The first week of the men’s NCAA tournament did not treat me well. Especially as a big college basketball fan, it was disappointing to find myself in the fourth percentile on ESPN.com. Yeah, OK. Laugh now because these picks are going to turn everything around for me:
Oklahoma vs. Butler. Butler could pull this upset because Oklahoma is not healthy. But Oklahoma’s defense is too good and will lock up Butler’s hot-shooting Darnell Archey to win.
Syracuse vs. Auburn. Syracuse was given an incredible (and largely undeserved) advantage with these games played in Albany. I really do not understand why the tournament committee gave Syracuse home court as a No. 3 seed. In any case, Syracuse has the home crowd and too much talent, so I’ll take them.
East Regional Final: It is tempting to pick Syracuse because of the crowd, but I like Oklahoma’s experience. Hollis Price and Quannas White provide senior leadership in Oklahoma’s backcourt, while Syracuse has freshman point guard Gerry McNamara. Also, Oklahoma’s defense can frustrate Carmelo Anthony.
Texas vs. Connecticut: Texas has an incredible advantage with these games in San Antonio. Teams playing in their home states tend to win. Last year, No. 11 Southern Illinois and No. 4 Illinois each won two games in Chicago. No. 6 Texas went 2-0 in Dallas, and No. 3 Pittsburgh went 2-0 in Pittsburgh. But I did not pick Syracuse, and I am not going with Texas. UConn looked great in the second half against Stanford. If Ben Gordon has a great game and Emeka Okeafor stays out of foul trouble, UConn can shut down Texas’s post game.
Maryland vs. Michigan State: Maryland has a core of seniors with enough tournament experience to win.
South Regional Final: This could rematch last year’s East Regional Final, where Maryland advanced to the Final Four. Although each team lost its best player (UConn’s Caron Butler and Maryland’s Juan Dixon), this should be a great game. Once again, Maryland has a decisive advantage in terms of seniority. Also, Maryland has enough big guys to throw at Okeafor and possibly get him in foul trouble. So I’ll take Maryland.
Arizona vs. Notre Dame: Arizona will come up with a big game after the scare against Gonzaga. Meanwhile, Notre Dame will not have home crowd in Anaheim as they did in Indianapolis. (Once again, this one makes no sense. Why give No. 5 Notre Dame home court over No. 4 Illinois?). Arizona will win — easily.
Kansas vs. Duke: I like Duke a lot, but the team’s weaknesses are clearly interior defense and turnovers. They are also a pretty young team. Duke could not guard Central Michigan’s Chris Kaman and could have problems with Nick Collison. Duke does have the scorer’s to pull this off, with sharpshooter J.J. Redick and a great one-on-one player: Dahntay Jones. But, I have Kansas in a close one.
West Regional Final: Should be a great game. Arizona beat Kansas earlier in the year and should again. Sooner or later, the loss of Wayne Simien, Kansas’s third-leading scorer, has to catch the Jayhawks.
Kentucky vs. Wisconsin: Honestly, Wisconsin is lucky to have made it this far. The spread on this game is 12, and Kentucky should cover — and then some. Wisconsin does not have enough size to compete.
Pittsburgh vs. Marquette: This is the toughest game to call. Both teams are physical, and the game should be a war. Two reasons I go with Pitt: First, Pitt played easier games to get to the Sweet Sixteen than Marquette, who had to a tight one against Holy Cross and an OT game against Missouri. Second, Dwayne Wade’s wife is not attractive.
Midwest Regional Final: Pittsburgh looked great in the first two rounds and could be primed for the upset. However, Kentucky’s game against Wisconsin will be significantly easier than Pitt’s game against Marquette. I’ll take Kentucky.
Final Four: Oklahoma, Maryland, Arizona, Kentucky.