We have reached the final part of my March Madness bracket, and what’s in my opinion the most competitive region of all. I feel there are 4 real Final Four candidates from this region, 2-3 of which could have upside to take it all the way and cut down the nets in Houston. Keep on reading for my outlook on the region.
First Round Games
#1 Kansas vs. #16 Howard
I don’t see the Jayhawks repeating as national champions, but they’re not losing to a 16 seed, and especially not a MEAC team. Nobody in this MEAC really beat anyone of note, and this should be an easy win for the Big 12’s regular season champ.
#8 Arkansas vs. #9 Illinois
It wasn’t as smooth sailing for either of these teams as last year, but they still had respectable seasons. Illinois brought in Terrence Shannon Jr. from Texas Tech to lead the team with Kofi Cockburn gone. Meanwhile, the Razorbacks have one of the most stacked freshman classes in all of college basketball. I’ll bet on the younger team to get hot at the right time and come out on top.
#5 Saint Mary’s vs. #12 VCU
I’m not a huge fan of either of these squads, but Saint Mary’s has experience in this exact slot. They took down 12-seeded Indiana in the first round of last year’s tournament with some of their current core. VCU is a weaker 12 seed than the Hoosiers; they’re simply here because they won an Atlantic 10 that’s historically a stronger conference than it was this year. The Gaels are from a similar conference, but they were competitive with Gonzaga most of the year. That doesn’t happen very often.
Pick: Saint Mary’s
#4 UConn vs. #13 Iona
It would be fun to pick a Rick Pitino-led Iona squad, but UConn is just too good to be upset here. Between veteran big Adama Sanogo and breakout sophomore Jordan Hawkins, this team has the star power of a contender. They also had the Big East’s best freshman duo in Northborough’s own sharp shooting forward Alex Karaban and the 7-foot big Donovan Clingan. They have all the tool they need to make a deep run in this tourney.
#6 TCU vs. #11 Arizona State
The Sun Devils have prevailed despite the early season loss of Marcus Bagley. However, they don’t have a star to compete with TCU’s Mike Miles. TCU’s worst losses have come in games when Miles is out, so this is likely an under-seeding for the Horned Frogs. I don’t trust Arizona State to go that far in this tournament, and that’s something TCU has potential to do.
#3 Gonzaga vs. #14 Grand Canyon
Offensively, Gonzaga honestly doesn’t look much worse than they have the last couple years. The defense has taken a step back which caused closer games against Saint Mary’s, but they still have a pretty solid resume and have Drew Timme to lead the team. They may not quite be built for a national title, but I think they’ll make it out of this one.
#7 Northwestern vs. #10 Boise State
This has been another chalky region so far, but I’m picking the upset in this one. Northwestern has seen growth from Boo Buie and Chase Audige that has helped them get to this level. However, their competition in the B1G was much easier than usual, so I’m not sure how much better this team really is than previous years. Boise State has a questionable resume as well, but they were very competitive all year in the Mountain West and have all 5 starters averaging 10+ PPG.
Pick: UPSET ALERT: Boise State
#2 UCLA vs. #15 UNC Asheville
I think UNC Asheville is better than your average #15 seed, but this is UCLA we’re talking about. This is most of the same UCLA core that made a Final Four run as an 11 seed just 2 years ago. They may be without Jaylen Clark, but they’ll still have the trio of Jaime Jaquez, Tyger Campbell, and standout freshman Amari Bailey to lead the charge. That should be enough to avoid the upset and keep moving.
Potential Round of 32 Matchups
#1 Kansas vs. #8 Arkansas
#4 UConn vs. #5 Saint Mary’s
#3 Gonzaga vs. #6 TCU
#2 UCLA vs. #10 Boise State
There are some tempting upset picks here. Arkansas is young and full of talent up and down their roster. TCU could make it very close against Gonzaga. At the end of the day though, this region has some of the strongest high seeds and I would not be shocked to see an all-chalk Sweet 16. Kansas, UConn, Gonzaga, and UCLA all have legitimate Final Four hopes. It could be a dogfight to the end between those teams.
And the winner is…
You may have caught my pun at the end there, but I think it’ll be a Huskies vs. Bulldogs Elite 8 matchup to finish off this region. This UConn team is trending in the right direction, and it will take a lot to knock off the defending champs, but I trust them to do the job. The Gonzaga-UCLA game could go either way, but whoever makes it should give UConn a close game. At the end of the day though, UConn checks all the boxes for a Final Four team, and I actually have them cutting down the nets in Houston. If they can get past some questionable coaching decisions, they have one of the nation’s most talented and well-rounded rosters. They are very underrated as a 4 seed.
In case you haven’t already figured it out based on these articles, here’s my complete bracket:
Now sit back, relax, and enjoy the Madness! We sleep in May.
March Madness is almost here, and I’ve been releasing my picks region by region. The first half of the bracket has been pretty wild; I picked a lot of upsets and had 3rd seeded Baylor and 6th seeded Kentucky making the Final Four. This half of the bracket will be a little bit chalkier, but that’s simply because it includes some of the nation’s top contenders for a championship. Keep reading for my first round picks.
First Round Games
#1 Houston vs. #16 Northern Kentucky
Houston may be without Marcus Sasser in their early round games, but this is still a talented team without him. At the very least they’re talented enough to knock off a 16 seed. Kelvin Sampson’s defense is elite, and they’ll still see plenty of offensive production between veteran Jamal Shead, freshman Jarace Walker, and others.
#8 Iowa vs. #9 Auburn
Kris Murray has stepped right into the role of his brother, at least offensively. The Hawkeyes had some rough patches in the B1G, but they are still a top 10 offense, which I think will at least get them out of the first round. Auburn really hasn’t impressed me this year. Their road in the SEC was just as bumpy, and they didn’t really beat many notable teams along the way. I’ll take the Hawkeyes to survive another day, but with their defensive problems, don’t expect it to last.
#5 Miami vs. #12 Drake
Drake has been a popular upset pick, and these 12 seeds this year all look very dangerous. I wouldn’t count out Miami so fast though, they have one of the nation’s better superstar duos in Isaiah Wong and Nijel Pack, plus depth behind them. This Hurricanes team has the talent to make a deep run, so I think they’ll at least take their first game.
#4 Indiana vs. #13 Kent State
This one’s another popular upset pick, but what’s even behind the logic that Indiana is upset prone. Trayce Jackson-Davis finally has help with the breakout of Jalen Hood-Schifino, and the Hoosiers have had their best season in years. This Kent State team has scared some teams, but they haven’t been able to finish the job against their toughest opponents like Houston, Gonzaga, and Charleston. Kent State will be able to keep pace most of the game, but I’ll bet on TJD to finish the job for Indiana’s first tournament win in a while.
#6 Iowa State vs. #11 Pittsburgh
I don’t really like either of these teams. Iowa State did own Baylor all year but they also struggled against weaker Big 12 opponents. Pittsburgh has an underrated resume and came up big against Mississippi State, but I don’t trust many players on either of these teams to get the job done on a consistent basis. This game could really go either way based on which team’s top players have the better night, but I think the Cyclones are just a little deeper. They may be able to handle it in this one even if Jaren Holmes or Gabe Kalscheur disappoints, but I’m going to go with my gut and take the upset. Pitt has momentum after their last minute victory on Tuesday.
Pick: UPSET ALERT: Pittsburgh
#3 Xavier vs. #14 Kennesaw State
Kennesaw State is lucky to be here. It may seem like the preface for a Saint Peter’s style Cinderella run, but that Peacocks team was on fire in their conference tournament. This team just barely squeaked by Liberty. Xavier may be without Zach Freemantle, but they still have plenty of talent and should be able to stay alive.
#7 Texas A&M vs. #10 Penn State
Many say both these teams are under-seeded, and I would agree, but this matchup is getting a little overhyped. Penn State is hot at the right time and the duo of Jalen Pickett and Seth Lundy will bring the excitement, but the Nittany Lions lack depth behind them. Texas A&M has definitely exceeded my expectations, and the run all the way to the SEC Championship was impressive. I do think the team is a bit overhyped though, they got lucky over the course of that path to the title game and avoided facing Kentucky after their loss to Vandy. I’ll still take them in this one since they’re deeper than Penn State.
