The wait is finally over. Get your pencils ready–or in this day and age, your iPhone or iPad. Grab your bracket. It’s that time of year. It’s time to pick your selections. The feeling of possibly being the one who fills the perfect sheet is just around the corner. The conviction of knowing you have all of the Final Four teams, and most important, the thrill of picking the national champion.
Well, here’s some advice. Follow my lead. Go with my selections. And you’ll have yourself a winning bracket. I can’t guarantee you a perfect bracket, (Warren Buffet is happy to hear that) but I will guarantee you a winning bracket. So, without further ado, it’s time to get to the winning picks.
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Florida Gators (1 seed) vs. Play-in-Winner (16 seed)
After surviving a scare in the SEC championship game from the Kentucky Wildcats, the Gators begin their quest for the first National titles since back-to-back championships in 2005 and 2006. The Gators don’t even know who their opponent is, and let’s be serious it doesn’t even matter. Gators roll.
Colorado Buffaloes (8 seed) vs. Pittsburgh Panthers (9 seed)
Trying to erase the memory of just the second first round loss under head coach Jaime Dixon, the Pittsburgh Panthers will be making their 12th NCAA tournament appearance in the past 13 seasons. The Panthers have had much success in the tournament, advancing to five NCAA Regional Semifinals with one Elite Eight performance since 2002. But the same can’t be said for the Buffaloes, who are making their third consecutive NCAA tournament. Despite this season’s success, their season was all but over, when the team’s leading scorer, Spencer Dinwiddie (14.7 ppg.), was ruled out for the remainder of the season after suffering a torn ACL at Washington in late January. The Buffs were able to survive without Dinwiddie and make the dance, but the missing their star player against the talented Panthers team will be too much to overcome.
Virginia Commonwealth Rams (5 seed) vs. Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks (12 seed)
Winners of 28 in a row, the Lumberjacks will begin their second appearance in NCAA tournament history with a victory over the Rams. VCU is entering the tournament losing in the A-10 finals. It was expected VCU would be able to overcome the loss of Melvin Johnson, their best 3-point shooter, after he injured his left knee in Saturday’s semifinals victory against George Washington, but that was not the case. If falling short of a conference championship is any sign for the success VCU will see in this year’s tournament without Johnson, a first round loss is just around corner for the Rams.
UCLA Bruins (4 Seed) vs. Tulsa Golden Hurricane (13 Seed)
If you don’t know much about Tulsa, just remember UCLA and Tulsa faced off in the 1994 NCAA Tournament, and the Bruins were upset by the Golden Hurricane, 112-102. Returning to the dance for the first time since 2003, don’t expect the same result. Coming off an impressive performance in the Pac-12 tournament, the Bruins won their first championship since 2008 under first year head coach Steve Alford. The Bruins enter this tournament in a much better place than they were a year ago, after a season-ending injury to Jordan Adams and a deflating loss in the Pac-12 title game. The combination of Adam and Kyle Anderson might be the best-kept secret in college basketball. This Friday, the secret will be out.
Ohio State Buckeyes (6 seed) vs. Dayton Flyers (11 seed)
Earning their worst seed since 2009, the Buckeyes number one ranked defense in the Big Ten, giving up 59.8 points, will face-off against the Flyers’ and third ranked offense in the A-10 (73.4 points). Dayton head coach Archie Miller, a former assistant under Thad Matta, is 60-37 in three seasons at Dayton. The Flyers are led by Ohio State transfer Jordan Sibert, who is averaging 12.6 points a game. Two-time Big 10 defensive player of the year, Aaron Craft, will be guarding Sibert, as Ohio State is unable to maintain Dayton and their high scoring offense.
