Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
Now that the 2013 NCAA Tournament field is set, it’s time for our resident bracketologist to switch from projection mode to prognostication mode. If you thought building the 2013 bracket was difficult, picking the 67 games within the finished product will be as much of a challenge, especially without a clear national title favorite.
Before I jump into my picks, let's take a look at how I did back in 2012. Without the First Four (since just about all bracket contests exclude that quartet of games), I went 44-19, correctly picked three of Final Four -- whiffing on Michigan State -- both national finalists and champion Kentucky. If you add in the First Four, my record dropped to 45-22. Of course, past performance is not indicative of future results, especially since last season's picks were better than my 2010 and 2011 ones. In those two seasons, I managed to go a combined 77-53 and I missed all eight Final Four teams.
Without further delay, here are my selections, starting at the upper left hand portion of most printable brackets with the Midwest, home of the top overall seed.
N.C. A&T (16) over Liberty (16)
The MEAC champions will ensure it's a short stay for the only team in the Tournament with a losing record.
Middle Tennessee (11) over St. Mary's (11)
As is tradition, I pick the team I left out. Perhaps the Blue Raiders will hold a lead better than Iona did last season.
Round of 64
Louisville (1) over No. 16 N.C. A&T (16)
The Aggies' postseason run ends at the hands of the No. 1 overall seed.
Colorado State (8) over Missouri (9)
There may not be enough space in the rebounds column in the box score for this matchup.
Oklahoma State (5) over Oregon (12)
I was tempted to take the Ducks here, since they are incredibly underseeded, but with Dominic Artis not at 100% yet, I can't see them knocking out Marcus Smart, Le`Bryan Nash and company.
Saint Louis (4) over New Mexico State (13)
The Billikens will grind the Aggies down in San Jose.
Middle Tennessee (11) over Memphis (6)
The Tigers' early tournament woes will continue against a Blue Raider team that really wants to show the nation it belongs and happens to have the offense and defense to make the case.
Michigan State (3) over Valparaiso (14)
If this one is close though, Crusader coach Bryce Drew won't be able to win it on his own, but he can use Ryan Broekhoff to re-create "Pacer."
Creighton (7) over Cincinnati (10)
The Bearcats have stumbled into the Tournament and their scoring troubles may catch up to them against the explosive Bluejays.
Duke (2) over Albany (15)
Most of America will spend the early Friday window cheering for the Great Danes to repeat Lehigh's 2012 upset. They'll likely be disappointed.
Round of 32
Louisville (1) over Colorado State (8)
The Rams will present a unique challenge to the Cardinals because of their tenacity on the boards, but the Cardinals prevail.
Saint Louis (4) over Oklahoma State (5)
The Billikens' lockdown defense may be a bit too much for the Cowboys.
Michigan State (3) over Middle Tennessee (11)
This one will be closer than the Spartans would like, however.
Louisville (1) over Saint Louis (4)
Don't expect a whole lot of scoring in a close Cardinal win.
Michigan State (3) over Duke (2)
The Spartans' defense will sent the Blue Devils out a little earlier than they probably deserved.
Louisville (1) over Michigan State (3)
Again, this will not be a great showcase for offensive basketball. The Cardinals will get a few more buckets to advance to Atlanta out of Indianapolis.
Boise State (13) over La Salle (13)
This game should be a guard-driven offensive delight. The result might go the other way if the Explorers get big man Steve Zack back from a foot injury in time for Wednesday, however.
Round of 64
Gonzaga (1) over Southern (16)
The Bulldogs start their NCAA campaign with a comfortable win.
Wichita State (9) over Pittsburgh (8)
This Shockers take advantage on the offensive glass to advance.
Wisconsin (5) over Ole Miss (12)
The Badgers' patience and discipline will torment the Rebels.
Kansas State (4) over Boise State (13)
This matchup intrigues me as a possible upset pick, but I think the Wildcats will slow down the Broncos too much.
Belmont (11) over Arizona (6)
Yes, I seemingly pick the Bruins every year. This time I feel they have a matchup they can truly exploit, especially on the perimeter.
New Mexico (3) over Harvard (14)
If the Crimson had next season's roster, they would have a better shot.
Iowa State (10) over Notre Dame (7)
The defensively-challenged Fighting Irish did put up some nice late performances against Pitt, Cincinnati and St. John's. Those teams don't have anywhere near the firepower that the Cyclones possess.
Ohio State (2) over Iona (15)
The Gaels can certainly score, but they also haven't faced a defense like the Buckeyes' this season.
Round of 32
Gonzaga (1) over Wichita State (9)
The Bulldogs will be sternly tested, but their encounter with the Shockers will prepare them well for the remainder of the Tournament.
Wisconsin (5) over Kansas State (4)
Obviously, this potential rematch of a 2011 Round of 32 contest wouldn't be the easiest game in the world to watch. The Badgers should get just enough good shots off to win a defensive struggle.
New Mexico (3) over Belmont (11)
The Lobos' toughness wins the day.
Ohio State (2) over Iowa State (10)
After facing Iona's offense, the Cyclones' similarly intense attack won't faze the Buckeyes.
Gonzaga (1) over Wisconsin (5)
While the Bulldogs haven't faced a defense like the Badgers' in quite some time, they should have just enough firepower to overcome Bo Ryan's squad.
Ohio State (2) over New Mexico (3)
The Buckeyes aren't a great matchup for a Lobo team that can struggle on offense at times.
