The 31st edition of Bradley’s Bracket Fiasco begins with a rant: What was TBS thinking? An NCAA tournament pairings show that waits 20 minutes to offer its first pairing? Was this the worst idea to come out of Atlanta since Izzy the Olympic mascot? Since New Coke?
OK. Deep breath now. To the field itself. A year ago, this correspondent picked an all-ACC Final Four and was 75 percent wrong. The temptation is great to pick three ACC teams to make it this time but – spoiler alert – will be resisted. The SEC has dispatched a record-for-it eight teams to the tournament, but none of them will see San Antonio. And Georgia State, in the Big Dance for the first time since Ron Hunter’s son made the coach fall out of his rolling chair, is matched against a No. 2 seed in a game that mightn’t be a mismatch.
Regarding the Fiasco, you know the drill. Enter online to win fabulous prizes and glory untold. Try not to gloat when you go 15-1 on the tournament’s first full day to my 7-9 because I’m lousy in my own contest, which remains a source of continuing frustration. And now to the regions.
The South concludes in Philips Arena. Virginia, the No. 1 overall seed, figures to make it there. I’d love to pick the Cavaliers to win the region because I have the utmost respect for Tony Bennett. That said, I can’t get past the memories of Virginia in recent NCAAs, which have ended the same way: A team that lives off its defense loses because it can’t score enough.
Arizona is the No. 4 seed. Deandre Ayton is the most imposing presence among collegians. Anything the Wildcats achieve this March might be subject to forfeit due to the FBI’s investigation – ESPN has reported that coach Sean Miller was caught on tape discussing a $100,00 payment to Ayton – but I see Miller doing what he hasn’t done. I see him reaching the Final Four.
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Georgia State, which beat Texas-Arlington for the Sun Belt title Sunday, faces Cincinnati, the South’s No. 2, in Nashville on Friday. Mick Cronin is taking the Bearcats to the Dance for a ninth year running. Know how many times Cincy has survived the first weekend under this coach? One. I wouldn’t pick GSU to advance, but I’d be surprised if it’s not a competitive game.
A word about Kentucky, which won the SEC tournament Sunday. As predicted by John Calipari, the Wildcats were sent a long way – to Boise, Idaho – to play a Thursday game and were handed a perilous Round 2 scenario against Arizona. Kentucky is playing well enough to make a run in another region. Just not in this.
The West has Xavier, which has never graced a Final Four, as the No. 1 seed. North Carolina, which has made 20 Final Fours, will reach its 21st. This is the weakest of the past three Tar Heel teams, both of which played for the national title, but it landed in the right regional. It couldn’t have won any of the other three.
Don’t be surprised if Missouri makes a run in the West. Michael Porter Jr. was hesitant – but not shy; he took 17 shots – in his return from back surgery, but losing to Georgia on Thursday in the SEC tournament gives the Tigers a week to regroup around one of this exceptionally gifted freshman. I can see Mizzou taking down Xavier in Round 2.
The East is Villanova’s to lose, and it won’t. Collin Sexton and Alabama could give the Wildcats a run in Round 2, but neither the No. 2 (Purdue) or 3 (Texas Tech) seeds are imposing, and the No. 4 is Wichita State. The Shockers are usually under-seeded. This team they’re over-seeded.
Team to watch here: Arkansas. The Razorbacks gave North Carolina a fright in Greenville last March, and they have the seasoned guards you want this time of year. Arkansas will upset Purdue, which is always perched on the lip of being upset, in Round 2 and will make the regional final.
I can’t pick the No. 1 seed to win the Midwest. It’s Kansas, and I have a rule: Never pick Kansas. This regional is loaded. When Michigan State is the No. 3 seed, you’re in tall timber. The No. 2 is Duke, which is the nation’s most talented team, but it was the most talented team last year and didn’t survive the first weekend.
Tom Izzo is a beyond-belief 1-12 against Mike Krzyzewski, but Michigan State has the skill and the heft and the cohesion to take down Duke, which is never far from another Grayson Allen flagrant foul. I picked the Blue Devils to win it all last year. I’m picking them to lose their third game this time. Izzo, a Hall of Famer, will beat two fellow Hall of Famers – Coach K and Bill Self – to take the Midwest.
My favorite Round 1 upset on the board is Charleston over Auburn. The Tigers won the SEC regular-season title but lost Anfernee McLemore, their only big man, in the process. They were terrible against Alabama in the SEC tournament. Bruce Pearl has gotten the most from this team, but there’s no more to be gotten.
That’s my Final Four – Arizona, North Carolina, Villanova and Michigan State. My championship game is Wildcats versus Wildcats, and I’m taking Nova for the title. Because after a season roiled by scandal, the last thing college basketball needs is to have the big trophy handed to Sean Miller.