NCAA Tournament Predictions from Your BC Bracketologists

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Bet it all on Mount Saint Mary's!

The brackets are set, the fans are overwhelming Orbitz, and @LonghornRdTrip is in line at an Austin clinic selling plasma to pay for a Milwaukee hotel. In other words, MARCH MADNESS IS HERE. (I haven't decided what illness I'm using to work from home on Thursday & Friday, but the leader in the clubhouse is some form of aggressively communicable STD.) Most readers of this site are bigger football fans than basketball, but for me this weekend is my favorite sports weekend of the year. I get 96 hours of high-level college basketball, to which I react like Jeff Portnoy near an ox in the jungle.

If I were a benevolent dictator of the US - and believe me, I'm working on it - I'd declare these 4 days a national holiday. 96 hours of Verne Lundquist yelling 'Oh my!' and Bill Raftery's patented 'ONIONS!' blaring across my TV? 96 hours of Marv Albert & Steve Kerr classing up the college broadcast? YES PLEASE.

The BC Basketball Illuminati have gathered to give a few thoughts and wild-ass predictions for the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament. Use them wisely; as much as I love this sport, predicting a bracket is generally an exercise in futility. It's easy to become enamored of a 13 seed that seems ripe for a run to an Elite Eight, only to be run out of the gym in their first game. Without further ado, here you go.

WEST REGION:

Favored Team:

JC25: Arizona has found life without Brandon Ashley to be more difficult than its season's beginning, but I still like the Wildcats to emerge unscathed from this region. Nick Johnson has quietly developed into a collegiate All-American, and Arizona's lengthy frontcourt gives lots of teams fits.

BWG: Arizona. I like their path to the Final Four if they can get past a potential 3rd round game against Oklahoma State.

Tjarks: Arizona. They have been one of the best teams all season and I see no reason to pick against them when they are going to have a huge home-court advantage out West.

Scipio: Arizona. Oklahoma State could be problematic, particularly as Marcus Smart has refined his game post suspension. Still, Arizona has such a clear path.


Darkhorse Team:

JC25: I'm a big San Diego State fan, a team that simply needs to avoid New Mexico to have a good chance of winning this year. Xavier Thames looks like a guy tailor-made for a "One Shining Moment" moment, and Winston Shepard is an ace wing defender. But the Aztecs couldn't beat Arizona at home earlier in the year, so I don't trust them to do it on a neutral court.

BWG: Oklahoma State. Marcus Smart seems like he’s mostly back on the right side of the crazy talented/flopping asshole(there’s a mental image) scale, and their play over the past 3 weeks has been back to what people expected in November.

Tjarks: Baylor. Kenny Chery is the type of PG who can carry an offense in spite of their coach. As long as Chery is healthy and out of foul trouble, he will get Austin and Jefferson good shots and those two guys are too big for the vast majority of college front-courts. 

Scipio: Baylor. As much as it pains me to type. More precisely, I like the winner of Baylor - Nebraska. They're set for a nice run with a next round match-up against a Creighton team that can't defend and a Wiscy 2 seed that's more fundamental than fantastic.

Upset Candidate:

JC25: Oklahoma looks ripe for the 5-12 upset. The Bison have a trio of 6' 7"+ seniors to match-up with Oklahoma's smallish frontcourt. Both teams are good offensively, with the Sooners preferring a sprint contest while the Bison want to grind out the clock. If the latter imposes its will, I smell a North Dakota State win. In the Round of 32, I like the Baylor-Nebraska winner to knock off Creighton.

BWG: Oregon vs. BYU.

Tjarks: Creighton. I don't like teams who don't protect the rim. Creighton lost their center from last season and never replaced him. A team that plays 5-out will put up a bunch of stats, but they are very vulnerable on defense.

Scipio: North Dakota State over Oklahoma. Bad draw for the Sooners if NDSU keeps it in the 60s.

Most Intriguing 2nd round match-up:

JC25: I'm looking forward to a talented but enigmatic Baylor bunch taking on a plucky Nebraska squad. The Cornhuskers have a lot of heart but look more like a smoke, mirrors, and defense sort of team. If I'm Baylor and can get by Nebraska, I'm not terrified of a 2-seed Wisconsin and a 3-seed Creighton, either.

BWG: Baylor vs. Nebraska. All things being equal Baylor should win this handily, but Scott Drew means Baylor’s gonna Baylor at some point. If Baylor wins, I fully expect Doug McDermott to score 80 against Baylor’s 1-3-1 zone in the 3rd round.

Tjarks: Oklahoma State vs. Gonzaga. Gonzaga has two huge big men who can bang you inside and a bunch of small, unathletic perimeter players (including John Stockton's son) while OSU has a bunch of big, athletic wings and no big men whatsoever. Will be interesting to see whose style of play prevails.

Scipio: I refuse to call the first round the second round because of the stupid play-in games. But the most intriguing game is Baylor-Nebraska.


MIDWEST REGION:

Favored Team:

JC25: As a Kentucky fan, it hurts me to write this, but Louisville is my pick out of the Midwest. I just can't see a 40-0 Shocker of a season, and the Cardinals are playing as well as any team in the country.

