It's the most wonderful time of the year yet again: March Madness. The craziest moments in college basketball spring from nowhere, Cinderellas appear, dark horses emerge and America gets a few weeks to see some of their favorite teams and root for guys they've never heard of.
And this season, with a stacked Midwest and South region, there are bound to be some upsets, right? Right. So I've taken the liberty to let the good ol' imagination run free. Spoiler: Kentucky is the best team in the universe, but just like anyone else, they can still lose. We've seen multiple close games against SEC and weaker competition (double OT against Texas A&M, 10 point win over Columbia, two point win against LSU, down to the wire vs. Georgia and Louisville, overtime vs. Ole Miss). They've been pushed hard, at times, in many games that could have easily been blowouts.
Realtime Bracket Game
Realtime Bracket Game
This begs the question: "What happens when they get pushed by a team that doesn't play in a poor basketball conference?" So, in this bracket we'll find that out.
Only two No. 1 seeds make it past the Sweet Sixteen. The middle pack teams (N.C. State, Ohio State, Davidson, Wyoming, Indiana) all make early splashes. Any team can slip up at any given time, and this is what is looks like when that happens. Duke survives the South and makes it to the Final Four, they've been my pick all season so I can't shame the Basketball Gods and go against them now.
Wisconsin, Virginia and Maryland round out the Final Four. Let's make sense of this ridiculousness.
Also, TuneIn Radio was kind enough to invite me to their studios in Los Angeles, California, to break down all of these stupid, stupid tournament selections. Listen to the breakdown below and a few Soulja Boy lyric drops I dropped.
Round of 32:
Kentucky vs. Purdue
West Virginia vs. Maryland
Texas vs. Notre Dame
Indiana vs. Kansas
The biggest upset here is Indiana getting past Wichita State. Indiana, obviously a big hot and cold team, has all the talent to make a run. Yogi Ferrell is one of the best guards in the country, and combined with James Blackmon Jr.'s ability to score, this game will likely be won in the backcourt because both teams don't have much size, which is where the Hoosiers have struggled all season.
Oh yeah, remember how they just pushed Maryland to the wire a few days ago? Plus if they win one and then lose immediately, the Tom Crean struggle faces should be legendary.
Kentucky vs. Maryland
Kansas vs. Notre Dame
West Virginia/Maryland pits two great guards against each other (Juwan Staten and Melo Trimble), but the show will be Kansas making Tom Crean bust out his best face of the season after the loss. Come for the basketball, stay for the Tom Crean pouting fest.
Maryland vs. Notre Dame
UK/Terps would be the best game of the tournament at this point because it gives us the opportunity to see Kentucky get really pushed for the first time this season. The games here help both sides: UK boasts the superior front court (Willie Cauley-Stein/Karl Anthony-Towns) and Maryland the superior scoring attack and backcourt (Melo Trimble/Dez Wells). This, for me is where UK bites the dust. The scoring talent of the Terps will challenge the Harrison twins all night, and Trimble vs. Ullis will be an exciting show between one of the nation's best attacking guards and best perimeter defenders.
Something's gotta budge.
Final Four: Maryland
One of my absolute favorite teams all year that have shown how dominant they can be against elite competition in an elite conference. Another battle of great guards with the Terps slightly edging the Fighting Irish.
Round of 32:
Villanova vs. N.C. State
Wyoming vs. Louisville
Providence vs. Oklahoma
Michigan State vs. Virginia
Could go either way with N.C. State vs. LSU because there is so much talent between both clubs. LSU took Kentucky to the wire and the Wolfpack have big wins over top-ranked teams. Both would play each other well enough to give Villanova a loss in the Round of 32. Let's pick N.C. State here just because we like the color red.
N.C. State vs. Louisville
Oklahoma vs. Virginia
Villanova is the second No. 1 seed to get knocked off, continuing their great regular season runs and questionable offseason gains in recent years. N.C. State brings some of the elements that give the Wildcats fits: length, a penetrating guard and a true front court with very good defensive big men. Abdul-Malik Abu, Beejay Anya and Kyle Washington will be defensive threats against the Wildcats. They combine for over four blocks per game. Combine that with penetrating players (Anthony "Cat" Barber, Ralston Turner and Trevor Lacey), it'll be a tough day.
