Sean Miller will break his Final Four drought at Arizona … and then win it all.
Before we dive into my picks, as usual, I will look back at how poorly last season’s were, if only to remind you to do the opposite of what I suggest. Building a bracket is a far different skill than picking a winning one after all. And, wait a second … this national championship pick looks awfully familiar.
Yeah, there’s a good chance I might not be all that popular in the Sonoran Desert in the near future.
As for last year’s results, I picked 42 winners correctly out of 67 games, However, I only got one Final Four team correct, the national champions from North Carolina, who I had losing in the final to the Arizona Wildcats. Let’s see if I can manage to do better this time around, starting in the upper left hand corner of your bracket, in the South.
In my post-release reaction post, I wrote that the top-seeded Virginia Cavaliers had a fairly easy path to San Antonio, at least based on how the region’s top four seeds fell on the committee’s seed list. However, the presence of Arizona, who I had pegged as the second No. 3 seed in my own final projection, and Kentucky, the strongest five seed, makes the Cavaliers’ half of the bracket rather difficult. And that’s why I don’t have Virginia going all that far.
While I only picked seven First Round upsets in this bracket, I did select two double-digit Sweet Sixteen squads. One is here, the dangerous champions of the Missouri Valley, the Loyola-Chicago Ramblers, a strong offensive and defensive squad that won’t be intimidated by either Miami or potential Second Round opponent Tennessee after winning at Florida in December.
Heading to Atlanta: 1. Virginia, 4. Arizona (in a close one over Kentucky), 11. Loyola of Chicago, 2. Cincinnati
Regional final: Arizona over Cincinnati. Even though the Bearcats’ offense is better than it’s been, the Wildcats should be able to outscore them.
This was the region I had the most difficulty picking, as Xavier is clearly the weakest No. 1, Gonzaga isn’t anywhere near the force it was last season, Michigan joins the Bulldogs in having had a long layoff thanks to an early conference tournament (though that didn’t hurt the Zags in 2017) and North Carolina has had moments of struggle during its title defense.
Earning the right to lose to Xavier: Texas Southern
First Round winners: 1. Xavier, 9. Florida State (Michael Porter Jr.’s cameo for shorthanded Missouri is a short one), 5. Ohio State, 4. Gonzaga, 6. Houston, 3. Michigan, 7. Texas A&M, 2. North Carolina
Heading to LA: 1. Xavier (consecutive Round of 32 wins in a row over FSU under very different circumstances), 4. Gonzaga (eager to repeat their 27-point rout of the Buckeyes on Thanksgiving), 3. Michigan, 2. North Carolina
Regional final: Michigan ends UNC’s title defense by reversing their 86-71 loss in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge in the regional semis, then tops Xavier to earn a trip to the Alamodome.
There are a few potential First Round upsets I didn’t feel comfortable actually picking here, with Murray State‘s draw of West Virginia looking particularly unfortunate. I did pick a very minor shock, at least based on how the team finished the season, in the Sweet Sixteen.
Heading to Boston: 1. Villanova, 5. West Virginia (the Mountaineers seem a bit more defensively focused than this season’s Shockers), 3. Texas Tech, 2. Purdue
Regional final: Villanova reaches its second Final Four in three seasons (and second ever out of Boston) by defeating … Texas Tech
With this tournament being bracketed with an eye on keeping the top four seed lines balanced while simultaneously attempting to keep as many teams as possible close to home, the Midwest is always in position to become the “Bracket of Death.” Blame its central location, an easy spot to stash teams whose slots in their natural regions are blocked by the presence of conference rivals or teams ranked a tad bit higher in the seed list.
First Round winners: 1. Kansas, 9. N.C. State (Yup. I picked three of four No. 9 seeds to win. I’m a real risk-taker.), 12. New Mexico State, 4. Auburn, 11. Arizona State (I don’t trust TCU, who didn’t beat as many quality opponents as several teams seeded below them.), 3. Michigan State, 7. Rhode Island, 2. Duke
Heading to Omaha: 1. Kansas, 12. New Mexico State (The Aggies have a real chance to surprise with both Clemson and Auburn missing key performers in Donte Grantham and Anfernee McLemore.), 3. Michigan State, 2. Duke
Regional final: Kansas does in Omaha what it could not do in Kansas City one year ago, reach the Final Four. I’m picking Duke as the Jayhawks’ opponent, but it could just as easily be Michigan State. That was the single most difficult winner to choose in this whole exercise.
The Final Four
National semifinals: Arizona over Michigan and Kansas over Villanova
National championship: Arizona over Kansas
Will the second time be the charm for picking the Wildcats as national champs? You’re probably better off taking the Jayhawks with my recent track record!