Syracuse Orange (3 seed) vs. Western Michigan Broncos (14 seed)
For most of the season, the Orange appeared to be a lock for the No. 1 seed in the East, but after losing five of its final seven games to finish the season, the Orange began to tumble down the seeding line. WMU has faced Syracuse twice in the past with the Orange leading the series 2-0 all-time, but neither times were in the NCAA tournament. Ranking nationally and at or near the top of the MAC in several statistical categories, 69th (2nd, MAC) in field goal percentage (46.4), 56th (3rd, MAC) in field goal percentage defense (40.8), 23rd nationally and 2nd in the MAC in 3-point percentage defense (30.5), WMU is no stranger to putting up points. If the Broncos are able to score against the vaunted 2-3 zone of the Orange, they’ll earn their first trip since 1998 to the round of 32. I hate to go against my alma mater, but the downward spiral, known as the Orange season, continues. And for the first time since 2006, the Orange will be heading home after one game.
New Mexico Lobos (7 seed) vs. Stanford Cardinal (10 seed)
As the lower seed, Mountain West teams are 4-24 in NCAA tournament history. After a match-up with the Cardinals, the Mountain West conference tournament record will improve. The Lobos are the most dangerous seven seed in the tournament. After winning the Mountain West Conference tournament crown for the third straight year, the Lobos are not only going to be a serious threat to Stanford, but to the entire region. New Mexico’s talent, which includes 6-foot-9, 250-pound Australian senior power forward Cameron Bairstow, who averages 20.3 points will look to take care of business this time around, after being upset in their first game in last year’s NCAA dance by Harvard.
Kansas Jayhawks (2 seed) vs. Eastern Kentucky Colonels (15 seed)
What’s the reward for winning the Ohio Valley conference championship? A match-up with the Jayhawks, and star freshman Andrew Wiggins, who helped Kansas capture its 10th-straight Big 12 regular-season title. Despite being without 7-footer Joel Embiid, the Big 12 defensive player of the year, Kansas will have no problem in the matchup, but problems might await sooner than they’d hope for if Embiid doesn’t return.
Florida Gators (1 seed) vs. Pittsburgh Panthers (9 seed)
Led by two seniors, Lamar Patterson and Talib Zanna, the Panthers keys to beating the Gators will be determined by Patterson’s ability to score, Zanna’s ability to control the glass, and the Panthers’ ability to defend the three-point line. As for the Pitt offense, it’s simple: the offense goes as Patterson goes. In their four losses to Virginia (twice), Duke and Syracuse, Patterson averaged just 14.2 points, while averaging 17.6 points during the season. The Panthers best rebounder is Zanna, who is averaging 8.8 boards and is first in the ACC in offensive rebounding at 3.4. If you ever watched Florida, you know they can score in bunches, and very quickly. We all know how good they are. For the Panthers to have a chance to win, Patterson must get help from Zanna and the rest of his teammates. But unlike the Beatles, Patterson will not get by with a little help from his friends.
UCLA Bruins (4 Seed) vs. Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks (12 seed)
Did you know the Stephen F. Austin State University was located in Nacogdoches, Texas? Who’s excited for a UCLA vs. Florida match-up in the Sweet 16? I am.
Dayton Flyers (11 seed) vs. Western Michigan Broncos (14 seed)
Call me Nostradamus or a NCAA basketball genius, but with this match-up being correct, I’m well on my way to one-billon dollars. Sounds convincing, right? Losing to eventual Atlantic-10 champion Saint Joseph’s on a late shot in the tournament, the Flyers will be “flyin’” high after their first round upset of the Buckeyes, as Dayton advances into the Sweet 16 for the first time in 29 years.
Kansas Jayhawks (2 seed) vs. New Mexico Lobos (7 seed)
Standing at 7’0’’ and 6’9’’, Alex Kirk and Cameron Bairstow, respectively, are going to be a dominating force in the box without Joel Embiid. Despite Kansas’s speed, athleticism and scores, Kansas’s lack of size will be the difference. Kirk and Bairstow can also shoot from the outside, drawing away Perry Ellis from the defensive glass. And if Kirk takes a jumper, Bairstow will be there to clean up the glass. Look for that to happen all game long.
