Bring on St. Patty's Day friends! No, not because it seems to be an open invite for everyone to drink all day and get drunk all night. No, not because you get to go up to random people and pinch them if they aren't wearing green (honestly green boxers count whether you see them or not by the way). Nope, I am impatiently waiting for St. Patrick's Day for one important reason: Tip Off of March Madness 2016!!!
The NCAA Men's Basketball "March Madness" tournament has to be THE most exciting sporting event in the world. The drama of it all, the upsets, the favourites, the overtime shots, the heartbreak....there is literally something for everyone to fall in love with. A 64-team bracket (68 if you want to count the play-in games played earlier) where you win, you live to see another day. You lose and it doesn't matter how great your season was, how high your RPI is or how many Top 25 teams you beat....you are going home and the dream of being called champion is over. One team will need to navigate through 6 rounds of play (7 for some) for the right to climb that ladder and cut down the nets in Houston.
The other amazing aspect to #MarchMadness is the fantasy sports angle. ESPN, CBS, theScore, TSN, SI....so many different sports websites offer a Bracket Challenge for you to test your knowledge (luck) against friends, family and other die-hard sports fans. This is bragging rights time people. You know you want to be standing around the water cooler at your office or tweeting non-stop about how you called that 13-seed upset or how you were the only one who knew a 14-seed would make the Sweet 16. If you can navigate your way through picking all 6 rounds and come out on top, a champion you will be crowned as well. I personally entered 11 different bracket challenges last year, varying invites from people and just wanting to add some excitement to the madness of it all.
This is also a #TwineTime challenge to all of you faithful followers and readers. I challenge YOU to accept my March Madness Tournament Pick'em Challenge. Just follow THIS LINK and join my ESPN bracket pool. Let's see if you can upset me! Now, to be fair, you will have a huge advantage over me since I am about to reveal my bracket to the world right now. But I have the confidence...the swagger...the cockiness in my NCAA men's basketball knowledge to know even giving you the odds of knowing who I am picking I can still best most, if not all, of you! I even changed the settings so you can add up to 2 brackets into the pool. #BringItOn
Without further adieu, here is the #TwineTime March Madness bracket:
Kansas (1) - No surprise the Jayhawks are the #1 overall seed for the tournament and the overwhelming favourite in the South. They finished the season 30-4, 15-3 in the Big 12. They won their 12th straight Big 12 title! They swept their main conference rival (and possible Final Four opponent) Oklahoma. They also beat Baylor (3 times), Kentucky and West Virginia (twice). These are all teams who are getting a lot of support for a deep tournament run. With the results they put together this season it is no wonder they are also the #1 RPI (Rating Percentage Index taking into account wins and losses and strength of schedule) team. Strong defence, deadly offence and the ability to drain the long ball at any time makes Kansas a real threat to take home the title.
Team To Watch
California (4) - The Golden Bears could surprise a few people during opening weekend and find themselves in the Sweet 16. Coming from a loaded Pac-12 conference, the Bears did beat Pac-12 Champ Oregon, Utah, Arizona, Oregon State, Colorado and USC this season. Plus they took Virginia down to the wire, on the road, only to lose by 1. Cal's secret to success will be all about the D. They aren't the flashy, high-scoring type of team like Oregon but they can smoother a team with strong defence and big rebounds. The lower the score, the better the advantage for Cal. Of course, given they play high-offence Hawaii in the first round, they will be tested early.
Wichita State (11) - The Shockers are officially dancing. After destroying Vanerbilt (who never should have been invited to the tournament in the first place) in the Play-In game on Tuesday, Wichita State is a dangerous team and one that could easily bust many brackets this weekend. This is an fast-paced offence team who likes to score breakaway points and generate turnovers. Don't be fooled by the average 51 RPI rating either. The advantage of any team once the tournament starts is who you find on the other side of the court. Wichita State will open with Arizona and, should they survive, will take on Miami or Buffalo. The Shockers can compete with any of these teams and could make another Final 4 push. Something to keep in mind, when looking at similar teams played between Wichita State and Arizona, the Shockers beat Utah this season...Arizona did not.
