Finally, we have the bracket. Finally, the NCAA tournament is just days away. Finally, we can obsess over our brackets—fill them out in pencil, OK?—overanalyze matchups and obsess over every little stat we can get our hands on.
For the sports fan, it's arguably the best time of the year. Work efficiency around the nation will literally decrease over the next several weeks, at least when the basketball games are on. I'm just as wrapped up in the madness as you, so below I've shared my entire bracket, tournament odds and much, much more.
The tournament is finally here. Finally.
All Your Bracket Essentials
|March Madness Odds|
|San Diego State||75/1|
|North Carolina State||1,000/1|
|North Dakota State||1,000/1|
Albany over Mount St. Mary's
Texas Southern over Cal Poly
Tennessee over Iowa
Xavier over NC State
East Region Predictions
Round of 64
No. 1 Virginia over No. 16 Coastal Carolina
No. 8 Memphis over No. 9 George Washington
No. 5 Cincinnati over No. 12 Harvard
No. 4 Michigan State over No. 13 Delaware
No. 6 North Carolina over No. 11 Providence
No. 3 Iowa State over No. 14 North Carolina Central
No. 10 St. Joe's over No. 7 UConn
No. 2 Villanova over No. 15 Milwaukee
Round of 32
No. 1 Virginia over No. 8 Memphis
No. 4 Michigan State over No. 5 Cincy
No. 3 Iowa State over No. 6 North Carolina
No. 2 Villanova over No. 10 St. Joe's
No. 4 Michigan State over No. 1 Virginia
No. 3 Iowa State over No. 2 Villanova
No. 4 Michigan State over No. 3 Iowa State
I could see as many as six teams (Virginia, Villanova, Iowa State, Michigan State, North Carolina and Shabazz Napier... er, UConn) coming out of the East region. Virginia has been handed a pretty brutal draw, however, and I don't see them getting by Michigan State. The bottom of the bracket is really intriguing as well, and it wouldn't shock me if Villanova, Iowa State, North Carolina or even St. Joe's advanced to the Elite Eight.
I like Iowa State, but I could see the bottom of the East Region getting messy.
As for Michigan State advancing to the Final Four, well, I'm hardly alone in that prediction. From SportsCenter on Twitter:
So, obviously, the Spartans will bow out in the Round of 32 or something. Or they'll live up to the hype because they're finally healthy and red hot. I'm sticking with the latter.
South Region Predictions
Round of 64
No. 1 Florida over No. 16 Albany
No. 9 Pittsburgh over No. 8 Colorado
No. 12 Stephen F. Austin over No. 5 VCU
No. 4 UCLA over No. 13 Tulsa
No. 11 Dayton over No. 6 Ohio State
No. 3 Syracuse over No. 14 Western Michigan
No. 7 New Mexico over No. 10 Stanford
No. 2 Kansas over No. 15 Eastern Kentucky
Round of 32
No. 1 Florida over No. 9 Pittsburgh
No. 12 Stephen F. Austin over No. 4 UCLA
No. 3 Syracuse over No. 11 Dayton
No. 2 Kansas over No. 7 New Mexico
No. 1 Florida over No. 12 Stephen F. Austin
No. 2 Kansas over No. 3 Syracuse
No. 1 Florida over No. 2 Kansas
It was only after I filled out my bracket that I realized I have just one team seeded in the double-digits reaching the Sweet 16, and its No. 12 Stephen F. Austin. That will bring them to 30 straight wins on the season, though predicting them to get past VCU and UCLA is risky. Still, VCU's nonconference losses to Florida State, Georgetown and Northern Iowa worry me, while UCLA is just inconsistent enough to be troubling.
I love Florida's experience, defensive proficiency and overall efficiency on both ends of the floor, and I think this region is open to them like the Red Sea until the Elite Eight, when a meeting with Kansas likely beckons. That's when the unknown kicks in.
I think Kansas is talented enough to reach the Elite Eight without Joel Embiid, or even with an Embiid rounding back into form, but they won't beat Florida unless the talented center is 100 percent healthy and back in the groove of things.
For now, all we know is that Embiid likely won't return to action until next week. From Adam Zagoria of NBA.com:
With Embiid back in the fold and Andrew Wiggins really blossoming later in the season, Kansas has the raw talent to win this entire tournament. But I don't think they get past an experienced, cohesive Florida team.
