From the Better-Late-Than-Never Department
Those of you scrambling to fill out your brackets might want to take note of these regional openers and a few picks for bracket busters.
Top seed Syracuse, without Fab Melo, will be an even worse rebounding team than they already were. They'll likely get past NC-Asheville in their first game, but Kansas State - which should devour Southern Miss - will be a problem for the Orange because they are big and rebound the ball well. Syracuse probably won't reach the Final Four, so that bracket is already partially busted.
If K-State doesn't dump Syracuse, Vanderbilt (24-10) very well might. The Commodores knocked off Kentucky in the SEC final and are primed for a solid run.
On the other side, Ohio State should have its hands full with either West Virginia or Gonzaga, a team that always comes to play. Florida State, the #3 seed gets an easy win over St. Bonaventure, and then will cruise past either Cincinnati or Texas (probably Cincy).
All of this sets up a regional final of Vanderbilt or Kansas State vs. Florida State, after the Seminoles drop one on Ohio State, if the Buckeyes get that far. Look for the 'Noles to reach the Final Four.
There's a real problem for every team in this bracket and its called Missouri. There are a lot of folks projecting Marquette to reach the regional final, but the Golden Eagles will struggle, if not lose, against the resolute BYU Cougars, who came from 25 down against Iona to capture their play-in game.
Vastly underrated, BYU could be the ultimate sleeper for a bracket buster, though 6-seed Murray State might also pose problems on that side of the draw. Still, Missouri looks like a lock to reach the regional final no matter who they face.
Opposite them, Michigan State probably has one of the easier paths to the regional final than any team in the tourney. LIU-Brooklyn won't last long, and the next game against probably Memphis, should also go to the Spartans.
The potential dark horse in this draw is either New Mexico or Long Beach State, who face each other in the toss-up opener and could easily be seen to advance past the winner of the Louisville-Davidson tilt, another opener that could go either way.
Michigan State's third game could be their undoing, but even if they make it through, look for Missouri to overcome in the regional final. The Mizzou are a match-up nightmare and have statistical advantages nearly across the board on every team in the entire field, except for rebounding. See our previous post for ten ten statistical leaders in the tourney.
Kentucky sure looks good, and it's a good chance that they'll make the regional final if not the Final Four. Other games which are contestable in the opening round are all on the Wildcats' side of the draw. UConn will probably be favored over Iowa State, but the Cyclones had a good season and are formidable inside. They might actually upset Kentucky in their second game.
If not them, then the winner of VCU-Wichita State - a very tough 5-12 match-up for two quality teams could be a bracket killer, beating the winner of #4 Indiana and #13 New Mexico State, another who knows? kind of game.
The other side of the draw is a little easier. UNLV should beat Colorado, making the PAC-12 a miserable 0-2 and out of the tournament, Baylor over South Dakota St. looks easy, Notre Dame should finish off Xavier in their opener and Duke is a near-certainty to glide past Lehigh.
After that, though, Duke, the likely choice to get through to the regional final, could easily lose to any of the forementioned teams, though only Baylor seems capable of beating Kentucky to reach the Final Four.
No surprise who represents this region. It will be North Carolina, which has the easiest path of all the #1 seeds. See our breakdown of this region in our Road Map to the Final Four.
So, there you have it. The Final Four will feature two #1 seeds (North Carolina and Kentucky, though maybe Baylor), a #2 (Missouri) and either a 3 (Florida State) a 5 (Vanderbilt) or an outside 8 (Kansas State). Sorry, Buckeye fans, but Jared Sullinger takes too many plays off for our liking.
In the Final Four, Missouri shocks Kentucky, which really shouldn't be a shock, as the Wildcats are young and undisciplined compared to the experienced Tigers. North Carolina should handle whomever they face, but they too will be no match for the lightning-quick, accurate-shooting Missouri Tigers, your 2012 National Champions.
Good luck to all college hoops fans and even casual observers with your brackets. May your picks be pure and your upsets thrilling.