It’s that wonderful, crazy time of year, where everyone in their office is filling out their NCAA tournament brackets, hoping their unlikely upset picks come true and their bracket looks at the very least, respectable, by the time the round of 32 rolls around. It’s March Madness! Here are my picks for the tournament.
The Midwest Region
Top seeds: No. 1 Kentucky (34-0), No. 2 Kansas (26-8).
The top storyline in this tournament: Can Kentucky run the table, win out and win the national championship? The Wildcats certainly seem in prime position to do so. John Calipari’s squad is long, deep, talented and a nightmare for teams to try to score against. Kentucky leads the country in field-goal percentage defense, and can score from every position. Only Tony Bennett’s Virginia squad has a better rated defense, per kenpom.com.
Upset picks: No. 7 Wichita State over No. 2 Kansas in the round of 32.
The Shockers have long accused the Jayhawks of avoiding them. The last game between the two teams was in 1993 in Kansas’ Allen Fieldhouse. The Shockers, who have fared well in the tournament recently, could be even more motivated to pull off the big upset.
The winner: Kentucky. The Wildcats are by far the best team in the bracket. While there are certainly teams capable of pulling off the major upset, it seems unlikely.
The West Region
Top seeds: No. 1 Wisconsin (31-3), No. 2 Arizona (31-3).
This bracket is loaded. Wisconsin and Arizona are both NCAA championship-caliber teams, while No. 3 Baylor and No. 4 North Carolina have the tools to make a push as well. Wisconsin senior Frank Kaminsky, a 7-footer averaging 18.2 points per game and 8 rebounds per game, is a matchup problem for almost any team in the country. The Badgers have the top-rated offense in the country, per kenpom.com.
Upset picks: No. 11 BYU over No. 6 Xavier.
I’m going to guess BYU beats Ole Miss in the "First Four" game on Tuesday night. If they do, I think the Cougars have a real shot to knock off Xavier. While BYU is far from stellar defensively, they light it up on the other end. Senior guard Tyler Hawes averages 21.9 points per game and is BYU’s all-time leading scorer with 2,687 points. But he’s probably not even the most important player on the team. Kyle Collinsworth set an NCAA record with six triple-doubles this season (points, rebounds and assists).
The winner: Arizona. Wisconsin is lethal offensively, but the Wildcats are much more balanced. Arizona ranks 11th offensively and third defensively, per kenpom.com. The Wildcats play relentless and efficient team basketball, wearing teams down on both ends of the floor.
The East Region
Top seeds: No. 1 Villanova (32-2), No. 2 Virginia (29-3).
For some reason, Villanova wasn’t talked about much during the regular season, as the Wildcats snuck up on a lot of people throughout the year. The Wildcats have won 15 games in a row and play quality basketball on both ends of the floor. Senior guard Darrun Hilliard leads the Wildcats with 14 points per game. The most intriguing team to me in this bracket is No. 2 Virginia, the best defensive team in the country. People get bored watching their team play Virginia because the scoring output is usually so low.
Upset picks: None. At least not any major upsets.
Winner: Virginia. The Cavaliers’ defense will be the difference-maker.
The South Region
Top seeds: No. 1 Duke (29-4), No. 2 Gonzaga (32-2).
I’ll get this out the way now — I’m a Gonzaga grad (Go Zags!). Duke, which has struggled in the tournament as of late, should cruise to at least the Elite 8. I don’t see Gonzaga having much trouble until at least the Sweet 16, either, where a matchup with Iowa State seems likely. Despite all the regular season success, the Zags haven’t done much in the tournament over the past decade. It’ll be interesting to see if live up to their high seeding or prove the doubters right again.
Upset picks: No. 13 Eastern Washington over No. 4 Georgetown.
Georgetown never shows up in the tournament, and I don’t expect this year to be any different. EWU has become a popular upset pick by many analysts, boasting one of the nation’s best scorers in guard Tyler Harvey, who averages over 23 points per game. The game will also be played in Portland and the Eagles should have lots of support.
The winner: Gonzaga. It has to happen eventually, right? Maybe this is just blind optimism on my part.
Final Four: Kentucky, Arizona, Virginia, Gonzaga.
NCAA Championship game: Arizona vs. Gonzaga. While Kentucky has been perfect so far this season, the Cats haven’t looked invincible in the SEC, which is a fairly weak conference, as far as power conferences go. I like ‘Zona in the huge upset. The Zags would have an easier game with Virginia. While Virginia boasts the nation’s top defense, Gonzaga has a highly efficient, patient offense.
National champion: Gonzaga beats Arizona, 63-60. These two teams met earlier in the season, with the Wildcats coming away with a thrilling 66-63 overtime win at home. This time, the Zags get revenge on a neutral floor.
What are your picks? Let me know on Twitter, @gateway_jon.