Jay Bilas Bracket: ESPN Analyst Reveals His 2015 March Madness Bracket

Matt Fitzgerald@@MattFitz_geraldCorrespondent IIIMarch 16, 2015

IMAGE DISTRIBUTED FOR RISING STARS - Television personality and honoree Jay Bilas is seen at the Jay Williams Rising Stars Gala on Tuesday, May 14, 2013 in New York. (Brian Ach/AP Images for Rising Stars)
Brian Ach/Associated Press

ESPN analyst Jay Bilas used to star as a player at Duke and professionally. He has thrived as an in-game commentator and has more recently applied his expert knowledge to tackle the challenge of the NCAA tournament bracket.  

Bilas released his complete list of winners Monday for 2015's edition of March Madness, which promises to be filled with surprises.

In last year's bracket, Bilas had eventual national champion Connecticut losing to St. Joseph's in the round of 64. It nearly happened, too: The Huskies needed overtime to advance. Chances are, the national title winner Bilas picked this year will advance beyond that early stage of the tournament.

Check out a region-by-region breakdown of Bilas' Big Dance forecast, along with information on where anyone can play along.

Note: Bilas' picks courtesy of ESPN Insider.

All Of Your Bracket Essentials

Midwest Region

Jay Bilas' Midwest Region Picks
Round of 64Winner
No. 1 Kentucky vs. No. 16 ManhattanKentucky
No. 8 Cincinnati vs. No. 9 PurduePurdue
No. 5 West Virginia vs. No. 12 BuffaloBuffalo
No. 4 Maryland vs. No. 13 ValparaisoMaryland
No. 6 Butler vs. No. 11 TexasTexas
No. 3 Notre Dame vs. No. 14 NortheasternNotre Dame
No. 7 Wichita State vs. No. 10 IndianaWichita State
No. 2 Kansas vs. No. 15 New Mexico StateKansas
Round of 32Winner
No. 1 Kentucky vs. No. 9 PurdueKentucky
No. 4 Maryland vs. No. 12 BuffaloMaryland
No. 3 Notre Dame vs. No. 11 TexasNotre Dame
No. 2 Kansas vs. No. 7 Wichita StateWichita State
Sweet 16Winner
No. 1 Kentucky vs. No. 4 MarylandKentucky
No. 3 Notre Dame vs. No. 7 Wichita StateNotre Dame
Elite EightWinner
No. 1 Kentucky vs. No. 3 Notre DameKentucky
Source: ESPN.com

The omnipresent 12th-seed upset stands out in this portion of Bilas' bracket. Even though West Virginia is coached by Bob Huggins, Bilas has Buffalo pulling off the upset.

Is there a bit of bias to this Bilas selection? Buffalo is coached by Bobby Hurley, Bilas' former Duke teammate. In any event, the Bulls do have a high-octane offense and play a physical brand of basketball that could help push them past the Mountaineers.

Buffalo is a trendy team, but Jon Rothstein of CBSSports.com cautions those eager to jump on the Bulls' bandwagon:

Jon Rothstein @JonRothstein

Those picking Buffalo to beat West Virginia should talk to some of the teams that have played the Mountaineers this season. It's not fun.

One upset Bilas has in the round of 32 is Wichita State, a seventh seed, advancing to the Sweet 16 over Kansas.

This isn't as much of a shocker—pun intended—as it appears. Wichita State was ranked 14th in the latest AP poll, while the Jayhawks were 10th. It's not a big gap for the Shockers to bridge at all.

The highest remaining seed other than Kentucky is Notre Dame with Kansas out of the equation, and they meet in the Elite Eight. As is customary in many brackets, the Wildcats punch a ticket to Indianapolis by defeating the Fighting Irish, so Bilas' bottom-line winner from the Midwest is the near-consensus pick.

