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#pounditFriday, June 9, 2023

Expert NCAA Tournament bracket picks: LB’s 2015 March Madness selections

You want some expert NCAA Tournament picks to help guide how you choose your brackets this March Madness? You got it.

LB has been combing over stats, playing out matchup scenarios and completely educating himself about these teams for the past weeks in order to help bring you these picks. We take into consideration multiple factors, including our ability to try to predict motivation. There will be upsets — they happen every March Madness and they ruin your bracket — so don’t get discouraged when your picks are busted by one. Just try to predict it!

The big question for anyone filling out a bracket is whether or not you have Kentucky winning it all. Though Wisconsin and Arizona were the other tempting picks for me — and I believe it will be one of those three teams winning it all — I still went with Kentucky. They proved a lot by going 34-0 entering the tournament. Even when they had their bad games they still managed to send the contests to overtime where they would win. They have talent, size, depth, and most importantly, heart and desire. I think it is in this team’s will to win it all, and I really like the way Coach John Calipari has programmed them mentally to be prepared for the tournament. It won’t be easy, but I see them going 40-0.

The real shame of the tournament is that the three best teams are on the same side of the draw. That means we won’t see a Kentucky-Arizona or Kentucky-Wisconsin final. Heck, Wisconsin and Arizona have to meet in the Elite Eight, which will eliminate one of the best three teams a round too early. It’s the South and the East where there are a lot more questions.

You can see my full 2015 NCAA Tournament brackets below — loosely called “expert” picks — but I do watch and write about sports for a living, so I suppose that makes me an expert in theory. Click twice to see the large version:

NCAA Tournament bracket

NCAA Tournament bracket

More in-depth breakdown of each region below.

Midwest Region

This region has the top team in the tournament, but the rest of the seeds are pretty weak. Kansas is a good team as the No. 2 seed, but they are vulnerable. They just blew a huge lead to Iowa State in the Big 12 tournament championship game, with Frank Mason III and Perry Ellis going a combined 4-for-21. They can’t have that from two of their top players in the big dance. They have been missing some critical depth without Cliff Alexander, and Ellis’ knee injury concerns me. They don’t have all their pieces together, which is why I like Wichita State to upset them.

The Shockers are one of my big picks in this region. I have them going to the Elite Eight. They are an experienced team that went undefeated last year until receiving a brutal draw in the tourney. This time around they get the underdog role, which should suit them well. They have one of the better backcourts in the tourney, and I’m counting on Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker to carry them.

A few other picks of note from this region: Texas is actually favored against Butler, so you should expect them to win. I also have Valpo and Buffalo both pulling the upsets, with the Bulls in the Sweet 16. Maryland just is lacking motivation entering the tourney because they feel they got jobbed, while Valpo is well coached and hungry to win. Among the lower-seeded teams, they’re one of the best. Buffalo is even better. They are coached by Bobby Hurley and feature two stars in Justin Moss and Shannon Evans. Watch out for the upsets.

West Region

This is the most frustrating region in the tournament, simply because two of the best teams are in it. This is between Wisconsin and Arizona all the way, and those teams will be playing a GREAT game to determine who goes to the Final Four. I think the Badgers take that one because of their style.

If you look at Arizona’s style, they have a bunch of great players/athletes and they like to run and play fast (and they’re damn good at it). They have six players averaging at least nine points per game, which gives them a lot of depth and helps them get their scoring totals up. This is a team that doesn’t just beat opponents; they blow them out consistently! Expects wins by a double-digit margin until the dreaded Elite Eight contest.

Unfortunately Wisconsin is strong where they are weak. The Badgers have some of the best bigs in the tournament starting with star player Frank Kaminsky, a seven-footer, 6-foot-9 forward Sam Dekker, and 6-foot-7 forward Nigel Hayes. They have the top frontcourt in the tourney and can do a lot of damage with their bigs. They’re not going to put up the kind of points that Arizona will, but they are very efficient offensively (thanks to their big guys shooting a high field goal percentage), and they make their free throws. Being a 76.3 percent team from the line is a huge deal and should give them the edge in close tournament games.

Beyond these two, I have Wofford in as an upset pick against Arkansas. The Hogs are coming off an SEC Tournament title game run against Kentucky and have a stud in Bobby Portis, but they are a cocky group. That’s good in that it leads to confidence, but it might hurt them in that they could be arrogant entering their game with the Terriers, which is why we have the upset pick. North Carolina has been playing well and is an excellent bet to make it to the Sweet 16, but not beyond because of a matchup with the Badgers. On the bottom half of the region, I am concerned about Baylor’s first-round game against Georgia State. Baylor’s a good squad that played in a tough conference, but don’t discount the Panthers. They have two studs in coach’s son R.J. Hunter and Ryan Harrow. They will give the Bears trouble.

East Region

This region is completely up for grabs between Villanova, Virginia, Oklahoma and even Northern Iowa or Michigan State. Virginia is excellent defensively, which is why I have them emerging, but they certainly are not at their best right now. Justin Anderson is returning and has only played 12 and 14 minutes, and he hasn’t scored. They need him to adjust and get it going as early as the second round, when a tough game against Michigan State is in store.

Oklahoma is a very strong team and has the potential to emerge from this region as the No. 3 seed. They have a good mix of strengths between their guards and forwards, and they have beaten all the tough teams in their conference — Kansas, Iowa State, Baylor, West Virginia and Texas. They can beat anyone on any given day. Sweet 16 should be a lock for them, and a Final Four run is not out of the question.

I rarely am a fan of Jay Wright’s Villanova teams, and this year is not an exception. Their calling card is their outside shooting — they’re 38.9 percent on the season from 3-point range — but I’m worried that one game they go cold and get knocked out. I think a very solid team in Northern Iowa can beat them, as could either Virginia or Oklahoma from the bottom half of the region. They are still deep enough and good enough to reach the Elite Eight, but I think the Cavs’ defense will put the clamps on them there.

South Region

Duke and Gonzaga both have one of their best teams in years, but it’s a wonder I don’t even have them reaching the Final Four. It’s not that I dislike either team; I don’t — I think they’re both good. I just think Iowa State is the hot team and have the Cyclones reaching the Final Four as an upset special. I’m a big Georges Niang fan and think he can carry this squad. I also like their depth — they have six players averaging over nine points per game and eight who will see consistent minutes in the tourney. You need that many players to reach the Final Four. Their defense is suspect, but we like their offense enough to have them advancing.

I like Duke a lot this year and don’t see them getting Mercer’d again. Jahlil Okafor is a bonafide star inside and should ensure they reach the Sweet 16. My only real knock against him is that he can’t shoot free throws. A smart team will play hack-a-Jahlil late in a close game and be successful with it (he was 1-for-7 at the line against Syracuse and 2-for-8 in the loss to Notre Dame). That will be this team’s undoing.

I could very easily see Gonzaga reaching the Final Four and potentially even the championship game. They are balanced, have good inside and outside play, and they have an excellent combination of offensive efficiency and solid defense. They always seem to come up short in the tournament, but it’s very possible that this is the year they finally put it all together and make a run.


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