When it comes to NCAA Tournament bracket picking, I'm about as basic as it gets, but I have a huge ego about it.
While all you commoners pick trendy upsets and stump for teams that just get it during March Madness, I usually just pick the team rated higher on Ken Pomeroy's index. I'm just such an analytical and objective mind like that, which is why I
win my bracket contests every year and make tons of money doing it have literally never won a bracket contest in my life and probably won't again this year.
I've mostly given up on the notion of ever being right about this. March is a known unknown for me at this point, and I will draw up a lousy bracket. But one thing I definitely do know: Duke is going to find a way to be annoying and go farther in this tournament than most of us think (or want to think) it will. Don't get me wrong, Michigan State's still winning the whole thing, but Duke will leave a bit of carnage before it eventually bows out.
Here's how I think this goes.
There aren't a lot of frills here. I have the higher seed winning every first-round game except the 8-9, and that's because Connecticut is better than Colorado. The Huskies are a lower seed, but they're a top-20 team by Pomeroy's efficiency metrics while Colorado isn't even in the top 50. Sprinkle in a teaspoon of the UConn-in-March narrative, and this is an easy pick. I grew up watching Pitt play against UConn in the Big East, so I know better than to drop the Huskies this early.
Maryland is confounding. I am a Maryland person myself, and I've covered the Terps all year. They're more talented than any team in this region except for maybe Kansas, but they've been mediocre for a month. I expect Cal to beat them in the round of 32, before the Bears themselves become lunch for Kansas.
Iowa has been pretty bad for a while now, but the Hawkeyes are still better than Temple by a comfortable margin. It's easy to pick against a team that's cratering and just lost to Illinois, but I think the Hawkeyes win at least one game in this event. Temple isn't going to get in the way.
Ultimately, Kansas is the best team in this region, and Kansas will win. I don't buy into Villanova's poor tournament history actually mattering, but I don't think the Wildcats will beat the Jayhawks when push comes to shove.
I'm taking the high seeds in all but two first-round games here. One of those, No. 9 Providence over No. 8 USC, shouldn't be controversial. The Friars and Trojans are close to equal, but the Friars have Kris Dunn and Ben Bentil doing their thing together, and the Trojans do not.
The biggest upset I have in the whole field is Stephen F. Austin over West Virginia. The Mountaineers are in some ways very good, but so are the Lumberjacks. Stephen F. Austin is a Southland team, so it doesn't get much publicity, but it quietly finished No. 33 in Pomeroy's rating system (which is opponent-adjusted) by doing a lot of what West Virginia is known for doing itself. The Lumberjacks are No. 1 nationally in turnover-forced percentage and No. 54 in offensive rebound rate, giving them two Mountaineer-like strengths. They're also a much better shooting team than West Virginia.
I think Notre Dame eventually beats Stephen F. Austin, and I think Kentucky beats Indiana in the upper half of this bracket. That sets up a Kentucky-North Carolina Sweet 16, which should be tons of fun. Ultimately, the Tar Heels will get out of this region intact.
Oregon is potentially dangerously underrated in this tournament, just because people are miffed (correctly, I think) that the Ducks got a No. 1 seed over Michigan State. Even if the Ducks aren't a top-four team, they're still really good by any objective measure, and they've got a great Final Four shot.
Meanwhile, Duke is pretty disappointing. Brandon Ingram and Grayson Allen are good, sure, but this is no better than a No. 15-20 team nationally. I don't think Duke is better than Oregon.
I'm picking Duke to beat Oregon in the Sweet 16, only because I am traumatized.
I also think VCU makes a little noise. The Rams are a better and more efficient team than Oregon State, and I'll admit that some of that old Shaka Smart tournament credibility still exists in my mind even now that Will Wade is the head coach. The Rams should beat the Beavers before they fall to eventual Final Four participant Buddy Hield and Oklahoma.
Oh, and speaking of Smart: That A&M-Longhorns round of 32 game is going to be juicy.
I wanted to pick Northern Iowa, but Ali Farokhmanesh isn't walking through that door.
I want to pick Utah to lose early, because I just don't think the Utes are as good as a standard No. 3 seed. But I don't see them losing to anyone in a Seton Hall-Gonzaga-Fresno State pod, so I think the Utes get to stick around until running into Denzel Valentine in the Sweet 16, by which time the Spartans will have beaten a better-than-its-record Syracuse team in the round of 32.
Butler seems like a better team than Texas Tech, so I'm going with the No. 9 over the No. 8 in this region, too. I don't see Iona or Arkansas-Little Rock doing damage against Iowa State or Purdue. A.J. Hammons is really ticking right now, and it's not hard to imagine him taking Purdue somewhere past the Sweet 16. However, I think Virginia beats Purdue in that round, setting up both a movie and a sequel I've already seen in theaters:
Virginia is really good, just like every year. Virginia will lose to Michigan State, just like every year.
I wasn't feeling ESPN's advertising emails, hence the unchecked boxes.
Kansas and Michigan State, to me, are the two best teams in the country. North Carolina is the only team I think could be better, and that depends on Marcus Paige being at the absolute top of his game. As it stands, Tom Izzo and Bill Self are going to clash in the national title game, and Izzo is going to win, because he has Valentine.
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Greatest Cinderella: Was it the NC State Wolfpack or Butler Bulldogs?
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