Midwest Bracket – Kansas shouldn’t have any trouble getting to the Sweet 16. It gets a little tricky after that. A potential matchup with Michigan State could be trouble for the Jayhawks. Sure, the Big Ten is a little overrated. But Michigan State year in and year out is one of the best tournament teams. Getting to five Final Fours in 10 years proves Tom Izzo can coach with the best of them. If you’re looking for a spot to oust Kansas, this could be it. And don’t just assume Maryland will walk all over Houston. The Cougars have it a hot streak with four straight wins, including one against Memphis and UTEP.
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West Bracket – With so many weapons on the perimeter and inside, Syracuse is the talk of this bracket. But be mindful of UTEP, which has an excellent inside-out combo with Derrick Caracter and Randy Culpepper. Caracter (13.8 ppg, 8 reb) is a new man since transferring from Louisville. The Miners play a talented Butler team. But the Bulldogs may lack the inside strength to last long in the tournament. Not much has been said or written about Gonzaga. But this isn’t a classic Gonzaga team, which could make them dangerous. Assuming they can hold off Florida State, the Zags will give Syracuse all it can handle. But the ‘Cuse will survive and advance.
Xavier and BYU are two more non-BCS schools that could wreck a bracket. The Musketeers’ backcourt of Jordan Crawford and Terrell Holloway (Hempstead) will cause serious problems for opponents. BYU’s Jimmer Fredette has gotten little national recognition despite two 40-point plus games this year. The big upset here will be BYU knocking off Kansas State in the second round. The Cougars won’t have enough to get past Xavier in the Sweet 16.
East Bracket – The top half of the east should be all Kentucky. The Wildcats have the best player in the country in John Wall and four other starters who are just as dangerous. Who the Wildcats will see in the second round is a mystery. Both Texas, which went 7-9 over its last 16 games and Wake Forest, who lost five of their last six, have been terrible. You may have to flip a coin for that one. The No.12 vs. No.5 matchup between Cornell and Temple has stirred much debate. Many are taking Cornell, because of a marvelous 27-3 mark and a close loss to Kansas. Temple got smacked around by Kansas. Keep in mind it was only one game. Don’t go crazy over one great regular season win or bad regular season loss. Many people are going to take Cornell because of that. I’m sticking with Temple (the Owls are 4th in the country in scoring defense – 56 points per) because the Owls can defend the perimeter and the paint. Look for the Owls to get past Wisconsin in round 2 and face Kentucky in the Sweet 16.
The bottom half of the east will feature a West Virginia team that is hell-bent on proving it should’ve been a No.1. The thought here is that the Mountaineers will meet Marquette in the Sweet 16. Missouri will probably top Clemson, but Tigers will get run over by Bob Huggins’ crew in the second round. And then the Mountaineers will hit the “Wall” against Kentucky.
South Bracket – This is the toughest bracket to figure. Duke is the weakest of the No.1 seeds, while Villanova generously received the No.2 seed. Anything can happen here. We’ll start with the bottom half. Villanova has the guards –Scottie Reynolds, Corey Fisher, Corey Stokes– to beat any team in the tournament. That alone will get them to the Sweet 16. If Taylor King is back to normal and Reggie Redding is shooting the ball with authority, look for Villanova to beat Baylor in the Sweet 16. Sorry Notre Dame, but the ride won’t last long. Old Dominion will provide one of the two upset specials in this bracket.
In the top half of the bracket, Duke will struggle against Louisville, but will survive. After that it will be smooth sailing until the Sweet 16 for the Blue Devils, who struggle to get by a tough-minded Texas A&M team. Villanova will prevail in a great Elite 8 matchup.
FINAL FOUR – Ohio State, Syracuse, Kentucky, Villanova
Champion - Kentucky