The Ultimate NCAA Bracket Predictions

The Ultimate NCAA Bracket Predictions

I am putting myself in an incredibly vulnerable position by doing this. All my cards are on the table. Filling out an NCAA Tournament bracket is one of my favorite parts of the entire year. Then the first weekend of the tournament happens. And my bracket becomes my most-hated nemesis.

So here it is. The perfect bracket. Or perhaps the most embarrassing bracket come April 3rd. But that’s the fun of it all. No one knows what’s going to happen. No one could’ve predicted FGCU’s “Dunk City” run in 2013. No one (at least not I) could’ve predicted 15-seeded Middle Tennessee beating 2-seeded Michigan State in the first round last year. And no one could’ve predicted the NBA superstars that would come from Butler’s cinderella runs (Brad Stevens and Gordon Hayward). So here’s my picks. Out in the public eye. Vulnerable to all attacks.

East

Round of 64

Villanova over MSM
Wisconsin over Virginia Tech
UVA over UNC Wilmington
Florida over ETSU
SMU over PR/USC
Baylor New Mexico St.
Marquette over South Carolina
Duke over Troy

Everybody is always quick to pick the 12-over-5 upset. But that’s not happening in the East. Virginia boasts the number 1 ranked defense in the country that has stifled teams like Louisville, UNC, and Notre Dame. Marquette brings 5 players averaging over 10 points a game and a 43 3P% to a South Carolina team that went 3-6 in their final 9 games.

Round of 32

Villanova over Wisconsin
UVA over Florida
SMU over Baylor
Duke over Marquette

UVA and Florida hold the 1st and 4th ranked defenses in the nation, per kenpom.com, and similarly ranked offenses. The difference here is that Florida has only won one victory against top 25 teams while UVA has knocked off Louisville, UNC, and Notre Dame. Virginia’s experience in the superior ACC will be more than enough to eclipse the Gators. Baylor hovered around the top of the rankings for the first half of the season then lost 6 of their last 11. Meanwhile, SMU is riding a 16 game win streak that most recently steamrolled 16th-ranked Cincinnati.

Sweet 16

Villanova over UVA
SMU over Duke

There’s probably a lot of dropped jaws right about now. But I’m fine with that. After the conference championships, I had Duke winning it all. Then I thought about it and I realized something. I hate Duke. I’m going to have a lot more fun rooting against Duke with all my energy than dancing with the (Blue) Devils. Also, SMU has a high powered offense led by Semi Ojeleye and a host of capable rebounders. The Blue Devils luck will end and they will play down to their regular season standard.

Elite 8

Villanova over SMU

Villanova is filled with veteran players who have already proven they can win a championship. Jay Wright knows exactly what to do to squash an exciting SMU team.

West

Round of 64

Gonzaga over South Dakota State
Northwest over Vanderbilt
Notre Dame over Princeton
West Virginia over Bucknell
Xavier over Maryland
FSU over FGCU
Saint Mary’s over VCU
Arizona over North Dakota

The West region is the region I am most interested in. It is filled with teams that have as high a ceiling as possible but also a very low floor. I could realistically see Gonzaga, Notre Dame, West Virginia, Florida State, and Arizona making it to the finals. I could also see each one of them getting upset early. I only have one seeded upset picked here: Xavier over Maryland. Xavier has obviously struggled tremendously since losing their star player, Edmond Sumner, but Maryland has all but fallen off recently. That combined with Xavier being from a better conference and Xavier dominating on the boards will push Xavier over the edge.

Round of 32

Gonzaga over Northwestern
West Virginia over Notre Dame
FSU over Xavier
Arizona over Saint Mary’s

West Virginia over Notre Dame will be an absolute battle. Easily two of my favorite teams to watch. Bob Huggins’ “Press” Virginia will clash with Bonzie Colson and the three-point-slinging Fighting Irish. Ultimately, it will be West Virginia’s nation-leading ability to force turnovers that’ll give them the edge.

Sweet 16

Gonzaga over West Virginia
FSU over Arizona

When Florida State is on, they are on. Basically unbeatable. Dwayne Bacon and the boys’ rim-attacking offense and athletic defense has tossed L’s at Duke, Louisville, Notre Dame, Florida, Virginia, Minnesota, and Miami. Arizona is coming in hot off a Pac-12 championship, but their defense lets up a lot of points against high-tempo offenses. I predict Florida State’s athleticism will be more than Arizona’s offense can handle.

Elite 8

Gonzaga over FSU

When Florida State is off, they are off. Basically terrible. They get blown out by Pitt and Georgia Tech by 20 points. While I think the Noles are poised to make a run for a couple games, I don’t see their momentum continuing on through a superior Gonzaga team. Gonzaga averages 85 points per game while only letting their opponents get about 60. They’ve proven they can run with the best of them, beating Arizona, Florida, Iowa State, and a respectable Saint Mary’s. This year’s Zags are no joke.

