Another year, another frantic time trying to make out a representative bracket. I'm a Jayhawk guy (their last tournament title won me my most recent swag from doing these brackets ad nauseum ... it's been TOO long). So, I'm happy to keep sending Kansas' name to the right all six times I could.
I normally do my power calculations the week OF Championship Week, preferring not to let any of the weekend games sway my opinion of the worthiness of the teams as national candidates. Sometimes, losing, even early, in the league tournament gives a team valuable rest (I'm talking about YOU, Duke!!). Other times, I see a player have a one-of-a-kind weekend and then forget that there's a definition of one-of-a-kind that doesn't presage sustained success. Ergo, Oregon's ascension to the top seed with good health finally made me stop and consider my little spreadsheet, where they were barely a top 25 team.
Nope. I have stuck to my guns. I added travel fanbase numbers (an extra four points in rankings for less than 240 miles to the games and two for keeping it under 420) and threw in some small token appreciation for the tournament committee seedings (hey, they ARE professionals at this assessing thing). And what my sheet told me in the end (I also factored in health), was that Michigan State was going to just nip Virginia to play sacrificial lamb to the Jayhawks this year. You just can't possibly over-estimate Tom Izzo when he has the guns, and in Denzel Valentine, a sublimely complete player ... think Brandon Roy after a small growth spurt ... to maybe even threaten Rock, Chalk, Jayhawk. But Kansas' finest are deep, balanced in terms of scoring and defending and have senior leadership, as well as three guards who can contribute and shoot and a big man who can defend, rebound and score too. Hell, Perry Ellis will throw in more than the odd three. Kansas it is.
Kansas will have a less-stressful trip through the opening rounds. After the inaugural round laugher against the wonderfully-named Austin Peay squad, the Jayhawks will get UConn instead of Colorado and then Maryland instead of Cal (two teams with THREE potential lottery picks over the next two NBA drafts). Villanova, who will get their own break in facing Miami FLA instead of Arizona, will give the Jayhawks a good warmup before facing the West Region survivor, Oklahoma. Yep, Big 12 time in ChiTown. It'll be the best game of the weekend, in all probability.
Oklahoma will get some breaks of its own. VCU is one of the three double-figure seeds to upset in the opening round, taking out Oregon State. That gives the Sooners something to feast on and Oklahoma will get a second straight gift as Duke will outlast the West Coast upstarts Oregon to make the Sweet 16. Not a good time to be hailing from Oregon. Although Oregon DID get a break with Cincinnati being one of the three Nine seeds to get to the weekend.
The East will be the epitome of Rock, Chalk, Whatever. West Virginia will mug Xavier in the regional semi-final, providing the only upset of the region. North Carolina will emerge, having taken out Canada's star collegian attraction Jamal Murray, the one-and-done Kentucky Wildcat. The BEST game this weekend rates to be Kentucky and Indiana in a border war that reminds EVERYBODY how foolish the decision to abandon the regular games between the two schools was. Whoever was responsible for that deserves not to be able to watch this game. It'll be a barn-burner.
Most of the fun on Thursday and Friday will come from the Midwest, where Butler will down #8 Texas Tech, Syracuse will continue celebrating Jim Boeheim's return by scuttling #7 Dayton and Gonzaga, rife with international talent including sort-of Canuck Kyle Wiltjer, will trim the sails of the #6 Seton Hall Pirates. The weekend will see Purdue knock off Iowa State while NEXT weekend, it will be the Spartans of Michigan State beating Virgina for the regional crown. State will then do in North Carolina the weekend after, setting the stage for the big final on the following Monday.
The tournament won't be as good as it COULD have been. Having Tulsa and Vanderbilt in, so that Monmouth gets sent to the NIT feels like a horrible mistake. I should point out that BOTH of the other two schools are in the First Four and somebody with THAT distinction has gotten to the second week of the tournament every year since the tournament expanded to 68 teams. But that streak ends this year, although if anybody does put paid to that promise, it will be Wichita State. Also, somebody should have found a way to get LSU and Ben Simmons into the event, even as a write-in candidate. LSU's loss in the SEC play-offs was the end of Simmons' college career. And he won't even win the Wooden Award despite being obviously the best player in the game this year. Academics ruined that. The next time we'll see Simmons is when the Sixers take him with the first pick in the NBA draft.
But there's still Valentine and Oklahoma's Buddy Hield. I'm looking forward to seeing Iona's AJ English. And every game Murray has as a collegian is must-see TV.
Now do with what you have just read as you will. I won't even ask for a cut. Good luck picking the perfect bracket.