Midwest Region Predictions
Round of 64
No. 1 Wichita State over No. 16 Texas Southern
No. 8 Kentucky over No. 9 Kansas State
No. 12 Xavier over No. 5 Saint Louis
No. 4 Louisville over No. 13 Manhattan
No. 11 Tennessee over No. 6 UMass
No. 3 Duke over No. 14 Mercer
No. 7 Texas over No. 10 Arizona State
No. 2 Michigan over No. 15 Wofford
Round of 32
No. 8 Kentucky over No. 1 Wichita State
No. 4 Louisville over No. 12 Xavier
No. 3 Duke over No. 11 Tennessee
No. 2 Michigan over No. 7 Texas
No. 4 Louisville over No. 8 Kentucky
No. 2 Michigan over No. 3 Duke
No. 4 Louisville over No. 2 Michigan
This is probably the most stacked region ever. Seriously, ever. Five teams (Wichita State, Michigan, Duke, Louisville, Kentucky) could not only win this region, they could also win a national championship. You may think Kentucky is the outlier here, but they had a great SEC tournament and are loaded with talent. If they continue to play together as a team, look out.
If nothing else, I think they'll knock Wichita State out of the tournament.
Louisville come into this tournament having won 16 of 18 and topping the American Athletic Conference tournament. In that streak, they've knocked off UConn (thrice), SMU (twice) and Cincinnati. How they are a No. 4 seed is incomprehensible. I'd be shocked if they didn't reach the Elite Eight.
The bottom of the bracket seems destined for a Michigan-versus-Duke showdown, with two of the most exciting teams in college basketball matching wits. I like the Wolverines by the narrowest of margins, though it would hardly be shocking if Jabari Parker stole that one.
But nobody is getting by Louisville in this bracket.
West Region Predictions
Round of 64
No. 1 Arizona over No. 16 Weber State
No. 9 Oklahoma State over No. 8 Gonzaga
No. 5 Oklahoma over No. 12 North Dakota State
No. 4 San Diego State over No. 13 New Mexico State
No. 6 Baylor over No. 11 Nebraska
No. 3 Creighton over No. 14 Louisiana-Lafayette
No. 7 Oregon over No. 10 BYU
No. 2 Wisconsin over No. 15 American
Round of 32
No. 1 Arizona over No. 9 Oklahoma State
No. 4 San Diego State over No. 5 Oklahoma
No. 3 Creighton over No. 6 Baylor
No. 2 Wisconsin over No. 7 Oregon
No. 1 Arizona over No. 4 San Diego State
No. 2 Wisconsin over No. 3 Creighton
No. 1 Arizona over No. 2 Wisconsin
There are eight teams—Michigan State, Louisville, Florida, Michigan, Duke, Kansas, Virginia and Arizona—that I legitimately think could win the national championship this year. With Arizona being the only representative from the West, predicting them to reach the Final Four wasn't terribly difficult.
Also, the fact that they rank as the No. 1 team in kenpom.com's rankings certainly helps. While I tend to lean toward teams that are top 15 in both offensive and defensive efficiency when deciding a national champion—only Louisville and Wichita State fit that bill, and Wichita State's strength of schedule has me steering clear of them—Arizona has the nation's most efficient defense.
That will take them into the Final Four.
Final Four and Title-Game Predictions
No. 4 Michigan State over No. 1 Florida
No. 4 Louisville over No. 1. Arizona
No. 4 Louisville over No. 4 Michigan State
So why Louisville?
Well, they pretty much check off all of my stipulations for picking a national champion.
- They come into this tournament red hot, having won 16 of 18.
- They have tournament experience, having won the entire thing a year ago, and have generally played well in March under Rick Pitino.
- They are efficient on both ends of the floor—according to kenpom.com, they are 10th in offensive efficiency and sixth in defensive efficiency—and national champions are always extremely efficient.
- They have a player in Russ Smith who can carry them on his back throughout the tournament. He's averaging 18.3 points per game this season and put a whopping 42 points on Houston in the conference tournament.
I think Michigan State is probably the most talented team in the Final Four now that the Spartans are healthy, but Louisville checks off more boxes for me. So I'm sticking with the repeat this season.