A monkey can fill out an NCAA Tournament bracket - and some show this week will probably have one do just that. In order to help you out in your tournament preparations, though, I am going to go just a little further than that and provide a bit of the reasoning to go along with the selections. Keep in mind as you set out to solve the riddle this year that this is as wide open a tournament as we have seen in a very long time, and that there are at least 15 teams that you could conceivably make a case for to win it all - and none that you would bet the farm that they will still be standing on the third weekend. Without further ado:
I've intentionally avoided worrying about first-round winners and upsets here - they just aren't worth the attention. By focusing on the Sweet 16 and beyond you focus on teams that are going to earn you points in your pool. Too many people spend too much time trying to be clever early on, and it proves nothing.
Kansas has a challenging second game looming but will be fine. Cal should emerge from their tough pod, too, though Maryland looms large and that is one of the tougher calls of the first weekend. The bottom half of the bracket is where the upsets loom. I like Arizona's chances of coming through with an upset of Miami and moving to the second weekend. I also really like Iowa's chances of giving Villanova yet another shameful tournament run to try to digest. So, your 16 pairings are Kansas and Cal and Arizona and Iowa. Kansas' experience and depth will be too much for the very young talent of the Bears, and Arizona will beat Iowa. The Jayhawks will then beat the Wildcats to represent the South in the Final Four. All in all this is the easiest of the four brackets to pick - or so it seems, at least.
Oregon has no excuses to not make the second weekend. Their second game should be tough but manageable - as it should be for a No. 1 seed. Duke isn't the team they have been, but their institutional experience and depth should get them to the second weekend. I like Texas A&M to win their pod as well - for a wide-open tournament, this bracket is really shaping up as chalky so far. This won't help - Oklahoma is poised to win their pod, too. Now things get a bit more fun, though - I like Duke to knock off Oregon. I also like the Aggies to find a way to subdue Buddy Hield - at least as much as he can be subdued - and win. That leaves the Aggies and the Blue Devils battling for bracket supremacy. Texas A&M will be representing the West in the Final Four - which makes as much sense geographically as Kansas representing the South.
The last two brackets were reasonably easy to narrow down to the Sweet 16. This one is a very different story. Brutal. I like UNC to make the second weekend, though a second-round game against Kris Dunn and Providence would be brutal. Indiana and Kentucky are set for an epic second-round game that is very tough to call. I like the Wildcats narrowly because of depth, and because the Hoosiers lost to a lousy Michigan team last time out while Kentucky won the SEC, but it could go either way. West Virginia should win their pod, but either Notre Dame or Michigan if they get a hot shooting hand could pull off the upset. As much as I like Xavier, their loss to Seton Hall in their conference tournament has me questioning their mental game, so I will pick an under seeded Wisconsin to upset them. UNC faces - and loses to - Kentucky. West Virginia beats Wisconsin. The Mountaineers also end things for John Calipari this year - and maybe for a few years if he can no longer resist the call of the NBA. In a victory for Geography, West Virginia will carry the Eastern torch at the Final Four.
I have a problem here that I often have in the bracket - I really don't like Virginia but can't find someone to beat them. They aren't losing one of their first two games. They will face a Purdue team that is playing well lately in their Sweet 16 game. I have to pick the Cavs, though. Actually, scratch that - let's get crazy. Led by the ferocious A.J. Hammons, Purdue is pulling off a shocker. Gonzaga is going to get hot at the right time and win two games to be the lowest-seeded Sweet 16 team in the tournament. And Michigan State is going to take their anger at the tournament selection committee for the No. 1 seed snub out on two poor opponents to make the second weekend. The Spartans will then make it an all-Big Ten affair in the Elite Eight, and they won't be kind to their conference rivals. Michigan State represents the Midwest in Houston.
The Final Four
The two big Saturday games are Kansas vs. Texas A&M and West Virginia vs. Michigan State. Both almost pick themselves. Kansas is just plain better in their game and will come out on top. Michigan State has a tougher game, but I'll take Izzo over Huggins any day. The Spartans bully their way to the championship game. Kansas vs. Michigan State for all the marbles. Remember where you heard it - the Jayhawks should stock up on scissors because they have a couple of nets to cut down in three weeks. For a wide-open tournament that is a surprisingly safe outcome. Chaos, as it turns out, doesn't actually reign.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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