The greatest 3 weeks in sports is back! There is no mad science to predicting the outcomes, but the unpredictability will drive you mad and yet that is the beauty of March Madness. Across the country, people will be calling in to work or taking a 4 hour lunch break at Buffalo Wild Wings to be glued to the TV, and watch the upsets unfold and by the weekend most of their brackets will be crumpled up in the trash. Once again, that is the beauty of what we call March Madness. As much as you love the game and think you know about college basketball the 32 first round games and 16 second round games will have you screaming, either in anger or in joy, but many times in shock, at your TV. And that is just the first weekend! Even for basketball fans around the state of Michigan this year is the two power programs Michigan State and Michigan have great chances at a long tourney run and Detroit could be one of the many teams that provides one of the many "shocking" upsets.
Let's get right to my Final Four Picks! Disclaimer: My bracket will likely be one of the many in the trash by Sunday.
South – 1. Kentucky
Not much of a shock here, as the number one overall seed and the top team in the country nearly the entire season most have the Wildcats making the Final Four and I am no different. I don't believe Kentucky is strong as some of the top teams of years past like North Carolina in 2009 or Florida in 2007, but they are loaded with NBA talent like Anthony Davis, Doron Lamb and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and as the top overall seed the Wildcats have the easiest path to the Final Four. After an easy second round win I like Kentucky to get by Connecticut, Indiana and Baylor to reach the National Semi's.
West- 1. MichiganState
Who would have picked this to begin the year? The Spartans were unranked at the start of the season and returned only 2 of their top 7 scorers from last year's disappointing 19 win team. Although MSU is young, the team is talented, especially up front. Derrick Nix and Adreian Payne provide match up problems down low that few teams in the country can match. Draymond Green was the best player in the Big Ten and it could be argued that he has been the best in the entire country. His versatility as adominant low post scorer, a ball handler, a facilitator and now this year a three-point shooter, make him one of the most difficult match ups in the country as well. But it is Day-Day's leadership that has proved most valuable this season and the senior forward who has been to two Final Four's will continue to lead his young Spartans in this season tournament. Tom Izzo has been the best tournament coach over the last 15 years, making 6 Final Fours and never failing to reach the Final Four as a number one seed. While the Spartans will face some challenges I them to beat NIU Brooklyn, Saint Louis, Louisville and Missouri to reach the round of 4. No team in this region can match the Spartans interior, but is loaded with athletic teams and I believe MSU point guard Keith Appling will be key for the Spartans.
East – 2. Ohio State
The Big Ten has been the best conference all season long, so no surprise that two of the leagues teams make the Final Four. Like the Spartans, the Buckeyes are one of the best defensive teams in the nation and have a low post presence in Jared Sullinger that few teams can match. Ohio State is senior led by William Buford and the size and athleticism of he and Deshaun Thomas provide versatility and match up problems for opponents. Gonzagawill be a tough match up in the 2nd round as the Bulldogs are one of the few teams that actually match up well with the Buckeyes. 7-footer Robert Sacre could provide a challenge for Sullinger, Forward Elias Harris will be tough for Deshaun Thomas and it will be interesting to see how guards Kevin Pangos and David Stockton(son of John) handle the pressure of Aaron Craft. This will be a great second round match up, but overall I just think Ohio State is better and advances. After that I like the Buckeyes to get by Florida State in a defensive battle. The Seminoles are one of the best defensive teams in the country. In the Elite 8 I have Ohio State over Vanderbilt. Vandy is hot right now after beating Kentucky and winning the SEC tournament. As for number one seed Syracuse, I believe they may be the first number one seed to bow out of the tournament. With the loss of center Fab Melo (suspended for tournament) the Orange are a dramatically different team. When playing without Melo earlier in the season the Cuse lost by 9 at Notre Dame and I expect a similar fate in their second round match up with Kansas State.
Midwest – 2. Kansas
For a two seed I believe Kansas has one of the best draws in the tournament. After getting by Detroit (more on that later), I think the Jayhawks will beat Saint Mary's in a game that will go down to the final minute then meet up with Cinderella hopeful 14 seed Belmont in the Sweet 16 where Kansas will win overwhelmingly and getting past Michigan in the Elite 8 I have the Jayhawks moving on to the Final Four. Number one seed North Carolina is a great team, but has not been the same team since losing Dexter Strickland early in the season and with a banged up John Henson the Tar Heels could be ripe for the upset in the 3rd round to Creighton. Creighton's 23 point per game scorer Doug McDermott will play like the All-American that he is as the Bluejays pull off the classic March Madness upset in the third round.
