By Chris Carlson – The best 3 weeks on the sports calendar is upon us as the NCAA Tournament officially begins. Which team wins the whole thing in early April depends on guard play, coaching, depth, and as always a bit of luck. Your best bet is to pick one minor-to-sizable upset in each of the regions so that way if it happens great if it doesn’t happen, you’re brackets not completely screwed.
The field is about as wide-open as it gets and it feels like anywhere from 6 to 8, maybe even 10 teams can win it all. Will Gonzaga take the next step and get over the championship hump? Who will be the high seed to bust a bracket in the 1st round or qualify for Sweet 16? Can the Big Ten finally live up to being the toughest conference top to bottom and actually crown a champion? These are the 16 programs that will be left standing on Monday morning according to this so-called scribe.
On paper it would appear that Baylor has the most difficult path to the Final Four with Kentucky, Purdue and UCLA, the Bruins have the most experience. Even a scrappy Marquette squad if they get by UNC could possibly pull off the upset. Can the Bears overcome losing a key piece under the basket as well as LJ Cryer who still hasn’t played a game since February? Purdue has all the right pedigree but their defense is lackluster. Kentucky and the Bruins have the most talent.
STILL DANCING: #1 Baylor, #2 Kentucky, #3 Purdue, #4 UCLA
DARKHORSE: #9 Marquette
1ST ROUND UPSET: #11 Virginia Tech
Last year many experts thought the Zags would finally cut down the nets but Baylor had other plans. With the lack of a far and away great team maybe this is actually Gonzaga’s best chance. One can make a strong argument the Zags have the toughest road. Duke, Texas Tech, and either Arkansas or UConn won’t be a walk in the park. The Blue Devils are super talented and so young, the Red Raiders and the Razorbacks can defend no doubt but can they knock down enough shots?
STILL DANCING: #1 Gonzaga, #2 Duke, #3 Texas Tech, #5 UConn
DARKHORSE: #4 Arkansas
1ST ROUND UPSET: #11 Rutgers/Notre Dame
The Arizona Wildcats are deep and as talented as anyone in the entire nation. Villanova has the coach and the system but will the Wildcats stumble in the 2nd round? Illinois is under the radar because of their legit big man and a few capable vet scorers. Tennessee finished the season very strong and we can’t count out Loyola Chicago, Michigan, or Houston.
STILL DANCING: #1 Arizona, #2 Villanova, #4 Illinois, #11 Michigan.
DARKHORSE: #11 Michigan
1ST ROUND UPSET: #10 Loyola Chicago
The Jayhawks are in a familiar seed once again but there are a few teams capable of dethroning Kansas. Can Auburn find the groove that had like a month ago? Wisconsin, Providence, and Iowa are very dangerous opponents and have what it takes. South Dakota State, Creighton, and even Richmond could be the surprise Sweet 16 team here.
STILL DANCING: #2 Auburn, #3 Wisconsin, #4 Providence, #9 Creighton.
DARKHORSE: #5 Iowa
1ST ROUND UPSET: South Dakota State
Big Dance Nuggets
-Keep in mind the 12 seeds are a combined 17-27 in the last decade or so.
-The recent trend over the last 5-7 years suggests a team seeded at 11, 12, 13, or 14 will qualify for the Sweet 16.
-Top-3 seeds have won the NCAA championship 20 of the last 21 titles.
-Since Florida repeated 15 years ago no defending champ has advanced past the Sweet 16.
-Further on that nugget the past 4 champions have been eliminated by the 2nd round.
Written by Chris Carlson Host of The College Ball Show Podcast available at blogtalkradio.com/ropeadoperadio & Follow on Twitter @RopeADopeRadio