Sixty-eight teams will play with different expectations of goals of glory in the NCAA Division 1 basketball tournament this month. For some teams a Final Four appearance will mark a successful season. For others, just appearing in the most unpredictable, championship deciding tournament in all sports is enough success for their school.
Arguably the most popular of all postseasons in all of sports at any level; March Madness has everything for the sports fan. Whether you like David beating Goliath, a team full of superstars beating up on the class nerd, last second shots or relative unknowns making a name for themselves on national television, this tournament has it. There’s a reason that everyone who follows college basketball even the slightest, and many who don’t, create brackets deciding who will win and who will be upset.
Bracketology has become so popular now, it is estimated that more people make brackets than actually watch each round of the tournament. But before I divulge my bracket, let’s look at the true contenders including who’s hot, who’s not and who’s prime to be upset.
There were a slew of questions before Selection Sunday about who would claim the four number one seeds in the tournament. Eventually Gonzaga, Louisville, Indiana and Kansas claimed the spots. But they are far from the only teams that have what it takes to win sixconsecutive games and claim a national championship. Michigan State, Duke, Ohio State, Georgetown and Miami (FL) all have the right pieces in place to win it all.
Then there are the upset teams, those David-esque schools that seem to have everything fall into place in these magical weeks in order to make a run that shocks everyone. George Mason, VCU and Butler are three teams in recent history who have started as high seeds and made deep runs all the way to the Final Four. Oregon, Minnesota and Creighton are three teams that could make deep runs in the tournament. Creighton is the highest seeded team out of these listed at seven.
What they lack in big name recognition they make up for in smart coaching and two relatively unknown stars. Doug McDermott began the season playing well enough to be the early favorite for player of the year. Although he slowed down by the middle of the season, if he can flip the switch and live up to his immense talent like the beginning of the year, the Creighton Bluejays can make a run. It also helps having one of the best unknown centers in the game in Gregory Echenique.
Oregon sits at the 12 seed, but they did win the Pac-12 tournament, and many analysts expected the Ducks to have a higher seed if not for their slide after their star point guard went down with an ankle injury. If they can get past Oklahoma State in the 2nd round, they have a chance to make a deep run. Minnesota, as the 11 seed, stands probably the best chance of advancing. Led by Center Trevor Mbakwe, the Golden Gophers rank in the top 20 in most statistical categories defensively. They also have the easiest path of these three teams of reaching the Sweet Sixteen. They will play UCLA and Florida in the first two rounds, two teams that have struggled in the past few weeks.
I have only a few upsets brewing in the first round. The big ones are St. Mary’s over Memphis, Minnesota over UCLA, Iowa State over Norte Dame and Creighton over Cincinnati. In the round of 32 things heat up even less. Minnesota will beat Florida and Wisconsin will beat Kansas State. The games to watch in these two rounds are Wisconsin and Ole Miss, Illinois and Colorado, UNLV and California and Saint Louis and New Mexico State. All of these games appear to be toss ups with not a whole lot truly separating each team from the other.
In the Sweet Sixteen each of the higher seeds will win, including Michigan State beating Duke. The Elite Eight will be a different story, with Louisville being the only higher seed to win its game. The Final Four will consist of top overall seed Louisville vs. Georgetown, and Miami vs. Ohio State. Miami has the talent to win it all, but Ohio State’s Aaron Craft and physical defense will be too much for them to overcome. And while Louisville has been a top five team throughout the year, when Georgetown gets it going they have the best defense in the nation, evidenced by holding 20 teams during the season to 55 points or fewer. Also Otto Porter Jr., the favorite for player of the year, has the talent to carry a team offensively.
The championship game will be a defensive struggle pitting two of the top defenses in the nation in Georgetown and Ohio State, but the heroics of Otto Porter will propel the Hoyas to the championship 67-64.