NCAA tournament time! Assuming I haven’t helped wreck your bracket too much in past seasons, here are some picks, just for you.
The pick – No. 5 Kentucky. This region features a potential monster of a second round matchup between UK and Arizona. The winner of this game will escape the region, in my mind, and I’ll go with the Wildcats.
Early Exits — No. 1 Virginia, No. 2 Cincinnati. The 1 and 2 seeds here both seem somewhat vulnerable. Great defensive teams are primed for March success, and both of these teams are just that. But teams who slow the game down to a crawl can be vulnerable to a quick exit historically, just by the variance lower scoring brings. I think both teams are out by the conclusion of the Sweet 16.
Cinderella — No. 11 Loyola-Chicago. This is the best team from the Missouri Valley Conference, where Cinderella squads are bred (think Wichita State, Creighton and Northern Iowa in past years). Their situation seems ripe for a potential run to … dare we say … the Elite Eight?
The Pick – No. 4 Gonzaga. I like veteran teams that have made a run in the previous season without winning the title. You get that experience of what it takes to win without the hangover (more on that later). The Zags could draw top-seeded Xavier in the Sweet 16, then a potential North Carolina/Michigan winner following what’s sure to be a draining battle between those historically elite programs. They’re a balanced team as well, with size and strong metrics on both offense and defense.
Early Exit — North Carolina. Look at the previous run of NCAA champions and understand why I don’t see a UNC repeat this season.
A defending champion has not advanced past the Sweet 16 since 2007, when Florida won its second of back-to-back championships.
You could bet against history, but understand that’s exactly what you’re doing if you have North Carolina in your Elite Eight or beyond.
Cinderella — San Diego State. I do think we’re going to get the high-profile UNC/Michigan matchup in the Sweet 16 at least, but I reserve the right to be wrong on that. SD State is a plucky low seed with a winnable first round matchup against an up-and-coming program in Houston. If the aforementioned CHAMPIONS CURSE is real, they could have some runway.
The Pick — No. 1 Villanova. They did their time last year (as a champion upset early). This year’s team possesses by far the most efficient offense in the country and a strong defense to go along with it.
Early exit: No. 2 Purdue. I see that second round matchup with fellow Indiana school Butler and I see a 10 seed that will be extremely hungry and playing with a chip on its shoulder.
Cinderella: No. 13 Marshall. The Herd are coached by Dan D’Antoni, brother and former assistant of the Houston Rockets’ Mike D’Antoni, and so you might have an idea as to his preferred style. It’ll be go-go-go and if they run into some teams that can’t keep up, they’re different enough to surprise some people.
The Pick — Duke. They are in a backbreaker of a region and would have to potentially survive Michigan State in the Sweet 16 and Kansas in the elite 8, but this is a team boasting five potential first round draft picks and one that started to embrace defense by year’s end.
Early Exit — I think each of the top 3 seeds will advance reasonably into the tourney. I’ll give you a first round 11 over 6 upset and say TCU bows out to either Arizona State or Syracuse early. Because I’m such a nice guy.
National Semifinals: Duke over Villanova, Kentucky over Gonzaga.
Final: Duke over Kentucky.
And Blue Devil super villain Grayson Allen celebrates while bathing in the tears of America.