Pick: Texas A&M
#2 Texas vs. #15 Colgate
Colgate was getting a lot of hype as an upset pick last year and they fell short. Yes, they have a lot of veterans who score a lot of points, but they have struggled to finish the job against Power Five teams. Texas is more than just a Power 5 team. They are the champion of the absolutely brutal Big 12 and a potential national title contender. Look for Marcus Carr to drop 20+ as Texas routs the Raiders.
Potential Round of 32 Matchups
#1 Houston vs. #8 Iowa
#4 Indiana vs. #5 Miami
#3 Xavier vs. #11 Pittsburgh
#2 Texas vs. #7 Texas A&M
This may seem like a really chalky region, but most of these lower seeds in the Midwest just don’t impress me. Indiana and Miami will make for a fun game with lots of star power and could be the best candidates to knock off Houston early, but beyond that, I expect the top seeds to have a pretty easy path.
And the winner is…
The Cougars may end up with a tough Sweet 16 matchup between Indiana and Miami, but by then they should have Marcus Sasser back to lead their team and be able to get the job done and make the Final Four. Everyone loves to doubt the AAC, but Houston only lost 2 games to conference opponents all year. One was a close loss to Temple which they got revenge for later, and the other was the championship loss to a red hot Memphis team with Marcus Sasser sidelined. The Cougars beat Memphis twice when healthy, and come into the tournament with wins over Virginia and St. Mary’s as well. This could be tough down the stretch for them with Miami or Indiana and then Texas. However, even in a crazy year with no clear favorites, I think it would be foolish to pick a Final Four without a 1 seed, and I trust Houston more than any other.
I’ll be posting the final region and my full bracket shortly, so stay tuned.
The madness has almost arrived, and I’ll be continuing along with my picks. The East Region is one of the weaker regions this year, but that could make for a lot of upsets. Read below to see my overview of the region.
First Round Games
#1 Purdue vs. #16 Fairleigh Dickinson
I do think Purdue is a bit fraudulent, and they’ve had first round exits before. If I was going to pick any one seed to lose to a sixteen, it would be Purdue, but that’s just not something I see happening. Zach Edey should lead the Boilermakers to an easy win here, but watch out for an upset in later rounds.
#8 Memphis vs. #9 Florida Atlantic
This is one of the most exciting 8-9 games in a while. It’s a battle between two arguably underrated teams. Headlined by the duo of Kendric Davis and DeAndre Williams, Memphis just embarrassed #1 seed Houston in the AAC tournament. Boca Raton’s own FAU Owls only have 3 losses all year, beating every team in their conference at least once as well as getting past the much larger University of Florida. FAU gets the job done consistently, and if they were facing any other team, I’d likely pick them to make a run. However, Memphis is loaded with talent and hot at the right time.
#5 Duke vs. #12 Oral Roberts
Many say Oral Roberts got unlucky with their draw here, but I don’t think Duke is as likely to make a run as many expect. Duke has had their moments and looked great in the ACC tournament, but they lost to ACC foes like Wake Forest and Virginia Tech and could be upset prone. Losses like that aren’t an automatic formula for an upset, but Duke is a very young team and no player on their roster is anywhere near as good as Oral Roberts senior point guard Max Abmas. Abmas has led ORU on a run through this tournament before, and I think he’s going to make a good effort to do it again.
Pick: UPSET ALERT: Oral Roberts
#4 Tennessee vs. #13 Louisiana
The Vols may be without Zakai Zeigler here, but looking at Louisiana, they haven’t given me any reason to believe they can pull off the upset. Their biggest win this season was a November one over the 10-22 SMU Mustangs. Tennessee will still have the best player on the court by far in Santiago Vescovi, and they have a good amount of depth around him. One missing starter isn’t going to stop them here.
#6 Kentucky vs. #11 Providence
It’s been a bumpy road for Kentucky, but despite struggling against Vanderbilt, the Wildcats were starting to look good down the stretch. They’ve won their last five games against any team not named Vanderbilt. They’ve had a number of big wins along the way including a sweep of Tennessee. Oscar Tshiebwe has looked as good as ever, and there’s more depth around him than on last year’s team that lost to Saint Peter’s. Many have called this the Bryce Hopkins revenge game for Providence, but when your best player is a guy who barely made the Kentucky rotation, that says all you need to know about who’s best suited to win this game.
#3 Kansas State vs. #14 Montana State
Keyontae Johnson has revived his career on this Kansas State team, but behind him and Markquis Nowell, this team is very shallow. Montana State hasn’t done much to prove they’re any better. However, they come from the same conference as Eastern Washington, who nearly dismantled the Kansas Jayhawks a couple years ago. This year, Eastern Washington was atop the standings again and Montana State shut them down. Kansas State is one of the most upset prone top 4 seeds in this tournament. I’ll say Montana State keeps pace with Kansas State and wins a close one at the end.
Pick: UPSET ALERT: Montana State
#7 Michigan State vs. #10 USC
It’s hard to bet against Tom Izzo in March, and this Spartans team has a nice core between Tyson Walker, A.J. Hoggard, and Celtics forward Sam Hauser’s brother Joey. I think USC is deeper though, and they’ve already made a statement by splitting with UCLA and nearly doing the same against Arizona. It was a rough start to the season for the Trojans with a loss to mid-major FGCU, but they have turned it around and I expect that momentum to carry into the tournament. This will be a very close one, but give me the Trojans in the upset.
Pick: UPSET ALERT: USC
#2 Marquette vs. #15 Vermont
Tyler Kolek has been one of the most improved players in the nation this season and led Marquette to perform far beyond their expectations. I don’t know how sustainable it is in March, but I think they at least get past Vermont. The Catamounts played well in the America East, but haven’t shown much against higher level opponents.
Potential Round of 32 Matchups
#1 Purdue vs. #8 Memphis
#4 Tennessee vs. #12 Oral Roberts
#6 Kentucky vs. #14 Montana State
#2 Marquette vs. #10 USC
Purdue and Marquette are slightly weaker then most teams of their seed level, and they’d draw tough matchups here with Memphis and USC. I would not be shocked if both of the two get upset. I do see SEC standouts Kentucky and Tennessee surviving to the Sweet 16; it’s unlikely a mid-major (even Oral Roberts) can handle an SEC powerhouse and whoever makes it out of that Montana State-Kansas State game is no match for a John Calipari coached Wildcats squad.
And the winner is…
After a roller coaster of a year, I think Kentucky will finally put it all together and make a run to the Final Four. With high seeds like Purdue and Marquette out of the way in the later rounds, the door is open for an underrated lower seed like the Wildcats to make a run. Oscar Tshiebwe and company will be on a revenge tour after their embarrassing exit just a year ago.
Stay tuned for the other half of my bracket in coming posts.
My spring break just so happened to fall on one of the busiest weeks in all of sports. March Madness and NFL free agency are starting up, the MLB is in the midst of Spring Training, and the Celtics and Bruins are chasing the top seeds in their respective playoff brackets. I’ll be putting out a lot of content this week, starting with the multi-part breakdown of my March Madness bracket.
In this article, I’ll be previewing the South region. After all four parts, I will be revealing my bracket in full.
Round of 64 Matchups
#1 Alabama vs. #16 Texas A&M-CC/Missouri State
It would be foolish to pick a 16 seed over a 1; UMBC is a special circumstance that may not happen again for a long time. I do think Alabama is a little overrated as a 1 seed, as they’ve had some ugly losses and lack concrete depth behind freshman standout Brandon Miller. However, their exit will not come in this around.
#8 Maryland vs. #9 West Virginia
I’d say both of these teams exceeded our expectations this season. Charlotte transfer Jahmir Young stepped up to lead Maryland to some quality wins first at the Hall of Fame Tip-off and later across the B1G. Meanwhile, West Virginia has faced some bumps in the road in a difficult Big 12, but the committee accounted for three success in spite of a difficult schedule and has them as the 7th Big 12 team on the bracket. These teams have pretty similar track records, but West Virginia did it in a tougher conference.
