Who did Dick Vitale choose as his national champion?
The best part about filling out an NCAA tournament bracket is that everyone has an equal chance to be an expert. Or at least appear to be an expert.
All you have to do is fill one out, and if you correctly predict a 13th-seeded Cinderella crashing the Final Four, then you’re a basketball genius.
But if your bracket busts after the first weekend, the experts can still stand in as your scapegoats. Experts typically do have the most insight after months of studying, writing, analyzing and reporting about the top 68 teams in the country. Taking a look at their picks can often help pacify any fears of riding an upset through to the Sweet 16 or knowing how far to carry your No. 1 seeds.
I checked out the top college basketball writers from CBS, ESPN, Sports Illustrated and Sporting News to glean various tournament trends and see which teams were the most polarizing.
Read on to see the expert picks from the deepest sleepers all the way to the tournament champions.
Since Gonzaga was the lowest-rated No. 1 seed, the West is automatically seen as the least clear cut of the four regions. But it’s not just Gonzaga that has the experts wondering which team will make it out of the West.
From CBS Sports' Jeff Borzello: "There are several teams among the top seeds capable of winning four games -- but there are also a few talented double-digit seeds primed to pull the upset."
Borzello referenced No. 10 Iowa State, No. 11 Belmont and No. 13 La Salle as potential teams to upset the order out West. The Cyclones have a favorable matchup against Notre Dame, while La Salle has the talent to knock off the No. 4-seeded Kansas State Wildcats.
Sports Illustrated’s Luke Winn isn’t convinced at all by the Bulldogs, either. He said that while their defensive efficiency appears to be excellent (14th, according to KenPom), a light West Coast Conference schedule slanted the data.
From Winn: “The West has been widely hailed as the weakest region, but consider the grinders that await Gonzaga. The Zags’ potential third round (Pitt), Sweet 16 (Wisconsin), and Elite Eight (Ohio State) opponents all rank in the top 20 in defensive efficiency.”
Winn has Ohio State and Wisconsin in the Elite Eight, but Borzello thinks Gonzaga will meet the Buckeyes. Neither one evidently feels confident about the No. 3 New Mexico Lobos, whom SI's Seth Davis said would make the Final Four out of the West.
Clearly, the region is up for grabs.
Once the brackets were revealed, there was little doubt which top seed earned the toughest draw.
As the No. 1 overall seed, the committee did Louisville no favors with other Hall of Fame-caliber coaches Tom Izzo and Mike Krzyzewski in its region. If the Cards are to make it to Atlanta, they’ll also have to get by a Saint Louis team that won both the A-10 regular-season and conference tournament.
Mike DeCourcy of the Sporting News wrote, “What if No. 2 Duke really is the team that wins nearly every time out with Ryan Kelly? Michigan State might be the best No. 3 seed, and it’s certainly the toughest.” He went on to say that the region has depth all the way down to the lower seeds, citing Missouri and Oregon.
ESPN’s Dana O’Neil agreed with DeCourcy’s take, saying that the only thing that Louisville should thank the committee for is keeping it close to home in Indianapolis:
The Cardinals earned the distinction [of the overall seed] on merit, winning the Big East Tournament in a steamroller of an effort against Syracuse. But Louisville’s reward is a date in the Midwest Region, which apparently was set up by the masochistic dentist who is sidelining on the selection committee.
There were a few arguments about the East region with Syracuse, Miami and even a few lower-seeded teams like NC State or Temple, but for the most part, the Midwest seemed to be the most challenging, according to the experts.
There are really two significant subplots that have sports writers licking their (keyboards?) chops.
The first involves a potential Round of 32 matchup between North Carolina and Kansas, which of course would mean Roy Williams would face his former team.
CBS Sports' Jeff Goodman already reserved a spot for UNC in the next round, even though the Tar Heels will have their hands full with Villanova in their first game.
“The North Carolina-Kansas matchup should be entertaining for a myriad of reasons,” he wrote. “First of all, many Jayhawks fans still resent (OK, hate) Williams for leaving for Chapel Hill.” Goodman went on to predict that the Tar Heels would pull off the upset, making it to the Sweet 16 as a No. 8 seed.
