Normally, when I look at my bracket to start a season, my first inclination is to stick with chalk until the Sweet 16 for the top three seeds in each bracket.
I always throw a few upsets in the mix, but generally speaking I play it safe up top.
This year, I'm not so sure that is the right approach—not in a year when teams in the top five were knocked down the rankings more times than Madonna has reinvented herself.
This year, sticking with chalk seems suicidal.
With that in mind, I selected three teams that are either a No. 1, No. 2 or No. 3 seed that I think are the most likely to be knocked out of the tourney before the Sweet 16.
I'm not saying they will definitely lose, I'm just saying I would be very, very nervous if I was a fan of these teams.
I know, I know, it's totally unoriginal to predict the demise of Gonzaga in this tournament. Hear me out.
The Zags have a brutal potential second-round matchup against Pittsburgh to look forward to (and, in all honesty, Wichita State wouldn't be any easier if they advance).
The Panthers have the ninth most efficient offense and 17th most efficient defense, according to KenPom.com, and have big wins this year against Georgetown, UConn, Syracuse and Cincinnati. They are fully capable of grinding out a slow, physical win against Gonzaga.
Wichita State presents an entirely different challenge. The Shockers can throw waves of players at teams, pound the glass and will simply wear opponents down by playing at a high tempo for much of the game.
Pittsburgh is the scarier matchup for Gonzaga, but Wichita State is no walk in the park, either. Don't be shocked if Gonzaga only wins one game in this tournament.
Duke is a really good basketball team—especially now that Ryan Kelly is once again healthy—but I have a feeling a second-round matchup against Creighton is going to do the Blue Devils in.
Behind Doug McDermott (23.1 PPG, 7.5 RPG), the Bluejays are capable of beating anyone they face, or at least outgunning them. Creighton finished 24th in the nation in scoring (75.4 points per game), fifth in assists per game (17.2), first in field-goal percentage (.508), second in three-point percentage (.4277) and sixth in offensive efficiency (according to KenPom).
It's possible that Creighton won't get past dogged Cincinnati. It's also possible the superior talent and offensive balance of Duke will simply roll the Bluejays. However, few top teams face a more daunting potential round of 32 matchup than the Blue Devils.
Every time I look at the potential opponents for Kansas in the round of 32—North Carolina and Villanova—I can't help but think that the Jayhawks are potentially in some trouble.
North Carolina spent much of the year underachieving, but the team still has studs in James Michael McAdoo, P.J. Hairston and Reggie Bullock.
If the Tar Heels can force Kansas into shooting jumpers and consistently score buckets on the break, North Carolina could run right past the Jayhawks.
Meanwhile, Villanova presents a potential matchup nightmare for Kansas. The Wildcats love to press and trap, and they have the depth to keep it up for the entire game—a nightmare scenario for a Jayhawks team that doesn't have a true point guard.
Oh, and Nova has beaten Louisville, Georgetown, Marquette and Syracuse this season. It's safe to consider the Wildcats giant killers at this point.
Rock chalk Jayhawk? Maybe not this year.
Hit me up on Twitter—my tweets are busting brackets and beating the buzzer all week long.
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