As you may recall, I explained how my bracket laid out in an article published soon after the field was set for the NCAA Tournament. Like so many others, it didn't go well. Not well at all. I had Kansas winning, which I still am happy about. It gets ugly from there, though. Texas A&M was their opponent in the Final Four. That is still obviously possible, but I don't feel nearly as good about it as I did. The other side of the bracket is just a dumpster fire - I had Michigan State beating West Virginia in Houston. Ugh. I am pretty sure I haven't had many times when my Final Four teams didn't at least survive the first weekend - never mind the first round.
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As we await another weekend of action that we can only hope is half as good as the first weekend was, I'm going to do the only thing I can do here - pretend that that first bracket never existed and start from scratch here. If this was just a 16-team tournament here is what my bracket would look like:
Kansas will beat Maryland. I have little doubt of that. The Terps have really struggled with consistency over the last month or two and just aren't nearly as good as the sum of their parts right now. Kansas has been a force so far, and that will continue. The other game I have more of a problem with because I don't really like either team. It's hard to get too excited about the matchup of Villanova and Miami because (spoiler alert) I think it will be the last win that the winner gets. I don't trust Villanova at all in big games, but they impressed me with their complete annihilation of Iowa, so they get the lukewarm nod here. That leaves us with Villanova and Kansas playing for all the marbles. The game is in Louisville, and that isn't too far from Philadelphia, so the crowd support should be solid. It won't be enough, though, Bill Self is heading back to the Final Four with another team. Kansas wins fairly easily.
We are going to start things off with a bit of an upset - at least according to seeds. Oregon has done nothing wrong so far, but their perception has certainly been hurt by how awful their conference has been so far. Duke doesn't have their best team ever, but they sure have looked solid so far. The talent gap isn't significant either way here. What it comes down to for me, ultimately, is that they are giving Coach K - a guy who has won a record 90 tournament games - the better part of a week to get himself and his team ready for this one. That's barely fair, and it will be the difference here. Texas A&M was the author of the craziest comeback in tournament history. Impressive. I'm concerned, though, about the lasting mental effects of that insanity. I'm also concerned about the fact that they were down by 12 with seconds left to a much lesser team than they are facing now. Oklahoma has the best player in the tournament, yet they haven't relied on him - they have looked good when Buddy Hield has been slower off the mark. Oklahoma wins. And then they win again. Their matchup against Duke will be tough, but by a narrow margin I like the higher seed. Oklahoma is taking a trip to Houston to face Kansas.
Indiana is a very good team when at their best, but I don't trust them to be consistent. UNC is a better overall team and they have looked great so far. The Tar Heels get the nod. Wisconsin enjoyed some last-second heroics against Xavier. They beat a very good team there, though, and as a reward they get a far less impressive one. Notre Dame has been inconsistent despite the two wins, and this feels like a team that has run out of luck. Wisconsin advances but then runs out of luck themselves against a superior UNC squad. Roy Williams is heading to Houston to potentially face his former team in the final game.
This is where we get crazy. But not just yet. First, Virginia will beat Iowa State. I would feel a lot better about things for ISU if Fred Hoiberg were still coaching them. Come to think of it, most Chicago Bulls fans would also probably feel better about things if Hoiberg was still in Iowa State. Now the upsets start. Gonzaga will roll all over Syracuse, though that is an upset in seeds only. And then the Bulldogs will ride their very impressive big man play all the way to Houston after upsetting Virginia. Mark Few will have his most tournament success with one of his least-heralded tournament teams ever.
Kansas vs. Oklahoma promises to be a great game. I'll stick with Kansas, but mostly because I already picked them in my earlier bracket. Neither team winning would be at all surprising. On the other side, the experience and talent of UNC will win out over the plucky Bulldogs. That sets up Williams vs. Self - the current coach against the man he replaced. It can't get any better than this. The game will be a classic, and Kansas will cut down the nets.
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