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The Best NCAA Tournament in Years Awaits

Give in to the Madness

A Fan’s Take Inside March Madness

I figure the bracket gods owe me several thousands of dollars this year, and I plan on collecting shortly after Bo’s Badgers cut down the nets inside Lucas Oil Stadium the first Monday in April.

To be sure, I will fill out a bracket that has Coach Cal’s Cats standing atop the college basketball mountain at 40-0, but trying to successfully navigate the chalk-filled waters with more than half of the so called “Bracket Brains” in America seems maddening enough.

You'd be crazy not to pick Kentucky right?

You’d be crazy not to pick Kentucky right?

There’s a certain humility in filling out a single bracket. Obama gets one for the world to see on the four-letter sports network and I will present my one and only entry into the KZYR.com (home of Rants & Reactions as well as the Sunday Night FanRag Sports Page) Beaver Brackets Challenge.

While it probably goes without being said, my general rule of thumb is to complete three or four brackets to satisfy all of the Mike, Dick, and Josh pools out there in FanLand. Evil Pat always picks Coach K’s crew to win, while the gambler in me looks to bust everyone else’s brackets in the first few days by littering my picks with 11, 12, 13, and 14 seeds.

Sometimes I’m right and sometimes I’m way off but the madness of the NCAA Tournament never disappoints and this might be the most compelling year ever.

EAST

The East Region is either the most wide open or the bracket that I know/care the least about. Villanova is highly ranked, with a strong coach and some electric players. The Wildcats come with the prerequisite regular season accolades while entering the tourney as regular season and Big East Tournament champs.

But the Big East as we knew it is long gone. Color me a skeptical shade that Jay Wright cuts the nets down in Syracuse.

Brackets are about being the boss, finishing games, and coming up with crucial stops. That and winning the rebounding battle while sinking your threes. Louisville makes threes, Michigan State cleans the glass and both of their coaches have been here before. Jay Wright is a notch or two below both Tom Izzo and Rick Pitino.

The Cavaliers can clamp down, but do they have enough scoring punch?

The Cavaliers can clamp down, but do they have enough scoring punch?

And we’ve yet to talk about Tony Bennett and the Wahoos, the best defensive team in the country.

As much as I’d like to pick a first-four winner along with Wyoming as my 12th seed, give me the chalk in what should still be referred to as the first round.

Northern Iowa will make the Cards work to reach the Sweet Sixteen and the Wolfpack won’t have quite enough bite to knock off Nova. It’s hard to pick against Sparty in the Round of 32, but Virginia will pull away late with clutch free throws. Many experts believe the Big 12 was the best conference in the country, but I have little faith in Lon Kruger and OU although I am picking the Sooners to escape Albany and win ugly against Providence.

The Regional Finals will become an all-ACC affair in which Louisville picks up points in transition and Virginia goes cold. Justin Anderson is not the scorer Bennett needs him to be and CBS starts to record more Pitino sit-downs for Saturday’s showcase in Indy. The college basketball gods are smiling at the prospect of an all-Bluegrass State championship game.

Player of the Region: Montrezl Harrell, Louisville

 

SOUTH
The most important factor in March between very talented teams is coaching.

Mark it dude, Hall of Fame coaches like Mike Krzyzewski will make a difference in this tournament. Their experience and ability to prepare their teams for the intense, pressure-packed moments of the madness provides a calming

To the surprise of no one that knows or has read me in the past (Embrace the past by looking back at the intro.) give me those Blue Devils.

Leadership, shot-making, talent, speed, three-point shooting, defense, Jahlil Okafor, Duke, Coach K. His first name may be Mike, but it’s really Coach.

Duke cut down the nets the last time the Final Four was in Indy.

Duke cut down the nets the last time the Final Four was in Indy.

Duke will find their way to Indy, otherwise the bracket gods seriously have it in for me.

The San Diego State Aztecs and Eastern Washington Eagles will fall prey to the Devils before the Cyclones push them to the brink of heartache only to see first hand how impactful that slap on the floor, that blitzkrieg of threes, and drawing a critical charge effects the outcome.

Larry Brown is coaching the last program he’ll probably take to the NCAA Tournament against the first one he marched into the madness. UCLA will take it personally that everyone thinks they don’t belong in the field, but SMU will Pony Up and live to play another day. My B1G roots tell me not to take Iowa (barely) while the gambler in me still passes on No. 12 Stephen F. Austin because although it’s a fine first, middle and last name–it is not a tournament player.

Player of the Region: Jahlil Okafor, Duke

 

MIDWEST

The undefeated, wire-to-wire and then several weeks unanimous Top Ranking Cats left little doubt that they are the most talented team in the nation. With the depth of playmakers and five star recruits at his disposal every season, it’s actually possible that John Calipari doesn’t get the credit he deserves for being a tremendous coach.