West Region

Jay Bilas' West Region Picks
Round of 64Winner
No. 1 Wisconsin vs. No. 16 Coastal CarolinaWisconsin
No. 8 Oregon vs. No. 9 Oklahoma StateOregon
No. 5 Arkansas vs. No. 12 WoffordArkansas
No. 4 North Carolina vs. No. 13 HarvardNorth Carolina
No. 6 Xavier vs. No. 11 BYUBYU
No. 3 Baylor vs. No. 14 Georgia StateBaylor
No. 7 VCU vs. No. 10 Ohio StateOhio State
No. 2 Arizona vs. No. 15 Texas SouthernArizona
Round of 32Winner
No. 1 Wisconsin vs. No. 8 OregonWisconsin
No. 4 North Carolina vs. No. 5 ArkansasNorth Carolina
No. 3 Baylor vs. No. 11 BYUBaylor
No. 2 Arizona vs. No. 10 Ohio StateArizona
Sweet 16Winner
No. 1 Wisconsin vs. No. 4 North CarolinaWisconsin
No. 2 Arizona vs. No. 3 BaylorArizona
Elite EightWinner
No. 1 Wisconsin vs. No. 2 ArizonaWisconsin
Source: ESPN.com

There are a couple of upsets in the round of 64 from Bilas' West portion. After having BYU over Xavier, Bilas repays the Buckeye State by allowing Ohio State to move on against an always-tough VCU squad.

All of the higher seeds win out in the West otherwise, with Wisconsin breaking through to the national semifinals.

ESPN Stats & Info reveals why the top two seeds are likely to meet in the regional final:

ESPN Stats & Info @ESPNStatsInfo

West region has teams ranked 2nd and 3rd in BPI (Wisconsin, Arizona). By far the toughest region in NCAA field

Much of last year's Final Four nucleus is intact, headlined by star big man Frank Kaminsky. The versatility he has offensively, not to mention the array of shooters the Badgers have, allow them to clear out for Kaminsky, where he can make plays off of the dribble or distribute with his back to the basket.

But what makes Bilas' West juicy is the fact that Arizona returns to the Elite Eight to face Wisconsin, this time armed with freshman phenom Stanley Johnson and a healthy Brandon Ashley, which wasn't the case in 2014. Arizona lost by one point to the Badgers in overtime, so it will be keen on revenge.

Yours truly can agree to disagree with Bilas here, because Arizona has all the makings of a Final Four squad and was arguably deserving of a No. 1 seed in the first place.

East Region

Jay Bilas' East Region Picks
Round of 64Winner
No. 1 Villanova vs. No. 16 LafayetteVillanova
No. 8 NC State vs. No. 9 LSUNC State
No. 5 Northern Iowa vs. No. 12 WyomingNorthern Iowa
No. 4 Louisville vs. No. 13 UC IrvineLouisville
No. 6 Providence vs. No. 11 DaytonProvidence
No. 3 Oklahoma vs. No. 14 AlbanyOklahoma
No. 7 Michigan State vs. No. 10 GeorgiaMichigan State
No. 2 Virginia vs. No. 15 BelmontVirginia
Round of 32Winner
No. 1 Villanova vs. No. 8 NC StateVillanova
No. 4 Louisville vs. No. 5 Northern IowaLouisville
No. 3 Oklahoma vs. No. 6 ProvidenceOklahoma
No. 2 Virginia vs. No. 7 Michigan StateVirginia
Sweet 16Winner
No. 1 Villanova vs. No. 4 LouisvilleVillanova
No. 2 Virginia vs. No. 3 OklahomaVirginia
Elite EightWinner
No. 1 Villanova vs. No. 2 VirginiaVirginia
Source: ESPN.com

There are literally zero upsets from Bilas in the round of 64 in the East Region. Come on, Jay. Be bold!

In fact, every higher seed wins in the East all the way to the Elite Eight, where Bilas bucks the trend by picking Virginia to get past Villanova.

Colin Cowherd of ESPN has a strong disdain for Virginia's snail pace, which ranks third slowest in the nation, according to KenPom.com's data:

Colin Cowherd @ColinCowherd

Actively rooting against Virginia. Watchable basketball dies a little each time they win #firecolin

Bilas' prediction indicates that the broken finger suffered by Cavaliers guard Justin Anderson won't impact Virginia enough to impede it from almost going all the way.

However, Anderson has failed to score in the two games and 26 minutes of action since his return. He is one of three Cavaliers to average in double figures.

As strong as Virginia's defense is, its lack of offensive firepower beyond junior guard Malcolm Brogdon and forward Anthony Gill is troublesome, particularly if the former's defensive tenacity gets him into foul trouble, which is a real possibility.

