The second Sunday of March is a milestone for me each year. It marks the first of sunnier days, the first weekend I start paying a little attention to Spring Training baseball and, of course, the NCAA men’s basketball tournament bracket selection.
I try not to overuse that cliched phrase March Madness, partially because we’re not allowed to use the phrase in newspaper advertisements. It’s like how advertisers have to refer to the Super Bowl as The Big Game or some other equally ridiculous moniker. As if McDonald’s talking about the Super Bowl in its TV commercials would somehow confuse the public or devalue the marketing appeal of the National Football League’s championship game.
I’ve digressed. I only allow the phrase March Madness to be applied to me this week. I watch the rest of the tournament with equal interest through the remaining rounds, but that first week is special.
CBS, along with its new broadcast partners TBS, TNT and TruTV, does a great job of reminding us each year how amazing this tournament is. It never fails to produce great games, memorable shots, buzzer-beaters and upsets so frequent they almost cease to be surprises.
But don’t ask me to predict any of it. I’ve proven time and again that I just can’t do it.
I’ll give it a try. Just don’t base your picks on mine. Or maybe pick against me and increase your chances.
Syracuse is the top seed here, and if they make it to the Final Four, it’ll be because they’ve been battle tested. They should face a second-round matchup with Kansas State, a dangerous team that owns a pair of wins over top-10 Missouri. Get past that and they’ll play grind-it-out Wisconsin or a Vanderbilt team riding high after upsetting Kentucky in the Southeastern Conference Tournament.
But my pick to come out of this region is the No. 2 seed Ohio State. Assuming they don’t get tripped up by streaky Florida State, the Buckeyes appear destined to face the Big Orange in the Elite Eight. Jared Sullinger and Co. have not likely forgotten being bounced early by Kentucky last season. I think that chip on their shoulders gets them to the Final Four.
If you’re looking for a shootout, look no further than a potential matchup between top-seed North Carolina and Creighton in the third round. The Blue Jays lead the nation in field goal percentage, are second in assists and seventh in points per game. The Tar Heels are second in scoring and fourth in assists. Should be fun to watch.
In the No. 2 spot is Kansas. The Jayhawks have a dangerous third-rounder set up with either St. Mary’s or Purdue, I’m pulling for the Boilermakers and oft-injured senior Robbie Hummell, but I’m expecting a Kansas-UNC region final with Kansas moving on.
I’m tempted to have a little fun here. Murray State currently has the nation’s best record at 30-1. As a No. 6 seed, the Racers will likely face Marquette in the third round and, if they get past the Golden Eagles, would face No. 2 seed Missouri in the Sweet 16. Analysts have been calling Murray State a poor man’s Missouri all season. I’d like to see it, and I’d like to see everyone have the chance to watch Isaiah Canaan as much as possible. But I’m picking Mizzou, if only to avoid the jink I know doesn’t exist. Just go with it.
Whoever gets out of the bottom of the bracket will face top-seed Michigan State, who I see pushing past Memphis and Louisville en route to the Elite Eight. Then the Spartans win the region and prepare for ...
Kentucky. The Wildcats lost to Vandy in the SEC final after creating but failing to capitalize on decent shots in the final eight minutes. That’s their wake-up call. UK blows past Connecticut in the third round, exacting revenge for last year’s Final Four defeat. Then, the ‘Cats top Indiana, avenging their early season loss in Bloomington.
Then, there’s Duke.
Think the selection committee remembers that this is the 20th anniversary of the Greatest Basketball Game Ever Played? This time, it’s Kentucky as the top seed and Duke as No. 2, but the Blue Devils will top Xavier and Baylor to set up another rematch, in which Anthony Davis will figuratively – not literally – stomp on the chests of Duke and its fanbase, sending UK to the Final Four.
I’m picking UK to get past Michigan State and Ohio State to defeat Kansas, with the ‘Cats hanging another banner after stopping the Buckeyes.
NOTE: Don’t hold me to any of this. My first bracket is mostly chalk – I’ve only picked 11 upsets in 63 games. I’ll probably fill out three or four more brackets, each more ridiculous than the one before.
And none of them will be close to correct.
Justin McGill is general manager of The Cadiz Record and can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.