Gonzaga (1) over Ohio State (2)
If the Bulldogs get past the Shockers and Badgers, they'll be well prepared to conquer the Buckeyes.
Round of 64
Kansas (1) over Western Kentucky (16)
The Jayhawks roll in their backyard.
North Carolina (8) over Villanova (9)
The Wildcats struggle at defending the three-ball. That's a significant problem when facing the Tar Heels.
VCU (5) over Akron (12)
Good friends Shaka Smart and Keith Dambrot meet with an NCAA win on the line. I think Zips' point guard problem is a significant one for this particular matchup.
Michigan (4) over South Dakota State (13)
Nate Wolters may try to shoot the Jackrabbits into the round of 32, but I'm not sure they can stop the Wolverines' powerful offense.
Minnesota (11) over UCLA (6)
If Jordan Adams had not broken his foot at the end of the Arizona game, different story.
Florida (3) over Northwestern State (14)
Note that if the Gators from the second half of the SEC final show up, the Demons could make me very unhappy on Friday night.
San Diego State (7) over Oklahoma (10)
The Sooners can struggle against solid defensive teams like the Aztecs.
Georgetown (2) over Florida Gulf Coast (15)
The Hoyas make the Eagles' first NCAA trip a quick one.
Round of 32
Kansas (1) over North Carolina (8)
Unfortunately, the margin may be by enough that the broadcast team can fill the second half with Roy Williams-Kansas stories ... and this is probably a national game.
VCU (5) over Michigan (4)
The Rams' defense and toughness will drive the Wolverines to an unexpected early exit.
Florida (3) over Minnesota (11)
At some point, the bad version of the inconsistent Gophers will show up. The quick turnaround may accelerate their arrival.
Georgetown (2) over San Diego State (7)
This one won't be for the faint of heart, but it feels like the Hoyas grab a lead and don't let go.
VCU (5) over Kansas (1)
The Jayhawks will look to get a bit of revenge for their 2011 Elite Eight elimination, but their lack of a true point guard will cost them against the Rams.
Florida (3) over Georgetown (2)
I've seen too many close Gator losses in recent times to feel very confident about this, but I also know the Hoyas can struggle on offense at times. It's possible the winner has a five-point lead with five or six minutes to go and next to nothing will happen from that point on.
Florida (3) over VCU (5)
Gator head coach Billy Donovan faces former assistant Shaka Smart for the first time and grabs the victory. Florida gets its act together just in time to avoid a third consecutive Regional Final loss.
James Madison (16) over Long Island U. (16)
The Blackbirds' defense, or lack thereof, will be their downfall.
Round of 64
Indiana (1) over James Madison (16)
The Hoosiers keep the Dukes from joining the long list of recent NCAA Tournament winners from the CAA.
Temple (9) over N.C. State (8)
This one might come down to coaching, and I'll take Fran Dunphy over Mike Gottfried every time.
California (12) over UNLV (5)
The Golden Bears take advantage of their second shot at the Rebels in a de facto home game this season.
Syracuse (4) over Montana (13)
Caveat for this one: If Will Cherry has a good game, the Orange may be upset.
Bucknell (11) over Butler (6)
The Bulldogs don't have an interior player on Mike Muscala's level this season. That's a problem.
Davidson (14) over Marquette (3)
The Wildcats take a lot of threes and the Golden Eagles allow plenty of them. Plus, Davidson does a great job of getting to the foul line, which could be a big difference late.
Illinois (7) over Colorado (10)
Similarly, the Illini will rain threes down on the Buffaloes and sneak through.
Miami (2) over Pacific (15)
The Hurricanes send Tigers' head coach Bob Thomason into retirement.
Round of 32
Syracuse (4) over California (12)
Even with a virtual home court advantage, I doubt the Bears get the two consecutive quality performances they need to head East.
Bucknell (11) over Davidson (14)
The Bison will have too much inside for the Wildcats.
Illinois (7) over Miami (2)
While Duke didn't shoot well from outside when it defeated the Hurricanes in Durham, Georgia Tech and Wake Forest got hot from the perimeter in their two late upset wins. That's the blueprint for the Illini.
Indiana (1) over Syracuse (4)
If the Orange's offense was a bit more consistent, they'd be able to pull off the upset here. That's not the case right now.
Bucknell (11) over Illinois (7)
Mike Muscala and the Bison perimeter defense end up giving the Illini fits.
Indiana (1) over Bucknell (11)
The Hoosiers have simply too much and the Bison's Cinderella run ends.
Louisville (1) over Gonzaga (1)
At this point, the Bulldogs will be facing a defensive power for the fourth game in a row, and the Cardinals operate at even a higher level than Wichita State, Wisconsin and Ohio State on that end of the floor.
Indiana (1) over Florida (3)
The Hoosiers have too much firepower for the Gators, who haven't been anywhere near as incredible on defense as they were in December and January.
National Championship Game
Louisville (1) over Indiana (1)
Back in November, these were the top two teams in my preseason bracket. Unusually, they've both established themselves as national favorites, after some bumps along the way. Even though I am a supporter of offensive basketball, in this particular period in college basketball history, defense is at the forefront. With that in mind, I'm going with the stronger squad on that end of the equation for this pick, the Cardinals.
Now, I'm going to put these picks on the back burner and enjoy the best three weeks of the annual sporting calendar. I advise you to do as well. This month is so much more fun when you let the games unfold and don't panic about your office pool going up in flames.
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