Expert NCAA Tournament picks? Yes, we say that lightly. The truth is the NCAA Tournament is one of the most difficult events in sports to predict. If it were so easy, then there wouldn’t be a one in 9.2 quintillion chance of picking a perfect bracket. Anyone who tells you they know what is going to happen is lying. Sure, we can tell you plenty of trends — always pick at least one 13 or 14 seed to win a game; pick one 12 seed to win; advance your top-seeded teams to the Sweet 16; and have three of the four No. 1 seeds in the Elite 8. But does anyone really know who those teams will be? Of course not.
Still, I’ll do my best to explain my picks. I have Indiana beating Duke in the national championship game, with Ohio State and Michigan as the other Final Four teams. You’ll notice immediately that I am high on the Big Ten. I thought it was the best overall conference this year and that the competition wasn’t even close.
To see my picks below, just click twice on each image and that will bring you to the full-size sheet. Region-by-region analysis is below.
This is a very strong region, which explains why I have mostly top seeds advancing. The top overall seed in the tournament is Louisville, which is the No. 1 seed in the region. I have them beating Oklahoma State to reach the Elite 8, but I think Duke takes them out in the regional finals.
The Blue Devils are led by studs Mason Plumlee and Seth Curry, who I think is going to have a huge tournament. Keep in mind that the Blue Devils are 18-1 with Ryan Kelly in the lineup. With him back from a foot injury, they are even more dangerous.
Of course, Duke’s path to the Final Four will not be easy. They most likely will have to contend with a very difficult Creighton team in the second round. The Blue Jays are led by Doug McDermott, who is second in the country with 23.4 points per game. In the Sweet 16, they will likely face Michigan State, which is always a difficult prospect in March.
Duke may have lost to Maryland in the ACC tournament, but I like the way they have been playing lately and I think they will enter the tournament with less pressure than Louisville.
Gonzaga is the top seed here and riding a 14-game winning streak. Combine that with their 10-day layoff between games thanks to the WCC tournament schedule, and they could be a target to falter. However, that won’t come too easily; the Zags have two fine players in Kelly Olynyk and Elias Harris who will ensure they reach the Elite 8. From there, I think they lose to Ohio State.
The West Region also features one of the most intriguing first-round games: No. 5 Wisconsin against No. 12 Ole Miss. Ole Miss, an at-large team, went 26-8 and rebounded nicely from a 4-4 February. They won the SEC tournament and come in on a five-game winning streak. Likewise, Wisconsin is also playing good ball. The Badgers beat Michigan and Indiana back-to-back to reach the finals of the Big Ten conference tourney, and they had Ohio State on the ropes before losing in the title game. I’m taking Wisconsin’s good defense over the Rebels’ streaky shooting. I even think Wisconsin is going to test Gonzaga in the Sweet 16.
I thought Arizona got shafted with a six seed, but they are rewarded with a winnable pod. I see them reaching the Sweet 16 before losing to Ohio State. I think the Buckeyes benefit from a favorable draw and will be able to ride an existing 8-game winning streak into the Final Four. I like teams that are hot entering the tournament, and that’s what the Buckeyes are. A matchup against Gonzaga does scare me because of the Bulldogs’ size, but I think DeShaun Thomas will bring it.
Florida is a very popular pick to emerge from this region, but I’m not as high on the Gators as others. They faded down the stretch losing to Arkansas, Missouri, Tennessee, Kentucky, and then Ole Miss in the SEC tournament championship game. I think Kansas is the weakest of the top seeds, which makes the bracket prime for a lower-seeded team to emerge, I just don’t think it will be the Gators.
I have Florida losing to Georgetown in the Sweet 16. That was a tough call, but I like the way Georgetown has played since February, and I’m banking on Otto Porter Jr., who is one of the top players in the tournament. Otto better come to play because Otto’s my lotto.
The team I like from this bracket is Michigan. I love the Wolverines’ guard play and I think their 3-point shooting will be a weapon. Trey Burke is going to carry this team to the Final Four.
Indiana is my pick to win the tournament, so obviously I have them emerging here. Syracuse will be a difficult Sweet 16 opponent, and Miami will be even tougher in the Elite 8.
I picked Butler to reach the Sweet 16. We know that Brad Stevens is one of the best coaches in March. The Bulldogs have already beaten Marquette once, and I think they can do it again. But can they beat the Hoosiers a second time? Probably not.
Miami peaked with a No. 1 ranking midseason and then lost three out of four to slip in the rankings. However, they won the ACC tournament. They have good size with Kenny Kadji and Reggie Johnson, and a good backcourt featuring Shane Larkin. I see an Elite 8 run for the Hurricanes before the Hoosiers stop them.
Overall, there isn’t a standout team in the tournament. No team could match up with Kentucky’s team from last season that went 38-2 and put a handful of players in the pros. There isn’t a dominant squad like the ’08-’09 Tar Heels that won each of their tournament games by double digits. I could easily see about 15 different teams reaching the Final Four. But I’m picking Indiana because I think they are well coached, they have two of the top players in the country between Cody Zeller and Victor Oladipo, and they’re a good shooting team from the outside. Teams generally need some magic to win the tourney, and I think they will get some.Google+