The Wildcats are capable of winning this game though. As one of the nation's best perimeter shooting, efficient, and defensively stout teams, they'd have to shoot the lights out to stay in the contest. This also answers a lot of questions about the "new" Big East and how much conference play would have prepared their teams, specifically their top team, for the Big Dance. The key player for Villanova should be Josh Hart. He had an incredible Big East Tournament ... from the bench.
N.C State vs. Virginia
1) I refuse to let Rick Pitino be happy
2) The thought here is that Virginia locks down enough down the stretch to get over how they'll combat Oklahoma's elite size. Let's keep their season alive.
Final Four: Virginia
The East was weird, yo. Don't know how Ricky O'Donnell didn't pick UVA here.
SB Nation presents: How Virginia can win it all
Round of 32:
Duke vs. St. John's
Utah vs. Georgetown
SMU vs. Iowa State
Gonzaga vs. Davidson
Stephen F. Austin, Davidson, St. John's and North Dakota State are all going to challenge their opponents coming off strong tournament play. Wait, not St. John's. Everyone but them.
And crazily, the Johnnies and Davidson advance here for me. Gotta shake it up a bit right?
Duke vs. Georgetown
Gonzaga vs. Iowa State
The Georgetown/Utah game should be the most interesting pairing of this group. When talking about the tournament with Joe Lunardi a few weeks previous, he questioned if Utah had the pedigree to play on this stage. I'll agree with him here, the Utes haven't been to the tournament since 2009 and haven't been to the Round of 32 since 2005. This game could go either way, but the Hoyas finally kill some of the doubts about being weak recently in the postseason.
Duke vs. Iowa State
Iowa State might be too good for Gonzaga, but it would be a great return for the Zags if they can make the Sweet 16. Another club that kills some questions about their postseason ability. That should be a gem of a game. Duke is too good for Georgetown, they should run past them easy.
Final Four: Duke
These are the eventual champions. But running the table in the South region is going to be difficult for any team in the Field of 68. I'll take Duke in a close game, but Iowa State can just as easily come out of this region and make a title run. Tough one to decide on.
SB Nation presents: Why Duke can win it all
Round of 32:
Wisconsin vs. Oklahoma State
Arkansas vs. North Carolina
BYU vs. Baylor
Arizona vs. Ohio State
BYU is a team that could easily come from a year-long bubble team to a Sweet 16 squad. Xavier and the Cougars should have a good game, but BYU's scoring will overload the X-Men in the second half.
Wisconsin vs. North Carolina
Arizona vs. Baylor
As much as I want D'Angelo Russell to go further in this tournament, it's hard to imagine his team going too far when only two players shoulder the scoring load, Sam Thompson and himself. Arizona is too balanced, too good defensively and has too many options and star caliber players for the Buckeyes to keep up. 'Zona should win by double-figures.
Wisconsin vs. Arizona
The Badgers and Tar Heels should be an instant classic. This would be great for an overtime game that no one can understand and no one cares about the ending. This is one of those "never stop playing basketball ever" type of games.
Final Four: Wisconsin
Another game similar to the aforementioned. What gives Wisconsin the advantage? Have you heard of a man named Frank Kaminsky?
SB Nation presents: What makes Wisconsin so tough
Wisconsin over Maryland
Two of my absolute favorite clubs this season. Kaminsky is arguably the best player in college basketball this season. Couple that with how good the team has played without Traveon Jackson, the emergence of Bronson Koening, which we told you all about, and, oh yeah, Sam Dekker also plays for this team. This should be quite the show. How Wisconsin doesn't come out of this tournament bloody and concussed, I have no clue.
Duke over Virginia
Somehow, Duke beat Virginia in a thriller back in January. This game shouldn't be as high scoring, but if Duke can get four players in double figures, limit turnovers, find a way for Jahlil Okafor to not be a complete problem defending the low post, Duke should win. But it will be very close.
For all the coins in college ball: Duke beats Wisconsin
I can't explain how we got here. I can't explain how this happens. I don't even know where I am right now. I just hope this game happens because it will be fun as hell. The two best big men this year facing off. Koenig vs. Tyus Jones. Nigel Hayes vs. Justice Winslow. Bo Ryan vs. Coach K in an all-time "Mean Mug the opposing coach to death" off.
It makes me giddy just thinking about it.
Dear Basketball Gods, let's totally do this. Sincerely, everyone everywhere ever.
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