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Predicting the Madness

by Photo of Ross Bernhardt

Game by game, region by region picks, all the way to a national championship selection.

Predicting the Madness

Filling out a bracket for the NCAA Tournament is one of my favorite and least favorite yearly rituals.  I love going through each game, picking winners and upsets, and feeling like I have just correctly predicted the exact outcome of the tournament.  I hate going back and forth on the endless tough match ups, never being able to let well enough alone and trust my instinct.  Then of course is the awful moment when your bracket bursts because your Final Four team loses in the second round.  

I fill out multiple brackets every year, yet have only won an NCAA Tournament Pool once.  That was back in high school when Ray Felton and UNC won the national championship.  I haven't been able to recreate that magic, but year in and year out, I build up my confidence and convince myself that I can and will pick the perfect bracket.

Well this year I've done it.  After trying out different combinations and permutations, I think I've finally picked all the winners.  I've correctly prognosticated every single game in the upcoming NCAA Tournament, and I'm going to share this perfect bracket with all of you.

South Region

There is definitely room for a few upsets in the first round, but I actually went chalk here.  Going chalk has come back to haunt me over the past few years, but I truly think the high seeds will win out on Thursday and Friday, with the exception of the 8/9 game.  Kentucky will have no problems with the 16 seed, whoever it may be.  I like the way UConn has played recently, and take them over Royce White and 8 seed Iowa State.  I cringed when I saw VCU and Wichita State matched up as the 12 and five seeds, respectively, since both of these teams are capable of deep runs.  I went with the 5 seed Wichita State because I think the Shockers can withstand VCU's intense pressure.  This team is too good to lose in the second round.

While I don't like Indiana's prospects in the tournament after losing senior guard Verdell Jones III, I still think they have plenty of firepower to take down New Mexico State.  UNLV handles Colorado, Baylor handles a tough South Dakota State squad, Notre Dame sneaks by Xavier, and Duke handles Lehigh.  

In the second third round, Calipari takes out Calhoun.  Indiana falls to Wichita State because Garrett Stutz neutralizes Indiana's Cody Zeller down low.  The rest of the Hoosiers can't overcome the Shockers.  UNLV and Mike Moser's tenacious play race past Baylor and their inability to land counter punches to get to the Sweet 16, and Duke has no problem with a depleted Notre Dame team.  In the round of 16, Kentucky again moves on while Duke is upset by UNLV, setting up an interesting Elite Eight showdown.  Kentucky gets its toughest test yet, but ultimately hangs on for a trip to the Final Four.

West Region

Michigan State got dealt an incredibly difficult hand.  After an easy second round win over LIU, their road gets extremely difficult.  They have to take on winner of the Memphis/St. Louis game.  Memphis is incredibly under-seeded, while St. Louis boasts one of the stingiest defense and best game tacticians in coach Rick Majerus.  Memphis will overpower the Billikens, but it's a shame they got paired up.

Then a dangerous Long Beach State team squares off with a talented New Mexico, and I think Casper Ware and the 49ers lead LBSU to that patented 12-over-5 upset.  Louisville and stellar guard Peyton Siva have no problems with Davidson, and Isaiah Canaan leads Murray State past a hot Colorado team.  Marquette gets by BYU, who won't be able to recover from that amazing comeback against Iona.  Florida, an incredibly dangerous seven seed, tops Mike Scott and Virginia, and Missouri races by Norfolk State.

In the third round, Michigan will get tested by Memphis' team-wide athleticism, something they just don't see in the Big Ten, but I think Izzo and the Spartans still find a way.  Long Beach State's end stops at one thanks to Louisville, Murray State's run continues with a win over Marquette, and Missouri knocks out its doppleganger Florida.  Michigan State again gets a tough matchup in Louisville in the Sweet 16, a team that can do it all plus defend pressure like maniacs.  MSU's experience gets them through, and the same goes for Missouri over Murray State.  This sets up a real fun Elite Eight showdown between teams with very opposing styles.  MSU can slow it down and operate through their talented post players.  Missouri likes to run with their guard-oriented lineup.  Michigan State and their bigs prevail, sending Tom Izzo to yet another Final Four.

East Region

This quadrant of the bracket gave me the most trouble, but not because it was difficult to predict.  In the East, I struggled with picking with my head or with my heart.

