How I hated the answer looking up from my printout of my spreadsheet. The answer in clear, unequivocal terms: Kentucky wins the NCAA championship in a few week's time, by eight points over Villanova. Gack! Ack! Ugh! The joy to doing this is done.
I've retreated further and further into running chalk brackets, at least at the places where big prizes abound. Rather than try my judgement, my gut (too big as it is), I've relied on the numbers to tell me what to fill in. And the answer this year, for the first time, is Kentucky with John Calipari at the helm. They are THAT good. I think they will just wear down and eventually overwhelm the OTHER Wildcats to finish a perfect 40-0, the best collegiate season ever. The Philadelphia area version of the Wildcat species does have a great coach. But even if you allow that Jay Wright is a half-dozen better points as a game coach than his opposite number, there is just SOOOOOOOO much talent in the UK bench that it comes at you in waves. The final will be tight at the half, not so tight at the end. Call it 78-70 or 68-60. But a less than frenetic last couple of minutes that will take a half-hour to play because of fouling and TV commercials will lead to the same conclusion. Kentucky plus eight.
In fact, Kentucky won't be sorely tested all the way to the final. Only three teams could possibly keep Kentucky within eight points of victory. They are Wisconsin, led by player of the year Frank Kaminsky, Virginia who would have to be led by a completely recovered Justin Anderson and ... wait for it ... Northern Iowa, led by Seth Tuttle? Who? Yeah, check out Northern Iowa for as long as they play. Tuttle is their do everything point forward. A joy to watch. Unfortunately for NIU, they meet Villanova in the third round. So no national championship chance to become a candidate to join the pantheon of great upsetters--Villanova and North Carolina State. Teams of legendary title runs.
Now, i don't go chalk all the way. I have Texas doing in Butler in a 6vs11 upset that also sidelines one of the feel-good stories of the year in NCAA Men's basketball. I've got only ONE 9vs8 upset with Oklahoma State overpowering the kids from Oregon. And I like another kid, D'Angelo Russell, having one big breakout game and leading the Buckeyes past VCU in a 7vs10 game. It will be set up his last collegiate game vs Arizona. That's it for first round upsets, But I DO like some other first-rounders to entertain. In the first time in a while, no 5vs12 Goliath slayers appear to be in a good position. Wyoming, Northern Iowa's first round opponent and Stephen F. Austin, who takes on Utah, would be the best chances. But NO! I say to these titanic upsets. For one year anyways.
Two of the other 9vs8 games will be treats. I still expect higher seeds Cincinnati and San Diego State to prevail over Purdue and St. John's respectively thanks to bigger cheering sections in the stands. Both games will be great. And I really think Iowa has to get a last shot to win over Davidson in a 7v10 game.
In the second round, I obviously have Northern Iowa getting by Louisville, which isn't the same team without Chris Jones. And even at that, they didn't deserve a #4. I also like West Virginia over Maryland and Utah over Georgetown in 5vs4 putative upsets. I mean, is there anybody who expects anything good out of the Washington DC and nearby environs?
The single most compelling game of the second round, maybe of the whole tournament will see the long anticipated showdown between Wichita State and Kansas on a national stage. I've got Kansas winning by a free throw. If Perry Ellis doesn't play for whatever reason, then chalk this up to the Shockers. Anybody interrupts me while this game is playing and I promise a hit squad at your door within hours. Worth the double overtime pay and a half for the revenge.
Once you get to the Elite Eight, all the games not involving Kentucky will be worth the price of skipping work, not getting paid, risking your continued employment, and over-indulging in the best college basketball has to offer. I've got Wisconsin over Arizona by a free throw, Duke by the same over Gonzaga and Villanova doing in Virginia by a bucket. THAT's entertainment. Or will be entertainment. Whatever. Just make sure everybody knows you're busy that weekend.
Surprisingly, I think 'Nova outlasts Duke, given their thin bench, in the semi's. I'd like to think Wisconsin gives Kentucky a game in the other semi. T'ain't goinng to be so. The athletic bigs will hound Kaminsky into the paint and outside to the three-point line. Kaminsky has experience, smarts and wiles (Hey, aren't those three all the same thing? Yep) but Kentucky has Willie Cauley-Stein and Karl Anthony Towns. All three of those players will be in the NBA next year, probably after being lottery picks. Towns fourth and Cauley-Stein and Kaminsky towards the end of the lottery.
If you're interested, and you shouldn't be, the first four winners will be the Manhattan Jaspers, the BYU Cougars, the Boise State Broncos (over the home court Dayton Flyers!!!) and a rarity in the NCAA, a first-time school, the North Florida Ospreys. And that school was actually thinking of calling themselves the North Florida Manatees. But the devotion to birds prevailed. Might the North Florida Ospreys mimic last year's darlings, the Florida Gulf Coast Eagles? No. And interestingly enough, their loss will mean NO further participation in the tournament from Florida-based schools.
Anything more to add before I start mourning Calipari's ascendancy? Nope.