Final Four - 1. Kentucky vs. 1. Michigan State
This is one that I have really wrestled with. Kentucky is the most talented team in the country and has a roster full of future NBA players, but the Spartans provide match up problems for the Wildcats. Anthony Davis had trouble defending Indiana's Cody Zellar earlier in the year and could face similar problems against MSU's Derrick Nix and Adreiane Payne. On the other side I think this is where the loss of Branden Dawson could really hurt the Spartans. Dawson was one of the few players that could physically match the athletic ability of the North Carolina Tar Heels in the aircraft carrier game and like North Carolina, the Wildcats are extremely long and athletic. But it has been the leadership of Draymond Green and the chemistry as to why the Spartans have been so good this year and that may be what carries them to the National title game for the second time in four years.
Final Four – 2. OhioState vs. 2. Kansas
This will be another terrific semi-final game. Kansas beat Ohio State in Lawrence earlier in the season, but the buckeyes were without Jared Sullinger in that game. He will be the difference in this one as he and player of the year candidate Thomas Robinsongo back and forth. Ohio State's size, defense and versatility lead the Buckeyes to the National Championship game.
Championship Game –1. Michigan State vs. 2. Ohio State
Wow, an all-big ten final! If this one is anything like the last 2 it will go down as one of the best championship games in NCAA tournament history. Michigan State has beaten the Buckeyes two out of three times this season, including most recently in the Big Ten tournament title game. These two teams are so close and match up with each other as well as any two teams in the country. Both have an outstanding interior game, versatile forwards, play exceptional defense and rebound the ball well. Although the Spartans have beat the Buckeyes twice I am picking Ohio State to win the one that matters most. Michigan State was able to get Jared Sullinger in foul trouble the past three times the two teams played, which were allowed to be played extremely physically by Big Ten officials. If Sullinger doesn't get into foul trouble and get frustrated like he has in the past three games he hurts the Spartans just enough to give the Buckeyes the narrow National Championship win, 72-67.
As for how the Wolverines will fare in the NCAA tournament? I have Michigan holding off the popular upset pick Ohio in the second round and beating Temple in the round of 32, and beating Creighton in the Sweet 16 before falling to Kansas in the Elite 8. The Wolverines will face a challenge from Ohio in the second round. The Bobcats are one of the best in the nationat defending the three, which is what Michigan lives and dies by, but I just think the Wolverines are far better than Ohio and moves on rather easily. A second round game against Temple is an interesting match up. The Owls are a verygood team that has beaten teams such as Duke this year, but for a second gamein the weekend, the Wolverines and John Beilein's system is very tough to prepare for. The seniors Zack Novak and Stu Douglass lead U of M past Temple. In the Sweet 16 the Wolverines will be lucky not to have to face North Carolina who would be a match up nightmare, but the NCAA tournament is all about matchups and Creighton is a much better one. Zack Novak will slow down Doug McDermott and the Bluejays will have no answer for Michigan point guard Trey Burke. In the Elite 8, the Wolverines run into all kinds of match up problems against Thomas Robinson and Kansas and falls by double-digits to the Jayhawks.
After beating Valparaiso in the Horizon League title game to reach the NCAA tournament, Detroit has been a team that some are picking to beat Kansas in the first round. This will no doubt be a great game to watch. Kansas has NBA talent and U of D has one of the best young point guards in the nation in sophomore Ray McCallumand like the Jayhawks, the Titans have an ultra-athletic team including former Motthigh flyer Doug Anderson. Detroit, though, is lucky to be here. If not for winning the Horizon League tournament, U of D's 22-13 and 11-7 league records would have not shot at clinching an NCAA tournament berth. It will be a very entertaining game and maybe even a close one at points, but in the end Kansas is just too much
I'm sure I will be wrong on some of this, but these are my best and most educated guesses with some surprises thrown in there. Feel free to debate with me on Facebook at Evan Beach WNEM.
Let the Madness begin!