Florida Gators (1 seed) vs. UCLA Bruins
As the No. 1 overall seed and clear-cut favorite to emerge from the South Region, the Bruins become the first real threat to knock off Gators. But led by SEC player of the year, Scottie Wilbekin, who averages 12.9 points, 3.9 assists, 2.6 rebounds and 1.5 steals and is arguably the best point guard in the country, will shut down Kyle Anderson, as experience and talent simply wins out. Wilbekin has all the weapons anyone could want at his disposal. Donovan’s seniors have reached three straight Elite Eights, and after a victory over the Bruins, let’s make it four in a row.
New Mexico Lobos (7 seed) vs. Dayton Flyers (11 seed)
Being the only team in the Mountain West conference with three players in the top fifteen in conference scoring, the Lobos earned the title of having the best offense in the conference. In the second round, the Flyers run-and-gun offense was on display, as they were able to push the pace and outscore the Buckeyes. However, if you try to outscore the Lobos, they will beat you at their own game. If you try and beat them with your half court offense, their stifling defense will hurt you from all angles. New Mexico is a team built for tournament play. In this round, they continue to prove it.
Florida Gators (1 seed) vs. New Mexico Lobos (7 seed)
All season long, the Gators were expected to be playing at AT&T Stadium, the site of this year’s final four. All season long we heard about senior leadership. All season long the Gators proved they were the best team in the country. And at least for one more game, they are.
South Region Champion: Florida Gators
Arizona Wildcats (1 seed) vs. Weber State Wildcats (16 seed)
Arizona might be the best defensive team in the country but can sometimes go cold on offense. Luckily for Arizona, in this round, Brandon Ashley will not be needed. Moving forward, I’m not so sure.
Gonzaga Bulldogs (8 seed) vs. Oklahoma State Cowboys (9 seed)
Making its 16th-consecutive appearance in the NCAA tournament, the NCAA selection committee did the Bulldogs no favors by opposing them against the Cowboys in the second round. With strength of schedule of 82, the Bulldogs schedule comes into question, but there’s no denying that this is a program that understands how to win. Marcus Smart could’ve been the number one overall pick in last years NBA draft. He came back to Oklahoma State for a chance at a national championship. Through a few mistakes and apologies, his quest begins with a victory over the bulldogs.
Oklahoma Sooners (5 seed) vs. North Dakota State Bison (12 seed)
Despite having Cameron Clark, Buddy Hield and Jordan Woodard, I’m going with the upset. I haven’t been impressed with the Sooners all year. Now, I have a reason to actually pick against them.
San Diego State Aztecs (4 seed) vs. New Mexico State Aggies (13 seed)
My advice: Take the over in this game. The Aggies can score with anyone in the country, but it’s going to be the Aztecs top-10 defense in the country that will be the difference.
Baylor Bears (6 seed) vs. Nebraska Cornhuskers (11 seed)
Nebraska Coach Tim Miles will have plenty of time to tweet during this game because with the way the Bears have been playing, Nebraska doesn’t stand a chance. Before the season began, Nebraska was picked to finish last in the Big Ten. There’s a reason for that. You’ll see.
Creighton Bluejays (3 seed) vs. Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns (14 seed)
Two words: Doug McDermott. Actually a few more: He has scored 20 points or more in 13 straight games.
Oregon Ducks (7 seed) vs. Brigham Young Cougars (10 seed)
Both teams enter the tournament heading in opposite directions. Up until selection Sunday, the Cougars weren’t even sure if their name was going to be called. While the Ducks on the other hands, have won eight of their last nine games. Scoring will be a plenty in this one, so if you like defense, I’d look away. I’m going with the team that’s playing better basketball right now. Phil Knight’s going to be happy.
Wisconsin Badgers (2 seed) vs. American Eagles (15 seed)
After getting blown out by the Spartans in the Big Ten tournament, the Badgers will be able to bounce back with an easy victory over the Eagles. This will be a defensive battle, as the Eagles finished in the top-50 in adjusted defensive efficiency and allowed only 36 points in the Patriot league final. The Badgers don’t need the talent to beat American in this round. Going forward, I might have to think differently.
