A Very Well Thought Out March Madness Preview

Is the first weekend of March Madness the best weekend of the year? There is certainly a case for it. There's nothing like creating a March Madness bracket only to have it fail in a matter of 24 hours. An American tradition. You say to yourself "this year is going to be different", this year you have done the research and you've crunched the numbers and you're seeing the board with X-Ray vision. The matchups, the analysis, the "bracket refinement" (tinkering), the anticipation, and finally...the implosion. Everything falls apart. You have 2 Elite Eight teams left after the first weekend. A tale as old as time.

That's where I come in. In this blog I will share my thoughts and analysis on each region with the hope that it will prevent you from coming in last (I know more than you). I will also provide my opening round card, for anyone who wants to earn some beer money before the weekend. 

East:This is my favorite side of the bracket, and I predict the champion will come out of this region. First of all this UConn ballclub is the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world at the moment. They are the defending champs, overall one seed and the odds on favorite for a reason, and you can't hate on anyone backing this group. It's the rational play. Talent, depth, coaching, experience, and balance- this team has it all.

That being said, they are in an absolute gauntlet of a region containing Iowa State, Illinois and Auburn, who all have the stuff to come out of the East. Not to mention FAU and SDSU who each made it to the Final Four last year and are capable of another deep tournament run. Additionally, a dangerous Drake team and a lanky yet deadly BYU team have this division set up to be a bloodbath. I have futures on both Iowa State and Auburn and predict the National Champion (whoever it is) to come from this region. Iowa State has an elite defense and turnover margin despite their average offense, and Auburn has incredible balance, ranking both top 10 in adjusted offensive and adjusted defensive efficiency and the number 4 overall team according to Kenpom. I have Auburn and Iowa State advancing to the Elite Eight for this region- although with the field as strong as it is here, anything could happen.

West:The West is, in my opinion, the weakest of the divisions. Every team in this division has looked vulnerable this year. That being said, I don't love UNC to come out on this side. (I also wouldn't be surprised if there was a cinderella over here given the beatability of the top seeds in the West) I think that (along with UNC) Arizona, Baylor, and Alabama have proven that they are able to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, and I expect that to come back to bite them. Specifically, Arizona and Alabama are really hard to trust, and I even have Bama dropping round one against a feisty Charleston squad. If you want to root for an underdog to come out of this region, I suggest taking a flyer on the winner of the Grand Canyon vs St. Mary's game. I personally predict the winner of that game losing to UNC in the Sweet 16, but I may take a flyer on each of those teams to advance to the final four because I think there is solid value there, particularly with GCU. 

As far as a game prediction goes, my heart says GCU but my mind says St. Mary's. I keep going back and forth on that one and I simply don't know what to do about it. An all time clash of styles for the opening round, the slow, methodical St. Mary's vs a Grand Canyon team that prefers to pick the pace up and play with some swagger. That matchup is my prediction for the best game of the first round. As far as the rest of the region, I think Baylor knocks off Arizona in the Sweet 16, setting us up for a UNC vs Baylor Elite Eight. Baylor had the experience of a deep tournament run just a few years ago, and the Big 12 was once again top to bottom the strongest conference, so I think they are a bit more battle tested than Arizona. I like Baylor to come out on top but I don't see anyone from this region getting past the Final Four. 

South:We cannot talk about the South region without first talking about the buzzsaw that is Houston basketball. This team is SCARY. Iowa State dismantled them in the Big 12 championship proving they can be beat, just not by anyone in this region. Led by Jamal Shead, this defense is legit. Don't overthink it, the cougs come out of the South.

Looking at the top threats the list only goes as far as the top three seeds. I like the winner of Wisco/JMU (I predict JMU) to handle Duke, but neither of those teams has a chance against Houston. I think JMU can go on a little run but the talent disparity is too vast for anyone to really give Houston a run for their money until the Elite Eight. 

Speaking of talent, let's talk about the Wildcats. I think Marquette and Kentucky are on a collision course and it could potentially be the game of the tournament. Guard play matters in March and nobody can hang with Kentucky in that arena. If Marquette can slow down the Wildcats and maybe rattle the young guns I think they have a chance, but I think the talent of Kentucky may be just a smidge too much for the Golden Eagles. At the time of this Kolek is still a question mark while this Marquette team battles there's just too many weapons on Kentucky. I like a Kentucky vs Houston Elite Eight matchup, with Houston overwhelming the inexperienced yet talented Kentucky team.

Midwest:This region is where the fun happens. Purdue has been dominant all year, but they have been playing the same style of basketball for years. The book is out on how to beat them- whether teams can execute or not is a different story- but I see another disappointing March for Purdue fans. I like the TCU Horned Frogs to upset Purdue in the round of 32. I think they have the athleticism to match up with Purdue if they get by Utah State. 

This division is really where I see madness and cannibalism come into play. I like Creighton to come out of this division, but it is truly up for grabs. Any of these teams has the potential to come out of the Midwest. I have four Round of 64 upsets. TCU over Utah State, Oregon over South Carolina, McNeese over Gonzaga, and... Samford over Kansas. TCU and Oregon are both technically not upsets in Vegas' eyes, so not a great upset, however it's still a lower seed beating a higher seed. I think Oregon is hot right now and TCU is much more battle tested coming from a strong Big 12 (common theme). 

As far as McNeese vs Gonzaga, it will likely be the most common 12 vs 5 upset and they will probably lose. I don't care.I am drinking the Kool Aid. I like this McNeese team alot, I think they do have potential to make a run, however their downfall is free throw shooting. They shoot 69% as a team which isn't great. Especially against a more experienced Gonzaga squad. I get real nervous about McNeese outplaying them all game, having a lead and not being able to ice the game when Gonzaga starts to foul.

I also will be taking Samford to beat Kansas. While Dickinson is back Kevin McCullar Jr. is going to miss the entirety of the tournament. That, in addition to this Kansas team underperforming all year and playing arguably their worst basketball of the season has this as an interesting matchup for me. Of course Bill Self knows what he's doing and could light a fire under the Jayhawks but where's the fun in that? Kansas reminds me of an older animal begging to be put down.

As far as Sweet Sixteen/Elite Eight predictions go, I like Creighton to beat Texas (Texas upsets Tennessee in the prior round) in the Sweet 16, and then handle TCU in the Elite Eight. Creighton is a balanced, battle tested squad and I love them to come out of this region.

Final Four

Iowa State/Auburn

Baylor

Houston

Creighton 

Round of 64 Card-

UNC -25

Tennessee -21.5

Michigan State -1

Kentucky -13.5

Oregon -1

Duquesne +9.5

Drake -1

McNeese +7

McNeese ML +217

Samford +7

Samford ML +222

JMU +5.5

JMU ML +189

Houston -24

New Mexico -2.5

Nebraska -1

Charleston +9.5

Charleston Alabama O 173.5

Grand Canyon +5.5

Santi.