Sweet 16 Bracket: Tournament Favorites Will Overtake Cinderella Stories
If you are anything like me, you have a whole lot of scribble marks on your bracket after the first three rounds, as Cinderella stories like La Salle, Wichita State, Florida Gulf Coast and even the woefully under-seeded Oregon Ducks all advanced to the Sweet 16.
In a crazy season, it hardly seems insane that teams with a No. 9 seed or lower represent a quarter of the remaining bracket.
But chalk should mostly hold from here on out. Take away Gonzaga and Georgetown, and most of the teams expected to compete for a national championship are still in the running. Ignore the fact that either La Salle or Wichita State in the West are guaranteed to advance to the Elite Eight, and it looks like the big boys are about to run the show.
In the Midwest, it's hard to imagine Oregon getting past a Louisville team that can match them athletically and will stifle them defensively, while both Michigan State and Duke are legitimate national title contenders.
I like the Spartans, mostly because Tom Izzo teams always advance deep in the tournament and Michigan State rarely beats itself. The Spartans are balanced and fundamentally sound, a dangerous combo.
In the West, Arizona has the players to pull off an upset of Ohio State, but the bracket sure looks favorable for the Buckeyes to reach the Final Four, doesn't it?
When you play defense like the Buckeyes, have a leader like Aaron Craft and a go-to scorer like Deshaun Thomas, you're going to be tough to beat in March.
In the South, Florida Gulf Coast has been one of the stories of the tournament but runs into a Florida team that truly has few weakness. Meanwhile, I love Michigan pulling off the mini-upset over Kansas, which lacks a true point guard and has struggled against guard-centric teams this year.
I don't see the Jayhawks having an answer for Trey Burke. Then again, how many teams do? Besides, Michigan always had the talent to win the national championship this year, even if a late-season swoon made many folks forget that.
In the East, it's all chalk. Either Miami or Marquette would hardly be a surprise to advance to the Elite Eight—though Miami looks strong, don't they?—and while I like Indiana over Syracuse, few people will be shocked if the Orange pull out the win.
Still, Miami and Indiana look like they are on a collision course. Miami has the length and athleticism that makes them look like an NBA team, while the Hoosiers have the most talented starting five in the country, at least in my opinion. What a game that will be.
At this point, I still have seven of my Elite Eight predictions in the tournament—Michigan, Florida, Indiana, Miami, Louisville, Michigan State, shakes fist in direction of Madison, Wisconsin and Ohio State—and I think all seven of those teams were legitimate threats to win the national championship coming into the tournament.
Which Cinderella Story has the best chance of reaching the Final Four?
Cinderella stories are what make the NCAA tournament great, but generally speaking, chalk wins out in the end. Even in a season when teams treated a top ranking like a hot potato and spent the year passing them around, the true national title contenders will surface in the end.
This year has been wild, unpredictable and a whole lot of fun. Appropriately, the tournament has mirrored that. But now it is time for the big boys to duke it out for a title.
And in its own way, that is just as much fun.
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