This is the day college hoops freaks like me - and hpefully, you - must finally make that leap of faith and make your picks in whatever pool or challenge or bracket breakdown you've chosen.
The 32 first round games are a mix of easy and "forget it" choices, with the 1-16 matchups nearly automatic choices, but where everything from 3-14 on up can turn into nightmares.
I've broken down the first rounds in previous posts, so all that's left is to figure out who's going to beat who to make it to the round of 16, then 8 then the Final Four. At the end, as always, there will be a champion, and some of us will have bragging rights for a few months. OK, I've dithered long enough, so, here goes...
Midwest: I'm taking the #4 seed, Wake Forest, to knock off the #1 overall seed, Louisville, in the Regional Semifinals on Friday, March 27. Both the Cardinals and Demon Deacons have superior credentials in comparison to the other teams in the top part of this bracket. The bottom side could produce anything from #2 Michigan State to #10 USC or #11 Dayton. The mid-range seeds - #3 Kansas, #6 West Virginia and #7 Boston College - could catch a break or get hot and reach the Regional Final on Sunday, March 29.
No matter which team emerges from the bottom of the bracket, they won't have a chance against Wake Forest. The Dekes have the talent, coaching and pedigree to go all the way to Detroit.
West: There are two teams which are obvious to many in this region: Memphis and Connecticut. The Tigers and Huskies have enough leadership, coaching and history to go deep into the tournament, but when comparing the two, Memphis - with their 25-game winning streak, incredible defense and John Calipari looking for a national crown to silence Conference-USA critics - is clearly Final Four material.
The Tigers did everything but win it all last season, when Kansas produced a miracle rally in the final two minutes of the last game and Mario Chalmers hit the game-winner with no chance for Memphis to get off a retaliatory shot. Calapari is a world-class coach and author of books about basketball. The only thing missing from his resume is a national championship, and this could be his year. Everything is coming together for the Tigers at the right time and their draw at the bottom of the braket doesn't look very tough.
Their toughest games will come in the second and third round. Either Cal or Maryland could pose problems if they get hot, but Memphis will probably pummel either of them in the second half. In the regionals, Missouri looks like the most likely foe, but they don't have enough scoring to worry the Tigers much. Sure, DeMarre Carroll and Leo Lyons are solid, but the rest of the team won't match up well. If not Missouri, either Utah State or Marquette could slip in, with the Aggies the more dangerous. Marquette is headed for an early out, and may even lose their opener to Utah St.
Once the Tigers dispatch with the their regional opponent, they're probably not going to face Connecticut. The Huskies are vulnerable to teams with strong guard play and almost anyone in their side of the bracket - BYU, Washington, Texas A&M, Miss. St., Purdue, Northern Iowa - could pull the upset. UConn won't last past the third round. Memphis will go to the Final Four to face the Midwest winner.
East: This region offers one of the easiest advances at the bottom for #2 seed Duke, which will have to get through either #3 Villanova, #7 Texas or #11 VCU, and they should reach the regional finals on Saturday, March 28. Their foe is more than likely to be the #1 seed in the region, Pitt, though #5 Florida State could hand Pitt their walking papers in the first regional game. If Florida State does that, they would give the Blue Devils one heck of a time, but, Duke has already beaten them 3 times this season, and that is an awesome advantage. If Pitt gets to the Regional Final, it could go either way. A lot of people like Pitt to win it all, but if DeJuan Blair gets into foul trouble, they are a different team. If he doesn't, they could just roll people.
I'll be hedging this bracket in my various bracket picks, but I'm really leaning toward the Blue Devils. They're easily as solid as any other team in the region, and who can doubt coach K's ability to make the Final Four. He's only been there about a gazillion times.
South: There's little doubt that North Carolina is one of the top three or four teams in the nation and they are the #1 seed. They should cruise to the Regional Final on Sunday, March 29, and probably match up with either #2 Oklahoma or #3 Syracuse, though #6 Arizona St. looms as a distinct possibility. Carolina's games will be interesting after the first round. Either LSU or Butler will play them petty hard, and they may have a real struggle if Gonzaga advances to the regionals.
Overall, however, the Tar Heels just look too talented and deep to not make it to the Final Four. If my selections are right, they could be the only #1 to make it, though Pitt could easily get there.
In the semifinals, Midwest plays West and East plays South. I like Memphis to beat Wake Forest in what could turn out to be a real pressure-cooker, and North Carolina to beat Duke, but Pitt to win it if they reach from the East. That sets up a final of either North Carolina or Pitt against Memphis, and I like the Tigers to beat either of them by 8 to 12 points.
Come Monday, April 6, the Tigers will be crowned national champions. (I hope)
Good luck to everyone with your selections. Let the games begin!
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