Pick: West Virginia
#5 San Diego State vs. #12 Charleston
The Mountain West has never won a tournament game, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to pick against every Mountain West team. This is too tempting of an upset to ignore though. This year’s 12 seeds are dangerous and will capitalize on any weakness in their 5-seeded opponents. SDSU may have the best player on the court in Matt Bradley, but Charleston is way deeper and should pull ahead later in the game as Bradley tires out.
Pick: UPSET ALERT: Charleston
#4 Virginia vs. #13 Furman
As expected, the Cavs were one of the ACC’s better teams this season. They may be without Ben Vander Plaas, but they still have most of their core with Armaan Franklin, Jayden Gardner, and Kihei Clark all ready to go. Furman has definitely had their moments, but they haven’t gotten it done against a team like Virginia (unlike some previous March Madness teams from the SoCon). I don’t see that changing in this one.
#6 Creighton vs. #11 NC State
Many have Creighton as a sleeper as they quietly rebounded late in the season in spite of a January rough patch. However, I’m skeptical after Xavier knocked them out of the Big East tournament with ease. Arthur Kaluma has not quite been the superstar the Bluejays we’re expecting, while NC State has seen some elite production from both Terquavion Smith and Ole Miss transfer Jarkel Joiner. The Wolfpack had a pretty quiet year, but I think they match up well with this Creighton team.
Pick: UPSET ALERT: NC State
#3 Baylor vs. #14 UC Santa Barbara
Baylor fell to a 3 seed after Iowa State had their number the entire season. However, this is a team I give a pass for playing in a brutal Big 12. The team is still stacked on both sides of the ball, led by a big three of Adam Flagler, L.J. Cryer, and freshman Keyonte George. UCSB has received majority of their scoring from their top two options, and that won’t be enough depth to keep up with this Baylor team.
#7 Missouri vs. #10 Utah State
I think this a bit of an under-seeding for the Tigers after they competed with some of the SEC’s best teams like Tennessee. However, being in this spot caused them to draw a tough matchup in Utah State. The Aggies have seen a step up this year from every single one of their starters, and they’ve had some low lows, they developed enough of a resume to make it to this point. With Isiaih Mosley’s status in question, give me Utah State.
Pick: UPSET ALERT: Utah State
#2 Arizona vs. #15 Princeton
It would be fun to see the Ivy League champs pull off a first round upset, but I don’t see Arizona going down that easy. Arizona has at least split with every Pac-12 opponent, led by standout star Azuolas Tubelis and 4 other 10+ PPG scorers. They could be on upset watch in later rounds considering their lack of a bench, but I see them hanging on here.
Potential Round of 32 Matchups
#1 Alabama vs. #9 West Virginia
#4 Virginia vs. #12 Charleston
#3 Baylor vs. #11 NC State
#2 Arizona vs. #10 Utah State
Watch out for West Virginia as an upset candidate; Alabama already lost to Big 12 bottom feeder Oklahoma and the Mountaineers played even better than the Sooners in that tough conference. I think the runs of the double digit seeds end here though. Tony Bennett’s defense should be able to shut down Charleston. I don’t trust NC State against Baylor; I really only have them winning as a result of Creighton’s inconsistency. Utah State may be able to get past a banged up Missouri team but they haven’t beaten anyone near the level of the fully staffed Arizona Wildcats.
And the winner is…
Baylor has one of the most stacked offenses in the entire bracket. Their defense has been lackluster, but I think that’s partially as a result of a tough Big 12 and Scott Drew should have their defense up to par with opponents in this region of the bracket. They will simply overpower their defensive minded opponents.
Check back for my previews of the other regions over the next couple days.
March Madness is under a month away, and today the selection committee will be revealing their top 16. It’s a good time to begin thinking about which teams could be a good pick to take home a title. In this post I have my latest bracketology, including my prediction of which teams the committee will include in their top 16.
Top 16 Teams:
Gonzaga (22-2, #1 overall)
Arizona (23-2, #8 overall)
Baylor (21-5, #10 overall)
LSU (19-7, #16 overall)
Gonzaga started this season with a mix of big wins and underwhelming losses. However, every team has had their fair share of rough losses this year. In WCC play, they have been as dominant as usual and if they can carry that momentum into the tournament they have a shot to return to the NCAA Championship. Arizona has slowed down a bit since their undefeated start to the season, but wins over high-powered teams like UCLA prove the Wildcats are still among the top teams in the country. The Baylor Bears are another team that has slowed down since an undefeated start. However, Scott Drew’s defense has made the difference in crucial wins for Baylor such as their early season victory over Villanova, and this defense should make them a difficult team to knock out. LSU has struggled in the absence of Xavier Pinson, but when Pinson is healthy they are among the SEC’s best. I expect a turnaround before the season ends, so they just barely make the cut for the top 16.
Final Four Dark Horse: Notre Dame
The Fighting Irish came insanely close against Duke, and they also hold a win over Kentucky. After a rough 2020-21 season, Notre Dame’s roster has gained experience and now has the talent to compete with the nation’s best. I could see their veteran core pulling off some surprising upsets this year.
Top 16 Teams:
Purdue (23-4, #4 overall)
Duke (22-4, #5 overall)
Tennessee (19-6, #12 overall)
Providence (21-3, #13 overall)
Purdue got off to a flaming start this season, taking down teams like UNC, Villanova, and Florida State. In conference play, they’ve had a few concerning road losses, but led by Jaden Ivey, they have developed a strong enough resume to sneak onto the 1-line. They just barely edge out Duke, a team that has taken down other top contenders in Gonzaga and Kentucky in Coach K’s final season, but also has fallen short late into a few of their conference matchups, against Virginia, Miami, and Florida State. Tennessee has delivered when they were expected to, and they have had a couple of big wins as well. It’s easy to forget that they were the team to end Arizona’s undefeated season, and they were also able to split with a strong Kentucky squad. They receive a slight edge on the 3-line over Providence, a team that has been hard to stop recently but lacks a resume against the country’s other top contenders.
Final Four Dark Horse: Memphis
I know, Memphis was looking really shaky to begin the season. However, Penny Hardaway and the Tigers have quietly began to get their act together, recently knocking off UCF, Cincinnati, and most importantly Houston. As they boast one of the most talented rosters in the country, I would not be surprised to see them make a run if they can peak at the right time.
Top 16 Teams:
Kansas (21-4, #2 overall)
UCLA (18-5, #6 overall)
Auburn (24-2, #11 overall)
Illinois (18-7, #15 overall)
The Jayhawks suffered a rough loss to Dayton early in the season, but since then this talented squad has gradually built one of the nation’s strongest resumes. In a highly competitive Big 12, they are 10-2 including wins over Baylor and Texas Tech. You cannot forget their early season wins over Michigan State, Villanova, and Oregon either. UCLA has been on a rough stretch recently, but they still have a very talented team after their Final Four run last year, and they have shown it by taking down teams like Villanova, Arizona, and Marquette. Auburn is another one of those teams kind of like Providence: they’ve been hard to stop, but aside from a January matchup with Kentucky, they have had a fairly easy schedule. Illinois, on the other hand, has come up big against the nation’s best despite some concerning losses to teams like Cincinnati and Rutgers. Kofi Cockburn has allowed the Fighting Illini to stay competitive in most games, but this team may lack the clutch ability necessary to make a deep tournament run, and they could be upset prone.
Final Four Dark Horse:Florida
I have the Gators projected higher than most, so I think it’s fair to call them a dark horse as not many people are expecting much out of them. While they did get taken down by Texas Southern in an embarrassing loss earlier this season, they’ve also put together some quality wins. Keyontae Johnson has moved to a role as player-coach, and I feel he can still make an impact on the strong roster around him in the locker room. After being knocked out by Oral Roberts last year, this Gators team will be hungry for revenge.
