For our silver anniversary, I wanted to do something completely different. (Nattering nabobs might say, “Yeah? How about picking the right Final Four for a change?” I actually did that in 2004.) I thought about tabbing an all-Kentucky Final Four, but the four Bluegrass entries were stuffed into two regionals, so that’s out.
This week I reviewed the previous 24 years of Bradley’s Bracket Fiasco, and I was surprised to note that I had outpicked the committee, if only just. I’d gone 41-for-96 over the past almost-quarter-century; of the teams actually seeded No. 1, only 39 made it. Buoyed by this knowledge, what does the world’s dumbest man do?
For the first time ever, he seconds the committee’s emotion. He picks the four No. 1 seeds.
Doesn’t it bother me that three of the four will enter the NCAA tournament on one-game losing streaks? On the contrary. Nothing concentrates the mind of a good team like losing. Narrow victories don’t do it. If anything, narrow victories confer a sense of invulnerability, and in college basketball no team is invulnerable. Not even Kentucky.
The Wildcats will, however, be back in New Orleans soon enough. They’ll go through Cat-lanta to get there, and they own the Georgia Dome. Some will see UConn as a threat to the Big Blue in Round 2. Please. The Huskies have lost 13 games. They’re not beating beat Kentucky in Louisville. Duke is the weakest of the No. 2 seeds — though the Devils should reach the Sweet 16 — and the only other team in the South Regional I really like is No. 5 Wichita State. About which …
We see again that the NCAA committee can be tin-eared. Wichita State is the best mid-major in the field, and against whom will the Shockers open? VCU, a mid-major that last year won five tournament games just to reach the Final Four. A simple request: Please don’t pair Cinderella against Sleeping Beauty.
More mellifluous is the 5-versus-12 game offered up in the East Regional: The Harvard of the South against the actual Harvard. Vanderbilt will be riding high off its first SEC tournament title since the event was restarted in 1979, but Tommy Amaker’s Crimson took down Florida State in November. There’s your Upset Special.
A month ago, I’d have picked Ohio State to win the NCAA championship. Today I’m saying the Buckeyes won’t make the Round of 16. I like West Virginia, coached by the former Ohio schoolboy Bob Huggins, to outslug Ohio State. After winning its first ACC tournament, Florida State has to fight the impulse to get giddy, but I see the Seminoles reaching the East final before losing to Syracuse.
The West Regional is Michigan State’s to lose. I see Virginia, which limped to the regular season’s finish, using its pedestrian tempo and Pack-Line Defense to upend Florida, which doesn’t defend, and second-seeded Missouri, which has to play fast, before falling to Murray State in the Sweet 16. The Racers are the greatest Ohio Valley Conference team since Western Kentucky crashed the 1971 Final Four, but they won’t have enough to deny the men of Izzo.
I almost broke a personal rule — which I have, I must confess, broken before — and picked Kansas to reach the Final Four. The Jayhawks are no worse than the fifth-best team in the land, and in Thomas Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor they have two of the 20 best players. I just like North Carolina a bit more. (I assume John Henson’s wrist will have healed by the time the Tar Heels reach St. Louis.)
The Heels will beat Kansas to win the Midwest and beat Syracuse to advance to the title game against Kentucky. Everyone else is lining up to anoint the Wildcats — full disclosure: I’m a Kentucky grad — but Carolina can match the Wildcats in size and talent and will have a clear edge in depth. Kentucky plays much better defense, but the final eight minutes of the SEC championship against Vandy were reminiscent of a just-as-gifted Kentucky team’s 2010 NCAA loss to West Virginia.
Championship basketball comes down to making stops, yes, but the Heels can challenge Kentucky underneath and dare Doron Lamb to beat them from the perimeter. Florida State just beat Carolina by making jump shots, but FSU has more shooters than Kentucky. As good as these Wildcats are, I think they’re one shooter short. In a championship game for the ages, I like Carolina to be one point finer.
And there you have it. For the 25th consecutive year, I’ve left myself open to prognosticating ridicule. (If you’d care to see my entire bracket, it’s here.)
I invite you to venture online and enter the Bracket Fiasco, the first prize of which is a $1,000 Kroger gift card. (You’ll also be entered in the national UPICKEM sweepstakes, the winner of which banks a cool million.)
I also invite you to check back Monday on AJC.com at 12:30 p.m. for a special live video chat regarding the Fiasco, my picks and the tournament in general. And no, I can’t believe we’ve been doing this for a quarter-century, either. But I’m glad we have.
By Mark Bradley