Florida is the clear favorite in this region. They are one of the stronger 1 seeds and they have a reasonable shot to win it all, but they do have some weaknesses. They are a really great defensive team and they get a ton of points going defense to offense - if you take care of the ball and keep them in the half-court, they are beatable. They don't have anyone they can post up and they have a few non-shooters on the perimeter, so you can zone them and be OK.
Colorado doesn't have their best player (Spencer Dinwiddie) and I don't think Pittsburgh can score enough points to beat them, so they should be in good shape until at least the Sweet 16, where they would have an interesting match-up with either the 4 (UCLA) or the 5 (VCU).
I have been big on UCLA for awhile and I'm even more so after the way they beat Arizona in the Pac 12 Tourney. They have got too much firepower for Tulsa and they are the perfect match-up for HAVOC. You can't press UCLA - they are too good athletically and they have too many ball-handlers. If that game gets going up-and-down, they could get 90-100 points.
UCLA and Florida in the Sweet 16 should be one of the games of the Tourney - it could easily have been a Final Four match-up. I'll take UCLA because they have a lot more offense than Florida, who are susceptible to dry spells from the perimeter. The Bruins just have to play a lot of zone, grab the long misses and then get out and go. In the half-court, they can invert their offense, with their guards - Jordan Adams (6'5 220) and Norman Powell (6'4 215) - posting up and their big men shooting. The Gators are best offensively when they can go 2 PG's with Scottie Wilbekin and Kasey Hill and UCLA can just kill those two on the block.
On the other side of the bracket, I'm pretty down on Kansas without Joel Embiid. They did not look very good without him - even with Wiggins scoring a lot of points, they got beat pretty soundly by West VA, an NIT team, and they almost lost to Oklahoma State in the Big 12 Tourney. Their PG's are a mess and they have inconsistent three-point shooting - that's a recipe for an upset with Embiid, and I'm not sure he plays at all in the Tournament. You don't want to rush a big man with a back injury too fast.
Syracuse is a weird team - with their style of play they can be susceptible to anyone. They lost to a Boston College team that won like 6 games all season. If you just shoot 3's, stretch their zone and don't let them get out in transition, they are beatable. I'm going to watch the MAC championship game this week, see if I can get a better feel for Western Michigan.
I can go either way on OSU - Dayton. The A-10 has some pretty good teams this season, but I'd have to watch more of Dayton to say either way. They looked good in Maui - this pod seems like one where anything could happen.
Really the whole bottom half of the South I'm not huge on. I don't see this as a particularly stacked regional. New Mexico kind of burned me last season when they lost to Harvard - they are big and slow team that plays a very physical brand of basketball, so if the refs are calling the game tight, they could be in trouble. And while I really like Dwight Powell's game, Stanford has not really impressed me.
I'll take UCLA over whoever comes out of the other half of the bracket. I could see Syracuse making the Elite Eight or losing in the first round - it's all up for grabs.
I like the 4 seed (Michigan State) much more than the 1 (Virginia). I have MSU winning the whole thing, which I get into in my next RealGM column. Long story short, they are a complete team with no weaknesses on either side of the ball and they have the best coach in the country.
Virginia's style of play makes them vulnerable to upsets because every game is so close. That means they can beat anybody and lose to anybody. They have some good perimeter players in Malcolm Brogdon and Joe Harris and they play really good team offense and defense, but they don't overwhelm you from a talent perspective.
Memphis has all the pieces to make a run, but I'm not sure I trust Josh Pastner. I'm bullish on the A-10, but I haven't watched enough of GW to say much about them. I'll say Michigan State over Virginia on that side of the bracket, but I wouldn't be surprised if the 8-9 winner pulled an upset in the second round.
There's a lot of recipe for chaos on this side of the bracket, with a 2 (Villanova) and a 3 (Iowa State) who are vulnerable. Iowa State doesn't have a big man and they don't protect the rim; they have good athletes on the perimeter so it's hard to drive them, but if you can post up and crash the glass, you can beat them, regardless of the talent differences.
I will take the winner of UNC-Providence over Iowa State, because both those teams have multiple big men you can throw the ball inside too. That's two of the best front-courts in the field - James McAdoo, Brice Johnson, Kennedy Meeks and Kadeem Batts, Tyler Harris, LaDontae Henton. And you have a great PG match-up with Bryce Cotton and Marcus Paige. I'm going to take Providence to the Sweet 16; they are the most complete team and they are well-coached. The one concern is foul trouble - they pretty much only play 6 guys.
On the bottom half of the bracket, I like the winner of St. Joe's-UConn to take down Villanova. I have only seen St. Joe's once but I really liked what I saw - they have a very complete team with an elite athlete at 5 (Robin Roberts) a 6'8 post who they run offense through, a 6'6 freshman wing who can dunk on people and two shooters in the back-court. They are a hard team to match-up with and they have the pieces to match-up with any type of team. I'm going to roll with them all the way to the Elite Eight, even though UConn is a quality team who could get them in the first round.