BWG: Louisville. How they’re a 4-seed escapes me; Wichita State is for real, but they’re the #1 seed in the Bracket of Death. Pitino’s got his squad in top form and I’m not betting against him.

Tjarks: Wichita State I initially wanted to go Louisville like everyone else, but where's the fun in that. Wichita State has got one of the best back-courts in the country and the NCAA Tournament is a guard's game. There's a reason they went to the Final Four last year.

Scipio: Louisville. They look good and I have no better ideas.


Darkhorse Team:

JC25: The SEC duo of Kentucky and Tennessee have the talent and statistical profile to make a run into the second weekend. But I'm not penciling in either team to make it there.

BWG: Kentucky? With this group, it’s hard to call even an 8-seed a ‘darkhorse’. This region is ridiculous.

Tjarks: UMass. They have a bunch of size, shooting on the perimeter and a senior PG (Chaz Williams) who can take over a game. That's the formula for a lower-seeded team to make a run in March.

Scipio: Kentucky.


Upset Candidate:

JC25: I don't know what UMass is doing as a 6 seed, and they unfairly get one of two very talented teams in the Round of 64. Tennessee and Iowa are pound-em-out teams that should knock off the Minutemen and make a run at Duke.

BWG: Duke vs. Mercer. Don’t sleep on the Bears; they’re solid on both sides of the ball & this Duke squad is not the best defensive squad Coach K has ever put together.

Tjarks: St. Louis I think they will be in trouble against either team that wins their play-in game. They don't have a lot of offense and they don't have a lot of athletes on defense - Oregon exposed pretty badly in the Tourney last year and they haven't played a lot of power conference teams this season.

Scipio: St Louis and UMass aren't reliable high seeds.


Most Intriguing 2nd round match-up:

JC25: I'll play my bluegrass card here. Kansas State can be terrifying to watch, and a plus-senior defenders Shane Southwell and Will Spradling figure to terrify Kentucky's all-freshmen backcourt. Still, I can't get over the oodles of talent (and height!) that Kentucky can throw on the court. I'm hoping it's not one-and-done for some of these freshmen phenoms.

BWG: You thought I was going to say Texas/Arizona State, didn’t you? I’m really intrigued by the Kentucky/Kansas State game. Kentucky should be favored, but I don’t think it’s a slam-dunk that they advance.

Tjarks:Texas vs. Arizona State. Jahii Carson vs. Isaiah Taylor and Jordan Bachynski vs. Cam Ridley - two very interesting individual match-ups. Texas has the better big men, but ASU has the better guards, should be fun.

Scipio: Texas vs. Arizona State.

EAST REGION:

Favored Team:

JC25: I was on the Michigan State bandwagon and its picture perfect talent plus experience combination before the season started. Now that the Spartans are fully healthy, I think Tom Izzo's bunch is Final Four bound.

BWG: Michigan State. They’re finally healthy & they’re finally rolling. These two things are not coincidental. Oh yea, and they just won the Big Ten tournament, which is kind of a big deal.

Tjarks: Michigan State. They are my pick to win it all - they are the most complete team on both sides of the ball. They play an NBA prospect at each position and they have the best Tourney coach in the business.

Scipio: Michigan State. Izzo + healthy = Final 4.



Darkhorse Team:

JC25: Besides four seed Sparty, North Carolina has a great opportunity to feast on Villanova and Iowa State, two higher seeded teams I don't believe have it in them to make a long Tournament run. Of course, the Tar Heels have to win one game first.

BWG: Iowa State. Hoiberg's system & the players he recruits to it means they have certain advantages(shooters ERRYWHERE) and certain disadvantages(6'6" guys ERRYWHERE) endemic to every matchup in the tournament. They could shoot themselves into the Elite 8 or out of the round of 64, and it's hard to tell which way it is until 5 minutes after tip.

Tjarks: St. Joseph's. Watch out for the A-10 - I was really impressed by the caliber of play I saw in the A-10 Tourney. St. Joe's runs their offense through a 6'8 post player ala Boris Diaw, they have good athletes at the 5 and 3 and they have good perimeter shooters.

Scipio: Iowa State. A nightmare match-up for short turnaround tournament play.


Upset Candidate:

JC25: Aside from a Tar Heels win in the Round of 32, I've got this bracket going chalk in the first weekend. Then again, I could see Providence and Bryce Cotton bullying its way to a win against a vulnerable North Carolina team.

BWG: UNC vs. Providence. The Friars knocked off Creighton this weekend so they're not afraid of top teams. They have an above-average offense & are one of the best free throw shooting teams in the nation. If this game comes down to FTs, UNC is in a world of trouble.

Tjarks: Iowa State. Just like Creighton, a team that can't protect the rim is one I don't want to ride very far in March.

Scipio: Harvard over Cincy. This one really depends on the whistles.

Most Intriguing 2nd round match-up:

JC25: Harvard will be a very popular 5-12 upset pick, but I can't get over how puzzlingly enjoyable it is to watch rough-and-tumble Cincinnati play. Two years ago, sophomores Sean Kilpatrick and Justin Jackson helped knock off Texas in the Round of 64. They're in their final go-round as seniors, and I would hate to see them lose in the first round.