“The Wildcats have defeated better teams within the past month (Georgetown, Marquette), plus they have a 6-foot-7, 260-pound bruiser named JayVaughn Pinkston, who could be a problem for North Carolina’s small (quick) lineup,” he wrote.
The other enticing matchup is between No. 12 Mississippi and No. 5 Wisconsin in Kansas City. The Badgers, led by conservative coach Bo Ryan, will advance only if they can corral Marshall Henderson, the boisterous Rebel who’s taken over 350 three-pointers this year.
SI's Luke Winn bookmarked the matchup as his best Round of 64 game: “Not just because the cockiest player in the country (Henderson), and the guy with the most ridiculous haircut (Badger forward Mike Bruesewitz) will be on the floor at the same time.” Winn said that the most intriguing part is how the Badgers defense, which is predicated on stopping three-pointers, will defend him.
Dana O’Neil wrote, “Can someone please set up an on-camera conversation about court decorum and attitude between Bo Ryan and Marshall Henderson?”
Upset picks are easily the most fun part of the bracket but often the most challenging to nail. As SI’s Pete Thamel wrote, “Too many of them, or upsets not chosen judiciously, can leave your bracket crumpled before Happy Hour ends on the opening Friday of the NCAA tournament.”
Thamel chose five potential upsets, but two stand out as the most common picks: No. 14 Davidson over No. 3 Marquette and No. 10 Iowa State over Notre Dame.
Oh, convenient. I chose those two also.
“Iowa State is the type of athletic, high-flying team that can give the Irish problems. Iowa State led the country in three-pointers attempted this season and rank No. 5 in the country with 79.5 points per game,” Thamel wrote.
Yahoo!’s Pat Forde was also keen on both of these teams, writing of the Cyclones: “If they get hot from the perimeter, they could take out anyone. Of course they can also take themselves out quickly with their casual defense, but they will be a dangerous draw.”
CBS Sports’ Matt Norlander also endorsed the Davidson-over-Marquette pick, but Norlander took it a step further. “Marquette is a quality team that’s well coached but, again, it’s over-seeded. And Davidson has a better offense and the two best players on the floor. And guess what – I’m not done with Davidson yet,” he wrote.
Norlander has the Wildcats going to the Sweet 16 after dispatching Butler in the Round of 32.
Numerous other writers thought Colorado State had a chance to give Louisville some trouble in the third-round matchup, and a few took No. 11 Belmont over No. 6 Arizona.
The most popular sleeper pick was Saint Louis, but as champions of both their regular-season and conference tournaments, it almost seems unfair to include them in the conversation.
But the No. 5 VCU Rams, whom the Billikens took down in the A-10 championship bout, are fair game. Numerous experts are buying the Rams’ pressurized defense, which forces nearly 20 turnovers per game.
Nicole Auerbach of USA Today has the Rams beating Michigan in the Round of 32 and then taking out No. 1 seed Kansas to advance to the Elite Eight, where she ultimately has them losing to Georgetown.
ESPN’s Jay Bilas has the Rams taking the same path except he believes that Shaka Smart’s team will take down the Hoyas and advance to their second Final Four.
Wrote Bilas: “Turnovers are devastating to the Hoyas, given their deliberate tempo, and that’s precisely how VCU will win. The Hoyas are the better team, but this matchup will give them fits.”
Bilas thinks that the Rams will ultimately lose to Indiana in the Final Four, due to Cody Zeller’s inside presence.
Another potential sleeper is Minnesota, according to the experts, although the Gophers have won just three of their last 10 games.
There’s a clear favorite heading into the NCAA tournament, even though the favorite has to make it through the most daunting region.
Numerous experts, including Jeff Goodman, Gary Parrish, Seth Davis, Luke Winn, Jay Bilas, Pat Forde, Jerry Palm, Seth Greenberg and Dick Vitale, all picked Louisville as their national champion.
The majority of its team returned from last year's Final Four run, and key components Peyton Siva, Gorgui Dieng and Russ Smith have all drastically improved. There's no doubt that the Cardinals are talented enough; it's just a matter of whether they can withstand the battles sure to endure out of the Midwest Region.
A few experts, like Jay Williams and Digger Phelps, chose Ohio State and Miami, respectively, but in a year with so much parity, it’s almost fitting that there’s so much uniformity as the season comes to an end.