Don’t let the “First Four” fool you, the Madness has not officially begun. You still have two days to put aside all the other priorities in your life and slave over your bracket. 756sports is here to help and will start off by breaking down the Southeast bracket which is led by #1 seed Pittsburgh, #2 Florida, #3 BYU and #4 Wisconsin. This region has the easiest path for a 1 seed to get to the Final Four. While there are challenges in the bottom half of the region, I do not see much stopping Pitt from making it to the Elite 8 in the top half. I have them squaring off against my sleeper pick, Utah St. in the sweet 16. Utah St. went 30-3 this year and got a 12-seed. They got overlooked by the selection committee, but I think it could work in their favor. I see them pulling off some upsets (Kansas State, Wisconsin) and making a Cinderella run before losing to Pitt. In the bottom half, there are some intriguing matchups. In the first round, St. John’s takes on Gonzaga (6-11), while UCLA takes on Michigan St. (7-10). These matchups are two of the best in the first round. I have the Johnnies pulling out a slim victory before losing to Jimmer and Co. in the 2nd round, while my “darkhorse” UCLA loses to Tom Izzo’s Spartans in the first round. UCLA played terribly down the stretch and got a tough matchup in Michigan State. Lastly, I was tempted to listen to Jim Rome and pick UCSB over the weakest 2 seed, Florida, but couldn’t do it.
Here is a look at my first round (now 2nd round) predictions…
1. Pitt over 16. UNC-Asheville
9. Old Dominion over 8. Butler
12. Utah St. over 5. Kansas St.
4. Wisconsin over 13. Belmont
6. St. John’s over 11. Gonzaga
3. BYU over 14. Wofford
10. Michigan St. over 7. UCLA
2. Florida over 15. UCSB
In the 2nd round (now 3rd round), there will be some solid, entertaining matchups. Old Dominion (or Butler) could give Pitt a run for their money as they play a similar, physical style centered around rebounding and inside play. St. John’s-BYU will also present us with a great game. I cannot wait to see Jimmer Fredette square off against a physical, athletic and battle-tested Big East team in the Red Storm. The loss of DJ Kennedy for St. John’s will hurt them a lot and the fact that they will not be playing all these big games at the Garden will be their kryptonite. At the bottom of the region, I got my upset of the Southeast with Michigan St. beating Florida for a bid to the Sweet 16. Why? Tom Izzo. I also have Utah St. pulling off another upset against 4. Wisconsin…because I needed something crazy to happen. Also, Wisconsin only managed to score 33 points their last time out in the Big 10 tournament. 33!! Jimmer gets that in his sleep! I was tempted to have them losing to Belmont, but the Badgers will manage to win one.
1. Pitt over 9. OD
12. Utah St. over 4. Wisconsin
3. BYU over 6. St. John’s
10. Michigan St. over 2. Florida
The Sweet 16 separates the CInderella stories from the contenders. This is where we’ll see Pitt send home Utah St., and Jimmer and the Virgins beat the Spartans.
1. Pitt over 12. Utah St.
3. BYU over 10. Michigan St.
In the Southeast regional championship, the beasts of the Big East will be able to contain Jimmer and BYU with their strength, speed and toughness. I think the kid will come to play and perform well in the tournament, but it won’t be enough to get the Final Four berth.
1. Pitt over 3. BYU
FINAL FOUR PICK: 1. PITTSBURGH
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
BYU, Senior, G Jimmer Fredette (28. 5 ppg, 4 assists)
Pitt, Senior, G Brad Wanamaker (12 ppg, 5 assists, 5 rebounds)
Michigan St, Senior, GKalin Lucas (17 ppg)
UCSB Junior, F Orlando Johnson (21 ppg)
Wofford Senior, F Noah Dahlman (20 ppg, 5 rebs)
10. Michigan State Spartans…Tom Izzo is the man and these guys have experience from last year as they made it all the way to the Final Four before losing by 2 to Butler. They are a very dangerous 10 seed and Izzo is a great tournament coach that will have his guys ready to roll.
15. UCSB Gauchos