BWG: Cincinnati vs. Harvard.

Tjarks: UNC vs. Providence - two of the best front-courts in the Tourney square off in the first round. I think whoever wins this game will get past Iowa State in the second.

Scipio: Cincinnati vs. Harvard.

SOUTH REGION:

Favored Team:

JC25: Florida's group of seniors have made three straight Elite 8's. Do you really want to bet against them? The Gators look like 2013 Louisville light. They're not quite as good on either end of the court, but they frustrate teams enough on defense to turn that into easy offensive opportunities.

BWG: Florida. Good lord, Billy Donovan’s got that team rolling. If you gave me Florida vs. the field in this region, I’d probably pick Florida.

Tjarks: Florida. Billy Donovan's best team since the Noah - Horford days.

Scipio: Florida. Superior defense and transition offense.

Darkhorse Team:

JC25: I want to take UCLA as my third four-seed in the Final Four, but I just can't pull that trigger over Florida. The Bruins are plenty talented, but I foresee Billy Donovan's disciplined, experience defense eating UCLA alive. That is, if VCU's havoc doesn't rattle them first.

BWG: Kansas, if they can survive until Embiid gets back(*rimshot*).

Tjarks: UCLA. I have them beating Florida in the Sweet 16 - I love their overall talent level. When they go Alford - Lavine - Adams - Anderson, they can run pretty much anyone off the floor.

Scipio: New Mexico. Did BWG pick a 2 seed as a dark horse?! I'll skip the fashionable UCLA pick for a talented Lobo team that has the right mix of tournament crazy.

Upset Candidate:

JC25: Major caveat rules apply here. Kansas without Joel Embiid is JAT (just a team) that falls to New Mexico or Stanford, both good teams, in the Round of 32.

BWG: UCLA vs. Tulsa. Everybody else seems to be going with VCU vs. SFA & I get it, but I think Danny Manning’s going to surprise Steve Alford’s squad. (I wanted to pick Syracuse/WMU here, but I don’t think Syracuse has fallen *that* far off the cliff.)

Tjarks: Kansas. I don't like their PG play or their perimeter shooting with Embiid, much less without him.

Scipio: Syracuse. They're up in their own heads right now and can't buy a basket.

Most Intriguing 2nd round match-up:

JC25: Will Joel Embiid play? That's the million-dollar question for Kansas. If not, 15 seed Eastern Kentucky has a team of marksmen. Their effective field goal percentage of 57.0% ranks fourth in the nation. If the nets start swishing, the Jayhawks could be on a long plane ride back to Lawrence.

BWG: VCU vs. SFA. Alright, fine, I’m excited about it too.

Tjarks: Ohio State vs. Dayton. Could this be the end of Aaron Craft's college career? Let's hope so because I can't hear anymore about how much of a winner he is before I start to lose my mind.

Scipio: Syracuse vs. Western Michigan. This could happen.


FINAL FOUR PICKS:

WEST:

JC25: Arizona

BWG: Creighton

Tjarks: Arizona

Scipio: Arizona

MIDWEST:

JC25: Louisville

BWG: Louisville

Tjarks: Wichita State

Scipio: Louisville

EAST:

JC25: Michigan State

BWG: Michigan State

Tjarks: Michigan State

Scipio: Michigan State

SOUTH:

JC25: Florida

BWG: Florida

Tjarks: UCLA

Scipio: Florida

CHAMPIONSHIP GAME:

JC25: Arizona vs. Michigan State

BWG: Florida vs. Louisville

Tjarks: Arizona vs. Michigan State

Scipio: Florida vs. Louisville

CHAMPION:

JC25: Arizona

BWG:Louisville

Tjarks: Michigan State

Scipio: Florida

How far does Texas advance?

JC25: I like the Longhorns' chances against Arizona State. Since knocking off Arizona in double-overtime, the Sun Devils are just 2-5. Jahii Carson is fun to watch, but Texas' D will make him earn his points, hopefully inefficiently. Big man Jordan Bachynski would be a problem for most teams, but Texas can run Ridley and Ibeh at him. Now playing a Michigan team that can light the nets on fire? That's a whole 'nother story.

BWG: I sat there & stared at the Texas/Michigan game for 5 minutes, my mouse pointer hovering over Texas' name the entire time. I wanted to click it so badly, wanted to believe that Texas was making the Sweet 16 for the first time in 6 years...but I couldn't do it. I couldn't go full homer & pick the 'Horns to make it to the 2nd weekend. The round of 32 is an impressive result for this group considering where expectations were 4 months ago, but Sweet 16 feels a step too far.

Tjarks: Texas loses to Michigan in 2nd round, but I will take them to the Sweet 16 in my bracket because I'm a giant homer. They match-up pretty well with Michigan - a 5 who can exploit their lack of size inside, a stretch 4 who can score over the top of GR3 and a bunch of perimeter athletes who can D up. I think the bigger concern is ASU.

Scipio: Texas beats Arizona State (the Sun Devils haven't been playing well and they're bad on the road and on neutral courts) and then loses to Michigan, probably in an incredibly frustrating manner.

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