Top 16 Teams
Kentucky (21-5, #3 overall)
Texas (19-7, #7 overall)
Villanova (20-6, #9 overall)
USC (22-4, #14 overall)
John Calipari’s Wildcats have turned things around after a rough 2020-21 season. Led by West Virginia transfer Oscar Tshiebwe, Kentucky has been able to compete with the SEC’s best and knock off Kansas in the Big 12/SEC Challenge. Texas lacked quality wins to begin the season, but that has changed after their recent wins over Tennessee and Kansas. Between Courtney Ramey, Marcus Carr, and many others, Texas has a lot of talent on this team and could make a deep run if they can work well together. Villanova has more losses than your typical top 16 squad, but they’ve also faced one of the nation’s toughest schedules. They’ve had to face UCLA, Tennessee, Purdue, Baylor, Xavier (twice), Marquette (twice), and Providence. They only won about half of those games and it still makes for an extremely impressive resume. USC is another one of those teams that has slowed down after an undefeated start, but they have been competitive against other Pac-12 contenders like UCLA and Arizona, giving them the resume to remain on the edge of the top 16.
Final Four Dark Horse:Murray State
This is a bit of a bold one, but Murray State has been unstoppable in the OVC and even took down a talented Memphis squad. Just imagine what kind of things they could do with a more competitive schedule. They’ll receive that opportunity in the NCAA Tournament.
All of these teams come into the final few weeks of the regular season with something to prove. A good number of them have had extremely mixed resumes, with brutal losses in addition to huge wins. The best way for them to secure their NCAA Tournament bid would be winning the conference tournament, which would add several more big wins to their resume and secure them a spot. However, for those of them play in extremely competitive conferences, it will come down to how they fare against the top contenders on their schedule. Teams here like Arkansas, Michigan, Butler, and SMU do have a lot of potential if they make the tournament, but they’ll first have to prove themselves down the stretch.
Feel free to comment with your thoughts, and you can enjoy today’s bracket preview at noon on CBS.
We’re just a few days away from Selection Sunday, and several tickets to March Madness have been punched already. What’s not clear is where these teams will be seeded, and which teams will make it on at-large bids. Below I have my final projection of the March Madness bracket. Teams that have already punched their ticket are included, and the rest of the conference winners are based off my predictions. Feel free to comment with your thoughts and keep reading to see which teams could be in and which teams could be out.
Gonzaga is the first team to enter the tourney undefeated since Karl-Anthony Towns and the Kentucky Wildcats in 2015. This Gonzaga team has plenty of experience between Corey Kispert, Joel Ayayi, and Drew Timme and a top NBA prospect in Jalen Suggs. The Bulldogs often fall short in March but it’ll take another powerhouse to defeat Gonzaga this time around. Iowa might very well be that powerhouse. After a rough patch in early February, Iowa has rebounded thanks to dominant performances by Luka Garza and improvement from Joe Wieskamp. They recently got revenge on Ohio State and have found their way back to the 2 line.
The Jayhawks have looked like their usual selves of late, and they are the only team to defeat Baylor this year. The loss of David McCormack could hurt but I still have them as a 3 seed. The defending champion Cavaliers struggled in late February as they fell to Duke and NC State but they still look to be a top 16 team. Texas Tech, who lost the title to Virginia two years ago, has failed to stand out so far this year. However, they’ve kept up with an extremely competitive Big 12 and that is impressive on its own.
Tennessee has seen some rough losses lately but I still think they have the depth to make a deep tournament run and should end up as a 6 or 7 seed. Oregon, on the other hand, has rebounded after mid-season struggles. This week they took down UCLA and got revenge on Oregon State. Led by Will Richardson and Chris Duarte, Oregon is my pick to win the Pac-12. That’s not a huge feat this year but should be enough for the top half of the bracket.
Saint Louis is seen as a bubble team by most but I think their wins over LSU and St. Bonaventure (in the regular season) should secure them a safe spot in the tourney. They did get swept by Dayton and were a little tripped up by the long COVID pause but other than that they posted a strong season. I have them against Wisconsin, a middle of the pack B1G team, in the 8-9 game. Drake may have lost to Loyola-Chicago in the Arch Madness final but I think their undefeated start and competitiveness with a ranked Loyola team warrants a spot in the tourney. I have Western Kentucky here on an autobid; their upset of Alabama is the reasoning behind their high seed. They end up with a higher seed than Big East teams Xavier and Providence, who I have meeting in the First Four. A 22-1 Winthrop squad gets the 13 seed here after punching their ticket, and fellow ticket punchers Morehead State and Oral Roberts have lower seeds. Norfolk State and Siena should come out on top of their conferences as well.
Illinois has lost more games than the other 1 seeds in this bracket, but considering they have wins over Michigan, Iowa, and Ohio State and their worst loss is against Maryland, they deserve to be on the 1 line. Ayo Dosunmu and Kofi Cockburn could lead them on a very deep run. Houston has a better record than Illinois but has faced lighter competition and has a loss to AAC basement dwellers East Carolina.
I have Texas as the third ranked Big 12 team in this projection, as they swept Kansas and have many other significant conference wins. Arkansas is also one of the best in their conference. They had a light schedule early on, but now have wins over Alabama, LSU, Florida, and Missouri. Speaking of the Gators, I have them as a 7 seed after an up and down but overall strong SEC performance.
UConn is another team that I’m higher on than most. With James Bouknight back, UConn has appeared to be unstoppable. I think they are absolutely capable of topping Creighton and a banged up Villanova team in the Big East tournament. Led by the Mobley brothers, I have USC securing the highest Pac-12 seed, but don’t be surprised if they fall short in the Pac-12 tournament.
In the 8-9 game, I have Clemson and BYU. Clemson has been rather inconsistent this season, but led by Aamir Simms they have enough quality wins to be in the top half of the bracket. BYU came very close to upsetting Gonzaga in the WCC final. Even without that win they have a solid resume. Nah’Shon Hyland has taken a huge step up this year to lead VCU all the way to the Atlantic 10 finals. Whether or not they win that game, the Rams should make the tournament. They’re a safer bet than teams like Louisville or Colorado State, who have posted solid seasons but lack the big name wins for a tournament resume that stands out. Rounding out the region I have Liberty, UNC Greensboro, Appalachian State, and Mount St. Mary’s (already punched tickets) as well as Prairie View who I see joining them.
Baylor had a rough patch coming off their COVID pause when they fell to Kansas. Other than that, Jared Butler, MaCio Teague, and Mark Vital have led the Bears to Big 12 dominance. Florida State suffered a rough loss against Notre Dame, and they also have a UCF loss on their resume, but their ACC success and impressive record convinced me to keep them on the 2 line. Ohio State has declined from their top 5 status after losses to Iowa and Michigan State, but should still secure a pretty high seed barring any B1G tournament upsets. Purdue has won when they’re supposed to win and they swept Ohio State, so that secures them a safe spot in the top half of the bracket. They still don’t have the kind of resume the Buckeyes have. Villanova, who was at one point on the 1 line, has had a rocky second half and just lost Collin Gillespie for the season. They’re down to a 4 seed and could be prone to a first round upset.
LSU lacked standout wins early in the year, but recently took down Tennessee and Missouri, so they’re safely in the tournament now. Missouri, meanwhile, has fallen to the 10 line after extreme inconsistency. Yes, Missouri has a great veteran core led by Xavier Pinson. Yes, Missouri’s wins include Tennessee, Oregon, Florida, and best of all Illinois. However, they’ve also lost to teams like Mississippi State that are barely even NIT material and have failed to improve as the season progresses like some other teams have.
I have Missouri taking on a 7 seed that has also fallen down the bracket, Oklahoma. The Sooners were among the Big 12’s elite teams until a loss to Kansas State that was only the beginning of a 4 game skid. Oklahoma is now just 14-9 and seventh place in the conference. In the 8-9 game, I have McKinley Wright-led Pac-12 contender Colorado and A10 contender St. Bonaventure. Both these teams have been competitive in their conference, but being competitive in a conference like the A10 isn’t the same as being competitive in the B1G or Big 12.
Syracuse had a rather underwhelming start to the season, but topped UNC and Clemson this week to give their resume a major boost. They secure one of the last four byes, while Ole Miss and Boise State will have to meet in the First Four. I have Abilene Christian, Grand Canyon, and UC Irvine winning their conferences to join UMass Lowell in rounding out this region.
Michigan has struggled down the stretch, dropping 2 of their 3 games last week, but they still deserve a 1 seed after winning the B1G regular season title. Alabama won the SEC regular season title, but they have some non-conference losses that stand out and drag their resume down. Herbert Jones could lead them on a deep tourney run but I’m concerned that they will struggle against unfamiliar opponents in the tournament. Creighton has also had an up and down season. They’ve come close in every game, which has led to a mix of impressive wins and disappointing losses.
