It’s the most wonderful time of the sports year.

Three weeks of unparalleled competition that is as unpredictable as any other. The field is wide open this year, which adds to the madness (we may even see a number one-seed fall…but probably not). Pick your upsets wisely, don’t be too much of a homer, and if you need to flip a coin, we won’t judge you. Here is my breakdown of this year’s bracket.

 

Likes

 

Potential Sweet 16 matchups

The committee said “why wait until the Final Four to display the best matchups?” on this bracket. Right off the bat, I see a top-level Sweet 16 matchup in each region. In the south, Virginia vs. Arizona/Kentucky. The Cavaliers have the best defense in the country and either Wildcat team would provide a fantastic game.

Out west, Michigan vs. UNC is a brand-name contest. No team is hotter than Michigan, and the Tarheels look to defend their title.

Many picked Michigan State and Duke as the title game participants—in this bracket, they’d meet in the Sweet 16. Two of the most talented teams in the country, the Blue Devils bested Sparty early in the regular season.

And in the east, it’s the matchup of the guards—Jevon Carter and Daxter Miles Jr. will give Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges all they can handle should they meet in the tournament—the Mountaineers are my sleeper this year.

 

Mid-major runs

Everyone in your bracket pool is going to pick a mid-major to go on a run this weekend—you win your pool by picking the right one. Lucky for you, there are plenty of options this year. Davidson is a good place to start—winners of eight of their last nine (save a wild triple-overtime loss to Saint Bonaventure), Davidson is hot, and will have the opportunity to beat another “Wildcat” team in Kentucky or Arizona.

Staying in the south, don’t overlook the Ramblers of Loyola—this is a team that is only a 2.5 underdog to Miami, and many are confidently picking them to win this one. I’ll take it a step further and say the Ramblers have a chance to reach the Sweet 16. It would be a fantastic defensive battle against the Volunteers, but I like the fire behind the Ramblers. Mark it down.

 

Balance of the regions

Yes, there are better regions than others—I believe the Midwest is the most top-heavy region, and if you had to pick a “weakest” the general consensus has been that Villanova has the easiest road to the Final Four. But each region has a slew of legitimate title contenders, and each one-seed shouldn’t dare look past the winner of their respective eight-seed or nine-seed matchup. It’s one of the more wide-open tournaments in recent memory.

 

How wrong I’ll be about all this

Of course this is under the “Likes” column—that’s the beauty of the tournament. The odds of a perfect bracket are 1 in 9,223,372,036,854,775,808. According to NCAA.com, these odds are so miniscule “that many mathematicians differ on the actual estimation of the odds.” Should be fun.

 

Dislikes

 

The Selection Show

If it’s not broke, don’t fix it.

What was wrong with the one hour show with Greg Gumbel sitting in studio with Clark Kellogg and Seth Davis, revealing the regions one by one with brief analysis, and then we’re ready to go? The whole alphabetical announcement of teams didn’t make sense to me, and it took away from the bubble team anticipation effect. Not to mention the problems with the audio. It was a fun experiment, but let’s go back to the old way. Please.

 

Bubble Teams

Biggest gripe about the bracket right here.

I fully understand that you’re placed in the NCAA tournament based on your body of work—but Oklahoma and Arizona State are two teams I would have excluded in favor of Notre Dame and USC. Oklahoma has the resume with six wins over top 35-RPI and a 14-2 start, but those stats pale in comparison to the fact that the Sooners didn’t win on the road in 2018. You don’t get home games in the tournament. They are in solely because the NCAA couldn’t resist the Trae Young effect (no, I don’t hate him, he can certainly play ball, I just don’t think his team is that good).

Arizona State is another team that started hot, and melted down late in the year—but I would argue that they have an even worse case than Oklahoma—they finished ninth in the Pac-12—a far inferior conference to the Big 12.

Three Pac-12 teams made the tournament and USC, second in the regular season and in the conference tournament, was one of the omissions. No, they don’t have the strongest wins, which is evidently the reason they were withheld, but they were Last-Four-In worthy.

And the curious case of Notre Dame. With Bonzie Colson and Matt Ferrell healthy for the whole season, we’re not having this discussion. But they were the first team left out of the field. Had Davidson not lost, we also wouldn’t be having this discussion. I know they were 2-9 in quad-1 games, but the Irish belonged in the field.

We’ll move on for now, but another team I thought should have been excluded was Alabama—15 losses is the most by an at-large bid. Ever. But they did what they had to in the conference tournament so power to them.

 

Upset Picks

 

12. South Dakota State over 5. Ohio State

The Dauminator.

This will be a popular pick for the 5-12 upsets, and for good reason. Mike Daum is averaging a double-double, and could be a matchup problem for the Buckeyes. The 5th seed is 102-50 all-time against the 12th seed, so take that as you will. But either way, look for a good matchup in this one.

 

11. UCLA/St. Bon over 6. Florida

A team from the First Four matchups has gone on to win at least one game in the tournament since the First Four’s inception in 2011, including a La Salle Sweet 16 appearance and a Final Four run from VCU. This would be another solid upset pick. Florida is streaky, and both the Bonnies and the Bruins have the guard play to cause the upset.

 

12. New Mexico State over 5. Clemson

New Mexico State is another trendy pick—Clemson is 7-6 without senior Donte Grantham, and I think the Aggies get it done here. But why stop there? The Auburn Tigers have lost four out of six, and completely laid down in the SEC tournament. I can see New Mexico State get a shot at Kansas in the Sweet 16.

 

14. SFA over 3. Texas Tech

My big upset prediction. I really don’t have much justification for this one, kind of taking a flyer. SFA has been a tough out in tournaments’ past, and the Red Raiders have faltered down the stretch. We don’t know what will happen over the course of the next week; your bracket may be busted by the fourth game.

So take your sick days this Thursday and Friday, set up as many TVs as needed, and watch with your friends.

And above all else, embrace the Madness.

 

 

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