The grand spectacle that has become the NCAA tournament is beginning to engulf the minds of Americans as the first round comes to a close. But the real bracket pools begin on Thursday with what is now considered the 2nd round.
You might be gathering last minute brackets for your annual pool, waiting for the Iowa or Tennessee bracket Cinderella stories to begin. (Hint: get the money up front). You may be scratching out Florida and replacing them with Michigan State because, well, that’s what everyone is doing. And you may even be sitting down for the first time this season, getting ready to pick your favorite uniforms or color schemes.
Whatever strategy you follow, there are sure to be heartbreaks and close calls up and down your bracket. The Tourney is unpredictable, emotional, exciting—which makes it irresistible to follow when mid-March finally comes. They say it’s not spring until “The Masters” but the NCAA Tournament opens the season of warmth in my mind.
We love the upsets. Of course there are favorites and popular picks this season, but there will also be the inevitable underdogs who grab a chance to be the darlings of the U.S. for a couple weeks. It happens every year. The unpredictability, thrill of competition and raw emotion makes the Tourney the single most popular sporting event in America.
The Final Four
Here is a breakdown of the bracket by regions.
The South on paper looks like chalk all the way but there are a couple intriguing matchups, such as 8 seed Colorado and 9 seed Pittsburg. Pitt will win a close one and will face 1 seed Florida. They match up well with the Gators and could give them some problems but in the end Florida is just too tough on both sides of the ball, led by a great coach in Billy Donovan. Watch out for those Western Michigan Broncos against Syracuse, in the 3 vs 14 seed game.
Could make a run- UCLA, Kansas
Upset special- Dayton over Ohio St.
The West gets a little harder to call as there are two really good teams and some other surprises. The potential 3rd round game between 9 seed Oklahoma State and 1 seed Arizona will be a barn burner as OSU got better after the suspension of Marcus Smart and will have his services. 3 seed Creighton and 2 seed Wisconsin will be a shootout, possibly laying out a final four path for either. Both teams can score—this is Bo Ryan’s best offensive team ever. Both can beat Arizona. I am still going with a well-balanced Wildcat team who is long and can hurt you on several levels, going inside-out and pick and pop when needed.
Could make a run- Wisconsin, Creighton
Upset special- Nebraska over Baylor and North Dakota State over Oklahoma
The Midwest is stacked—the toughest region by miles—on paper. It seems the committee had it out for Wichita State. They rewarded the undefeated team with a number 1 seed but then put them in a region where Michigan, who played in the final game last season, is the 2 seed and Louisville, a team some projected as high as a 1, is the 4 seed. Duke is the 3 seed who is led by the winningest coach in college basketball history and boasts 4 championships.
Tough break Shockers.
The game to watch is the potential rematch between Duke and Michigan in the sweet 16. Michigan played well all season in close games, receiving surprise after surprise in players like Nik Stauskas, Caris Levert and Derrick Walton Jr. filling in some enormous holes from last year’s departures. They have the conference player of the year in Stauskas, who can jack it from anywhere on the floor. They boast one of the best coaches in the nation in John Beilein and have proven they can score in bunches. But their performance in the Big Ten Tournament has people scared. I am one of those people. I believe great coaching helped the Wolverines over-achieve all year, especially in the Big Ten, arguably the nation’s strongest conference. This is the hardest to call but I will go with Jabari Parker and the Blue Devils in a slightly trendy pick, strictly based on matchups.
Could make a run- Louisville, Michigan
Upset special- Kentucky over Wichita St. (Yes, that’s right, the Wildcats are in the Midwest too)
The East is finally an easy one to call. Wait, the ACC, Big 10 and Big 12 Tournament champs are in this region? Everyone, and I mean everyone, has jumped on the Spartan madness train. It is true they were the number one team in the nation for some time this season and were one of the early season favorites to win it all. They certainly looked the part through the conference tournament. Tom Izzo is one of the great tournament coaches in the game and his team is healthy and starting to click. The emergence of the role players will only deepen an already explosive team. Adreian Payne has the ability to dominate in the paint—he can also bring his big defender outside, opening up the middle for Garry Harris and Branden Dawson. They are getting the respect they should but I did see them lose to Illinois at home, scoring under 50 points. 1 seed Virginia is absolutely capable of making the run to the final four. They have beaten some of the best teams in the country including Duke and Syracuse and won the ACC regular season and tournament championships. I will take the Spartans because of their draw and what they can do when at their best. And they are arguably the best they have been all year.
Winner- Michigan State
Could make a run- Iowa State, Virginia
Upset Special- George Washington over Memphis
I’ll take the Florida Gators to cut down the nets at “Jerryworld” beating the Duke Blue Devils and propelling Billy Donovan into the “one of the greatest of all time” conversation.”
View my full bracket on Twitter @AdamCommand and be sure to catch live tweets from the WMU/ Syracuse game from Buffalo, NY at 2:40 p.m.