I’m not huge on the Mountaineers; I don’t feel they’re as good as Big 12 counterparts Kansas and Texas but I do have them in the top 16 as most people do. They have kept up with the Big 12 but I feel like their resume is similar to Purdue’s. It’s solid but it doesn’t stand out. I do have them above Oklahoma State. Oklahoma State is still waiting on a verdict in a case that would have banned them from this tournament but they are eligible for the tournament until evidence against them is proven. Despite a strong Big 12 season and impressive performances by Cade Cunningham, they got swept by a bottom tier Big 12 team in TCU. In between those two is San Diego State, who won the regular season title in the Mountain West and also has a victory over UCLA. They may have lost Malachi Flynn but they could still make a run after disappointment from the cancellation of last year’s NCAA tournament.
Loyola-Chicago came out on top of a Missouri Valley Conference that’s stronger than usual. I don’t have them in my top 25 like AP does but I do think they’ll secure a strong seed in the tournament. They’ll secure a higher seed than Virginia Tech and Wichita State, who I have meeting in the 8-9 game. Both those teams pulled off major upsets but lack other good wins around it. The Hokies topped Villanova and Virginia, while the Shockers picked up a win when they hosted Houston.
Blue bloods UNC and Michigan State have had a harder time securing a tourney spot than they do most years, but after strong finishes I think both will make it. UNC recently beat Florida State and Sparty now holds wins over three of the top four B1G teams. Not far behind the blue bloods is Colgate, who has excellent advanced metrics and a 12-1 record. Akron and Eastern Washington should win their conferences and line up behind Colgate, while Cleveland State and Drexel already clinched a spot.
The Terps just barely miss the field of 68. They have a good handful of wins including one over Illinois but they had a rough week, losing to Northwestern and for the second time, Penn State. Utah State is also very close. They were definitely competitive in the Mountain West, but struggled a bit in non-conference games, the worst of which was a loss to South Dakota State. Georgia Tech has crafted a decent tournament resume after significant ACC success, but they are just 13-8 after beginning the season with two losses to mid-major squads: Mercer and Georgia State. UCLA has been alright, but they have not had many opportunities for big wins in the Pac-12, and they have not stood out like Oregon, Colorado, and USC have. UCLA’s biggest win by far is over Colorado, and they’ve dropped games to bottom half Pac-12 teams that are nowhere near tourney material.
Memphis has also had a fairly bland resume. They topped Wichita State, but that’s by far their biggest win, and it’s not enough for March Madness. Rutgers’ road struggles have continued this year, and they fell to teams like Penn State and Nebraska on the road. St. John’s took down Villanova, UConn, and others, but has been wildly inconsistent, so it’s unclear how good they truly are. NC State has a win over Virginia that boosted them onto the edge of the bubble but that alone won’t be enough for a bid.
Most of these teams still have a chance to make the tournament if they make a run in their conference tournaments. It will be harder for teams like Utah State, UCLA, and Memphis than B1G teams like Maryland and Rutgers, but it’s possible. NC State already lost to Syracuse in the ACC tourney, but the other 7 teams all still have a realistic chance to secure an at-large bid or even an automatic bid.
I can’t wait for March Madness to begin, and I’m sure many of you feel the same way.
Today at 12:30 PM, the March Madness Bracket Preview special airs on CBS. The selection committee will reveal their current top 16 teams and divide them by region. I have predicted their top 16 and built a bracketology around it. Just like last time, the conference winners are based off who I feel would win a conference tournament based on what we’ve seen so far. The top 16 is as close to an S-curve as possible, but a perfect S-curve would not allow for top 4 B1G or Big 12 teams to be placed in different regions. Keep reading to see which teams made it, which teams didn’t, and which teams are on the bubble. As always, feel free to comment with your thoughts.
Top 16 Teams
Baylor Bears (#1 overall)
Villanova Wildcats (#6 overall)
Ohio State Buckeyes (#12 overall)
Alabama Crimson Tide (#15 overall)
Baylor remains the #1 overall after dominating several strong opponents in the Big 12 and remaining undefeated. Villanova fell to St. John’s, but I still have them as a 2 seed after an impressive season overall. Besides, St. John’s might be better than we thought, as they’ve also taken down UConn.
I’m not fully bought into the Buckeye hype quite yet. They had a very shaky start that included losses to Northwestern and Purdue. If they can beat Michigan this season I’ll be sold, but I just don’t think they have the star power of a #1 seed. Alabama is normally a #1 seed for football, but this is the best they’ve been for basketball in a long time. ‘Bama is dominating in the SEC, and that alone warrants a top 16 resume. However, they’ve struggled outside the conference, falling to teams including Stanford and Western Kentucky, preventing them from the top 10 in my book.
The Rest of the Region
The Jayhawks are normally part of this top 16, but in a year when most of the typical top teams have struggled mightily, even Kansas has been affected. They have still been alright this year, but they haven’t really stood out from the rest of the Big 12 like Baylor and some other teams have. Led by Cade Cunningham, Oklahoma State is also a middle of the pack team in a strong Big 12. Their resume gets weighed down by TCU sweeping them. Purdue has had a solid season in the B1G with Eric Hunter Jr. back in the lineup after missing time early. However, the Boilermakers haven’t done anything too mind blowing, and their best wins by far are the ones over Ohio State.
I have Clemson and Colorado in the 8-9 game. Aamir Simms and the Tigers have been inconsistent but they are worthy of a spot on the bracket. Advanced metrics project the Buffaloes as a legitimate contender, but they have a loss to Washington, arguably the worst team in a weak Pac-12. They have some other questionable losses on their resume as well. The Rams, also a Colorado team, have really impressed this year. They began to get on people’s radars when they split with other top Mountain West teams like San Diego State and Utah State. More recently, they also split with Boise State, proving that they’ll be in the mix for the conference title here.
LSU is in an interesting situation. They have been more consistent than pretty much any other team in the league, but their only somewhat notable wins have been against bubble teams like Arkansas and Ole Miss. They’ll need to beat at least one top 25 team to have a solidified tournament resume. I have two New Jersey teams, Rutgers and Seton Hall grabbing two of the final at large bids. I’m lower on Rutgers than most because of their inconsistency and road struggles.
Rounding out the region is projected conference winners in Winthrop, Cleveland State, UMBC, and HBCUs Prairie View and Norfolk State.
Top 16 Teams
Texas Tech Red Raiders (#4 overall)
Illinois Fighting Illini (#7 overall)
Tennessee Volunteers (#10 overall)
Virginia Cavaliers (#13 overall)
Texas Tech has posted a rather strong season in the Big 12 with Mac McClung in the mix. In this competitive of a conference, I think the Red Raiders are deserving of the 1 line. Illinois started off slow, but they have proven themselves as a title contender. Ayo Dosunmu led them past Iowa, and their only notable bad loss has come against Maryland, a team that has been wildly inconsistent and upset top teams despite losing to lower tier ones.
The Vols have had some rough moments, but they’ve been among the top teams in the SEC and I think they have the depth of a championship contender as well. Virginia has been conducting business as usual ever since the San Francisco loss. They did fall to Virginia Tech on the road, but they’ve had a strong season overall. They’ll have their biggest test yet when they face Florida State.
The Rest of the Region
West Virginia has been a middle of the pack Big 12 team, and I don’t know how well they’ll be able to do in the tourney without Oscar Tshiebwe. UConn had a rough patch without James Bouknight, but Bouknight is back so the Huskies should show people how capable they truly are soon enough. It’s become clear that USC is the best team in the Pac-12, so they round out the Top 25 and grab a 7 seed here. Led by the Mobley brothers, they recently took down UCLA. In the 8-9 game, I have MW contender San Diego State against A10 contender Saint Bonaventure. Both these teams have posted strong seasons in conferences that aren’t quite Power Six, but should still be able to send multiple teams to Indianapolis.