Arizona Wildcats (1 seed) vs. Oklahoma State (9 seed)
The Wildcats become the first one seed to fall at the hands of the Cowboys. The Cowboys will be able to take full advantage of Arizona’s inconsistencies on offense. Despite the Cowboys inability to rebound, they have too many weapons on offense.
San Diego State Aztecs (4 seed) vs. North Dakota State Bison (12 seed)
Led by Taylor Braun who leads the team in points, rebounds and assists, the Bison own the top shooting percentage in the country (50.9) and have won 14 of their last 15 games. But when the Aztecs are playing at their best, they are one of the best teams in the country. The Bisons pulled off the upset in the second round, but this time, they fall short with a loss to the Aztecs.
Creighton Blue Jays (3 Seed) vs. Baylor Bears (6 seed)
I’ve seen Creighton lose in non-competitive fashion to St. Johns, Xavier, Georgetown and Providence in the Big East Finals. I’ve seen everyone else on the team besides Doug McDermott struggle to score. If the Bears stop McDermott, they advance. Guess what? They stop McDermott and advance.
Wisconsin Badgers (2 seed) vs. Oregon Ducks (7 seed)
A battle of two different philosophies, two different coaching styles, a high-powered offense versus shutdown defense. What’s that saying? Defense wins championships? I’m not saying the Badgers are winning the National title, but the Badgers slow the game, while the Ducks struggle to score in the half court offense. And if the Ducks can’t fly in a run-and-gun game, they have no chance to win.
Oklahoma State Cowboys (9 seed) vs. San Diego State Aztecs (4 seed)
For the first time in NCAA tournament history, a number nine seed reaches the elite eight in consecutive seasons. Since Marcus Smart returned from his three game suspension for shoving a fan, the Cowboys are playing their best basketball of the season. That continues.
Wisconsin Badgers (2 seed) vs. Baylor Bears (6 seed)
Winning 10 of their last 12 games, Baylor was the No. 7 seed in the Big 12 tournament before going on a run that propelled them to a No. 6 seed in the NCAA tournament. The Bears lost to Iowa State in the final, but turned their season around after starting 2-8 in conference play. The Bears are full of athletic, relentless players. It’s simple; the Badgers don’t have the strength or toughness to compete with the Bears. Reaching the Elite Eight twice in the previous three seasons, the Bears return to a familiar place with a win over the Badgers.
Baylor Bears (6 seed) vs. Oklahoma State Cowboys (9 seed)
In a season that’s been filled with uncertainty and controversy (Thanks Marcus Smart), Oklahoma State will put everything behind them as the Cowboys magical run through this year’s tourney continues all the way to the “House that Jerry Built”. After enduring a seven-game losing streak this season, in the midst of Smart’s suspension, the Cowboys turned things around coming into the tournament, winning of five of their last seven. Despite lacking depth, and chemistry at times, the Cowboys talent will come together, as they earn in spot in this years’ Final Four.
West Region Champion: Oklahoma State Cowboys
Virginia Cavaliers (1 seed) vs. Coastal Carolina Chanticleers (16 seed)
Located a little under three hours from, Raleigh, North Carolina the site of their second round game against the ACC regular season and conference champions, the Cavaliers, this will be the Chanticleers first NCAA tournament appearance in 21 years. Here’s a message to them: enjoy every minute of it because it’s not going to last very long.
Memphis Tigers (8 seed) vs. George Washington Colonials (9 seed)
Losing three of its last five games, while giving up an average of 82 points in its last three losses, the Tigers hit the NCAA tournament with far less momentum than they’ve grown accustomed. Despite winning three straight Conference USA tournament championships, the Tigers were unable to carry that success past the first round of the tournament losing twice in the past three seasons. While the Tigers are a recognizable name on your NCAA tournament bracket, George Washington on the other hand returns to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2007. But this time around, not even Yinka Dare would be able to save the Colonials in this one.