Not everyone could win as frequently as Coach Cal does while effectively managing the egos and skill sets–let alone dealing with the enormous expectations that accompany the nation’s most prestigious program and rabid fan base.

Nine times out of ten I would take Kentucky to win the region going away and ninety-nine times out of 100 a top rankin’ link would lead into a scorching Bob Marley video, but maybe, just maybe this bracket is different.

It’s not.

Hampton had their moment, becoming Jampton on Twitter, but Kentucky will roll into the Sweet Sixteen with relative ease. While the Boilermakers played the Badgers tough for about 34 minutes in the Big Ten Tournament that won’t be the case against Kentucky. UK’s first bracket test arrives against a dynamic Maryland squad coming off a thorough dismantling of the Mountaineers. The Terps can compete with Kentucky, they can pressure the ball and run the floor and almost pull off a victory. Everyone and their mother that picked the Wildcats will be sweating this one out after receiving countless alerts that Kentucky is down seven with nine minutes remaining and Top-Seeded Kentucky holds on for a razor thin victory.

While it may seem like chalk-chalk everywhere, the bottom half of the Midwest will bust brackets across the country.

I have no faith in Tom Crean and the Hoosiers (that’s where the CSU Rams should have been) so the Shockers will stomp IU and then beat a Jayhawks team that hasn’t looked good since Valentine’s Day.

We won't see UK vs KU this season.

We won’t see UK vs KU this season.

An all-Indiana battle between Butler and Notre Dame in Pittsburgh will be one of the most compelling tilts of the tournament. Since the luck of the Irish ran out after winning the first ever conference tournament in school history (and I need some upsets) the Bulldogs advance to face Wichita State in a game for mid-major-adorers everywhere.

The Shockers’ experience carries them past a Butler squad adept at coming up with timely stops, but when Wichita States runs into the machine that is Kentucky, the Cinderella story ends.

Player of the Region: Pick a player from Kentucky.

 

WEST

Bo knows all about 1941. There was a war going on and a national championship banner was hoisted into the Fieldhouse rafters. Bo also knows how close the Badgers came to playing UConn on the first Monday of April 2014. Aaron Harrison made the shot that broke Bucky’s heart and those pesky, tall, and talented Badgers went back to work.

Dekker and all of Wisconsin want a rematch.

Dekker and all of Wisconsin wants a rematch.

Make no mistake, this team has been pointing to the NCAA Tournament all season long, and even more importantly they want another shot at the Wildcats. Bo’s Boys will take care of  Coastal Carolina then dispose of Oregon with their dominating inside presence setting up a Sweet Sixteen matchup against Harvard.

That’s right, my Duke bias continues as Tommy Amaker’s crew knocks off the Tar Heels setting the stage for a highly anticipated and rarely played 12 vs. 13 showdown for a trip to the tourney’s second week. In the understatement of the tournament–Wofford may have better athletes, but the Crimson are smarter and the Ivy League gets the nod.

Xavier won’t relinquish a 17 point lead to Ole Miss, but the Musketeers and Baylor tilt will turn into a laugher as the Bears physicality and ability to dominate the boards proves too much.

If coaching experience plays a major role in picking winners, it’s best to bank on budding superstars as well. D’Angelo Russell and the Buckeyes are very dangerous; look for Thad Matta’s team to push Arizona to the brink of collapse before another nemesis from brackets-past pulls out the W late.

An Arizona-Wisconsin Elite Eight game will cause me to pull out all of the superstitious beverages, lucky shirts and top shelf cheeses necessary, but I believe in Bo and the Badgers.

Player of the Region: Frank Kaminksy

 

Final Four

Duke comes out blazing and try as they might, Louisville won’t be able to claw out a win because they consistently miss too many threes. The Badgers and Wildcats will play another epic Final Four game, but this time there will be an answer to Aaron Harrison–whether it’s Sam Dekker, Brandon Koenig, Josh Gasser or Frank the Tank, the Badgers will move on.

I pretend to be conflicted at the prospects of my two favorite college basketball programs playing for all the madness marbles, but there’s no hesitation. The best college band in the land can strike up that classic fight song and cut the nets down.

Frank the Tank and Bucky will cut 'em down again.

Frank the Tank and Bucky will cut ’em down again.

 

There you have it, the greatest tournament in the history of sports amazes us again as the Wisconsin Badgers win their first national championship since 1941.

It’s been a Bucky long time. On Wisconsin!

 

FanRag Sports Wants to Know:

The best mascot and the last team standing.

The best mascot and the last team standing.

Which team will win the NCAA Tournament?

Which programs will be this year’s Bracket Busters?

Be Seen, Be Heard, Be a Fan!

Tweet your March Madness predictions, rants and reactions to @FanRagSports and @TodaysUSports now.

 



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