LET THE MADNESS BEGIN! It’s that time of year again.
It’s time for you to abuse your company’s color printer, spend more time researching colleges than an undecided high school senior, and get your hopes sky-high. Many think the perfect bracket is unattainable. Some even are willing to bet a billion dollars on it, but Warren Buffet and all his silly analytics didn’t count on one thing… me.
Last year, my picks won every bracket I was in. Now, I’m not one to toot my own horn, but I’m going to get every single one of these picks right, doubt in anybody’s mind. I can see the future better than Doc Brown and Miss Cleo combined. As always, if proved wrong, no there will be no refunds for this post.
(16) Albany Great Danes OVER (16) Mount St. Mary’s Mountaineers
Like most sane people that grew up with a normal tournament hosting a field of 64, I don’t like the First Four. Then they had the nerve to try to call it the “First Round” in the media, and I became a huge whiner about it. We don’t care about these games the same way we don’t care about the plain salad before being dazzled by a showman Hibachi chef!
Albany’s lineup has an international flavor to it, with a player from Denmark and Georgia (the country, not the Bulldog state) and four from Australia. I’m picturing their star forward, Michael Rowley, walking onto the court wearing a Cutana Leather hat and crocodile teeth necklace while his family screams aggressively drunk off Foster’s beer. The wild and lengthy Albany team will be able to move out and disrupt the 3-point reliant Mountaineers. Which reminds me, Mount St Mary’s nicknamed the team the Mountaineers, which seems like the most redundant noncreative thing you could name them. I’m going with the Albany Great Danes and their Scooby Doo looking mascot.
(1) Florida Gators OVER (16) Albany Great Danes
Well, Albany, that was fun while it lasted. Florida, after 3 consecutive Elite Eights, an undefeated SEC record and 26 wins, isn’t going to break their streaks to a 16-seed.
(9) Pittsburgh Panthers OVER (8) Colorado Buffaloes
Colorado started the season hot with a 14-2 record including a win over Kansas, but ever since top player Spencer Dinwiddie got hurt in January against Washington, the Buffaloes have been as helpless as real buffaloes, sputtering to a 9-9 finish. Similarly, the team’s PPG has dropped from 77.6 to start the year to 57.8 in Dinwiddie’s absence. Jamie Dixon’s squads have a tendency to disappoint in the tournament, but Talib Zanna and Lamar Patterson will get at least this game under their belt.
(5) VCU Rams OVER (12) Stephen F Austin Lumberjacks
Stephen F Austin piled up an impressive 30-2 record this season, but haven’t played anybody of VCU’s defensive caliber. VCU’s defense wreaks havoc with the lightning bug Briante Weber leading a feisty full-court press that swallows ball-handlers whole. Let’s all try not to forget that Shaka Smart was in the Final Four a mere three years ago, and now all the A-10 bashing has him mad. VCU dominates.
(4) UCLA Bruins OVER (13) Tulsa Golden Hurricane
Everybody keeps talking about Florida’s winning streak, but what about Tulsa rattling off eleven in a row to make the tournament? Skilled point guard, James Woodard has led the team with 15.7 points per game, but will struggle against a UCLA team that just ran through the Pac-12 championship. Plus, in a sport where it’s always fun to watch guys run, jump and do things human beings weren’t meant to achieve athletically, I prefer the old-man game of Kyle Anderson. If Uncle Drew were an actual uncle with rickety knees but a prideful tenacious hustle, it would be Kyle Anderson. Slow-poke trudges to the second round.
Aaron Craft is Benjamin Button. He’s already been playing college basketball for 27 years, never ever ages, and will never ever graduate. After college, he plans to go back to college. I’m tempted to pick Craft and his veteran savvy (not to mention meat cleavers for defensive hands) to cruise. But Ohio State lost twice to Penn State and twice to Michigan, otherwise known as their only intense rivalry games. When Dayton, populated with bitter hometown Ohio players who were spurned by the Buckeyes (including top player Jordan Sibert who trasnferred in 2012 from OSU to Dayton after not getting a shot to play in Columbus), ramps up the intensity, I think Ohio State unexpectedly caves. Then Aaron Craft will regenerate and become a freshman again.
(3) Syracuse Orange OVER (14) Western Michigan Broncos
Syracuse had a disappointing 2-5 end to a season that started 25-0, but most of that can be attributed to the health of freakazoid Jerami Grant. A healthy Grant back in the lineup should have the Orange resembling their dominant form in time for the tournament.
