March Madness 2012 Bracket Updated: Final Four Predictions
The big boys of college basketball are dropping like flies, dramatically changing the Final Four picture in the process.
Missouri? Gone. Duke? Done. The 30-win Murray State Racers? History.
With their dramatic losses, three of the favorites to reach the Final Four were sent packing early. So where does that leave us now?
There are still some big names in the bracket—like Kentucky, North Carolina and Syracuse. There are also some major surprises—like Norfolk State, Lehigh and Ohio. But which remaining teams are true Final Four contenders, and which are simply pretending?
We won't know for sure until a few weeks from now, but until then, here are my updated Final Four predictions.
South Region: Kentucky Wildcats
Kentucky is still the overwhelming favorite to come out of the South. They cruised past Western Kentucky in the Round of 64, and perhaps nobody benefited more from No. 2 Duke's loss.
They've got a tough game tonight against Iowa State, but I'm not expecting Anthony Davis and co. to have much trouble.
The Wildcats are simply too big, too athletic and too talented for anybody in the South region. Unless the Baylor Bears take them down in the Elite Eight, I can't see the Wildcats losing before the Final Four.
West Region: Marquette Golden Eagles
The top-seeded Michigan State Spartans are still alive, but after their impressive performance against Murray State, I'm riding Marquette to New Orleans.
The Golden Eagles have been the best team in the tourney thus far, easily blowing out BYU before surviving a hard-fought battle with the Racers.
It's still very early, but Jae Crowder is building a strong case as the tournament's Most Outstanding Player. After dropping 25 points and snagging 16 rebounds against BYU, he went for 17 and 13 against Murray State.
He is scoring at will, dominating on the glass and doing all the little things to help his team win. If he keeps up the strong play, and Darius Johnson-Odom keeps raining in buckets, the Golden Eagles will emerge from the West.
East Region: Ohio State Buckeyes
The Buckeyes haven't been overly impressive in their first two games. However, they proved on Saturday that they are as dangerous as any team in the country.
In their third-round win over Gonzaga, Ohio State got the usual scoring output from Jared Sullinger and Deshaun Thomas, both of whom went for 18 points. But the X-factor in the game was the strong play of sophomore guard Aaron Craft.
Craft is a menace defensively, but he left his mark on the offensive end against Gonzaga. He scored or assisted on 44 of Ohio State's 73 points (60.3 percent), finishing with 17 points and 10 assists. He hit all five of his shots in the paint and assisted on seven Buckeye three-pointers.
Craft's presence is why I penciled in Ohio State as champions in my own bracket. The Buckeyes still have a potential matchup with No.1 Syracuse on the horizon, and No. 3 Florida State cannot be overlooked.
But if the Buckeyes get more performances like this from Craft, they'll take home the national title.
Midwest Region: North Carolina Tar Heels
The Midwest region has been mired in chaos, but the two powerhouses are still standing. And while teams like North Carolina State and Georgetown have been impressive, an Elite Eight meeting between UNC and Kansas seems inevitable.
Which team is most likely to lose before the Final Four?
If it comes down to that game, I like the Tar Heels.
They have the frontcourt personnel (Tyler Zeller, John Henson) to at least somewhat slow Thomas Robinson. And with Harrison Barnes on the wing, they've got the most dynamic scorer in the country.
The Tar Heels also have one of the nation's best point guards in Kendall Marshall, and freshman James Michael McAdoo is coming on strong at the perfect time.
They still have to survive a tough matchup with No. 8 Creighton on Sunday, but I'm not expecting them to have too much trouble. Look for UNC to cruise past the Jays, then ride that momentum all the way to New Orleans.
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