Every March, the word “expert” adopts a more liberal definition. ESPN, CBS, Sports Illustrated … they all tap every guy who’s ever touched a basketball to fill out a bracket. Then they paste them on their various websites and watch as Danny, that weird guy in your accounting department, scrutinizes each one for the office pool.
It’s getting out of hand.
“But wait,” you’re saying, “aren’t you about to do the exact same thing?”
In a sense, yes. This article features MTS’ own version of expert brackets. But there’s one crucial difference: none of us have ever touched a basketball.
I’m joking, though there’s a kernel of truth in my jest. We’re not ex-ballers who got their jobs from name recognition. We’re nerds who study the game. Will we outperform Mateen Cleaves, Danny Granger, Wally Szczerbiak, and their ilk? Smart money’s on Nerd Central.
Overall no. 1 seed Kansas has the best resume and has proven itself as the most consistent team in the nation. The Jayhawks are one of the few teams capable of winning the national title but this draw will make it incredibly difficult. California and Maryland are flawed but each matches up well against Kansas and both have NBA talent. South Dakota St. and Hawaii are live dogs and will pull the upset if the higher seeds don’t bring their A-game.
Miami has a clear advantage in the bottom half. The Hurricanes are an underrated no. 3 seed and get favorable match-ups with no. 6 Arizona and/or no. 2 Villanova. The Canes biggest test may come from no. 11 Wichita St. That brings us to Kansas vs Miami: if Jim Larranaga is coaching a talented senior backcourt in a regional final … you bet on that side.
This is a dream bracket for the Ducks. Oregon’s only real flaw is shooting and defending the three. To beat the Ducks, you have to match their athleticism, not turn the ball over, and shoot well from deep. No team in the West can do all of those.
Duke has an offensively dynamic starting five and is capable of running with Oregon for a while, but its lack of depth and defensive inefficiencies would eventually be exposed.
Oklahoma has the three-point game to beat Oregon. However, the Sooners lack of interior offense and susceptibility to turnovers would ultimately lead to a comfortable Duck victory.
The East is the most open bracket. Odd things are likely to happen.
North Carolina is a popular title pick. The Tar Heels just won the ACC championship, displaying outstanding offense in the semis and great defense in the final. They’re unquestionably athletic but have a tough road to hoe. The key to beating the Heels is forcing outside shots and keeping them off the offensive glass.
Chattanooga is likely to give Indiana trouble. The Hoosiers transition game will be mostly nullified and they will have to take care of the ball to escape with a victory. Mocs +12 was an instinctive buy following the selection show.
Kentucky should be a no. 2 seed. The Cats have the best backcourt in the country and the ability to win the whole thing. If UK’s big men step up their defensive rebounding and continue to add offensive production, Big Blue Nation will be invading Houston.
USC is athletic at all five positions and runs unique sets offensively. Pac-12 schools eventually figured them out but a lack of familiarity will now present difficult match-ups for Providence and North Carolina.
West Virginia and Xavier should survive the first weekend and meet in Philadelphia. The Mountaineers pressure defense and ability to attack the offensive glass gives them the advantage over X.
Sparty was deserving of a no.1 seed but could not have asked for a better draw. Iowa St. would be the worst match-up for MSU and that’s highly unlikely to happen.
Virginia won’t be an upset victim. The no. 1 Cavaliers are too well coached. But they’ve been knocked out by MSU in the last two tourneys and would be ‘dogs to the Spartans again.
Purdue (-8) will play at altitude (Denver) against Arkansas Little Rock. The game will be a defensive struggle with long, hard-fought possessions. The Boilermakers have an enormous advantage in the post while the Trojans should control the perimeter. If the the big men tire faster than usual, eight points is a big number.
If Michigan State is still sour over missing out on a no. 1 seed, perhaps my vote of confidence will serve as nice consolation prize. In the weakest of the four regions, the well-rounded Spartans should roll to a Final Four berth, but things get tricky from there.
The East region has five or six teams with the potential to take it all, and whoever emerges will be battle-tested and ready to go. Despite it being “the Year of the Senior,” I see the young Wildcats, who are hot at the right time, coming out of the East.
On the other side, it only seems fair that we get one last rematch of Kansas-Oklahoma, this time with Buddy Hield and company getting the best of the Jayhawks.
For upsets, watch out for the sharp-shooting Iona Gaels and Arkansas Little Rock Trojans in the Midwest and the fast-paced Green Bay Phoenix in the West.
Yes, it’s the “year of parity” and almost anything could happen. But it won’t. There are still elite teams and – don’t forget – coaches in this field and they’ll win out in crunch time.
Bill Self doesn’t have a great tourney track record, but his veteran-laden squad will handle the young bucks from Maryland or Cal and find ways to score on a tough Nova defense.
I was hesitant to roll with Duke over Oregon, but I see Grayson Allen’s big-game pedigree being the difference, even though the Blue Devils won’t get a lot of bench help. Give the edge to Coach K over Dana Altman, too.
The SEC was downright terrible this year, but Texas A&M played a cut above its conference mates for most of the year. Their epic OT battle with Kentucky in the title game – which ended the team’s eight-game win streak – showed they’re ready to roll against the best in the nation.
I was tempted to take Kentucky to pull the upset over UNC, but the Tar Heels are also playing their best ball of the season right now and have better depth than the Wildcats. The Marcus Paige/Tyler Ulis matchup will be a beauty to watch, though, whatever way the game goes.
In the Midwest, the Spartans are the cream of the crop. Virginia’s defense and discipline will make them a tough out, but the confidence-factor will lie with MSU after ousting the Cavaliers the last two seasons. The Denzel Valentine-and-Tom Izzo factor also sits with Sparty. That’s a deadly combo.
In terms of upsets, I always like teams that have nothing to lose and will be playing with a chip on their shoulder, i.e. the teams that no one thinks should be here. When the bracket was released, Syracuse and Michigan were two teams that elicited a collective “REALLY?!” from pundits. But they’re both game squads that proved they can hang with bigger dogs. I like the Wolverines to handle Tulsa and then get by Notre Dame, while Syracuse will prove everyone wrong by downing a solid Dayton team.