Cincinnati Bearcats (5 seed) vs. Harvard Crimson Tide (12 seed)
Last year, the Crimson Tide was the trendy upset pick, and in 2013, Tommy Amaker’s team was able to pull of a first-round upset. But when you have not only the best player on the court, but one of the best player’s in the country, in guard Sean Kilpatrick, the Bearcats will have no trouble in this round, as the clock strikes midnight for the Crimson Tide. Despite Wesley Saunders ability to score, it’s going to be a long day facing the Bearcats’ top-10 defense. So it’s time for Harvard to hit the books, because their season is about to end.
Michigan State Spartans (4 seed) vs. Delaware Blue Hens (13 seed)
The Spartans are finally healthy. The Spartans are finally healthy. The Spartans are finally healthy. Did I just repeat myself? Sorry Delaware.
North Carolina Tar Heels (6 seed) vs. Providence Friars (11 seed)
In one of the most intriguing first round matchups, if it weren’t for the Friars upset over Creighton in the Big East Finals, the Tar Heels most certainly would’ve had a different opponent. Now, from being on the bubble to being one of the hottest teams in the country at the moment, the Friars’ offense is led by senior Bryce Cotton, who made Madison Square Garden his personal playground over the weekend. Unsure of which North Carolina team will show up for this one, I’m banking on the team that finished the season winning 12 of 13 games, and not the team that lost to Belmont and UAB early in the season. The Tar Heels can fall asleep sometimes. My guess is they stake awake for this one.
Iowa State Cyclones (3 Seed) vs. North Carolina Central Eagles (14 seed)
Is there a better trio in the nation than Melvin Ejim, Georges Niang and DeAndre Kane? Nope. Is there a more dangerous team in the nation? Nope. The Eagles have won 20 straight games, but have yet to play a team like Iowa State in that run. Now, the Eagles have lost one in a row. Next.
UConn Huskies (7 seed) vs. St. Joseph’s Hawks (10 seed)
In his second year as head coach of the Hawks, Phil Martelli entered the NCAA tournament with an automatic bid, the only other time during his head-coaching career. Facing what many consider the best backcourt in the country with Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright, this is a very difficult first-round game for St. Joseph’s, but then again the Hawks are tough to match up against, too, with a point-forward like Halil Kanacevic who’s a great presence inside, and a shooter in Langston Galloway, who averages 17.5 points and is shooting 43.9 percent from three-point territory. The last time Martelli took a team to play in Buffalo in the NCAA tournament, that team lead by Jameer Nelson advanced to the Elite Eight. But there’s something special about the Huskies when the calendar turns to March. And although they lost in their conference championship, I wouldn’t bet against them – at least not yet.
Villanova Wildcats (2 seed) vs. Milwaukee Panthers (15 seed)
Unless you are enrolled at Milwaukee, graduated from Milwaukee or love the Brewers, don’t expect the Panthers to upset coach Jay Wright’s offensive juggernaut in Villanova. The Wildcats ranked 30th in the nation in scoring, averaging 78.5 points, and 20th in assists, with 15.6 per game. I never thought the Wildcats were worthy of a number one seed. I don’t think they’re worthy of a number two either. A victory over Milwaukee, wont’ change my mind either.
Virginia Cavaliers (1 seed) vs. Memphis Tigers (8 seed)
Tony Bennett’s Virginia Cavaliers play a slow, grind-it-out style. The Tigers love to run, averaging 59.2 field goals attempted per game. Memphis has the talent to compete with anyone in the nation, but turning the ball over 13 times per game, is a recipe for disaster against Virginia. Led by Malcolm Brogdon and Joe Harris, the ACC champs will be booking their flights to the Big Apple, as Virginia will have no problem defeating the Tigers.