Louisville hasn’t been overly impressive in the ACC, but they have a good enough record in the conference for a tourney spot. Both the Cardinals and Terps have been somewhat inconsistent this year, resulting in lower seeds. Xavier is 11-2, but they don’t have many big wins. They’ve performed at an average level in the Big East and their biggest win came against Oklahoma during their strong start to the season. I don’t see them as a surefire tourney team like many people do. Projected conference winners take up the rest of the bracket here.
Top 16 Teams
Gonzaga Bulldogs (#2 overall)
Houston Cougars (#8 overall)
Iowa Hawkeyes (#11 overall)
Wisconsin Badgers (#14 overall)
Gonzaga is clearly a top 2 team in the nation, but I think Baylor edges them out for #1 right now. Houston may have lost to East Carolina, but that loss doesn’t ruin their strong resume that includes a win over Texas Tech and wins over most other AAC teams. Iowa’s had a rough stretch that includes a second loss to Indiana, but you can never count out Luka Garza. Garza has been the best player in the country this season and could take Iowa on a deep run with enough help. I’d say Iowa outmatches B1G rival Wisconsin, who has had some big wins but also several questionable losses.
The Rest of the Region
Oklahoma, like Kansas and WVU, is a middle of the pack Big 12 team that I have on the 5 line. I have the Gators as a 6 seed still. I’m still impressed by the fact that they’ve kept up with the SEC’s best without Keyontae Johnson. They’ll be extra motivated to make a deep run in Keyontae’s honor. Virginia Tech has wins over Villanova and Virginia, but also losses to Pittsburgh and Penn State. That inconsistent resume places them just outside the top 25 in my eyes. I have St. John’s, the other team who beat Villanova, in the 8-9 game. They’ll take on Drake, who I’m still a believer in despite the loss to Valparaiso. Unless the Bulldogs get swept by Loyola Chicago, they should still be a tourney team.
The Ducks are down to a 10 seed as they fall behind USC and Colorado in the Pac-12. I still have Western Kentucky as an 11 seed, as their resume towers over the resumes of most mid-major teams. WKU gets a higher seed than two of the final at large teams, Syracuse and Ole Miss. Jim Boeheim and the Orange definitely have a bubble team after a respectable, but unimpressive season in the ACC. Ole Miss is a bubble team right now but should only move up the bracket from here. I feel that their upset of Tennessee is only the beginning of a strong SEC resume. The rest of the bracket is just projected conference winners. Liberty is the clear cut Atlantic Sun favorite, while Sam Houston State, Colgate, and CSU Bakersfield have a tougher road to an autobid.
Top 16 Teams
Michigan Wolverines (#3 overall)
Texas Longhorns (#5 overall)
Florida State Seminoles (#10 overall)
Missouri Tigers (#16 overall)
I think Michigan is pretty clearly the #3 overall team after a dominant season in the B1G. Texas is among the top teams in a strong Big 12, so I have them just behind Texas Tech and on the 2 line. I’m higher on Florida State than most, but they’ve had several big wins in the ACC and I think they can make it a very close game against Virginia. Missouri has had a lot of big wins, including one over Illinois, but they are too inconsistent to be much higher. Half the time they play like a 1 seed, and the other half of the time they play like a bubble team. They have a strong veteran core led by Xavier Pinson, but I can’t put them top 10 considering their losses to teams like Mississippi State. They also had a very close call against TCU.
The Rest of the Region
Without Ty-Shon Alexander, Creighton hasn’t been the dominant force they were a year ago. Marcus Zegarowski has played well but Creighton has let almost every game get way too close, leading to some ugly losses including Georgetown and Butler. Most see Indiana as a bubble team, but the fact that they swept the Hawkeyes makes me think they are capable of big things. Minnesota should be a tourney lock after handing Michigan their only loss, but their road struggles are weighing down their resume. Saint Louis and North Carolina have both posted respectable, but unimpressive seasons. I think both are good enough for the 8-9 game, but no more than that unless they add some more big wins to their resumes.
UCLA, like Oregon, has fallen behind in the Pac-12. They’ve struggled without Chris Smith, and my expectations for the rest of UCLA’s season are very low. Loyola Chicago should be able to make the tourney alongside Drake, but a lot depends on how the games between those two teams go. Belmont is one of only a few mid-major conference winners that I have above the 13 line. Their one-loss season is very impressive. I also have Wofford, Toledo, Siena, and Eastern Washington earning autobids.
The Razorbacks have advanced metrics on their side, but I’m not impressed by any of their wins this year. BYU did lose to Pepperdine, but they still have a borderline tourney resume. The Aggies (also from Utah), would be on the bracket if it weren’t for their South Dakota State loss. That loss isn’t a deal breaker but they’ll need some more impressive wins to make up for it. Michigan State is struggling in a competitive B1G and lacks significant wins. They’ll need Tom Izzo to lead them past some stronger B1G opponents if they want a spot in the tourney.
TCU has wins over Oklahoma State already, so if they can win one more significant Big 12 game I’d say they deserve a spot. Stanford has been decent, but it will be hard to build a tournament resume unless they dominate the Pac-12 the rest of the way. Memphis and Wichita State would likely need to beat Houston to make the tourney at this point.
That’s all for today’s bracketology. Selection Sunday is in just 4 weeks, and the Bracket Preview today will build even more hype for that event.
March Madness will be far from typical this year. All 67 games will take place in Indianapolis, and bracket “regions” won’t be based on location. However, it’s still happening, and I’ve had the chance to watch more college hoops than ever this year. I normally don’t get into the bracketology game until February, but some conference play has already started and I think we have a good sample size to start to talk about the bracket with a little less than half of the season complete. Keep reading to see my bracket with analysis, and as always feel free to comment with your thoughts.
Gonzaga looks like the best team in the nation. Led by Cole Kispert and Drew Timme, they have multiple big wins including ones over Iowa and Kansas. I have Texas and Missouri securing high seeds in their first bid since 2018; Texas is keeping up with the top teams in a stacked Big 12 and the Tigers have upset Oregon and Illinois to give themselves a significant resume. Illinois may have the loss to Missouri and a loss to Rutgers, but the duo of Ayo Dosunmu and Kofi Cockburn have led the Fighting Illini to victories over Duke, Minnesota, Indiana, and others.
Duke should drop to a 5 seed (or possibly lower) after losing their three best players to the NBA draft and struggling without much of an upperclassman presence. Meanwhile, Northwestern is posting their best season since 2017 when they made their first ever NCAA Tournament, possibly better than that even. They have crucial B1G wins over Michigan State, Indiana, and Ohio State and have a top 25 resume at the moment. UConn’s move to the Big East has gone well so far, as James Bouknight nearly led them to upset Creighton. They should be able to get back to the tournament this year. Maryland should also be in line to make the tournament after their win over a top 10 Wisconsin squad. Xavier only has one loss, and that came in a close game with Creighton. They are yet another team that has outperformed expectations and should make it.
San Diego State may not have Malachi Flynn, but they still have a strong squad that has taken down teams like UCLA and makes a good case for the top 25. UCLA is one of the better teams in a weak Pac-12, they don’t have many big wins but they have a better resume than most of the conference. I have SMU and Alabama just barely making it as well.
Right now, I’m judging conferences based on which team I think would win the conference tourney. Mercer and South Dakota State both have impressive wins that makes me think they can win their mid-major conferences. Grand Canyon, Texas Southern, and Navy are far from tourney locks but the first two look like the best in their conference thus far and Army and Navy are the only Patriot League teams who have started their season at all.
Villanova may have lost to Virginia Tech but they have been spotless otherwise with some impressive wins, so I’m expecting a 1 seed for them. Iowa has had some rough losses, but Luka Garza has looked really good and they can compete with the best teams in the nation as well. Texas Tech hasn’t really had a big win yet, but they’ve come very close against top teams like Kansas and Houston so I think they’re legit with Georgetown transfer Mac McClung leading the way. Florida State has looked very good as well, led by the duo of freshman Scottie Barnes and returnee M.J. Walker. Michigan is undefeated, so they should have a pretty high seed until they lose. They haven’t played any fellow top 25 teams yet though; the first big test for them will come on Sunday when they host Northwestern.