Midwest

Round of 64

Kansas over NC/UD
Miami over Michigan State
Iowa State over Nevada
Purdue over Vermont
URI over Creighton
Oregon over Iona
Oklahoma State over Michigan
Louisville over Jacksonville State

The Midwest region is undoubtedly the weakest of the four, in my opinion. But there are some interesting matchups. A down-year Michigan State will be handed its second straight first round loss. Nevada is certainly a good team with a very powerful offense. Their 3-point shooting ability is more than enough to make them prime for an upset. However, Big 12 champions Iowa State has some three point shooters of their own who can put Nevada to rest. Oklahoma State vs. Michigan is probably the first round game I am looking forward to the most. Both are incredibly talented offensively, holding the 1st and 5th most efficient offenses per KenPom. Michigan is coming out of a miraculous Big 10 tournament run. And Oklahoma State won 11 of 12 coming to end the regular season.

Round of 32

Kansas over Miami
Purdue over Iowa State
URI over Oregon
Louisville over Oklahoma State

The big upset here is obviously URI over Oregon. URI has a couple elite scorers in EC Matthews and Hassan Martin. On top of that they possess one of the most stout defenses in the nation. Oregon is prime for an upset after losing Chris Boucher. I could see Oklahoma State beating Louisville but I have to go with the better team there. Purdue has a top-tier defense and a scoring savant in Caleb Swanigan who can put them over the edge against the Cyclones.

Sweet 16

Kansas over Purdue
Louisville over URI

The sun will set on the Rams of Rhode Island’s magical run against the Cardinals. While URI’s defense is good, it is not good enough to stop Donovan Mitchell and they have no chance rebounding against Louisville’s size.

Elite 8

Kansas over Louisville

Losing early in the Big 12 championship might prove advantageous for Kansas. It gives them plenty of time to sort out their off-court distractions and get ready to play some ball. Josh Jackson is back and nobody in the Midwest should be able to stop the Jayhawks from going to Glendale.

South

Round of 64

UNC over Texas Southern
Arkansas over Seton Hall
Middle Tennessee over Minnesota
Butler over Winthrop
KSU over Cincinnati
UCLA over Kent State
Wichita State over Dayton
Kentucky over Northern Kentucky

Here you’ll find the strongest Region in the tournament. Every path to Glendale is overgrown with upsets and powerhouses. UNC, Kentucky, and UCLA are all reasonable picks to win it all. Middle Tennessee is just a year removed from their stunning upset against 2-seeded Michigan State. They are back and they are even better than last year. Minnesota will have a short-lived tournament run. It’s no secret that Wichita State is grossly underseeded. It’s just a shame that they will take out Dayton, who would otherwise be poised to do some damage in the later rounds.

Round of 32

UNC over Arkansas
Middle Tennessee over Butler
UCLA over KSU
Kentucky over Wichita State

But Butler beat Villanova twice! They beat Arizona! Brad Stevens! I know. And they also lost to Indiana State, Providence, Georgetown, St. John’s, and a struggling Xavier. Butler plays down to their competition. It will take more than a half-hearted effort to take down Middle Tennessee, who doesn’t foul or give up turnovers. This year’s Butler team will not be reminiscent of the Bulldogs of yore. It’s a shame Wichita State is playing Kentucky second round. Because I’d probably take them over most anyone else. But Kentucky is too good.

Sweet 16

UNC over Middle Tennessee
Kentucky over UCLA

UCLA is certainly an exciting team. And Lonzo Ball may or may not be better than Michael Jordan (but his dad definitely is!). But Kentucky is the better team. The Wildcats allowed their opponents less than 70 points per game in the SEC tournament and everybody knows they can score. Sorry, LaVar.

Elite 8

Kentucky over UNC

Two elite teams going head to head. UNC looking to get to the championship game for the second year in a row. Calipari looking to prove he can win it all with a handful of 18-year-old kids yet again. What separates it for me is the defense. According to KenPom, Kentucky has the 10th best defense and UNC has the 24th. What’s even more impressive is that Kentucky is just starting to play to their potential.

Final Four

Villanova over Gonzaga
Kentucky over Kansas

Gonzaga is a great story. A perennially great basketball team finally has the squad to pull it off. While this is certainly Gonzaga’s best team yet, I don’t think they can beat Villanova. Villanova is a team full of upperclassmen who haven’t just been to their tournament before—they’ve won it all! Villanova is a proven team against a relatively unproven Gonzaga. Nova will get a chance to repeat. Kansas is a team that has proven to be beatable against great teams, especially when they have to go up against a good defense. Kansas edged out Kentucky earlier on in the season. However, Kentucky’s freshmen have had a chance to develop and are just now finding their element. Ultimately, the more talented team wins here.

Championship

Kentucky over Villanova

Going into the season, everybody knew Duke and Kentucky had the most talented rosters. The only question was whether the freshman could develop in time for it to matter. Calipari has managed to turn Malik Monk, De’Aaron Fox, and Bam Adebayo into a few monsters. Kentucky is the most well-rounded team in the tournament and their peak is only on the horizon.

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