Michigan State Spartans (4 seed) vs. Cincinnati Bearcats (5 seed)
If you had any questions about how the Spartans would play now that everyone is healthy, their performance in the Big 10 tournament should tell all. For the next few days, the Spartans are going to be the team that most people pick to win the National Championship. And why would anyone be surprised? They are playing better than anyone in the country right now. Tom Izzo had led the Spartans to six Final Four appearances. Gary Harris is one of the most dynamic players in the country. But the difference in this matchup will be Adreian Payne, who averaged 15.7 points, 7.3 rebounds, and shot for 42.9% from three-point range. He’s as great of a shooter from the outside, as he is on the block down low. Unlike Kilpatrick, Payne doesn’t need to score for the Spartans to win. Payne is impossible to guard. The Bearcats will learn that the hard way.
Iowa State Cyclones (3 seed) vs. North Carolina Tar Heels (6 seed)
Not only can the Cyclones score at will, but Fred Hoiberg’s team can shut you down as well. Its no secret Marcus Paige is a second half player. We’ve seen it all season long. Game after game, but the problem will be, if the Tar Heels get down big against Iowa State, not even Paige will be able to work his second half magic. The Tar Heels will keep it close for a little, but in the end, the better team will win. And that is the Cyclones.
Villanova Wildcats (2 seed) vs. UConn Huskies (7 seed)
Big East Rivals until this season, two programs that are very much familiar with one another renew a rivalry with a trip to the Sweet 16 on the line. Banned from postseason play last year, Kevin Ollie will earn his first trip to the regional semifinals as head coach of the Huskies. In this matchup, Villanova proves despite what their record shows (28-4), they were a mediocre team playing in a mediocre conference all season long.
Virginia Cavaliers (1 seed) vs. Michigan State Spartans (4 seed)
The first time since 1983, the Cavaliers are a number one seed entering the tournament. To me, that’s where this game is decided, as the game will come down to previous tournament experience. The Cavaliers are in this position for the first time, while the Spartans have been here before. Seven of the last eight NCAA champions have won their conference tournaments. The Spartans keep that trend alive with a victory over Virginia.
Iowa State Cyclones (3 seed) vs. UConn Huskies (7 seed)
Displayed by their dominating 72-53 performance in the AAC quarterfinals against the Memphis Tigers, the Huskies are one of the toughest teams to beat in the country when everything is going well. But with the good comes the ugly. A 33-point loss to Louisville in the regular-season finale, and again by double-digits in the conference finals, the Huskies inability to be consistent will be their destruction against the Cyclones. Iowa State has the ability to deliver the knockout blow early and often. The Huskies are the perfect opponent for that.
Iowa State (3 seed) vs. Michigan State (4 seed)
Was I impressed? Yes. Do I think they’re good? How good? We’ll find out. Both teams have the ability to win the National championship, but I believe one team is much better. And that’s Iowa State.
East Region Champion: Iowa State
Wichita State Shockers (1 seed) vs. Play-in-Winner (16 seed)
Wichita State’s reward for becoming the first team to enter the NCAA tournament undefeated in almost 25 years: The hardest road for any of the top seeds. Wichita State’s combination of offensive firepower and defensive toughness will allow them to cruise into the second round.
Kentucky Wildcats (8 seed) vs. Kansas State Wildcats (9 seed)
Two of the best freshmen in the nation in Julius Randle and Marcus Foster, will be on display in this matchup. In a one-point loss to the Gators in the SEC championship, the nation saw Kentucky start to mature right before our own eyes. Kentucky’s offense is too powerful for Kansas State’s top-25 defense. The Wildcats will win, but they’ll be from Kentucky.
Saint Louis Billikens (5 seed) vs. North Carolina State Wolfpack (12 seed)
With this one, I’m picking two games. First, I’m picking the Wolfpack to defeat Xavier in the play-in game. Second, the ACC player of the year, who has averaged 28.9 points over the past 12 games, T.J. Warren, will lead his team to a victory. St. Louis is stumbling at the wrong time, and it appears to me, A-10 player of the year, Jordair Jett is injured. If Jett isn’t one hundred percent healthy, St. Louis doesn’t stand a chance.
