No one knows who will win.
That’s the fun part of all this.
Do you really think ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi can pick the 2017 NCAA national basketball champion with any degree of certainty? What about Dickie V? He went chalk, chalk, chalk, chalk, chalk, chalk, chalk, chalk with his Elite Eight picks Sunday night.
That said, this discussion is all about who will win.
As you prepare to print out that innocent, unmarked NCAA bracket, keep in mind there is no perfect plan to make it happen, at least not from anyone that follows college basketball closely. Not even Joey Brackets can avoid the blood-red ink that will visit our printouts in just a few days.
As for the Golden Bracket, I’m switching things up in 2017. In previous years I sought to wow the readership with eye-opening upset picks, but the real truth of the NCAAs is chalk usually prevails in the end. There’s nothing wrong with a little upset here and a little upset there, but go in with the understanding that your picks are as good as anybody’s. The less blood, the better.
The seeds aren’t the true overall representation of how good (or how bad) these teams are because the NCAA tried to save a few bucks on travel. But for the purposes of this discussion, I’m not going heavy on major upsets this year.
A word of advice for those foolish enough to copy my picks: don’t do it. Make your own. It’s more fun that way. Also, don’t get too worked up over this. The person in your office that knows the least will finish in the top three of your office pool most years. So don’t sweat it.
Let’s talk tourney.
A new bracket brings renewed hopes and it’s past time that I turned in a non-clunker in the bracket department. Last season, only one of my Final Four picks actually ended up in Houston. To my credit, that team was Villanova. To my detriment, I had the Wildcats losing to Oregon in the semifinals.
The biggest upset comes in the West where I’m taking 14-seed Florida Gulf Coast — aka Dunk City — to catch 3-seed Florida State slipping in the opening round. And what of top seed Gonzaga and Kansas? The national analysts were all over Duke and North Carolina on Selection Sunday. Not so much for the Zags and Jayhawks. Of the three No. 1s, I have Gonzaga making the briefest appearance in the proceedings. Later, Zags. Out in the Sweet Sixteen, courtesy of Notre Dame.
I’m taking Sean Miller’s second-seeded Arizona team to earn the West spot in the Final Four. The Wildcats are smoking with big man Lauri Markkanen anchoring the middle. The bracket really could open up for 30-4 Zona, especially if Notre Dame takes care of the Zags, which beat the Wildcats by seven earlier this season.
The sexiest part of my East bracket is that second-round matchup between Baylor and SMU, which represents 66 percent of the Texas schools represented in the field and four fewer than the 2016 tourney. Scott Drew doesn’t always get his due as a good coach, but he has led the Bears to four straight tournaments seeded sixth or higher. The third-seeded Bears won’t have a problem with New Mexico State in the opener, but will meet their doom against Tim Jankovich’s upstart Mustangs. That will be it our for the Lone Star State as Duke sends the Mustangs home in the Sweet 16.
Anyone who has read me over the years knows I believe college basketball to be a guard’s game. That’s why the right side of my bracket has Kansas and North Carolina making it to Phoenix.
The Jayhawks may have a problem with Louisville in the Midwest Final, but I give them the edge because of their great guards Frank Mason III, Devonté Graham, along with swingman Joshua Jackson, a top-three pick in the upcoming NBA draft. KU is battle-tested with just enough depth to get through a bout of foul trouble. The Rock Chalks are the third of my Final Four quartet to make it there as a one seed.
Of all the teams in the bracket, I view North Carolina as the one that has the look of a champion in the making. The Tar Heels have pretty good guard play with Joel Berry, Jr. and Justin Jackson but the reason I give them a great chance to upend UCLA in the South is their big buys Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks. Those two give Roy Williams a great advantage on the interior because they average 25 points and 15 rebounds per game.
On that rare night when Berry and Jackson are both off, those big bulls will be able to bring the Heels through with their ability to get buckets on putbacks and tip-ins.
It may sound like a safe pick, but give me the Tar Heels to capture their sixth title in a high-scoring affair over Arizona.