This feels like a strange bracket this year for the NCAA Tournament. It simultaneously feels wide open and quite chalky. It feels like there are eight or 10 teams that could legitimately win it all, but it also feels like a whole lot of the games are destined to be won by the higher seeds - more than usual. I've gone over the bracket several times already, and each time it turns out differently. This is a tough one. And that's why we're here to help.
There are a whole lot of people who will make a lot of bad decisions while filling out their brackets. We don't want you to be one of those people. We want you to be one of the lucky ones who win your bracket. And to help you out we're going to offer some analysis of the bracket.
We're not going to look at the first-round games for one big reason - if you are going to win your bracket you need to learn to not worry about the first round. It doesn't matter. Sure, you need to pick the winners as much s possible and all. The problem is, though, that most people spend far too much time worrying about which upsets they are going to pick. They want to look clever. They are being ridiculous.
The entire focus of your bracket needs to be on the Elite Eight and beyond. If you have seven or eight Elite Eight teams alive you are going to be very tough to beat. The upsets are incredibly fun to watch, but more often than not their lasting impact is insignificant. Have a long-term focus in filling out your bracket and you already have a big edge over most of the yokels who throw their hats in the ring.
I didn't give Villanova a whole lot of respect last year, and that backfired. I'm not going to make that mistake twice in a row. There is a lot being made about the tough path for Villanova, but I mostly don't buy that. They will handle Wisconsin easily assuming the Badgers win and then will have no issues with either Florida or Virginia - both of those are highly-flawed teams I have no real respect for. Now they are waiting for their Elite Eight date. In the bottom half SMU is going to win twice but then lose a very tough one against Duke. It's tough to pick the Blue Devils because they have been such a Jekyll and Hyde team this year, but they are in a groove right now. Duke and Villanova is a heck of a battle. I'll narrowly take Villanova, but I won't be surprised to be wrong.
Northwestern will get their first-ever tournament win, and then they will fall to Gonzaga. Gonzaga will also beat Notre Dame. I marginally like Xavier to win their first weekend cluster, but it doesn't much matter - any of the four teams will be beaten up by Arizona, who will have previously beaten St. Mary's. For the second straight region we have a 1 vs. 2 showdown in the Elite Eight. And for the second straight region I am going with the top seed by a narrow margin. That BYU loss was ugly for Gonzaga, and they haven't been hugely tested this year, but they are tough and very legitimate and are going to have a strong tournament.
Kansas will barely break a sweat en route to the Elite Eight. I imagine that they will beat Michigan State and then Purdue for a Big Ten double. Rhode Island will benefit from serious injuries to key players, upsetting both Creighton and Oregon. Michigan will continue their red-hot play, beating Oklahoma State and then getting revenge on Louisville, the team that beat them in the national title game in 2013. Then they'll beat Rhode Island before falling to Kansas - the Jayhawks will be looking for revenge of their own after an impossibly heartbreaking loss during that 2013 Michigan run.
North Carolina has a path to the Elite Eight just as smooth as Kansas. They will have no trouble at all with Arkansas or Butler. Cincinnati will upset an immensely-talented UCLA team that is a serious mental case. Kentucky will again knock Wichita State out of the tournament and then end the Cincy run. That sets up a third No. 1 vs. 2 battle of the year - like I said, this tournament feels very chalky. Kentucky will beat UNC in the battle of the blue-clad blue bloods, to become the only non-top seed to make the very chalky Final Four.
Villanova and Gonzaga is an extremely tough game to call. It couldn't be tighter. Villanova obviously has a lot more experience running deep in tournaments. In the end, though, it comes down to one thing for me - in crunch time in a tight game I would still rather trust Mark Few than Jay Wright. Gonzaga is heading to the final. Kansas against Kentucky is less difficult to judge. The teams are both ridiculously talented, but Kansas has been less volatile this year, and again I'd take Bill Self over John Calipari in a tough game situation - though not on a recruiting trip.
That leaves us Kansas and Gonzaga in the finals. My head feels like I should probably pick Kansas, but the heart wants what it wants. Gonzaga will be cutting down the nets this year. Just remember where you heard it first.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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