It’s time to establish office superiority by throwing names down on an NCAA men’s basketball championship tournament bracket. The casual observer has never watched most of these teams or even heard of them in some cases. Rabid hoop heads probably caught glimpses of name branders during their conference tournaments. Even your grandmother saw Nike’s PR fiasco when star Duke forward Zion Williamson’s shoe imploded on national television. Understanding all this, it’s time to do the statistically impossible: Complete an unbustable bracket. Duke math professor Jonathan Mattingly believes anything is possible, and he says that if you choose your favorites and assume a 16-seed never beats a 1-seed (which happened last year for the first time), the odds are a favorable one in 2.4 trillion. Or about as good as being struck by lightning while simultaneously winning the Powerball. Let’s have a go.
East Region: Washington, D.C.
Zion Williamson might be a generational talent when he’s healthy. Right now, Williamson is back, and Duke is the top-rated seed of all 68 teams because of it. No one at the college level can match Zion athletically, despite his drawbacks as a spot-up shooter. The East is watered down and few contenders are worthy to knock the Blue Devils from the tourney until the Elite Eight. The NET rankings project that Virginia Tech will meet back with their ACC conference foes in the Sweet 16. The Hokies beat the Dukies sans Williamson earlier this season, but don’t expect it to happen again now that he’s back. Michigan State waits at the 2-seed in the bottom half of this bracket, ready to pounce on Louisville, and will likely face the coachless LSU Tigers before clashing with Duke. Sparty is strong, but State lost their conference tournament championship to archrival Michigan and won’t have the strength to derail Duke, who are traveling down the cleanest road to the Final Four of any team.
East Region pick to Final Four: Duke (1)
Don’t be surprised if upset: Liberty (12) over Mississippi State (5)
West Region: Anaheim, California
The West is the region to watch for North Texans, because it includes two of the three Texas teams to receive at-large bids from the committee: Texas Tech and Baylor. The Bears can enjoy TCU’s pleasure from last year: starting out against the famous zone defense of Syracuse. Don’t expect Baylor to make it past the second round if they upset the Orange, as 1-seed Gonzaga will be waiting. Three-seed Texas Tech are carrying the Lone Star banner in the national spotlight and should play 6-seed Buffalo in the second round. Tech’s inconsistent games are behind them this year, and I’m confident that they’ll meet Michigan in an epic Sweet 16 battle of stellar offense (Tech) and suffocating defense (Michigan). Gonzaga, the lowest ranked 1-seed, are an offense-based squad that hopped their way through the mid-major West Coast Conference. Syracuse has the horses to send the Zags packing in the second round. Murray State faces Marquette in a battle of middle-tier basketball schools. Racer guard Ja Morant could be the second-best player in the tourney after Zion and is being watched closely by struggling NBA squads.
West Region pick to Final Four: Winner of Tech (3) vs. Michigan (2)
Don’t be surprised if upset: Murray State (12) over Marquette (5)
South Region: Louisville, Kentucky
Virginia had been the top-ranked team all season before Duke dunked them and everyone else at the ACC tourney. The Cavaliers are the South Region’s top seed and second overall-ranked team by NET. Despite their historic loss to 16-seed UMBC last year, Virginia is stocked and ready to plow their way to the Elite Eight to face the winner of Kansas State and Wisconsin. Big 12 co-champ K-State will ride their defense to the second round and be slight favorites over the banged-up Badgers from the Big 10. Neither has the balance to unseat the 1-seed in the Sweet 16, but it would be the cherry on a nice season for the Wildcats to make it that far. The Oklahoma Sooners slithered their way into a 9-seed against the Ole Miss Rebels. Historically, the 8-9 matchup is a statistical toss-up, and no one cares, because either team will be dismissed quickly after the first round. The bottom half of the South bracket is loaded with power players Tennessee, Purdue, and Villanova. The Volunteers spent significant time near the top of the polls this season and are the best ranked 2-seed. A sweet date between the Volunteers and Boilermakers seems imminent, with the winner taking on Virginia in the Elite Eight. Pick the Vols to be battle-hardened when they tip off and edge the Cavaliers in a marquee matchup.
South Region pick to Final Four: Tennessee (2)
Don’t be surprised if upset: Iowa (10) over Cincinnati (7)
Midwest Region: Kansas City, Missouri
The big dog in the final region is North Carolina at the 1-seed, with a clean route to the Elite Eight. Perennial power Kansas is the 4-seed sitting across from the Heels. The Jayhawks aren’t themselves after losing star center Udoka Azubuike early this season. Smoking 12-seed New Mexico State can stun the Auburn Tigers and move past the off-brand Jayhawks to add to their dominating 19-game winning streak. The Aggies don’t have the firepower to upset Final Four-bound UNC, but they could be the underdog that everyone Amazon Primes a shirt to support. The bottom half of the Midwest should feature a second-round contest between Houston (the highest-ranked Texas squad by NET, one spot ahead of Tech) and Iowa State, who are fighting for their right to face blue-blood blue team Kentucky. Basketball old-timers will love a UNC vs. Kentucky match-up in the Elite Eight, and it seems probable, madness aside. Houston dominated the American Athletic Conference but doesn’t have the body of work to be picked to overcome Kentucky and then UNC.
Midwest Region pick to Final Four: North Carolina (1)
Don’t be surprised if upset: New Mexico State (12) over Auburn (5)
There you have it. As you fill out your bracket, simply put the little numbers ahead of the bigger numbers unless we told you otherwise. Also, accept that I’m wrong, as is everybody. People are paid big money to be wrong, and if anybody was really good at this, they would’ve already won a billion dollars of Warren Buffett’s offer of $1 million every year for the rest of their lives to anyone who picks a perfect Sweet 16. There is a catch: You must be employed by Berkshire Hathaway, where Buffett is the CEO. Start retrieving those LinkedIn passwords and polishing your résumé. Here’s hoping some of our local BNSF railroaders strike it rich. Not a single bracket of the 17.3 million submitted to ESPN had a perfect Sweet 16 last season, thanks to UMBC. The year before fared better, with 18 perfect sweet-round brackets of the 18 million submitted. That’s why March Madness is the best. I’m wrong, but so are you. Let’s fight about it.