So now the rubber hits the road and the games get played. Spreadsheets, rankings, ratings, and rants no longer matter. It now gets settled on the court.
On my brackets, I usually have some pretty consistent selections. Here's some of my lines of thinking that were consistent on all (or nearly all) of the brackets I filled out this season:
1. Loyola-Chicago over Miami. This isn't original, I know. BPI has this more clearly favoring Miami, but KenPom sees a more even matchup and I tend to agree. You don't finish third in the ACC without being a good team, but I think they can and will be beat this year.
2. I've read in multiple places this year about making "value" picks - not taking the favorites all the time so you can zig when the rest zagged. Between this line of thinking (which has worked or nearly worked for me in the past) and Virginia's recent injury to their sixth man, I'm not taking Virginia to make the Final Four. Which is rough - I think they'd be a very worthy champion.
3. An article in FiveThirtyEight.com tells me I should take Buffalo over Arizona. Not happening. I have all respect for that site but I simply can't go against a preseason title favorite with a national player of the year favorite who just won their conference AND tourney in favor of a team whose best victory was, who, Toledo?
4. But the winner of the Arizona-Kentucky game will beat Virginia and ultimately lose to Cincy.
1. Michigan is the key team here for me. If their layoff throws them off, Montana or Houston could pull upsets. Montana's a good 14 seed, and I'm not afraid to take Houston over Michigan in a 3/6 game. But I believe if Michigan escapes this weekend, they can beat UNC and X or the Zags and make the Final Four.
2. I have Gonzaga vs UNC in the Elite 8 and was trying to figure out why it'd be any different than last year's final.
3. Xavier is really getting very little love. Taking them would be going against the grain despite it being "chalk". And it's not like they're not a really strong team. But Missouri and Gonzaga will be tough challenges and I don't see them beating Michigan or UNC. I think they're the first 1 to go down, maybe to Missouri.
4. I will take the winner of the Michigan/UNC game (or the lower half of that region) to make the Final Four.
1. I at first thought Kansas was in trouble with Michigan State and Duke in their region. But really, nobody is going to stop them (except themselves) before the Elite 8. So it comes down to that game, for me.
2. I love my Orange and they can beat TCU, but they're not beating the Spartans. We're definitely getting a Duke-MSU Sweet 16 game. And I think Sparty takes it.
3. Again, it's not original but I think New Mexico State takes down Clemson. The Tigers just aren't playing as well lately. I also think they beat Auburn. None of these three teams is a match for Kansas though.
4. Michigan State is my team to beat in this region. Duke comes out a touch ahead in BPI and KenPom, and has done well against a tough schedule. But they have their lapses too, and I just think the Spartans are going all the way.
1. To get it out of the way, Villanova's the pick here. The 8, 4 and 5 seeds aren't that intimidating.
2. Referring back to that FiveThirtyEight article, they picked Murray State as the most likely upset, which is funny because I figured WV was a pretty safe pick here. I'm not taking the Racers here, mostly because I felt WV was closer to a 3 than a 5 and deserved a 4-seed (probably over Gonzaga, though it's a tough call).
3. I'm not at all sold on Texas Tech but Florida's inconsistency (or a Bona upset!) should help TTU get to the Sweet 16. I'm having trouble going against Purdue, though I think Butler will give them a real scare in the second round. But neither of these teams should stop Villanova, despite Nova's recent history of early exits.
4. Virginia Tech vs Alabama is a big 8/9 mismatch. Tech should win that one big.
So my final four looks like Villanova vs Michigan State and Cincinnati vs North Carolina, and I'll take the Spartans over the Tar Heels (in their third straight final!).
My advice is to NOT do the same!