Hello, college basketball fans! Happy St. Patrick's Day!
Time for this year's Schmolik Bracket Analysis. Just to give you a reason to read this: In 2007, I correctly picked all eight of the final eight teams, three of the Final Four, both finalists, and correctly picked Florida to win it all over Ohio State. My final was 75-67 (8 pts) and the winning score was 84-75 (9 pts). North Carolina lost to Georgetown in overtime. Had UNC won, I would've had all four Final Four teams! Now last two years, maybe not so much. Last year, I had Carolina losing to Louisville in the final and had one of the Final Four (Carolina). In 2008, I picked two of the Final Four (UNC and UCLA) and picked both to make the Final Four (instead the two #1's I picked to get upset went to the championship game).
Normally, I start with Illinois's bracket but we all know Illinois's not in it.
I'll start with the #1 overall seed and I would say the toughest regional. You got Kansas, Ohio State, Georgetown, Maryland, Michigan State, and Tennessee in one regional. Usually there's one tough regional but I wonder if this could be one of the toughest ever. Luckily for Kansas, they have reasonable drives to Oklahoma City and St. Louis on their way to the Final Four. I heard a little about mid majors playing each other in the 1st round. Is it a good thing that one will make the 2nd round or bad because both won't get the chance to knock off competition from power conferences. I seem to like to see the mid major vs power conference in Round 1 and when picking the Schmolik 64 I usually try to do this. Well, UNLV plays Northern Iowa in this round. I like Northern Iowa in this one. We have some great 2nd round matchups in Maryland vs Michigan State (the folks in Spokane are really lucky) and Georgetown vs Tennessee. Tennessee has beaten Kansas and Kentucky but they don't play NCAA tournament games at home so I'll pick Georgetown. I've learned when in doubt go with Tom Izzo, so I'll pick Michigan State over Maryland but not over Kansas. I won't be surprised in this regional if Kansas doesn't make the Final Four but you have to go with them as the favorite. I'll say Kansas over Georgetown in the regional final and will say if you want to see one regional this year, head to St. Louis. Because it's in a dome, you probably can still get tickets if the Kansas fans haven't bought them already.
I'll head to the West Regional next. Must be the loss to St. Mary's, but I'm not feeling Gonzaga this year (despite the fact that they beat Illinois, one of about 10 games had Illinois won they'd probably be in the tournament). Plus, they are heading to Buffalo. As much as I speak about Spokane and Boise, I'll imagine most of you Westerners are thinking about Buffalo. I mean, we have plenty of great NCAA sites here in the East, so why Buffalo? I think Gonzaga could be in a heap of trouble and will be beaten by Florida State. The real bad news for Gonzaga? Here's a non tournament prediction for you, see if I'm right. We know Mark Few's name gets tossed around all the time whenever any big time college basketball program opening comes up. I'm sure Few has rejected better programs but Oregon is Few's alma mater and he grew up close to Eugene. It's one thing to turn down a lot of other jobs in a far off area, but I think Mark may listen if Oregon calls (and rumors say Ernie Kent is on his way out). I would be shocked if Few wasn't at the top of Oregon's list and with the weakness of the Pac 10 this year, is there any doubt Few could lead them to near the top of the Pac 10 next year if he goes there? I'm not saying Few would go if Oregon calls. I would say if Few doesn't go, he probably will be at Gonzaga the rest of his life.
