The NCAA Tournament brackets are out! That means that everyone and their dog has DVRed every Bracketology show on TV and read every blurb on the internet to try and get the upper hand. More money changes hands during the NCAA Tournament than any other sporting event other than the Super Bowl. It turns average people into hardcore gambling addicts — at least for three weeks.
So here I am, doing my part to try and give you some insight. If you follow my advice, you will either look like a genius or an idiot. In March, there is no in-between. My best advice is to gather as much information as you can and follow your gut!
For this piece, in which I’ll predict the results of the NCAA Tournament’s South Region, this is the information you should know. Like I have done with the other regions, I will select the following:
- my pick to win the region
- a dark horse pick to win the region (a team seeded No. 4 or higher)
- a team begging to be upset
- a bracket buster (No. 8 seed or higher to get past the first weekend)
- a double-digit seed to pull off an upset
I’m not saying that all of these things will happen, this is just for those of you who want to get a little, shall we say, creative with your picks.
Dark Horse Pick: New Mexico. The Lobos are underseeded at No. 7 and the two seed in the bottom of this bracket (Kansas) is vulnerable right now. New Mexico has the frontcourt to give opponents fits. Kansas beat the Lobos earlier this year, but it was Joel Embiid that was the most important player in that game for the Jayhawks. If New Mexico gets the rematch against the Embiid-less Jayhawks, you have the recipe for an upset.
Begging to Be Upset: Kansas. The Jayhawks have allowed over 90 points twice with Joel Embiid out, and are just 2-3 since he went down. Even if Embiid is able to play in the second round, I doubt he will be his normal self. Back injuries are especially tough on big men in basketball. Embiid would likely be near full-strength if the Jayhawks make the Sweet 16, but right now, that is a big if.
Bracket Buster: Ohio State. I have already given you the low-down on New Mexico, so I thought I would go with another team that has a shot at making some noise. The reason that I won’t pick the Buckeyes to go very far is because they have a rough first round matchup against Dayton, a team that has been trying to get the Buckeyes to play them for the better part of a decade. You know the Flyers want to make them pay for that. But if Ohio State manages to win that game, they matchup well with a struggling Syracuse team.
Upset Special: Western Michigan. There are a few upsets in this bracket that could happen. The Tulsa-UCLA matchup is intriguing because of Ed O’Bannon‘s comment about the Golden Hurricane in 1994 before their first round game. Then Tulsa beat them. I suppose that could happen this year, but UCLA is playing well now, so I went with a team that has a matchup against a team not playing so well. Syracuse was the undisputed No. 1 team in the land for the better part of three months. The Orange then stumbled to a 2-5 finish, including a loss to North Carolina State in the ACC Tournament that likely cost SMU a berth in the Big Dance. The Broncos are every bit as good as the Wolfpack and they have a good shot at taking out the Orange early.
Overseeded: Colorado. The Ralphies are ranked 34 in the RPI — right in between Southern Miss, who didn’t even make the tournament, and North Dakota State, who is a 12 seed. An eight is awful generous.
Underseeded: New Mexico. The Lobos are nationally ranked at 17 and have an RPI of 12. Those numbers should equal a better seed than seven.
(1) Florida vs. (16) Albany at Orlando, FL: It won’t really matter who the Gators draw here. It won’t be a game. (Pick: Florida)
(8) Colorado vs. (9) Pittsburgh at Orlando, FL: The Panthers held their own in their first season in the ACC. Still, the fact remains that they didn’t beat any of the ACC elite until they ousted a struggling North Carolina team in the ACC Tournament. That said, Colorado is having some real issues scoring lately. The safe pick has to be Pitt. (Pick: Pittsburgh)
(5) Virginia Commonwealth vs. (12) Stephen F. Austin at San Diego, CA: The Rams get a pretty tough draw here. The Lumberjacks have not lost a game since before Thanksgiving. That said, SFA has only played one team in the RPI top 100 (number 95 Towson) in that span. VCU has a 13 RPI. I know this is a trendy pick for an upset, but you won’t see it coming from me, even if VCU guard Melvin Johnson misses the game. (Pick: Virginia Commonwealth)
(4) UCLA vs. (13) Tulsa at San Diego, CA: A lot of talk is centered around Ed O’Bannon not knowing where Tulsa was 20 years ago. Danny Manning has done a great job as the Tulsa coach, landing them in the tourney. However, UCLA is a team that may be peaking at the right time after taking down Arizona in the Pac 12 Tournament Championship Game. I just can’t pick against UCLA here. (Pick: UCLA)
(6) Ohio State vs. (11) Dayton at Buffalo, NY: The Flyers have been waiting for this game for a while. On paper, this looks like a mismatch. Dayton doesn’t have anyone that can stop LaQuinton Ross. It is stories like this that keep March Madness mad. Teams that should have no chance wind up slaying a giant. Will that happen here? Probably not. (Pick: Ohio State)
(3) Syracuse vs. (14) Western Michigan at Buffalo, NY: Yes, the First Niagara Center will most likely be Carrier Dome West tomorrow, but don’t completely count out Western Michigan. There should be enough impartial fans there that want to see an upset should the Broncos stay close. The crowd could very well get behind them. The thing I see here is Syracuse struggling against a WMU team who won a MAC Conference that is better than most people think. (Pick: Western Michigan)
(7) New Mexico vs. (10) Stanford at St Louis, MO: Many people, myself included, may be overlooking Stanford a little bit here. On paper, it’s a mismatch. As I stated above, I think the Lobos are underseeded. That said, it is not easy to beat a well-coached team. Craig Neal better have UNM ready to go. (Pick: New Mexico)
(2) Kansas vs. (15) Eastern Kentucky at St Louis, MO: Every game since Embiid went down has been an adventure, and not always a good one for the Jayhawks. This game shouldn’t be, but come Sunday, look out! (Pick: Kansas)
First Round Winners: Florida, Pittsburgh, Virginia Commonwealth, UCLA, Ohio State, Western Michigan, New Mexico, Kansas
Second Round Winners: Florida, UCLA, Ohio State, New Mexico
Sweet Sixteen Winners: Florida, New Mexico
Regional Winner: Florida