South Region

Jay Bilas' South Region Picks
Round of 64Winner
No. 1 Duke vs. No. 16 North FloridaDuke
No. 8 San Diego State vs. No. 9 St. John'sSt. John's
No. 5 Utah vs. No. 12 Stephen F. AustinStephen F. Austin
No. 4 Georgetown vs. No. 13 Eastern WashingtonGeorgetown
No. 6 SMU vs. No. 11 UCLASMU
No. 3 Iowa State vs. No. 14 UABIowa State
No. 7 Iowa vs. No. 10 DavidsonDavidson
No. 2 Gonzaga vs. No. 15 North Dakota StateGonzaga
Round of 32Winner
No. 1 Duke vs. No. 9 St. John'sDuke
No. 4 Georgetown vs. No. 12 Stephen F. AustinGeorgetown
No. 3 Iowa State vs. No. 6 SMUIowa State
No. 2 Gonzaga vs. No. 10 DavidsonGonzaga
Sweet 16Winner
No. 1 Duke vs. No. 4 GeorgetownDuke
No. 2 Gonzaga vs. No. 3 Iowa StateGonzaga
Elite EightWinner
No. 1 Duke vs. No. 2 GonzagaDuke
Source: ESPN.com

Make that two ACC teams in the Final Four, as Bilas adds another to the fray by putting the Duke Blue Devils through to Indianapolis.

Duke has a dominant big man in Jahlil Okafor—a blue-chip Blue Devil the program hasn't had the luxury of boasting in years past. Freshman wing Justise Winslow is a matchup nightmare, and Duke has the requisite strong backcourt to go deep with freshman Tyus Jones and senior Quinn Cook.

ESPN Fantasy Sports notes how the Blue Devils are gaining steam as a legitimate national championship contender:

ESPN Fantasy Sports @ESPNFantasy

Non-Kentucky picks to win Championship in Tournament Challenge: Duke: 10.1% Wisconsin: 9.3% Arizona: 5.5% Virginia: 3.3% #bracket

The top four South seeds make Bilas' Sweet 16, so there isn't too much notable suspense to draw on here. Stephen F. Austin is another No. 12 over No. 5 upset on the docket, and Davidson gets through to the round of 32, too. Both mid-major outfits lose shortly thereafter, though.

It's three of the top four seeds in the Final Four, so Bilas largely plays it safe for the majority of his bracket.

That's not a bad thing, though. Overanalysis and a penchant for Cinderellas can cause one's bracket to bust quite quickly. The top seeds also seem like strong bets for the most part.

Final Four

Jay Bilas' Final Four Picks
National SemifinalsWinner
No. 1 Kentucky vs. No. 1 WisconsinKentucky
No. 1 Duke vs. No. 2 VirginiaDuke
National ChampionshipWinner
No. 1 Kentucky vs. No. 1 DukeKentucky
Source: ESPN.com

This is quite a standard quartet of national semifinalists left standing. Bilas hints how Wisconsin's adherence to fundamentals can give even a powerhouse like Kentucky issues—just not enough of them to result in a loss.

Virginia's Gill told The Washington Post's Isabelle Khurshudyan how the Cavaliers eliminate ego by playing for each other: "Some of the guys may have chips on their shoulder from that, not being a McDonald's all-American and things of that nature. All we want to do is go out there and be the best U-Va. team we can be regardless of who we have on this team."

That's why what Kentucky does is all the more impressive. With a slew of alpha players and many of the best overall prospects in the country, the "succeed and proceed" philosophy has worked wonders.

As close-knit as the Cavaliers seem to be, they fall in the battle of ACC titans to Duke in Bilas' estimation. He cites Anderson's tenuous health situation as a big difference, which could frankly derail Virginia's March Madness run even before the Final Four.

Here are Bilas' thoughts on a prospective Kentucky-Duke final: "The last time these two teams played in the NCAA tournament wasn't in 1992 with Christian Laettner; it was in 1998, when a Tubby Smith-coached Kentucky team came back to win in the Elite Eight. This team is too deep, strong, athletic and close. It is also close to history. Kentucky goes 40-0."

It's hard to mount a serious debate on the contrary. Coach John Calipari has gotten the Wildcats to buy in on defense. Kentucky's combination of height and athleticism across the board is as formidable as any team in recent history.

The raw ability so many of Kentucky's stars have to score on sheer superiority of skill gives its offense multiple go-to options if any of the Wildcats' games come down to the wire. That makes for a defensive nightmare for the opposition.

Against the highest expectations, Calipari's bunch has put the clamps down on defense whenever a team has even threatened to put a blemish on Kentucky's perfect record. According to Bilas and many other bracket fiends, this won't change on the Big Dance stage.


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