Getting back to the West regional, watch out for Butler making the Sweet 16 (although I would pick Vanderbilt). Actually, Murray State could be a big upset in round 1. We could have a rematch of Pitt/Xavier in the 2nd round (they met last year in the Sweet 16). BYU hasn't won a tournament game since 1993 and I would imagine a lot of fans of teams that thought they should be in the tournament will be rooting for BYU to beat Florida. Normally Billy Donovan vs. whoever BYU's coach is would seem to be a mismatch but consider BYU made the tournament the last two years and Florida didn't. There are plenty of cases of coaches who made a perceived jump up and failed but you wonder if Billy Donovan made a mistake not jumping (he could have been coaching Dwight Howard in the NBA Finals last June and since then Florida missed the NCAA's and barely made it in this year). In considering the best coaches to not make the Final Four, I'd imagine Jamie Dixon would be up there with Mark Few at the top of my head. This year he took a young team to a #3 seed. I think Pittsburgh has the edge over Kansas State but like last year I think he will meet his end in the Elite Eight to a Big East rival - Syracuse. Keep in mind Pitt was one of the teams that beat Syracuse earlier this year. I think Syracuse may have the easiest path to the Final 8 of anyone.
Let's return East and it is unusual seeing someone outside the ACC or Big East as the #1 seed. But Kentucky leads the pack here. John Calipari has said his team is one of the youngest teams in the NCAA's but also compared his team to the Final Four (not a bad comparison). The biggest collapse of the season has to be Texas, dropping all the way to an 8 seed after being ranked #1 this year. They could either be the team that was #1 or the team that struggled through the tough Big 12. Kentucky hopes they see the 2nd half Texas team and not the first. I think Temple was shafted as they should've been a 3 seed. If you are rooting for a coach to just win one game, Fran Dunphy. His record in the NCAA's? 1-11. He won in 1994 over Nebraska when he was coaching Penn. It's an interesting matchup vs. Cornell in the 1st round. Cornell's coach was an assistant under Dunphy at Penn. This is also a pair of teams that were in the NCAA's the last two years and lost in the 1st round each time. I have to go with Wisconsin to make the Sweet 16. Another guy you don't want to go against is Bo Ryan. The bottom looks to be Bob Huggins and West Virginia's. If you call it an upset, Washington over an overrated Marquette. It's the second year in a row that Marquette went west and played a western team. That's usually a bad thing. But Marquette won last year in the same round. I think New Mexico got a pretty good draw to the Sweet 16 as I think Tennessee or Xavier (other 6's) would be favored over the Lobos. With Kentucky, it's either talent or experience and I'll go with talent and pick them over West Virginia.
As for the weakest regional, of course it is the South. Duke got everything from the play in winner to the weakest 2 and 3 seeds IMHO and a Hummel less Purdue. Then again, I'm not sure Duke is that strong despite winning the ACC (a really weak ACC). While the teams aren't really strong, the challenge will be playing in Houston against potentially two Big 12 teams (Houston is also a big stadium and if there were tickets available they'll be bought by the Texas A&M and Baylor fans). I think the Purdue seeding is fair but if another team I thought got screwed in seeding? Siena. Can you even call Siena beating Purdue an upset. Here's another upset I can see - Old Dominion over Notre Dame. Baylor is I feel a weak 3 but I'm not sure any of their opponents can beat them. I think A&M and Baylor have decent paths to the Sweet 16 which could be huge trouble for Duke and Villanova. I love Villanova but I think they are overseeded. I would pick them over Baylor normally but I have a feeling the crowd may make the difference in both semifinal games. So this may be the stupidest Final Four pick I've ever made - Texas A&M over Baylor in the final!
Final Four: Kentucky has to beat Texas A&M (although a Kentucky/Duke semifinal will be highly anticipated) and I'll give the edge to Kansas over Syracuse. In the final, the youth has to become a factor eventually so I'll pick Kansas to win it all. I will say the bracket seems kind of unbalanced and teams I probably wouldn't pick (A&M) I wound up picking. Kansas can just as easily lose in the Sweet 16 as win it all. At least the games should be close. I imagine the winning scores will be quite low this season.
Midwest: Kansas over Ohio State
West: Syracuse over Pittsburgh
East: Kentucky over West Virginia
South: Texas A&M over Baylor
Final Four: Kansas over Syracuse, Kentucky over Texas A&M
Championship: Kansas over Kentucky