The 24th annual edition of Bradley’s Bracket Fiasco — yes, next year will mark our silver anniversary; time flies, huh? — begins with words to commit to memory: The RPI matters. Georgia not only made the NCAA tournament field but made it with room to spare, whereas Alabama, which beat the Bulldogs twice in seven days, wasn’t invited.
But enough about that. We here have a time-honored function, and that’s to pick a Final Four. Here’s mine: Ohio State, Duke, Purdue and Florida.
Regarding Georgia: As a No. 10 seed, the Bulldogs not only avoided having to play a game in Dayton just to get into the big bracket, but they find themselves in a position to do damage. Washington is a nice team — it has a great guard in Isaiah Thomas and some size underneath — but Georgia has good perimeter players and some big guys, too. (And Washington has to travel across country, which never helps. Although Friday’s game will begin at roughly 9:45 p.m. EDT.) Georgia should win Friday in Charlotte, and I see it …
Here I pause for effect.
Upsetting North Carolina in Round 2.
I know, I know. The Tar Heels flew past Duke to finish first in the ACC, and Georgia has spent the past two months losing to most everyone of consequence. But on talent such a game would be no mismatch, and the SEC East was much tougher than the ACC as a whole. I’ve waited a long time for the Bulldogs to play to their gifts, and now we’re down to last chances. Either Georgia makes some noise in Charlotte or it returns to Athens wondering what might have been.
That said, do I see the Bulldogs making a 1983-type Final Four surge? Uh, no. The Bulldogs don’t shoot well enough to unlock the Syracuse zone, and the East is also home to the nation’s best team (Ohio State) and its most improved (Kentucky). A Buckeyes-Wildcats Sweet 16 matchup would be tantamount to an Elite Eight game most years, and I think Ohio State wins it.
Duke is seeded No. 1 in the West, a geographical note that will matter only the second weekend since the Blue Devils likewise start in Charlotte. The only threat I see to Duke in this region is … well, nobody. San Diego State? No. Texas? No way. And UConn, the No. 3 seed, will do as other Big East champs have done — prove in the NCAA that the effort expended in winning a conference tournament wasn’t worth it.
I’m picking against Kansas in the Southwest for a scientific reason: I’m tired of picking Kansas and being wrong. The Jayhawks should reach the regional final, but I’m saying what-the-heck and going with Purdue to emerge here. Matt Painter: Good coach. JaJuan Johnson and E’Twaun Moore: Good players. And don’t the Boilermakers, who are entering yet another Big Dance without Robbie Hummel, deserve a break?
I view Pitt, which is seeded No. 1 in the Southeast, as the Kansas of the East: It’s a team that looks great up until the point where it wrecks your bracket. Florida lost the SEC tournament final to Kentucky, but the Gators got both a better seeding and a softer regional than the Wildcats. Florida has great guards, a nice big man in Vernon Macklin and a coach who knows the way. Make it four Final Fours for Billy Donovan as a coach. (And one, a while back, as a Providence shooter.)
More upsets? So many folks will take Belmont over Wisconsin that it will be no surprise when it happens. Also look for Old Dominion to take down Butler, last year’s takedown artist, and don’t be shocked when the Wofford Terriers take out BYU and Jimmer Fredette. And don’t be totally shocked if Morehead State gives Louisville a rough ride in Round 1. I’m too chicken to pick the Eagles over the Cardinals, but maybe you’re not.
As for the Final Four semis: Ohio State over Duke, Florida over Purdue. Those teams played for the title in 2007 in our fair city, the Gators winning. Not this time. Buckeyes as your 2011 national champions.
Those are my picks. I beseech you to submit yours by clicking here. (You must enter Bradley’s Bracket Fiasco online. We no longer accept mail entries.) Our winner will reap the customary Final Four sweatshirt, plus a 32GB iPad with WiFi and 3G capability; our second- and third-place finishers will receive a 32GB iPod Touch. And, by entering the Fiasco, you’ll automatically be eligible to win a $1 million prize in the national UPICKEM bracket competition.
And that’s it. The best three weeks on the sporting calendar are upon us. Please click the link. Please enter the Fiasco. Please join me as we make the descent into Madness.
By Mark Bradley
For a look at my completed (and completely crazy) bracket, click here.