By late Tuesday I had settled on the fact there were four key matchups in each region that would swing this tournament one way or the other. Since the #1 seed was involved in each one, a pure chalk result was one option. In each case, the top seed is meeting a relative darkhorse, making a rerun of 2006’s chaos a possible result. Well, I didn’t have the next George Mason in the mix, so it wasn’t quite that chaotic. But a darkhorse sweep would definitely bust up a lot of brackets. And of course there’s the middle ground, which is usually what plays out in most years, with a couple #1 seeds and a couple modest surprises advancing. Villanova of last year would be the type of modest surprise to which I’m referring.
Let’s go bracket-by-bracket…
EAST: The key matchup is Duke-Baylor, which will happen in the regional final. The Bears are the #3 seed. I don’t think #2 seed Villanova just has it anymore. They don’t have the frontcourt and they haven’t been playing well of late. I see the ‘Cats as potential early upset material.
Sweet 16 Survivors: Duke, Texas A&M, Baylor, Richmond
Final Four: Baylor
SOUTH: This region swings in the Sweet 16, when Kentucky plays Wisconsin. West Virginia is another Big East #2 that I’m skeptical of, due to the lack of a backcourt efficiency and the fact that while I like Bob Huggins, he’s had his problems in the Big Dance of late. New Mexico is #3, but I’m enough of a snob to not see a midmajor team as having real Final Four talent.
Sweet 16: Kentucky, Wisconsin, Washington, West Virginia
Final Four: Wisconsin
MIDWEST: This one boils down to Kansas-Georgetown. I’m probably pushing my luck calling the Hoyas a dark horse, but this is a #3 seed potentially winning a national title. Only three teams seeded third or lower have won the crown since 1990 (Arizona ’97, Syracuse ’03, Florida ’06). This matchup’s no knock on two-seed Ohio State, but rather my regard for Georgetown who’s coming together at the right time.
Sweet 16: Kansas, Maryland, Georgetown, Ohio State
Final Four: Georgetown
WEST: In the final eight, Syracuse squares off with Pitt. The Panthers are in a unique spot. They had their hearts broken last year with a much better team. Then their football team blew a major bowl bid in the last minute. Isn’t it spots like this where a team comes up and wins when no one expects it? I’ll date myself with an analogy and that’s to 1984 Virginia. They had just lost Ralph Sampson to the NBA after heartbreak the previous year to Jimmy Valvano’s Cardiac Pack from N.C. State. After a non-descript year, they made the tournament and snuck into the Final Four. I’m not sold on #2 Kansas Stare, #4 Vanderbilt or #5 Butler. Pitt’s all that’s left as a challenger to Syracuse.
Sweet 16: Syracuse, UTEP, Pitt, Kansas State
Final Four: Pitt
That’s a bracket-breaking Final Four of Baylor-Wisconsin in one semi-final and a Big East battle of Georgetown-Pitt in the other. Other notable upsets I’m banking on in my pool are Richmond taking out Villanova in the East’s second round, #12 seed UTEP winning two games in the West and #11 seed Washington making a regional final in the South. The Midwest is the only bracket where I stick with the chalk, save for the Hoyas.
And the national champ? As much as I’d love to pick Wisconsin, I’m going to go with Georgetown, the team with #1 seed talent who just needs to play like it for three weeks.
See you tomorrow to talk about today's results and look ahead to Friday. Over on The Baseball Notebook, the San Francisco Giants preview is up later today, with the White Sox and Cardinals ahead.