Rather than bore you, dear reader, with a full-blown NCAA bracket, let's go about the Big Dance with quick hits and thematic force. You'll still get the predictions that count.
Here's the opening salvo: Former NBA great Reggie Miller, Washington Post columnist Michael Wilbon and ESPN's Dan Patrick have all got Georgetown winning the whole thing. But this weird John Thompson II and III/Patrick Ewing I and II thing—as reported recently in USA Today's March Madness pullout-section—is unnerving. The Georgetown coach known as JT III has his imperious legendary father sitting in the stands for every game, hollering at the young Hoyas, including among them, Patrick Ewing Jr., who transferred to his own legendary father's alma mater after beginning his college career at Indiana.
So, the prospect of Texas Tech's Bob Knight coaching against JT III in Round 2 is as juicy as it gets. If the Red Raiders can get past Boston College, we'll have that matchup, played on a nice neutral court in Winston-Salem.
Miller, by the way, has UCLA getting taken down by Gonzaga in Round 2. That's interesting, Miller going against his alma mater. As for me, I have tried and tried to see Gonzaga advance. They are a scary #10, for sure, but they won their early quality games with big man Josh Heytvelt on the roster (15.5 ppg, 7.7 rpg). He's gone now, and while the Zags (AKA Bulldogs) did well in the run-up to the NCAAs, they did it all against the West Coast Conference, which is not an impressive group. In choosing Indiana to beat the Zags, I'm banking on the Hoosiers being better than I really know, with the vet coach Kelvin Sampson an interesting presence that might help them get over the hump.
Here are other key rationales:
1. South Bracket: I refuse to believe in Ohio State's invincibility.
2. East Bracket: I think the Hansbrough kid with North Carolina is potentially wounded psychologically after getting decked and bloodied in the ACC tourney. Tom Izzo's Michigan St. team is sitting there, a quiet #9, ready to play smash-mouth against the Tar Heels. Plus, the Spartans have a star in Drew Neitzel (he scores; hits free throws and treys). Here's a stat on Izzo: four Final Fours in the last eight years. That's huge.
3. West Bracket: Deadly. UCLA, Kansas, Virginia Tech and Pittsburgh, and then an incredible array of powerhouses in "down" years: Kentucky, Duke, Villanova, Indiana, Gonzaga. (Why is Southern Illinois #4? I don't know, but they're sitting there also.) And so, I've gotten fond of Pitt: They're a #3 seed and a Big East team that is not Georgetown. They start three seniors, with the aircraft carrier Aaron Gray in the middle, a big man who actually scores and rebounds. I'm looking for a surprise to come out of this bracket, especially since we shouldn't forget that Kansas has tanked recently in the tourney. Remember Bucknell?
4. Midwest Bracket: Also full of pitfalls. But I like Georgia Tech here for a while. They're an overlooked ACC team, who, besides grabbing Q-wins versus Memphis, Duke, North Carolina and Boston College, also played a strong out-of-conference schedule that included Purdue, UCLA and Vanderbilt. I have Tech making it to the Elite 8, and then they face Florida, presuming the Gators can get past Arizona and Maryland (by no means a certainty). But I still like Florida. They are strong and balanced, and they have already gone through their "down" period, when they lost a few games but to good teams like Tennessee and Vandy.
My Final Four:
Florida (#1), Pitt (#3), Texas (#4), and Texas A&M (#3). That's an SEC, a Big East and two Big 12s.
No ACC and no PAC 10 and no Big 10 here, which is going against the grain for sure. How many brackets have North Carolina versus UCLA in the Final? Or Ohio State versus Oregon? Probably quite a few. But it's all about potential paths and somebody getting hot. So we shall see.
And the winner is... They're awfully young—starting four frosh and one soph—but why not? Texas is hugely talented. They take it all.