The 29th edition of Bradley’s Bracket Fiasco begins with a broken vow: I’m picking a team that has disappointed me so many times that, at least twice, I’ve sworn never to pick it again. That team is Kansas. If the Jayhawks flop on me this time, I’m done with them forever. Unless I change my mind.
The regular season has left us with two teams that are a cut above: Kansas and Michigan State, in that order. (Yes, the Spartans beat the Jayhawks, but that was pre-Thanksgiving.) Kansas won the nation’s best conference and then rolled through the Big 12 tournament. Michigan State finished second in the Big Ten, the second-best league, and won the conference tournament. They’re the teams to beat.
On Selection Sunday, it’s customary to pick nits. Here are mine. Michigan State is way too good to be a No. 2 seed. I don’t believe Vanderbilt, Michigan and Syracuse belong in the field. Omitted in favor of those middling majors were San Diego State, Monmouth, Valparaiso, St. Bonaventure and Saint Mary’s. (So much for rewarding mid-majors.) And the inclusion of Tulsa — 11 losses, the most recent a 22-point beating by Memphis in the American tournament, and an RPI of 58 — is mind-boggling.
Enough grousing. Our local winner receives $1,000 cash money and the traditional winner’s sweatshirt. We even have a loser’s bracket this year, although I’m hoping you won’t be a loser. I’m fairly confident my bracket will crash as spectacularly as ever. Nonetheless, here we go.
South Regional: If I’m Kansas, I shudder at the thought of playing UConn in Round 2 — but that’s the extent of my shuddering. Villanova, the No. 2 seed, is fighting a history of first-weekend flops. Miami, the No. 3 seed, lost by double figures to Clemson and North Carolina State. I actually like Arizona — led by Sean Miller, the best coach never to grace a Final Four — to reach the Elite Eight.
No. 4 Cal against No. 5 Maryland could be a fascinating Round 2 game. They’re talented teams with key players from the Atlanta area. Jaylen Brown of Wheeler is a freshman Bear; Robert Carter Jr., formerly of Georgia Tech, is a Terrapin. Trouble is, I don’t think Maryland can deliver. It spent the past month tripping over itself, even losing to Minnesota, which finished 2-16 in Big Ten play. Cal is gifted enough to give Kansas a run in the Sweet Sixteen, but the Jayhawks seem too good. (Yes, I’ve said that before.)
West Regional: It never fails. The West is always the weakest, no matter how hard the committee tries. There are some who really like Oregon and believe the Ducks fully deserved their No. 1 seed. I’m not among them. I’m not sure how Texas A&M, which lost to Kentucky in the SEC final, merits a No. 3 seed to the Wildcats’ No. 4 in the East. Duke, which tied for fifth in the ACC, is overseeded at No. 4. That said …
I still have Duke reaching the West final. Having witnessed Baylor’s collapse against Georgia State last March, I refuse to believe in those Bears. The only West team I like is Oklahoma. I like the great guard Buddy Hield and the great coach Lon Kruger. The Sooners will win the West and face Kansas yet again. They lost to the Jayhawks by three points in triple overtime at Allen Fieldhouse and by four at home. Oklahoma won’t win Round 3, either.
South Regional: Call me a homer. I’m a Kentucky grad and I’m picking Kentucky to win the South. North Carolina is the No. 1 seed, but even Tar Heel fans haven’t always loved this team. Granted, the Wildcats got a treacherous draw: Former rival — the schools stopped playing for no good reason — Indiana as a possible Round 2 opponent, mighty Carolina looming in the Sweet Sixteen and West Virginia and the hated-by-Big-Blue Bob Huggins maybe awaiting in the regional final.
Yes, it took a while for always-rebuilding Kentucky to find itself — it lost to Auburn, for Pete Carril’s sake — but the Wildcats aren’t No. 1 in Ken Pomeroy’s offensive-efficiency index for nothing. They have splendid guards in Tyler Ulis and Jamal Murray, and guards can carry a team a long way. Lest we forget, John Calipari took Kentucky to the Final Four when it was seeded No. 4 in 2011 and No. 8 in 2014. For all his bluster, he’s rather good as an underdog.
Midwest Regional: I respect Virginia. I don’t, however, believe in Virginia. The Cavaliers’ pace of play — the nation’s slowest, according to KenPom — leaves them little room for error. One lesser shooting night and they’re gone. They’ll lose to Purdue in the Sweet Sixteen, and the Boilermakers are nothing special.
Michigan State has as close a thing as you’ll ever see as a bye into the Final Four. The No. 3 seed in the Midwest is Utah. The No. 1 is a team that didn’t finish first in its conference or win its league tournament. If that’s the penalty for being a No. 2 seed, it’s one the Spartans will gladly pay.
The question last year was whether anyone could topple Kentucky. (Wisconsin could and did.) Neither Kansas nor Michigan State is a team for the ages, but they’re the class of this season. They’ll play for the national title. Kansas will win. Unless it doesn’t.
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.