Don't Sleep On
(12) South Dakota State over (5) Maryland - A classic 5-12 match up with a strong upset possibility. The Jackrabbits, in the past, have entered the tournament often being dubbed a #BracketBuster type of team. This could be their best opportunity. The turtles are floundering and struggling to stay above water entering the tournament. A team many predicted would make a run at the title back in November now is a team many expect to barely make it out of the first round...if at all. The Big 10 was cursed perhaps this season nabbing 3 of the 4 #5 seeds, a higher seed often prone to upsets. Maryland could be one of a few Big 10 teams who find themselves on the outs after the opening round.
(2) Villanova vs. (10) Temple - Nothing beats a rivalry game and this R32 match up would be a great one to see on the hardwood once again. The Battle of Brotherly Love could tip off again this weekend for a Sweet 16 spot.
(1) Kansas over (16) Austin Peay
(9) UCONN over (8) Colorado
(12) South Dakota State over (5) Maryland
(4) California over (13) Hawaii
(11) Wichita State over (6) Arizona
(3) Miami over (14) Buffalo
(10) Temple over (7) Iowa
(2) Villanova over (15) UNC Asheville
(1) Kansas over (9) UCONN
(4) Cal over (12) South Dakota State
(11) Wichita State over (3) Miami
(2) Villanova over (10) Temple
(1) Kansas over (4) Cal
(2) Villanova over (11) Wichita State
(1) Kansas over (2) Villanova
Oregon (1) - The Ducks destroyed Utah in the Pac-12 championship game, blowing the Utes out by 31. That strong result is probably the reason they were selected as a #1 seed over contending teams like Villanova and Michigan State. Of course having a #2 RPI rating doesn't hurt either. This Ducks team is perhaps more offensive than the traditional high-scoring, fast-action Ducks football team. And, similar to the football program, the defence is not the best in the country but can do enough to stop teams from running the court with the flying Ducks offence. The region is not an easy one mind you with a potential rematch with Baylor or defending champion Duke in the Sweet 16 looming. Many are calling Oregon to be the first #1 seed to lose in the tournament, I'm not sold though.
Team To Watch
Oklahoma (2) - The team from the region garnishing the most Final 4 predictions from many prognosticators right now. The Sooners were the #1 team in the country earlier this season and have been considered a title favourite all year. A number 6 RPI and having the National Player of the Year candidate (Buddy Hield) certainly help the argument. Oklahoma has also played a strong schedule, besting fellow contenders Baylor, West Virgina, Villanova (by 25!!) and Iowa State. The double loss to Kansas really was the only blemish on the resume this season....and if they navigate through their region they could get a shot at revenge in Houston on the Jayhawks.
Northern Iowa (11) - Probably my favourite sleeper team in the entire bracket...and even then I'm not sure this is really a sleeper team. Everyone seems to be on the Panthers bandwagon right now and rightfully so. Ok so the RPI is a bit low at 73 but this team is 11-1 in their past 12 games. They have beaten top contending teams like North Carolina, Iowa State and fellow #bracketbuster Wichita State (twice). The Missouri Valley champions do not come dancing for just the opening number either. When they come to play, they usually play a few rounds. Their section of the draw could see them break the hearts of basketball fans in the state of Texas this weekend too, drawing Texas in the opening round and, likely, Texas A&M in the second round. Not exactly a high scoring team but a strong defence helps keep games low and close. The cinderella glass slipper may just be set to fit a Panther paw this weekend.
Don't Sleep On
(10) VCU over (7) Oregon State - I love the Pac-12 and, even as an Oregon alum, do enjoy seeing the Beavers make this field. But VCU is VCU...even under a new head coach. Couple in the pressure attack from the Rams with the poor rebounding and defending of the Beavers and this should be a VCU "upset" based on the seeding.
Best Future Match Up
(4) Duke vs (5) Baylor - What a match up this would be. Two talented teams led by a strong core group of starters who can take their teams deep into the tournament. However, both Duke and Baylor are also prone to early round upsets and both could be going home after the opening game.
