It’s a crazy time of year where all college basketball fans are looking for guidance. I have won pools several times, and I ran one for a good half-decade. I am a self-proclaimed hoop-head who has the privilege to get paid to write about sports. I am currently in the lead of the Tribune’s picks of the week page.
But you shouldn’t listen to me.
I repeat, DO NOT LISTEN TO ME!
Everyone says this season is as up in the air as any, and that’s how I felt when I looked at my bracket — like I was floating. How many times have I watched Wichita State pound an inferior opponent; did I witness the intimate details of Syracuse’s late-season demise; can I keep my Michigan State-green Kool-Aid in my own cup? I’m not sure you’d like the answers to those questions.
If you read on, you are probably the kind of person who touched a hot stove when you were a child, or the kind of adult who causes traffic backups — as you gawk at the accident on the side of the road.
There is sure to be plenty of red ink on my bracket this year, and my hands are clean of yours. You have been warned.
Cinderella: Stephen F. Austin (31-2)
As all my friends would tell you (probably with less newspaper-friendly language), I am a coward.
When I get my bracket every year, I like to go through and write down the games I am sure of, in most cases advancing one school all the way to a national championship.
I advanced Florida and Louisville to the Sweet 16 (and I’m surprised I had the gusto to advance the Cards with either rival Kentucky or Wichita State likely lurking).
The only seed below a six that I had the courage to move was the Lumberjacks. I have them beating VCU before losing to UCLA, so take this Cinderella story with a grain of salt.
Teams with a winning percentage of 90 percent or above typically do well in the tournament, and No. 12 seeds seem to take great pleasure in beating No. 5’s.
The Lumberjacks have the guard play necessary to make an early run, and Seth Davis likes them. Considering the CBS and SI basketball expert inspired my two Jigsawman columns (which were much better than this one, which you have defied me in continuing to read), I’ll take his word for it.
South: Florida (32-2)
I’ve liked the Gators for a while, and so should you. Florida is loaded with veterans. Patric Young (who may have been there for eight years now) controls the paint, and Scottie Wilbekin runs the offense — with a very nice 2.1 assist-to-turnover ratio. Casey Prather has stepped up this season as a No. 1 scorer, and Will Yeguete does a little bit of everything.
The Gators are not as talented as those Joakim Noah-led championship squads, but it seems that they have similar chemistry. Florida hasn’t lost since Dec. 2.
East: Michigan State
Was there ever a doubt?
The Spartans have many of the essential elements to make a deep-run: an elite coach (“Mr. March,” Tom Izzo), a future lottery-pick at a wing spot (Gary Harris), a great big man (Adreian Payne) and a high-quality point guard (Keith Appling).
The biggest questions surrounding this team were alwats about its health, and Michigan State looked pretty strong on its path to a Big Ten tournament title.
Appling’s wrist is still off though, and while Denzel Valentine, Travis Trice and Harris can all handle the ball, sometimes you need that one guy to get through March. I still think the Spartans make it to April, giving Appling and Payne their first Final Four, and continuing Izzo’s streak of each four-year player making it to the event.
West: Arizona (30-4)
This may be the weakest of the four regions, and it’s definitely the toughest to pick.
I took the easy way out — chalk.
I considered having the Oklahoma State Cowboys knock off the Wildcats, but as we discussed above, I am a coward.
Statistically speaking, a lower-seeded team is likely to beat a higher one — so maybe I’m just giving into the new wave of whiz-kid analytics. Plus, Chalky from the 90’s Nickelodeon staple Doug was a great athlete. I think that should count for something.
Either way, my head hurts a lot less by just picking the Wildcats.
Midwest: Louisville (29-5)
The “nobody believes in us” card is the oldest card in the book, and the Cards hold the biggest one this year. My fellow Spartans can cry all they want about getting a No. 4 seed, but Louisville has only lost once since February, and was ranked No. 5 in the final AP poll.
Gorgui Dieng and Peyton Siva aren’t walking through that door, but the defending-champions bring back plenty of firepower with Russ “Russdiculous” Smith and emerging threat Montrezll Harrell.
You know that the Cardinals are always going to play killer defense, and that you risk going blind if you stare at Rick Pitino’s hair long enough.
National champion: Michigan State (over Louisville)
No surprise here.
I told myself a while back that if the team was healthy and playing well in March, I would be all in. It seems that pretty much all of ESPN’s talent has a similar philosophy. I’m not sure if that is a good or bad sign, but I’m not going to risk losing my diploma by going against Sparty. In most years I have no trouble picking against MSU, but there’s too much hope this season.
Dumbest pick: Michigan State to win the national title
I conveniently ignored how good Florida and Louisville are to pick a school whose starting point guard has looked like a shell of himself for over month now, and that I have a heavy rooting interest for.
Classic madness in March.