Louisville Cardinals (4 seed) vs. Manhattan Jaspers (13 seed)
Winners of 6 of their last seven games, all by double digits, are the Cardinals the most dangerous 4 seed of all-time? I think so. Having the athletic ability to compete with anyone, the Jaspers will be running into a juggernaut in the defending champions. In the discussion for a potential one-seed, the Cardinals will look to prove a point. Unfortunately for the Jaspers, they’re going to feel the effects of it.
UMass Minutemen (6 seed) vs. Iowa Hawkeyes (11 seed)
Here’s another one of those matchups, where the lower seed will have to wait-and-see to know whom their opponent is. In this case, the Hawkeyes will already have a victory under the belt when they play UMass in the second round. Heading into the tournament, Iowa is playing its worst basketball of the season, but UMass, will be unable to keep pace with the Hawkeyes. As Iowa makes the Minutemen’s first trip to the tournament since 1998 a short one.
Duke Blue Devils (3 seed) vs. Mercer Bears (14 seed)
Don’t expect the Bears to pull a Lehigh and defeat Duke. Duke advances, as the nation gets to watch Jabari Parker for at least one more game.
Texas Longhorns (7 seed) vs. Arizona State Sun Devils (10 seed)
This might be the hardest game to pick in the second round. Both teams are evenly matched, tough to score on, and at times, can struggle on the offensive end. The Sun Devils don’t get a lot of second-chance opportunities, so they need to knock down shots. The Longhorns are not a good shooting team, but crash the offensive glass. Flip a coin. Heads is Texas. Tails is Arizona. It’s heads.
Michigan Wolverines (2 seed) vs. Wofford Terriers (15 seed)
If the Wolverines want to get back to the National Championship game, they’ll have to do it without Mitch McGary, who helped carry them through March just a year ago. Then again, they’ve been playing all year without, so why should anything be different? Because now that it’s tournament time, was the effort against Michigan State a blimp on the radar, or a sign of things to come? The Wolverines have enough shooting to go toe-to-toe with anyone, but when will not having McGary be noticed? Not in this round.
Wichita State Shockers (1 seed) vs. Kentucky Wildcats (8 seed)
For no other reason than my belief that the Shockers didn’t deserve a number one seed, despite their record, and for the fact that I’ve been waiting and wanting to write this all year: Wichita State loses.
Louisville Cardinals (4 seed) vs. North Carolina State Wolfpack (12 seed)
The dream possibility of Louisville versus Kentucky in the Sweet 16 becomes a reality. Louisville isn’t quite as good defensively as last season’s NCAA champions, but Rick Pitino’s team is shooting it well enough to get back to the Final Four.
Duke Blue Devils (3 seed) vs. Iowa Hawkeyes (11 seed)
Playing in Raleigh, North Carolina, the Blue Devils will be close to home. PNC Arena will become Cameroon Indoor, and the Cameron Crazies will be in full force. Despite Roy Devyn Marble’s ability to score, it’s time to start preparing for the NBA draft because his college career is over.
Michigan Wolverines (2 seed) vs. Texas Longhorns (7 seed)
Leading the Wolverines in swagger and points, Nik Stauskas averages 17.5 points and shoots 44.5 percent on 3-pointers. Good luck keeping up with that Texas. Wolverines roll into the Sweet 16.
Louisville Cardinals (4 seed) vs. Kentucky Wildcats (8 seed)
If only this game was being played at Rupp Arena, than, and only than, would the Wildcats have a chance at defeating the Cardinals? If only the Cardinals aren’t the defending National Champions? If only Russ Smith was ready to say goodbye, instead of being poised and ready for another tournament run, averaging 18.2 points and 4.7 assists to 2.7 turnovers. If only the Wildcats were experienced enough to understand the magnitude of the game? Unfortunately for Kentucky, they can only imagine.
