Welcome to Part 1 of my Round of 64 and Round of 32 previews. This week I will be taking a look at each region and providing analysis up to the Sweet 16. Last year, my bracket was horrendous. My champion, Michigan State, was upset my Middle Tennessee on Day 2. This year, I’m hoping to at least break the ASN record for the longest lasting perfect bracket, I would have to have a perfect bracket for the first 21 games. That’s exactly one-third of the entire tournament. It would be tough. Now let’s get to breaking down the South Region.
If you were curious about my full bracket, here it is. It’s full of upsets.
I know, the last time I picked Louisville, I was so wrong, and I know I’ve picked them almost every year that they make it. But this time around, they really are a talented team. The trio of Donovan Mitchell, Deng Adel, and Mangok Mathiang could take this team far. Quentin Snider has also helped this team do as well as they did. Now, let’s take a closer look at the South.
#4 Butler vs. #13 Winthrop
Thursday 3/16 @1:30 PM EST on TNT
The Bulldogs come from a conference that I wouldn’t consider an amazing conference, at least not this year. Villanova, Butler, and Creighton were the only NCAA Tournament locks in the Big East, and Xavier had to play their butts off in the conference tourney to grab a spot. Meanwhile, the Eagles won their conference, but are the only team from that conference to make it. Winthrop had an easy schedule, and I don’t see them as a team that pulls upsets, even against a mediocre and overrated contender like Butler.
The Pick: Butler
#5 Minnesota vs. #12 Middle Tennessee
Thursday 3/16 @4:00 PM EST on TNT
Remember Middle Tennessee? The team who absolutely shocked Michigan State last year. They are, like Winthrop, from a small conference but they had some decent teams for their competition like Marshall (who did not make it after losing to Middle Tennessee). The Blue Raiders also finished with an impressive 30-4 overall record including their conference tourney. They have the potential to upset Minnesota, an overrated Big Ten team that was upset in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten tourney by Michigan, who got in as just a #7 seed despite going on to win the Big Ten.
The Pick: Middle Tennessee
#8 Arkansas vs. #9 Seton Hall
Friday 3/17 @1:30 PM EST on TNT
The Razorbacks really impressed me in the SEC tournament. I did not expect them to advance to the championship. Meanwhile, Seton Hall was a bubble team in my opinion, and I don’t know how the committee could put them as high as they are. If they made the tournament, I thought they’d be an 11 or 12 seed. After what Arkansas did, I don’t know if Seton Hall can beat them. The Pirates are a notable sleeper, but this will be a tough game for them to win.
The Pick: Arkansas
#1 North Carolina vs. #16 Texas Southern
Friday 3/17 @4:00 PM EST on TNT
This is a pretty obvious pick. How often does a #16 seed beat the #1? UNC has an especially good team this year, one of the best in the league. They are a serious championship contender. Meanwhile, Texas Southern rarely makes it here and wouldn’t be here if they didn’t win their conference. They’re 23-11 in a small conference. That is not the kind of performance that makes you an upset candidate in the NCAA Tournament.
The Pick: North Carolina
#7 Dayton vs. #10 Wichita State
Friday 3/17 @7:10 PM EST on CBS
The Flyers have done well this year, but they got beaten by Davidson in the conference tourney’s quarterfinals, in a conference with only 3 major contenders. The Shockers don’t have it much more difficult, but they’ve done so well in previous years. Year after year, they are the dark horse of this tournament. This year, they have a chance to pull an upset again. The Shockers are always that team that upsets the top seeds. I don’t know if they’ll get much further than the Sweet 16 or Round of 32 this year, but you never know with Wichita State.
The Pick: Wichita State
#6 Cincinnati vs. #11 Kansas State/Wake Forest
Friday 3/17 @7:27 PM EST on truTV
Kansas State and Wake Forest are two teams that I wouldn’t have placed on my bracket this year if I was part of the selection committee. That First Four game will be painful to watch, that’s for sure. But I’ve made up my mind that Kansas State will advance to play Cincinnati more likely than not. Okay, Kansas State has had a decent year, but not a year that would get them much farther than this. The Bearcats have been very good, just barely losing to SMU in the Conference Final. They should definitely beat whatever team they play in this round.
The Pick: Cincinnati
#2 Kentucky vs. #15 Northern Kentucky
Friday 3/17 @9:40 PM EST on CBS
The Wildcats seem to be in it to win it year after year in the NCAA Tournament. A team like the Northern Kentucky Norse, who is in this tourney for the first time, is not out to get Kentucky. If there’s any 15 over 2 seed upset that happens, it will not be this game. In fact, I am a strong believer that this year’s 2 seeds will do very well. Kentucky will move on to at least the Round of 32, if not further.
The Pick: Kentucky
#3 UCLA vs. #14 Kent State
Friday 3/17 @9:57 PM EST on truTV
UCLA has won this tourney so many times. I’ve got to trust them to win in this round, but this year I don’t see them as a contender. It’s just that Kent State isn’t the team to pull a mega-upset against UCLA, a good overall team with high upside. However, if they’re not careful, they could be upset in the next round unexpectedly.
The Pick: UCLA
A Look At Later Rounds
The Round of 32 will look something like this
#1 North Carolina vs. #8 Arkansas
#4 Butler vs. #12 Middle Tennessee
#3 UCLA vs. #6 Cincinnati
#2 Kentucky vs. #10 Wichita State
Let’s take a deeper look at these games. I think Middle Tennessee could pull another upset here. The Bulldogs are a team that could easily get upset. I feel the same way about UCLA, and Cincinnati is a #6 seed that could easily make it to the Sweet 16 with a win. Meanwhile, despite Wichita State’s chances being higher than you might think, UNC and Kentucky are too good to be upset in this round.
That would bring UNC, Kentucky, Cincinnati, and Middle Tennessee to the Sweet 16.
And the South’s projected winner is…
#1 North Carolina
I’m not going to pick all #1 seeds. But this is one conference where UNC is the dominant team, and they will advance to the final four. I do have a lot of 2 seeds going far, but the Kentucky Wildcats will likely lose to UNC or Cincinnati before making it to the finals. Their position on the bracket gives them a very tough schedule, which could really tire out Kentucky.
Next time, we’ll take a look at the Midwest. Also be on the lookout for my next Baseball Bits this month.