Making sense of March Madness 

End Zone

Every year at this time, multitudes of self-proclaimed experts tell us what to expect during March Madness of college men's basketball.

They predict all the upsets, ahead of time. They anoint their Final Four teams, two weeks in advance, and then hide later when their forecasts turn out wrong.

In all likelihood, this will be too late for "help" in filling out your bracket. (My profound advice: When in doubt, pick the team with the better seed.) Of course, you also might look around for a Sweet 16 pool, which starts after the tournament's first weekend. Sometimes those can be as fun as trying to wade through the entire 65-team field.

So our purpose here will be providing thoughts about each region's bracket. Let's start with one conclusion: When you hear all the ex-coaches saying many different teams could win the national title, don't listen. They're full of it. Yes, there is more parity in college hoops these days, but that doesn't mean we're about to see Texas A&M or Washington come out of nowhere to take it all. More likely, we'll see some teams in the range of 2-3-4-5 seeds getting on a roll and winding up in the Final Four at Indianapolis.

As for who should win it all, start with Kentucky. If you haven't seen the Wildcats, they have two marvelously talented stars in John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins. You don't have to like Kentucky or its coach John Calipari (and I definitely don't). Just watch Saturday for the likely Kentucky-Texas pairing in the second round, and see for yourself.

Going region by region:

East: Kentucky (1) stands alone. West Virginia (2) used up its magic winning the Big East tourney. New Mexico (3) might be the Mountain West's best hope, but don't count on the Lobos. This is arguably the weakest regional.

• Sleepers to watch: Whoever wins the first-round game between Clemson (7) and Missouri (10) could stun West Virginia on Sunday. Keep an eye on Temple (5), though the Owls face tough tests against Cornell (12) and then likely Wisconsin (4).

• Winner: Kentucky might not dominate every game, but it will cruise to Indy.

South: Duke (1) earned the top seed, but this isn't one of Mike Krzyzewski's best teams. Trying to pick this bracket was almost impossible, because it's filled with solid, dangerous teams that, in the end, probably can't win the championship.

• Sleepers to watch: They're everywhere. Baylor (3) and Notre Dame (6) appear destined to meet Saturday in possibly the best second-round game. Lots of experts think Siena (13) has a shot against Purdue (4), but keep an eye on Louisville (9) possibly knocking off Duke on Sunday.

• Winner: Villanova (2) would be my guess.

West: Syracuse (1) loses its last two games but still nabs this top seed and a fairly favorable pathway to the Final Four. It's also a great position for Kansas State (2), which gets to play its first weekend at nearby Oklahoma City. Lots of interesting teams here, but mostly second-tier.

• Sleepers to watch: Xavier (6) always seems to be on this kind of list, and could have a scrumptious second-round game against Pittsburgh (3). Whoever wins the Butler (5) vs. Texas-El Paso (12) matchup Thursday could make the Sweet Sixteen.

• Winner: Either Syracuse or a longshot, perhaps the Pitt-Xavier winner.

Midwest: How good is Kansas (1)? Obviously the selection committee liked the Jayhawks, but they face a region including two other strong finishers, Ohio State (2) and Georgetown (3). Something tells me KU won't make it to Indianapolis.

• Sleepers to watch: Start with Maryland (4) but don't forget Tennessee (6), though the Vols likely face Georgetown (3) in the second round Saturday. Then there's Michigan State (5), which likely will face Maryland in the second round Sunday and did make it to the title game last year, losing to North Carolina.

• Winner: Have to go with Ohio State.



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