(1) Oregon over (16) Southern <projected>
(8) St. Joe's over (9) Cincinnati
(5) Baylor over (12) Yale
(4) Duke over (13) UNC Wilmington
(11) Northern Iowa over (6) Texas
(3) Texas A&M over (14) Green Bay
(10) VCU over (7) Oregon State
(2) Oklahoma over (15) CSU Bakersfield
(1) Oregon over (8) St. Joe's
(5) Baylor over (4) Duke
(11) Northern Iowa over (3) Texas A&M
(2) Oklahoma over (10) VCU
(1) Oregon over (5) Baylor
(2) Oklahoma over (11) Northern Iowa
(1) Oregon over (2) Oklahoma
North Carolina (1) - The Tar Heels are fresh off an ACC Championship, have a #5 RPI and a top 15 ranking in points scored, assists and rebounds. Add all that up and this is a championship calibre team. The last time North Carolina made the Final 4 (2009), they won the whole thing. This could be a similar result. However, they certainly were not handed any favourites based on their name, being placed in unquestionably the most difficult region of the bracket. Their opening game against "Dunk City" Florida Gulf Coast is no slam dunk even. But if they get on a roll, watch out!
Team To Watch
West Virginia (3) - Another Big 12 team who has aspirations of cutting down the nets in Big 12 friendly confines of Houston, TX. The Mountaineers have received the nickname "Press Virginia" for their physical play. They are probably the most physical team in the tournament and have no problem throwing their weight around to get that rebound or make the big defensive stop. Teams will have to find a way to stand up to the "bully" mentality of this strong team. The key to success is turnovers. West Virginia creates a lot of them and makes you pay for them every time. If teams can have strong ball control and not get pushed around, "Press Virginia" could be in trouble. Luckily for them, they are in the lower half of the bracket and face much easier competition avoiding North Carolina, Kentucky or Indiana until the Elite 8.
Wisconsin (7) - Ok I know this is not a double seeded team and, technically, is the favourite in their opening round game vs. (10) Pittsburgh. But let's be honest, how many of you thought the Badgers were even making this tournament in December...let alone be seeded 7? They needed to play a light's out February to make it here and they did so, winning 11 of their final 13 games. The first round upset loss to Nebraska in the Big 10 tournament is a cause for concern mind you. Although similar to West Virginia, they find themselves in the lower part of the bracket and could be set to make a deep run. This team has confidence right now and that alone can be very dangerous. The Badgers have been playing elimination ball for almost 3 months now, knowing any bad loss could end their tournament dream. When you are in the "win and in" mind frame and already finding success, that momentum can be tough to stop. Let's also remember, this was a team who made the final last year.
Don't Sleep On
(9) Providence over (8) USC - I almost feel like these two teams are trending in opposite directions. The #8 seed for the Trojans feels too high and the #9 seed for the Friars seems to low. Providence finished with a better overall record, a higher RPI and a stronger result in their past 12 games. USC's only major notable wins were over Arizona and Wichita State. Providence beat Arizona as well, on top of besting Villanova earlier in the season. According to the committee this would be an upset. I don't see USC providing much of a test though.
Best Future Match Up
(4) Kentucky vs. (5) Indiana - Two storied programs. Two basketball crazy schools who have won national championships. Two programs with national recognition and reputation. Two schools who refuse to play one another? Believe it or not this is the truth. The Wildcats and Hoosiers will not play one another during the regular season, on purpose. We can, hopefully, thank the selection committee for giving us this second round match.
(1) North Carolina over (16) Florida Gulf Coast
(9) Providence over (8) USC
(5) Indiana over (12) Chattanooga
(4) Kentucky over (13) Stony Brook
(6) Notre Dame over (11) Michigan <projected>
(3) West Virginia over (14) SF Austin
(7) Wisconsin over (10) Pittsburgh
(2) Xavier over (15) Weber State
(1) UNC over (9) Providence
(4) Kentucky over (5) Indiana
(3) West Virginia over (6) Notre Dame
(7) Wisconsin over (2) Xavier
(4) Kentucky over (1) UNC
(3) West Virginia over (7) Wisconsin
(4) Kentucky over (3) West Virginia
Michigan State (2) - The only region where the top seed is not the favourite to make the Final 4. Sure Oregon is perhaps prone to be upset early but they are still considered a favourite in their bracket. In the midwest, the top seed is overwhelmingly considered the underdog against the favourite, and #2 seed, Michigan State. Sparty and Coach Izzo are dangerous this time of year...every year. You almost need to ignore the seed next to their name and pencil them in for a spot in the Sweet 16 at very least. I remember back in 2010 helping a friend put together her bracket for the first time and telling her to just move Michigan State to the Elite 8 as a starting point. Sure enough, the #5 seeded Spartans made the Final Four that year. It would appear 27 is the magic number for MSU as well. Any season where they win at least 27 games, a deep tournament run has followed. Last year, 27 wins and a Final 4. This year, 29 wins and....who knows? Two years ago 29 wins brought an Elite 8 appearance. Anything less than that this year would be considered a disappointment in East Lansing.
