That time of year has come upon us. The time where 68 teams were selected for the NCAA tournament. Sixty-eight teams all vying for the same goal, to be crowed as champion of the land. Surprisingly none of the investigated teams have been barred from playing although their appearance and finish could be vacated in the future. However, this year’s edition doesn’t really hold much interest to me. Maybe it’s the lack of a team from Iowa.
This is the first time in recent memory that a team from Iowa failed to make the tournament. Iowa State’s longish streak was snapped, Iowa underperformed, Northern Iowa has not been able to get on track and Drake cooled down after a fairly hot start. Thankfully the Drake women had a great year and punched a for sure ticket to the women’s tournament. They’ve been riding a good Missouri Valley hot streak the past couple of years.
Despite my lack of interest, I will still fill out my bracket, mostly out of tradition at this point, and will offer some of my terrible advice for anyone wanting to do their own bracket this season.
The number one seeds seemed okay for my liking. Nothing too out of the blue or what have you. I question giving Virginia the overall number one seed. I like their defense, great defense, but that offense does not really light the world on fire. I would have gone with Villanova myself. The only question I have is maybe Xavier, but if Purdue had managed to win the Big 10 tournament, they probably would have slid up to that one line.
Normally bringing up a 16 seed isn’t in the wheelhouse, but Texas Southern had a great run to make the tournament despite a losing record. They started off with an 0-13 record before winning 15 of their last 21 to get in. Quite an impressive feat to go on that sort of run despite the bad beginning to their season. Still, you just don’t pick a 16 to beat a one. I just don’t ever see that happening.
So, naturally, watch Texas Southern upset Xavier or some insane magic takes place where Penn beats Kansas. Which, you know, I’d more than be okay with because anytime Kansas basketball can take a loss, it brings a smile to my face.
The South region is the one with Virginia and they have a good shot to make it to the Sweet 16 even if history doesn’t always favor the overall top seed. Kentucky is always a solid choice in the tournament even though I think they have a younger team than Storm Lake did this year. Cincinnati might not get past the second round if Texas can win their first game. The Longhorns were in that Big 12 minefield this year and are battle tested. However, the best team in the South region is Arizona.
A lot of preseason publications had them as the best team in the nation. They have quite a bit of talent and probably one of the top five players in the country in DeAndre Ayton. The guy is a double-double machine and a beast of a player. In this region’s Elite Eight, I’ll go with Arizona against Cincinnati. The Wildcats have a great team and I think they’ll make some noise.
The East region belongs to the top two seeds there. Villanova and Purdue are easily the most talented teams in this region and shouldn’t have too many issues making it to the Elite Eight. I could see Wichita State making some noise or Florida, but other than that, should be a top seed region. I wanted to like Texas Tech more but they’ve been up and down too much this season to be a consistent threat, plus it’s always hard to bet against Stephen F. Austin in the tournament. Also keep an eye on Murray State pulling the upset against West Virginia.
The West region is North Carolina’s to lose. I don’t see a lot of great teams in that region outside of a really hot Michigan team and Gonzaga. I also have two upsets in this region with the 12 seed South Dakota State and the 11 seed San Diego State both pulling upsets against their respective opponents. Elite Eight pick is Gonzaga against North Carolina in a rematch of last year’s title game with the Tar Heels once again beating the Bulldogs.
Finally, the Midwest region will see one of the blue bloods of college basketball moving on. This may be the best region in terms of “star power” this year with Kansas, Duke and Michigan State. All three teams have talent but have some flaws. I think TCU will get upended by Arizona State in the first round as I am not at all sold on the Horned Frogs.
This region comes down to Kansas, because college basketball hates me, and Michigan State. The last time I picked a Tom Izzo team to go a long way in the tournament, it bit me in the rear, but I think this team has something about it. They beat both Duke and Kansas on their way to the Final Four.
So, my Final Four field is Arizona, North Carolina, Villanova and Michigan State. Again, I love this Arizona team led by DeAndre Ayton to get to the national title game. On the other side it is so hard to bet against Tom Izzo in March. Arizona and Michigan State both advance to the National Title contest. Once there, I think Izzo figures out a way slow Ayton and the Wildcats down to pick up a the championship win.
Of course that’ll get vacated in a couple of years, but hey, Spartan fans should enjoy it while they can. Look forward to my column in a couple of weeks where I cry over the wrong picks I made. Agree, disagree? Email me at email@example.com or yell at me on Twitter @SLPilotSports.