It's that time of year again. The time for the unexpected. The time for upsets. The time for MADNESS. This year is a little different than most, because there is a clear favorite. The University of Kentucky's starting 5 and bench could probably be separate teams and end up playing each other for the national title. That's how good this team is. They've looked like losing a game maybe once this entire season.
With that being said, let's get into my guide for choosing your picks.
1. You MUST pick Kentucky to win it all.
I don't care if you have them playing North Florida in the finals. Just pick them to win it all. They aren't losing. All you lovers of the Cinderella story are going to be disappointed. There isn't nearly the level of parity there was last year. This is a chalk type of year, with several dominant teams. If you're feeling frisky, maybe you can pick Kentucky to lose in the Elite 8 (only if you have them matching up with Notre Dame), or losing in the title game. Your main bracket - if you fill out more than one - must have Kentucky penned in as champ.
2. At least one double digit seed will make the Sweet 16, and at least two 12 seeds will win in the round of 64
My most likely candidates to make it to Sweet 16 as a double digit seed are (in order of likeliness): 12. Stephen F. Austin, 10. Davidson 11. Texas, 13. Valparaiso, 12. Buffalo 13. Eastern Washington
SFA has a very favorable draw, and they have experience. They dominate their conference as well. Davidson will more than likely beat an overseeded Iowa team, and will face Gonzaga in the round of 32, who are always upset candidates. Texas is a battle-tested team from the Big 12, a conference where every team seemed to knock each other down a little bit. Valparaiso faces an inexperienced but good Maryland team in the round of 64, so anything can happen there. If you watched "I Hate Christian Laettner" on ESPN the other night, you will recognize the name Bobby Hurley. Hurley, one of Laettner's running mates at Duke, is the current head coach of Buffalo. He's experienced in the tournament, and his team is playing well. Eastern Washington has the nation's leading scorer and faces an upset-prone Georgetown team who are not deserving of a 4 seed.
3. The selection committee LOVES Louisville
Louisville is a 4 seed, which in my opinion, may be a little generous. What's even more generous than their seeding is their draw. The teams seeding above them in their region have very little tournament experience. 3 seed Oklahoma is overseeded. Virginia, once number 2 in the nation, couldn't even make the top seed line due to their recent form. Villanova hasn't had a lot of tests since it plays in the Big East, which is a shell of its former self. You have to like Rick Pitino in the postseason with a dominant big man like Montrezl Harrell on his team. There always seems to be some kid for Pitino's teams who shows up in March for the sole purpose of knocking down an inordinate number of threes. Given this knowledge, I personally have Louisville going all the way to the finals.
4. Speaking of Oklahoma....
If you can explain why Oklahoma is a 3 seed and Texas is an 11 seed I'd love to hear that explanation. Yes, Oklahoma beat Texas twice. Yes, they should be seeded higher than Texas. But 3? They lost to every other decent team in their conference, and Big East cellar dwellers Creighton. I'm thinking like 7-8 seed for them. I seriously like UAlbany's chances at the upset in the round of 64. This is not just a homer pick for the America East champs. They have senior leadership and experience in close games. There isn't really anything about Oklahoma that makes me confident in them. I'm not advising to bet against them in the round of 64, but don't be afraid to. I'm guaranteeing a loss for them in the round of 32 to Providence. By the way, Binghamton played Providence very close for a good stretch of their game against the Friars. Albany owned Binghamton, so it's not crazy to say Albany got about as favorable of a draw as they possibly could have.
5. Once again, watch out for Wichita
Wichita lost 4 games this year, which is considered a bad year based on their seeding. 7 seed? Really? Especially considering this team made a final four run last year, it's surprising to see such a poor seeding for them. I'm putting KU on upset alert in the round of 32 against the Shockers.
6. Iowa State is a contender
Iowa State was a team on the rise last year, until their star player Georges Niang broke his foot in the round of 64 matchup. They were a final four pick for me last year, and I'm sticking with it this year. They aren't the best road team. There's no statistical backing to this pick. It's just a hunch I have. They are the Big 12 champs, and have outside scoring that could pose matchup issues with teams on their side of the bracket that crash the rim, such as Duke.
7. Coastal Carolina may give Wisconsin a run
I'm not ready to pick a 16 seed yet, but this smells like a potential upset. The potential is very small, but it's there. Wisconsin rises and falls with Frank Kaminsky. If he is off, there's trouble. They've been in the tourney before, and have a head coach with postseason experience in Cliff Ellis. I'll give CC a 5% chance of an upset. Wisconsin won't be up by more than 8 at halftime.
8. An ACC team will make a run
Of course, there are chalk teams like Duke, Virginia, and Notre Dame poised to make a run. However, don't forget about UNC, Louisville (like I mentioned above), or NC State. UNC is flying high right now. It's also hard to go against teams that generally perform well in March. UNC fits this category. NC State didn't perform as well as they would've hoped in the regular season, but they can make up for it now. They are a veteran-laden team that will be hungry for a chance at glory. I don't include Maryland in this category because I don't feel they are ready for a run. They don't do anything particularly well and are led exclusively by Melo Trimble, a freshman. One ACC team will make the Final Four
9. Arizona is the second best team in the Tournament
They lost 3 games by an average of 3 points. One of those games was a rivalry game on the road. I give them a mulligan on that loss. They went undefeated at home and will play in the West region during the tournament. If any team can compete athletically with Kentucky it's the Wildcats. Stanley Johnson, Kaleb Tarczewski, T.J. McConnell, and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson are all pro-quality players. Pacific teams never seem to get love in March, but this is a team that should scare Kentucky if they face them in the Final Four. I think they deserved a number 1 seed. Any team that can shoot is a problem, and they rank 6th in the nation in FG percentage. Shooting is what gets teams through March. Don't sleep on the Wildcats.
10. Tom Izzo is the legend of March
If I'm picking a coach to lead my team in March, it's Tom Izzo. Pitino might be the best at consistently leading teams through the gauntlet of March, but Izzo always seems to get the most out of his players when it counts. I don't know the name of one Michigan State player off the top of my head, but I can assure you most basketball fans will by the time March is over. UConn won the whole thing last year as a 7 seed last year, so it wouldn't be unheard of. MSU took some lumps early in the season. Izzo usually turns this into motivation for his teams. The Spartans nearly stole the Big 10 title from the conference juggernaut, Wisconsin. If that doesn't say something about what Izzo can get out of his players in March, I don't know what does.
I've been filling out brackets for as long as I can remember, so I hope my knowledge and experience shows with this guide. Best of luck everyone.