Team To Watch
Virginia (1) - This might be the best Virginia team we have seen in years...if ever. A strong, dominating defence creates limited scoring opportunities for their opponents. The ability to drain the long ball on a consistent basis also helps give them big leads in some games while never being out of it in close games. A #3 RPI ranking also means they should be heavily favoured in each game leading up to the Elite 8 possible showdown with Michigan State.
Gonzaga (11) - This has not been the standard season we are used to seeing from Mark Few and his Gonzaga Bulldogs. They were swept by conference rival St. Mary's in the regular season and looked like a long-shot to make the tournament. However, in typical Coach Few fashion, Gonzaga won the West Coast tournament title and find themselves dancing for an 18th consecutive season. The experience factor alone could be the difference in their opening round game vs. Seton Hall, with the Pirates making their first dance in a decade after capturing the Big East tournament. Normally all the talk is on the 12 seeds but this year, based on how I predict things going, everyone is going to be talking about the strong 11 seeds.
Don't Sleep On
(12) Arkansas - Little Rock over (5) Purdue - The 29-4 Trojans might get overlooked in this match up with one of the Big 10's more high-profile programs in Purdue. But don't get caught right away assuming the Boilermakers are off to the R32 or Sweet 16. AR-Little Rock is a dangerous team for Purdue. The Trojans create turnovers, shoot the ball well and have one of the best backcourts in the country. This should be a defensive battle, a low scoring affair. It might not be the most exciting game to watch as neither team really likes to move fast and score quick points (mostly because they just can't do it) but if AR-Little Rock can keep the score low and close throughout much of the game, I like their chances of pulling the upset in the final 3 minutes. It may come down to who can score the clutch 3 point shots more and, in a battle of long ball for the win, advantage Trojans!
Best Future Match Up
(1) Virginia vs. (2) Michigan State - Come on, we all want this to be the Elite 8 match up right? The selection committee, regardless of telling us they don't look ahead to salivating future possibilities when seeding teams, had to have game in the back of their mind. These teams have faced off in the past two years and both times Sparty has sent Cavaliers fans home crying, last year as a #7 seed upsetting a #2. Adding a bit of insult to injury for Virginia, the Elite 8 match up would take place in Big 10 friendly Chicago, IL. You have to imagine the arena will be rocking with Green and White and almost play as a home game for Michigan State.
(1) Virginia over (16) Hampton
(9) Butler over (8) Texas Tech
(12) AR-Little Rock over (5) Purdue
(4) Iowa State over (13) Iona
(11) Gonzaga over (6) Seton Hall
(3) Utah over (14) Fresno State
(7) Dayton over (10) Syracuse
(2) Michigan State over (15) Middle Tennessee State
(1) Virginia over (9) Butler
(4) Iowa State over (12) AR-Little Rock
(11) Gonzaga over (3) Utah
(2) Michigan State over (7) Dayton
(1) Virginia over (4) Iowa State
(2) Michigan State over (11) Gonzaga
(2) Michigan State over (1) Virginia
(S1) Kansas over (W1) Oregon
(MW2) Michigan State over (E4) Kentucky
2016 Men's NCAA Division I National Championship: (S1) Kansas over (MW2) Michigan State
There you have it #TwineTime friends. I have unleashed my bracket on the world for you to review, judge, break down, disagree with and compete against. This is a tough year to predict with so many "upsets" taking place throughout the season and parity reigning as the major theme for the season. However, I am staying true to my major theme for every March Madness bracket I fill out each year: Always take a Big 10 team (at least) to make the Elite 8 and/or Final 4.
But what you do you think? Do you think you can put together a better bracket than me? Think you can take me down in a #BracketChallenge? Well why not put your bracket where your mouth is!! Join the #TwineTime ESPN Tournament Pick'em Bracket Challenge. Invite your friends and let's see who ends up taking home the title this season.