The only Saint Louis loss this year came against the Minnesota Gophers, who have upset Iowa. I have them beating out Richmond (who lost to Hofstra) in the Atlantic 10 and securing a top half seed. UCF has played with grit in every game this year; their biggest win came against Florida State but they came close against Houston too. I see them as a legit AAC contender alongside Houston. Oregon looks like the best team in this year’s Pac-12, but they haven’t really stood out without Payton Pritchard. I have them facing Florida in an 8-9 game, who should stay competitive even with Keyontae Johnson recovering from a scary in-game collapse.
Syracuse doesn’t have any big wins yet but they look better than last year and were missing coach Jim Boeheim’s son Buddy for several of their early games. BYU has been inconsistent but they did knock off San Diego State. I have a conference winner, Liberty, in the 12 slot here, as they were very competitive with Power Six teams at the Space Coast Challenge to open the season. Bryant, Georgia State, Iona, and Eastern Washington should also make it after their own conference wins.
Baylor doesn’t have as many big wins as Gonzaga, but they look like a title contender and likely 1 seed this year. Houston is currently undefeated, and with a relatively easy schedule there’s a chance they keep it up. If they do I’d probably call them a 1 seed but for now they slot in as a 2 seed as their only big tests came against Texas Tech and UCF. Wisconsin has some bad losses, falling to Marquette and Maryland, but they’ve also taken down Michigan State and annihilated Louisville. If the inconsistency continues they could fall a bit but for now they look like a top 10 team. Creighton has competed with the best of the best too, but they also lost to Marquette and nearly lost to UConn. Their success is dependent on Marcus Zegarowski’s ability to take the leap we were expecting, and he has been inconsistent thus far. Virginia also has a big loss to San Francisco but they’ve looked like a typical Tony Bennett team otherwise.
NC State made a name for themselves by knocking off UNC this past week, and they are a top 25 team for now. Rutgers is playing in a very competitive B1G but their win over Illinois and the success of Ron Harper Jr. help them stand out. I have them facing off with Virginia Tech, who knocked off Villanova, in the Round of 64. I don’t see Virginia Tech getting that high a seed unless they pick up some more big wins; they did also lose to Penn State so I don’t see them as a top 25 team right now. I have another B1G team, Indiana, and LSU in the 8-9 game. Both have been competitive despite a lack of big wins.
Western Kentucky has looked better than most mid-major teams and competed with Power Six teams so I have them as an 11 seed ahead of all of the Last Four In. Southern Illinois looks like the best team right now in a strong MVC, so I have them as a 12 seed (though that conference is very close so several teams could win it and easily secure a 12 or 13 seed). I also have Winthrop, Stephen F. Austin, and Belmont making it on auto-bids with Norfolk State and CSU Fullerton edging out their weaker conferences to make it as well.
Kansas looks good with several freshmen standing out alongside returnees Ochai Agbaji and Marcus Garrett; they have several big wins already. Tennessee got their season off to a late start but looks dominant so far, possibly better then they were when Grant Williams was on the team. West Virginia has also competed with the best of the Big 12, coming close against Kansas, so they should secure a high seed. The UNC Tar Heels have had a tough schedule thus far, but look much, much better than last year with Caleb Love and other freshmen supporting returnees like Garrison Brooks. Michigan State has had some bad losses too but the B1G is not an easy conference to play in this year and I see them picking up some big conference wins and bouncing back. Minnesota and Ohio State are also borderline top 25 teams from the B1G after impressive in-conference wins.
In the 8-9 game, I have Louisville, who looks to be a mid-tier ACC team this year, and Stanford, one of the better teams in a weak Pac-12. Marquette and Clemson should also secure at-large bids after some big victories to start the season. San Francisco and Richmond also have some impressive wins and should edge out tourney bids. I have Akron, Hofstra, UMBC, and Cleveland State securing auto-bids in this region. If Cleveland State can hold on to win the Horizon League, they’d make their first NCAA tournament since 2009 and their third ever.
These teams could all easily make the tournament; they could all also easily miss. Their fate will come down to how they do in conference play. Dayton, USC, Providence, Arizona State, Miami, and Oklahoma State are pretty much regulars here, while normally dominant teams like Kentucky are also here after rough starts. If Kentucky does well in conference play, they could still make the tourney. Teams like South Florida could make it as well, the Bulls are better than usual with David Collins getting better and just need some big wins on their resume.
That’s all for today’s bracketology. You may notice that I included a lot of B1G teams. The B1G is a very strong conference this year; I had them securing 11 (yes, 11) tournament bids here and teams like Purdue and Penn State could make a case for the tourney as well. So far, Nebraska seems to be the odd team out in this conference; everyone else has a chance at the tourney. Yes, that’s how good this conference is. Some B1G in-conference games will be national TV events throughout the start of 2021, and I’ll be watching as it looks to be one of the best college hoops conferences in history.
The Sweet 16 is almost here, and though my bracket isn’t anywhere near perfect, 8 of my projected Sweet 16 and my 2 finalists are still alive. Remember, I have Kentucky over Duke in the championship. You can see my initial bracket below for reference:
But luckily, ESPN has allowed everyone a second chance bracket. I did not have many upsets on my bracket, but there haven’t been many yet, so I don’t want to overdo it in these later rounds, especially because there’s only two teams left that don’t own a Top 4 seed in their region. Here is my Second Chance bracket below:
But how did I come up with these picks? Read below for an analysis of each game in the Sweet 16 and and a brief look ahead to the later rounds. I also wrote regional previews before the tournament: so you can check those out below:
The Blue Devils nearly choked against Tacko Fall and the UCF Knights. But they know Virginia Tech well. Even though the Hokies beat Duke earlier this season, I feel that Zion Williamson, R.J. Barrett, and company will rise to the occasion to take down Virginia Tech. Plus, Williamson was out when Duke lost to Virginia Tech, and though Duke was pretty good without Zion, they are nearly unstoppable with Zion.
The Pick: Duke
#2 Michigan State vs. #3 LSU
The Spartans dominated in their first two games of the tournament, led by star guard Cassius Winston. But the Tigers will not be an easy opponent, as Tremont Waters and Naz Reid led LSU to similar results in their first two games. Whoever wins this game should head into the Elite 8 with momentum and confidence. Though these teams are pretty evenly matched, LSU lost their head coach for the tourney, and I see Tom Izzo out-coaching LSU and winning this game.
The Pick: Michigan State
#1 Gonzaga vs. #4 Florida State
‘Zags was able to squeeze in here after Syracuse was upset by Baylor, but Florida State is not here to mess around. The Seminoles put up a very strong season in a tough ACC, and they followed that up by holding off Vermont ending Murray State’s run. I have Terance Mann and the Seminoles pulling the upset, as Gonzaga made it here on pure chance.
The Pick: UPSET ALERT: Florida State
#2 Michigan vs. #3 Texas Tech
I did not see this coming, but the Red Raiders powered their way past Buffalo to make the Sweet 16 for the second straight year. They were led by Jarrett Culver after a strong regular season in the Big 12 that almost led to a Big 12 win. But Michigan was undefeated for nearly half the season despite a late stumble. After they shut down an underrated Florida team, I think they’re ready to make a big run, starting with the win here. I know I underrated Texas Tech a bit, but their run should end here as expected.
The Pick: Michigan
#1 Virginia vs. #12 Oregon
I originally had the Cavaliers losing to Oklahoma in the Round of 32. They were fine against Oklahoma, but they were struggling in the first half against #16 Gardner-Webb. Though I think the Cavs are overrated, I did not expect Oregon to make this deep a run or even defeat Ethan Happ and the Wisconsin Badgers. Kyle Guy and De’Andre Hunter should at least lead Virginia to the Elite 8 at this point. But don’t expect a crazy deep run.
The Pick: Virginia
#2 Tennessee vs. #3 Purdue
The Boilermakers were able to shut down the Old Dominion Monarchs in the first round. Since then, things have been smooth sailing thanks to the leadership of Carsen Edwards and Matt Haarms. But Tennessee is their toughest opponent yet in this tourney. After struggling in their inter-conference play early this season, Purdue may have momentum in their favor. But I cannot see them taking down Grant Williams and the Volunteers, who dominated against both #15 Colgate and #10 Iowa.