Villanova has a lot of good pieces and they seem like a solid team on both sides of the ball, but I don't think they can impose the will and dominate a less-talented team.
I'm probably just picking against Villanova because I haven't seen them all that much, but you have to have upsets somewhere, so I'll take Michigan State over St. Joe's in the Elite Eight.
Arizona is going all the way in this bracket - they are a great, well-rounded team and they will have a huge home-court edge. Them vs. San Diego State would be a fun Sweet 16 team, but Arizona already beat them in San Diego this season and they have a much easier time shooting the 3 than SDSU, who goes into a lot of droughts from the perimeter.
I don't think either will have much too much trouble in the first two rounds.
Gonzaga doesn't have the perimeter athleticism to play with Arizona and OSU doesn't have the size upfront. I could see Marcus Smart going out in the first-round through no real fault of his own - OSU's starting 5 is out for the season and they just don't have the horses.
I could see OU going down in a 5-12 game, but I'd need to watch NDSU to have a better idea of that.
The bottom half of the West seems like a place where chaos could ensue. Wisconsin, the 2 seed, doesn't play great D and they could have trouble with Oregon, the 7, in the second-round. They both play 4-out and Oregon has the better 4 man in Mike Moser, a fifth-year senior once thought of as a lock first-rounder.
I'm going to take Baylor to go to the Elite Eight, as much as it pains me to pick a Scott Drew coached team to do much of anything. They've been playing really well ever since Kenny Chery got healthy and he fixes a lot of the problems Drew creates by being a one-man offense - he's a PG who gets shots for all his teammates and he has some really talented weapons. No one on this side of the bracket has an answer for Isaiah Austin and Cory Jefferson, though them vs. Frank Kaminsky (Wisconsin) would be fascinating.
I'm going to watch the WAC Championship game first, but it would not stun me to see UL-Lafayette knocking off Creighton. Creighton, like Iowa State, doesn't have a big man and can't protect the rim - that makes you vulnerable. I don't care who you have scoring the ball if you can't play interior D.
Arizona-SDSU, Baylor-Oregon, with Arizona going to San Antonio.
The bracket of death this year. A lot of stuff has been written about Wichita State's tough road, but they can't worry about that. To go through the Tourney, you have to win three 4-team mini-tourneys. It doesn't matter what goes on outside your pod - cross that bridge when you get to it.
It would be really interesting to watch Kentucky-Wichita State, but I'm not sure they get by Kansas State. The NCAA Tournament is a guard's game and the Harrison Twins are years away of living up to any of their recruiting hype.
Louisville has been on a tear, which would make for a fascinating Sweet 16 match-up. I like Louisville to handle St. Louis or the winner of the 12 seed play-in - both Xavier and NC State can give St. Louis a game and I might have taken one of them to go to the Sweet 16 in a different pod.
When Russ Smith is shooting 3's, it's very hard to beat Louisville. They've got their defense figured out again and they can just take the ball from most teams. Wichita State does have two great guards in Van Vleet and Baker, so I go back-and-forth on this one. Montrezl Harrell is big and athletic but I don't think he has the offensive game to punish Wichita on the blocks. I think the winner of this game wins the whole region - I'll say Louisville ends up missing Chane Behanan in this game and doesn't have a match-up for Cleanthony Early. The fact that the Shockers only lost by 4 in last year's Final Four to them eases my concerns about their overall team speed.
I could see the bottom half of this region going in all kinds of directions.
UMass is a really balanced team with a lot of size upfront and a legitimate star in Chaz Williams - but Tennessee, if they win their play-in game, plays some of the best D in the country and has been on absolute tear coming into the NCAA Tourney. I liked Mercer as a possible upset pick in the first-round, but not against Duke in Raleigh. They don't have anyone who can guard Jabari Parker or Rodney Hood.
I'm going to take UMass to the Elite Eight, mainly because it's no fun to pick all favorites and I certainly don't want to have to root for Duke.
I'm also going to be a massive homer and Texas to the Sweet 16. If Texas can get by Arizona State, which is no guarantee, they match-up really well with Michigan. They have a huge 5 in Cam Ridley (6'9 255) that Michigan can't guard without Mitch McGary and they have a 6'8 4-man in Jon Holmes who can run with GR3 and score over the top of him. They have a ton of athletes on the perimeter so Michigan can't really spread them out and attack.
In terms of which picks I'm most confident in, I'd go - Arizona, Michigan State, UCLA, Wichita
Michigan State beats Arizona in what should be a really fun game.
This should be a fun Tourney - there are a lot of evenly matched teams and a lot of talent in the field.