These next three days, we’re all geniuses. We go through our NCAA brackets, pick our upsets, get on board with Mid-Major X and feel absolutely confident that we’ve got all four teams correct in our Final Four. Then, the games start…and by nine o’clock Sunday night, if we’re lucky, we’ve got ten teams in the Sweet Sixteen. If we’re lucky. Because we never know what we think we know, especially when it comes to March Madness.
With all that as prelude, here are my super-confident, absolutely certain picks for all the fun that starts Thursday. And before I forget, a very happy St. Patrick’s Day to all our Irish friends (and the rest of us who are Irish for one day).
EAST REGION – While North Carolina seems like an absolute certainty to make the Final Four, especially because they don’t have to leave the state before a possible berth in San Antonio, it appears the committee has counter-balanced that by putting the best #2 and #3 seeds in this bracket. Tennessee is certainly capable of knocking off the Tar Heels, as is Louisville. One reason I like Tennessee is their ability to push the tempo and scoring against any opponent. The Vols were certainly deserving of their own #1 seed; I say they use that for added motivation and knock off UNC in the regional final for a trip to their first ever Final Four.
Early Round Upsetters: George Mason over Notre Dame, St. Joe’s over Oklahoma.
MIDWEST REGION - The biggest question here is whether Kansas can shed its recent history of early round failures under Bill Self and reach the Final Four. I say no. In fact, this region seems tailor-made for Georgetown. The Hoyas may not be tested until the Sweet Sixteen, and if Clemson (my dark horse here) pulls through the top half of this bracket, then Georgetown could cruise to the Elite Eight. I like everything about Georgetown, especially after seeing this draw. Make it back-to-back Final Fours for JT III and his squad.
Early Round Upsetters: Kansas State over USC, Davidson over Gonzaga.
SOUTH REGION - This is the toughest region of all. Memphis, Texas, Stanford and Pitt are all solid, battle-tested teams with the ability to win it all. At some point, Memphis’ abysmal foul shooting will be their undoing. Pitt just doesn’t strike me as a Final Four team, their impressive Big East Tournament championship notwithstanding. Texas is coached by Rick Barnes (need I say more?). So I’m taking the Stanford Cardinal to punch a ticket for San Antonio. Behind very good guard play and the Lopez brothers inside, the Cardinal are more than capable. I always believe you have to find a #3 seed somewhere in the field to reach a Final Four.
Early Round Upsetters: Oregon over Miss. St., St. Mary’s over Miami, Temple over Michigan St. (maybe).
WEST REGION - I really like Purdue to make a deep run here. The Boilermakers have been largely unnoticed but very good all season. Drake is intriguing as well. And who won’t be rooting like mad for the West Virginia – Arizona winner to topple Duke? But this road to the Final Four has UCLA paved all over it. If there’s a lock #1 seed for San Antonio, the Bruins appear to be it. I’d be shocked if they fall short. I’m picking UCLA over Purdue in the Regional Final.
Early Round Upsetters: Sand Diego over UConn, Georgia over Xavier (maybe).
FINAL FOUR PICKS - Stanford finally gets their revenge against UCLA in a game that won’t be officiated by Pac-10 referees. Georgetown slows down Tennessee enough to grind out a win in the mid-70’s range.
CHAMPIONSHIP GAME - Georgetown 78, Stanford 74. Patrick Ewing, Jr. and JT III make their papas proud and restore the Hoyas’ place as the elite college basketball program (to say nothing of the Washington metropolitan area).
Just remember, I’m going to be shockingly wrong here. So don’t get too angry at my predictions. Here’s to Thursday at 12:15! Let the Madness commence!