Syracuse and Kansas State handle their openers.  Vanderbilt doesn't succumb to the 5-12 upset, even against a solid Harvard team.  Montana, beards and all, pull my biggest upset as they knock out 4 seed Wisconsin.  Florida State cruises by Andrew Nicholson and St. Bonaventure, while Cincinnati and Texas play one of the closer games of the round.  The Bearcats come out on top.  Ohio State doesn't sweat against Loyola (MD).  

As a Gonzaga Bulldogs fan, I can never stay unbiased when filling out my brackets.  I often make irrational picks that end up hurting me just because I want to see my Zags claim the glory.  This year, I talked myself into not only a first round win over 10 seed West Virginia, but an upset of 2 seed Ohio State in the third round.  My roommate, who works in the financial world, advised me to use a "hedging" strategy.  Pick Ohio State, and if the Buckeyes win, enjoy the benefits of your bracket remaining intact, while also enjoying a Gonzaga win were it to happen.  I went with a "concentrated" strategy where I put all of my eggs in the Gonzaga basket.  Why haven't I been hired on Wall Street yet?

Syracuse takes down Kansas State with their superior guard play, and Vanderbilt dispatches the Grizzlies of Montana.  Florida State takes down Cincinnati for a date with Gonzaga in the Sweet 16.  I didn't let my fandom go to my head when picking that game, as Florida State's defensive pressure and rebounding will throw my Zags off their game.  And consider me the hipster of picking Syracuse to bow out early.  Even before the Fab Melo news came out, I had Syracuse falling at the hands of a hot Vanderbilt team, setting up an interesting game between Vanderbilt and Florida State.  I like the Commodores because I think they will be able to score more consistently than the Seminoles.

Midwest Region

The big question mark here is still John Henson's status, but North Carolina should still handle its second round game even if he isn't available.  Doug McDermott and Creighton take down a tough Alabama defense in the next game.  After a disappointing showing in the Atlantic 10 Tournament, Temple doesn't mess around in the second round against either Cal or South Florida.  Michigan faces another geographic rival in Ohio University and are able to withstand DJ Cooper's terrific play for the Bobcats.

Even though I still can't rationalize it, I like N.C. State over San Diego State in the 6/11 matchup.  Georgetown doesn't fool around with Belmont, St. Mary's makes it past Robbie Hummel's last stand with Purdue, and Kansas withstands a tough Detroit squad.  Kansas ends St. Mary's run, and Georgetown stops N.C. State as well.  UNC withstands a big game from Doug McDermott and Creighton, and senior Juan Fernandez gets the better of freshman Trey Burke as Temple tops Michigan.

In the Sweet 16, both of the top seeds advance.  UNC, with or without Henson, is talented enough to handle Michigan, and Kansas makes it two wins over the Georgetown Hoyas on the season.  The Elite Eight is where Henson's presence will be felt.  If he plays, I like North Carolina's chances.  If he's unavailable, I think Thomas Robinson and Kansas advance to the Final Four.

Final Four

Michigan State and Kentucky will be a great matchup just to watch how both teams react to each other.  Michigan State has quality depth down low but lacks the length to truly disrupt Anthony Davis.  Terrence Jones is versatile enough to handle Draymond Green down low and away from the basket.  Kentucky wins a fairly close one.  Vanderbilt is on a tear en route to the Final Four, but I just like Kansas for some reason.  I get suckered into Kansas every year, and they have yet to make me look good.  This finally feels like the year my faith in the Jayhawks will be rewarded.

And in the national championship, Kentucky's overall talent trumps the individual talent of Thomas Robinson, as the Wildcats will be too much for Kansas to handle.  The Jayhawks will hang around, but I think Kentucky gets John Calipari his first title.

So is this the perfect bracket?  Yes.  Is it really?  Probably not.  But it's March, and everyone's allowed to experience a little madness.  Mine will last until Thursday when my first pick falls and I go into a tailspin.  But win or lose, the practice of filling out a bracket gives me great joy.  My final tips for all you prognosticators: don't spend more than a minute on each pick, always trust your gut, and have fun with it.  Hopefully you guys will have as much fun during this wonderful three-week period as I do.

Let CHARGED.fm get you tickets to the Final Four in New Orleans.

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