March Madness: recapping key picks gone wrong, looking forward

sweet16

As the NCAA Men’s Basketball tournament heads to the Sweet 16 tonight, organizers can only hope this weekend becomes as compelling as last weekend.

Upsets ruled the weekend, brackets be damned. Dayton, Tennessee and Stanford survived. A pair of OSUs severely disappointed. Stephen F. Austin completed one of the tourney’s most unlikely comebacks. North Dakota State took down Oklahoma. Wichita State faced its first true test and came up just short. And through it all, favorite Florida, top seeds Virginia and Arizona, and not-so-darkhorse favorite Michigan State are still standing.

My pre-tourney bracket looks a mess. Here’s a recap of the first weekend, and some revised picks (where necessary) as we drive further down the road to the Final Four.

Recapping our picks
Midwest:
Mercer dealt us an early blow by knocking off Duke, who we saw with enough talent and drive to make a run to the Final Four. The ACC delivered more pain when, after winning a Tuesday night game to make the main draw, NC State forgot how to shoot free throws and let Saint Louis off the hook in a 12-5 game. The rest of the second round played out as expected, with Texas getting a buzzer-beating off-hand, follow-shot from Cam Ridley to dispatch Arizona State.

The third round saw Kentucky’s youth and talent overcome Wichita’s experience and talent. It came down to a last-second shot, and Willie Cauley-Stein did enough to keep Fred Van Vleet from locking in on the game-winner. Louisville cruised, setting up a Bluegrass battle. Michigan burned Texas for 14 three-pointers and gets 11th seeded Tennessee in the Sweet 16.

Predictions: Louisville over Kentucky; Michigan over Tennessee. In a rematch of last year’s championship game, Michigan gets revenge and a trip to the Final Four.

West:

Oklahoma State had been played well. Everything seemed to point to the Cowboys staying hot, riding Marcus Smart and knocking off top seeded Arizona in the third round. Only problem was that the Cowboys couldn’t get past Gonzaga, fouling 33 times and seemingly forgetting how to play defense.

Oklahoma also didn’t do the conference any favors, falling to North Dakota State, which provided what may be Texas fans’ lasting memory of the tourney: coach Saul Phillips caught on camera with his Horns up following the win.
Baylor, though, upheld the Big 12’s honor by playing defense with renewed vigor in blasting Nebraska and Creighton in a surprisingly lopsided run through San Antonio.

Oregon’s shooters got hot early and stayed hot against BYU and had Wisconsin against the ropes before the Badgers came through. San Diego State played late at night and stayed well under the radar to advance as the best team no one’s seen or heard about.

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Predictions: We picked Wisconsin to advance to the Final Four and still like the Badgers. Baylor will give the Badgers a run but don’t expect Wisconsin to lose track of Brady Heslip like Creighton did. Arizona beats San Diego State but can’t overcome Wisconsin’s balance. The Wildcats are prone to offensive droughts and can’t afford one at the wrong time.

East:

Save for Connecticut’s upset of Villanova on Sunday night, we’d have hit that bracket 100 percent. Harvard’s brains beat Cincinnati’s braun. Then the Crimson gave Michigan State a better game than many expected, but it served to give the Spartans an early test and prep them for a Sweet 16 match-up with Virginia.

Iowa State overcame the loss of Georges Niang with two wins, thanks to DeAndre Kane’s last-second shot to oust North Carolina. Think Kane will like the big stage at Madison Square Garden for the Sweet 16?

Predictions: Michigan State is too talented for top-seeded Virginia, ending the Cavaliers’ best run in almost 30 years. We liked Iowa State before the tournament to reach the Elite 8, and even without Niang the Cyclones top MSG veteran Shabazz Napier and Connecticut. Michigan State then tops ISU to advance to the Final Four.

South:

This was our worst region. Stephen F. Austin’s four-point play at the end of regulation gave us the tournament’s most unlikely rally, which the Lumberjacks made stand with their overtime win over former tourney darling VCU. Dayton, VCU’s Atlantic 10 colleague, carried that conference’s banner with upsets of Ohio State (wrecking this bracket in the first game to finish) and then Syracuse. Stanford also surprised, beating New Mexico and then making Andrew Wiggins look like a freshman. (We had Kansas falling in the third round, regardless.)

Predictions: Florida got an early test, then demolished Pitt. The Gators continue to roll and will beat UCLA and Stanford to advance to the final four.

Revised Final Four picks:
Three of our final four are still alive. We still like Florida over Michigan State and Wisconsin to win and reach the championship game. Florida tops Wisconsin.

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