Michigan Wolverines (2 seed) vs. Duke Blue Devils (3 seed)
Two of the nation’s best three point shooting teams will square off with a trip to the Elite Eight on the line. But to me, Jabari Parker will be the difference maker. The Wolverines, who are undersized without McGary, get pushed around against tougher and more physical teams far too often. Parker, who leads Blue Devils with 19.2 points, 8.8 rebounds and 1.3 blocks, shows once again why he’s the best freshman in the country, leading the Blue Devils to the victory.
Duke Blue Devils (3 Seed) vs. Louisville Cardinals (4 seed)
Looking to return to the Final Four for the second consecutive year, the Cardinals are the better all-around team. If you can find something, they don’t do well, please let me know before I submit my bracket. Game after game, Montrezl Harrell continues to be a dominating force on the offensive and defensive glass, Luke Hancock continues to make big shot after big shot, and Russ Smith, he’s really, really good. After Chane Behanan, who was a key component to Louisville’s success over the past two seasons, was dismissed from the team many wondered how the Cardinals would respond. But the Cardinals continued to play well, and are just two wins away from back-to-back championships.
Midwest Region Champion: Louisville Cardinals
Florida Gators (1 seed) vs. Iowa State Cyclones (3 seed)
The number one overall seed in this year’s tournament has gotten to the Final Four with ease and conviction, leaving no doubts whom the best team in the country is – until now. The Gators have all the ingredients for success. They have a great floor general in Scottie Wilbekin. They have senior leadership. They have a presence inside in Patric Young, and have scorers in Casey Prather, Michael Frazier II and Will Yeguete. But sometimes in sports, things are just meant to be, and Iowa State playing for a National Championship is just one of those things. A lot of brackets are going to be ruined after this one, but if you listen to me, yours will be one of the few remaining.
Louisville Cardinals (4 seed) vs. Oklahoma State Cowboys (9 seed)
Louisville’s full court press flusters the Cowboys. Not even Marcus Smart, Markel Brown and Le’Bryan Nash can put up enough points to overcome Louisville’s deadly offensive attack. The depth and defensive prowess of the Cardinals will weigh heavy on the Cowboys. With Kamari Murphy standing at no more than 6’8’’, Oklahoma State’s lack of size will hurt on the boards, as Montrezl Harrell has another dominating performance. Russ Smith, the leader of the Cardinals exhibited by his 13-assist senior day performance, will be simply, “Russdiculous”. Smart came back to college for a shot at a National championship. He got his chance, but the Smart era finally comes to an end.
Iowa State Cyclones (3 seed) vs. Louisville Cardinals (4 seed)
Playing in their second consecutive National championship game, the Cardinals have won 10 in a row dating back to the regular season. Under the guidance of Rick Pitino, in 2013, Pitino led the Louisville Cardinals to their third National Championship in an 82-76 win over Michigan to become the first NCAA Division I coach in history to win a championship with two different schools. While Pitino will be one game away from his third title, standing in his way are the Cyclones, who have never won a National championship. But the waiting is over. While the book on the 2013 season is coming to an end, predicted to finish fourth in the Big 12, the Cyclones season has been a roller-coaster ride. Winning the conference championship was sweet, but cutting down the nets on April 7, 2014 is going to be even sweeter.
From Jeff Hornacek to Fred Hoiberg, from Marcus Fizer and Jamaal Tinsley and now to DeAndre Kane, Iowa State’s history isn’t illustrious to the likes of the Carolinas, the Dukes or the Kentucky’s of the world. Not since 2000, have the Cyclones been able to enjoy a Big 12 title – their first in the programs history. Now, “the Mayor” of Iowa State has turned this program into a National powerhouse. A mere few weeks after winning their first conference championship, the Cyclones become National Champions. Everyone wants their own one shining moment. In 2014, the Cyclones finally get theirs.