Thursday, March 17, 2011

My Final Four Picks

There was a time in my life when the NCAA Tournament dominated all my waking moments.

I worked on sports copy desks for many years, and I can assure you that "March Madness" truly is insane. Think it's only crazy from the spectator's side? Wrong! I was never so exhausted — mentally as well as physically — as I was after working a night shift during the NCAA Tournament.

And, no matter who won the tournament, I was always glad when it was over.

After I left sports copy desks, I sort of left the madness behind, too. But I continued to pull for my alma mater, the University of Arkansas so I continued to be interested in the Razorbacks' fortunes. As their influence has waned, so has my interest — to the point where I no longer pay much attention to basketball — and, therefore, rarely pay much attention to th NCAA Tournament brackets.

However, for whatever reason, I have filled out a bracket this year. And I thought about posting it here — but it was just too big.

So I decided to simply summarize my predictions for you. Here goes:
  • East: A lot of people have No. 1 seed Ohio State winning it all, but I don't. Maybe it's a bias on my part — a little payback, perhaps, for Ohio State's victory over Arkansas in the Sugar Bowl. Anyway, I picked No. 4 seed Kentucky to beat the Buckeyes in the Sweet 16.

    I don't believe, though, that Kentucky's relatively young lineup will get past No. 2 seed North Carolina in the regional final.

  • Southwest: When I was younger, I didn't like to pick a No. 1 seed to make it to the Final Four. I guess it seemed too much like picking the favorite at the race track (a place I visited from time to time when I was in college and for awhile after graduation).

    Sure, there's always a reason — at least one and it's usually a good one, too — why the favorite is the favorite.

    There are a couple of regionals in this year's tournament in which I have concluded that the top seed really is the likely winner. I know that upsets happen in the tournament every year — and I have, actually, picked some upsets in this year's field — but I'm picking all the higher seeds in the Southwest to prevail.

    I think No. 4 seed Louisville might be a tough out in the Sweet 16 and No. 2 seed Notre Dame might cause some problems in the Elite Eight, but, when the dust settles, I think No. 1 seed Kansas will win the region.

  • Southeast: As I say, I have picked two No. 1 seeds to advance to this year's Final Four, and I have identified Kansas as one.

    But the winner of the Southeast won't be the other.

    I do pick No. 1 seed Pittsburgh to advance to the Elite Eight, although I was torn over whether to pick Pitt or No. 5 seed Kansas State in the Sweet 16. And I think Pitt could be tested in the second round against No. 8 seed Butler.

    No, I think Pitt will fall in the regional final against No. 2 seed Florida. The Gators may struggle at times. They will probably face No. 7 seed UCLA in the second round, and UCLA might be playing with a lot of emotion since this will be the Bruins' first NCAA Tournament since legendary coach John Wooden died last summer. But that emotion stuff is likely to be more effective against No. 10 seed Michigan State than it will be against Florida.

    The Gators might also be tested in the Sweet 16, where I think they will face No. 3 seed BYU. Some folks think Florida will face No. 6 seed St. John's or No. 11 seed Gonzaga in the Sweet 16, but I think BYU will get past either of those teams.

  • West: I don't know how this stacks up against what other people are predicting, but I've predicted the most "upsets" — i.e., the games in which the lower–seeded teams win — in this region.

    I think No. 9 seed Tennessee will defeat No. 8 seed Michigan in the first round. I also think No. 11 seed Missouri will beat No. 6 seed Cincinnati.

    But that's it. My days at the track taught me that favorites pay off more often than longshots do. So the rest of the games in the West should follow form, and I think No. 1 seed Duke will defeat No. 2 seed San Diego State in the regional final.
Which brings us to the Final Four.

All eyes may be on North Carolina and Duke as they square off on one side. That's only natural. They have a long rivalry, and they have been in many Final Fours between them, but they have competed in the same Final Four only once (1991), and they have never faced each other in one before.

This will be an historic chapter in their epic rivalry

The Kansas–Florida game may be overlooked — and I think that may well be to the benefit of the winner, Kansas. Not as much pressure.

Thus, after Duke emerges with what may be a hard–fought victory in its semifinal and Kansas defeats Florida, I predict that Kansas will win in the championship game on April 4.

Enjoy the games.

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