This may be my very favorite time of year. The weather has been fantastic outside for over a week, and that’s not even the best part. The NCAA basketball tournament begins today, which means that I’ve just spent four days deconstructing matchups. I’ve tried to figure out if the Pac-10 or Big 10 is the better conference, if it’s possible that three Big 12 teams belong in the Final Four, and I hope that I’ve kept my Texas A&Ms straight.
I’ve created a “safe” bracket that I would enter in a contest if I had to bet my life on the outcome of each game. I have my “realistic” bracket that I would use as a respectable entry into an office pool (it’s the one that I would call my “real” bracket). Then, I have four other brackets that I entered into the ESPN tourney challenge…they’re a little odd, but the goal is to win the whole thing.
So, here are my picks for the “real” bracket:
Round of 32: Florida, Purdue, Butler, Maryland, Notre Dame, Oregon, Georgia Tech, Wisconsin, Kansas, Villanova, Illinois, Holy Cross, Duke, Pitt, Indiana, UCLA, UNC, Michigan State, Arkansas, Texas, Vandy, Oral Roberts, Boston College, G’Town, Ohio State, Xavier, Tennessee, Virginia, Louisville, Texas A&M, Creighton, Memphis
Sweet sixteen: Florida, Maryland, Notre Dame, Georgia Tech, Kansas, Illinois, Duke, UCLA, UNC, Texas, Vandy, Georgetown, Ohio State, Tennessee, Texas A&M, Memphis
Elite eight: Florida, Georgia Tech, Kansas, Duke, Texas, Georgetown, Ohio State, Texas A&M
Final four: Florida, Kansas, Georgetown, Texas A&M
Championship game: Kansas over Georgetown
Five pivotal matchups for my bracket (and they’re all second-round games):
- Texas A&M vs. Louisville in Lexington – How much of the Lexington crowd will be rooting for the Cardinals, who are just 1.5 hours away (but are arch-rivals for area fans)? If Louisville wins here, that would knock out one of my final four, but if A&M wins, they get to play Memphis (or maybe Creighton) and Ohio State in San Antonio in front of a home crowd.
- Duke vs. Pitt – I think Pitt and Aaron Gray are a tad overrated, but they’re not much worse than Duke. Call me a Duke homer, but I think the Blue Devils are clearly the third-best team in the West region, and they play a style that would let them knock off anyone (including Indiana or UCLA in the next round). I think the Devils will squeak by and make some noise in that region, despite their supposed down season.
- Florida vs. Maryland – I think the Gators are the better team here, but there are few teams more underrated than Maryland in this tournament. It will be a tough opening weekend for the defending champs (Purdue and Arizona are solid teams as well), and the Terps could knock them out right here.
- Texas vs. North Carolina – As long as Psycho T is ready to play, UNC is an underrated team this year, despite their #1 seed. Most of the rating systems I’ve seen rate the Heels #1, but they have a tough road if they’re going all the way. I’m not convinced that Hansbrough is really playing like himself, and like UF, UNC has to get by a tough Marquette-Mich State winner before they even get to this game. Kevin Durant probably has the talent to turn it on and beat anybody, and the Heels may be among the victims this year.
- Georgia Tech vs. Wisconsin – The Jackets are in a loaded region where the seeds are all mixed up. They should beat UNLV in the first round, and I have them going all the way to the Elite Eight. Beating Wisconsin won’t be easy, but it’s a lot easier than it would be if UW had Brian Butch. Alando Tucker will need an outstanding performance to get past this greatly underrated GT team, and I’m not sure he has it in him.
I’ll follow up on this over the weekend as I track how I did.