The Pick: Tennessee
#1 North Carolina vs. #5 Auburn
The Tar Heels were able to get past Washington easily despite a first half scare from #16 Iona. Auburn’s also in a good position. Though they barely won, they did hold off upset-hungry New Mexico State in the first round and went on to upset an upset-prone Kansas team as I had expected NM State to do. Led by Luke Maye and Nassir Little, I think North Carolina will outplay Auburn, but this will be a close game; a battle of two imperfect, but strong teams.
The Pick: North Carolina
#2 Kentucky vs. #3 Houston
Houston did impress this year, losing just a few games. Even in the AAC, which is technically a mid-major conference, this should be considered a good performance. But despite some inconsistencies earlier this season, Kentucky has been nothing but dominant in this tournament, just like they were against SEC teams this year and just like they were expected to be. Led by freshman Tyler Herro, they should get past the Cougars and come into the Elite 8 with momentum in their favor.
The Pick: Kentucky
Elite 8 and Beyond
Here are my projected Elite 8 match-ups:
#1 Duke vs. #2 Michigan State
#2 Michigan vs. #4 Florida State
#1 Virginia vs. #2 Tennessee
#1 North Carolina vs. #2 Kentucky
Sparty should have a good chance to defeat Duke after being coached to victory against LSU. But the Blue Devils are extremely difficult to beat, and after losing Joshua Langford for the season this year, I have Michigan State falling just short. Michigan should be able to get past an overrated Texas Tech squad, but Florida State will power past the Wolverines after a triumphant upset over Gonzaga and head to the Final 4. Virginia’s run will also end here, as Grant Williams and the Vols finally eliminate a flawed Cavaliers team. Virginia’s regular season was pretty impressive, but they have never been the best playoff team. The Wildcats should get past UNC. They performed almost as well as UNC during the regular season, and they have outperformed UNC so far in this tournament.
And my projected champion is….
The Wildcats began a dominant run before this tournament even started. Since their loss to Alabama to begin January, they have gone 19-3, only losing to Tennessee (twice) and LSU (with their head coach). I think they’ll continue to run with the momentum and get revenge on Tennessee. Duke will knock out FSU, and the championship will be set. Though Duke is much better on paper, I think Kentucky will outmatch Duke and win the championship.
That’s all for my preview of the Sweet 16 and beyond. Stay tuned for more basketball coverage and coverage on other sports soon.
Welcome to my 4th and final regional preview for March Madness. Today, I’ll be taking a look at the Midwest Region. WIll UNC go far, or will someone upset them along the way? What other big upsets could happen? Keep reading to find out what I think. You can also check out the rest of my regional previews at the links below:
I will be previewing the Sweet 16 next week as well!
Now let’s get started with the Midwest:
Round of 64 Preview
Columbus, OH: Games start Friday, March 22, 2019 at 6:50 PM EST on TNT
#8 Utah State vs. #9 Washington
Utah State may have won the MWC after San Diego State’s take down of Nevada, but I still think Washington is the better team here. The Huskies were a bright spot in an unusually weak Pac-12. Expect them to outplay the Aggies, who struggled to keep up with Nevada in a mid-major conference, especially early on. You could argue that the Huskies didn’t win enough games outside the Pac-12, but Utah State hasn’t won many more outside their conference.
The Pick: UPSET ALERT: Washington
#1 North Carolina vs. #16 Iona
The Tar Heels should be able to take care of Iona. The Gaels have found a way to pull some upsets after subpar seasons. But a 16-1 upset is not happening. North Carolina will not have it easy in this tournament like they did last season. But led by longtime Tar Heel leader Luke Maye, they should be able to snuff Iona’s torch before it’s too late.
The Pick: North Carolina
Salt Lake City, UT: Games start Thursday, March 21, 2019 at 1:30 PM EST on TNT
#5 Auburn vs. #12 New Mexico State
This should be a close one, and it was one of the hardest games for me to predict. New Mexico State has a long history of pulling upsets in this tourney, and they have reigned over the WAC for at least a few years. The Tigers might not quite be on the level of the SEC’s top teams in Kentucky, Tennessee, and LSU, though they managed to win the SEC tournament. However, I don’t think Auburn will have the same luck in this game.
The Pick: UPSET ALERT: New Mexico State
#4 Kansas vs. #13 Northeastern
The Jayhawks had some bad losses this year, including losses to Arizona State, Texas, and West Virginia. But I think Kansas should be able to take care of the Huskies. Northeastern struggled to keep up with Hofstra in a relatively weak Colonial conference. There’s no way they’ll be able to defeat the Big 12 champion, even though Kansas has been inconsistent within their conference.
The Pick: Kansas
Tulsa, OK: Games start Friday, March 22, 2019 at 7:20 PM EST on TBS
#3 Houston vs. #14 Georgia State
The Cougars dominated the AAC this season. Their only losses? Cincinnati, UCF, and Temple. They were also undefeated outside the AAC. That gives me plenty of confidence for them in this tournament. I see them as the best mid-major team this season, and the Panthers should be a pretty easy opponent despite plenty of recent NCAA tournament experience.
The Pick: Houston
#6 Iowa State vs. #11 Ohio State
The Cyclones weren’t quite on the level of the Big 12’s top teams, but they did improve from their 2017-18 performance and will have a shot to make a run in the tourney this year. Ohio State may be inconsistent, but they have beat some elite teams like Iowa and Cincinnati. The Cyclones don’t have that kind of upside, and the Buckeyes will take advantage.
The Pick: UPSET ALERT: Ohio State
Jacksonville, FL: Games start Thursday, March 21, 2019 at 7:10 PM EST on CBS
#2 Kentucky vs. #15 Abilene Christian
Fun fact: this is the only Round of 64 game in which both teams have the same mascot. This is a battle of the Wildcats. Abilene Christian was able to thrive in the weak Southland conference. But they don’t have many quality victories, and Kentucky will be a very tough opponent. Expect Tyler Herro and P.J. Washington to lead Kentucky as they take care of business against ACU. But this won’t even be close to the end of Kentucky’s March Madness run.
The Pick: Kentucky
#7 Wofford vs. #10 Seton Hall
The Terriers came out on top in an unusually strong SoCon. UNC Greensboro, who came in second to them, nearly made it on an at-large bid. But Seton Hall managed to put up a respectable record in their mid-major conference despite placing behind Marquette and Villanova. The Pirates have pulled some interesting upsets in the past, and Wofford may have been consistent, but they lack quality wins outside the SoCon. Look for Seton Hall to take care of business here even though I think the committee overrated them.
The Pick: UPSET ALERT: Seton Hall
Round of 32 and Beyond
Here are my projected Round of 32 match-ups:
#1 North Carolina vs. #9 Washington
#4 Kansas vs. #12 New Mexico State
#3 Houston vs. #11 Ohio State
#2 Kentucky vs. #10 Seton Hall
UNC should be able to take care of Washington. The Tar Heels had a consistent track record this year, especially within the ACC. The Huskies cannot say the same. KU may struggle against New Mexico State, who will be fresh off upsetting Auburn. Kansas lost a lot this off-season, and they may be upset prone, so Bill Self and the Jayhawks won’t be enough to end New Mexico State’s run this year. Houston should win easily over an inconsistent Ohio State squad, and Kentucky will show Seton Hall who’s boss, especially since they will have momentum in their favor after dominating against Abilene Christian.
And the Projected Midwest Winner is…
The Wildcats’ toughest game might be their Sweet 16 battle with Houston. Led by Corey Davis Jr., Houston has done very well in a competitive AAC conference, but Kentucky nearly won everything in an even stronger SEC conference that has 7 representatives in the NCAA Tournament. Despite the tough Regional Finals match-ups, Herro and Washington should lead John Calipari’s team back to the Final 4. UNC will look to stop Kentucky after putting an end to New Mexico State’s run, but even the NM State game will be a rocky ride for UNC, as NM State can really tear apart quality teams, even in games they don’t end up winning. Kentucky is the best equipped for the Final 4: they have easier match-ups, a top head coach, and a duo of leaders on the court. I even picked them to win the championship.
That’s all for this year’s March Madness regional previews. I’ll give you an update on my bracket and revise my predictions next week before the Sweet 16, so stay tuned.