been getting from the Pressey brothers and Marcus Denmon and they used the Big 12 tournament to get some momentum heading into the big dance as they beat NCAA tournament teams along the way in Texas and Baylor to get to this point. Missouri has played lots of tight games this season which I think bodes well for their chances in what I expect to be a regional final against Tom Izzo and the Michigan State Spartans.
Vanderbilt: The East region is wide open. If you’ve been reading Bracketology for Dummies at all, you would know that I do not care much for Syracuse. They finally lost a game after surviving by the skin of their teeth game after game. Cincinnati controlled the game from start to finish against Syracuse and the score doesn’t indicate that. I have Vanderbilt meeting up with Syracuse in the Sweet 16. I think they match up great with their big men Festus Elezi and Jeffery Taylor playing strong and John Jenkins shooting the ball to the best of his ability right now. I will continue not fall for Syracuse and think the Vandy beats them and then takes out a scrappy Florida State team in a thriller to get to the final four. Vandy was featured as a sleeper team in an earlier edition of Bracketology for Dummies. You better not still be sleeping on them after their SEC tournament championship game win over Kentucky.
North Carolina: I really wanted to pick Kansas out of the Midwest region. But after watching Kansas get outplayed in the Big 12 tournament semifinals by a Baylor team they beat twice in the regular season, I couldn’t do it. I do expect Kansas to ride through to the regional final but I think North Carolina has found a rhythm despite their ACC tournament championship game loss to Florida State. They have a good balance of inside-outside and while they could be tested by both Michigan and Kansas, I think the Tar Heels survive.
Missouri: While this pick was partially me just going out on a limb so I could have a shot to win some money, as I’m expecting lots of people to pick Kentucky to win it all, I do think Missouri has a good shot to be cutting down the nets in New Orleans. I mentioned their guard play and also forward Ricardo Ratliffe has been playing big for them as of late. I got the Tigers upsetting Kentucky, and closing it out 71-67 in the National Championship over UNC. Let’s have some fun, college basketball fans. The madness is here.