Who completes our handicapper's Final Four this year? Read on to find out his four NCAA Tournament Picks to make it all the way to Houston the first weekend of April.
It's never as easy at it looks, filling out a bracket for the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament. After all, once you've made it through the Field of 64 to the Sweet 16 and then the Elite Eight, we're only talking seven more games to ponder to come up with an eventual champion.
Easy peasy, right?
According to President Obama, I've got at least one quadrant of my bracket wrong, that being the West Region where my pick for the title and a trip to Houston for the Final Four is No. 2 seed Oklahoma. Our commander-in-chief believes it will be Texas A&M, and if there's one thing I hope he gets right before leaving Washington DC, it's his choice in the West since it would send my beloved Aggies to the final weekend of March Madness.
It ain't gonna' happen, however, and it will be the Sooners who dispatch Texas A&M in the Sweet 16 before taking on No. 1 seed Oregon in the West Finals. The Ducks certainly have the resume to continue on past Oklahoma after Dana Altman's charges won both the Pac-12 regular season and tourney titles. They enter the NCAA Tournament having won 8-straight, covering the NCAA Tournament Odds in five of the final six games. Oregon tasted defeat just twice since mid-January, the losses coming on one weekend trip through Cal and Stanford.
They also have a slight frontcourt advantage over the Sooners who have the edge in the backcourt. In the end, I simply don't see Oregon being able to handle Oklahoma's Buddy Hield who is going to present some matchup problems for younger Ducks out on the perimeter. A Sooners triumph will mean no No. 1 seed makes it to Houston.
Brought 'Nova This Far, And Taking Them Once Again
My next Final Four pick might be the one which will draw the most disagreement. Some of that dispute begins with me picking No. 5 Maryland over top-ranked and No. 1 Kansas in the Elite Eight. Just picking the Terrapins to get by No. 6 California in the Round of 32 might be a stretch for some people, much less beat the Jayhawks.
Maryland's slump at the end of the regular season is one reason they're likely picked to exit March Madness before ever reaching the South Region. Five losses in the last eight games before March Madness begins can't be overlooked, though it doesn't really deter me from backing off Mark Turgeon's team.
That's where it ends for the Terps, however, with Villanova my choice to win the South. Yes, I know the Wildcats have been a huge disappointment in recent NCAA Tournaments, felt it firsthand each of the last two years. I still like this veteran 'Nova team, and will ride the 'Cats into the Final four.
MSU To Take All-Big Ten Midwest Final
The last two free Free NCAA Tournament Picks to fill out the Final Four are No. 3 West Virginia in the East and No. 2 Michigan State in the Midwest. Let's start in the East where not picking North Carolina to advance to the Elite Eight was tough, not to mention having Xavier going out in the Field of 32.
My Elite Eight picks for the South, Kentucky and West Virginia, were both wildly inconsistent during the season. Yet, I like them both to battle it out in Philadelphia for the prize. The Wildcats have the better raw talent, but the Mountaineers remain my choice.
Michigan State might have been my easiest pick throughout the bracket, in part because of the history of Tom Izzo's clubs in the event. Midwest No. 1 Virginia is probably a tougher matchup for the Spartans, but I'm still firmly behind No. 5 seed Purdue reaching the Elite Eight to set up an all-Big Ten clash in Chicago. My heart will be pulling for the Boilermakers, but Izzo and the Spartans should prove too much for Purdue a third time.
My picks: South (Villanova); West (Oklahoma); East (West Virginia); Midwest (Michigan State)