(10) Stanford Cardinal OVER (7) New Mexico Lobos
Wake up and pay attention to the Pac-12. The Mountain West has disappointed in recent NCAA Tournaments, including a New Mexico loss to Harvard in last year’s first round. Meanwhile, Stanford survived unnecessary pressure brought on by the Athletic Director, Bernard Muir, who applied pressure to Coach Johnny Dawkins by announcing that Stanford had to make the tournament for Dawkins to keep his job. With the pressure finally off the Cardinal shoulders, Chasson Randle and Dwight Powell will be loose and fantastic en route to a Cardinal win.
(2) Kansas Jayhawks OVER (15) Eastern Kentucky Colonels
Simply put, Kansas has the superstars. Sit back and enjoy the Andrew Wiggins show in this one.
(1) Florida Gators OVER (9) Pittsburgh Panthers
See this is where overambitious Pitt fans (guilty…) can sometimes get in trouble. The Panthers have a defensive discipline to allow them to hang with top teams, but ultimately the offensive weapons are not there. Florida is too good, and although I expect Pitt to hang tough, I am even more certain it will end in heartbreak (see Ennis, Tyler, also under “halfcourt shot”) and a victory for the Gators.
(4) UCLA Bruins OVER (5) VCU Rams
If a swarm of bees were ever to attack in the forest, you can’t beat them by outrunning them, because the bees will always be faster. You swat them with a slow, lumbering brute bear. That slow brute bear is UCLA’s Grandpa Gamer Kyle Anderson. He can do everything on the court, and he bides his time doing it. His old man game will slow the pace down, and force VCU to adhere to UCLA’s style. Plus the short drive for Bruin fans from Los Angeles to San Diego should make this tournament game a de facto home game.
(3) Syracuse Orange OVER (11) Dayton Flyers
This game will be closer than the experts pick, as Syracuse played to their level of competition frequently in the season. If Trevor Cooney gets cold, Ennis can’t get in the lane, and C.J. Fair is contained, Syracuse struggles. But we’ve seen this before from Syracuse, playing to competition in the regular season only to turn it on for tournament time. The Dayton Flyers will have to deal with the flying around of the Orange’s 2-3 Zone. Syracuse cruises to the Sweet 16.
(2) Kansas Jayhawks OVER (10) Stanford Cardinal
A high-flying affair that will be a nice challenge for the Jayhawks. Stanford can score points in the 80s when the pace speeds up, and Andrew Wiggins, Perry Ellis, Wayne Selden and crew will have to put on the counterattack. Without Joel Embiid in the first week, the outside guys will get a chance to find their groove en route to a matchup against Syracuse.
(1) Florida Gators OVER (4) UCLA Bruins
I really love watching Kyle Anderson, and Jordan Adams can be the Antoine Walker to Anderson’s Paul Pierce. But, Florida’s defense is better than any offense UCLA can produce. Florida won’t be lacking on the other side of the court either, as only one of two teams in the tournament in the top 10 of KenPom’s adjusted offense and adjusted defense ratings. Scott Wilbekin’s (the Gators’ best player and one of the few Prince look-a-likes on the planet) absence was the only common variable in both Florida’s losses, when he was suspended against Wisconsin and injured against UConn. Now he is fully healthy and available, and will be one of four seniors to reach their fourth consecutive Elite Eight.
(2) Kansas Jayhawks OVER (3) Syracuse Orange
Welcome back Joel Embiid! (knock on wood…) Assuming Embiid’s back is good to go after taking the remaining week to recover, Bill Self will be able to let loose two of the top 3 NBA Draft Prospects beginning next week. With the length and versatility of Wiggins, the outside shooting of Selden and Naadir Tharpe, and the sheer dominant power of Embiid inside, Kansas has all the weapons at their disposal to attack Boeheim’s vaunted 2-3 Zone. Wiggins, who has already shut down Jabari Parker and Marcus Smart this year, will be unleashed against Syracuse superstar C.J. Fair, and Tyler Ennis will not be able to account for the difference. Kansas moves on.
(2) Kansas Jayhawks OVER (1) Florida Gators
Florida is phenomenal, you won’t hear much argument from me on that front. Bill Donovan should just keep getting coach of the year until he doesn’t put together a squad completely dominant for above everybody’s expectations. But ever since the lights at United Center shined on Kansas night one, the Jayhawks have battled through one of the toughest schedules underneath one of the brightest spotlights in years. The players on Kansas are stars and, in a short period of time, battle-tested. For a group of freshman, they will be ready for anything the tournament delivers. Florida’s 26 consecutive wins, while undeniably impressive, strangely robs them of the extra grit needed when things get tense in the tournament. Perhaps bitterness from 3 consecutive Elite 8 exits remains, but I’m calling Kansas to unseat the tournament’s number one team and advance to the Final Four.
South Region Champions: Kansas Jayhawks
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