The Monk actually missed sending in a bracket this year. I was on a short vacation through yesterday and was too excited by seeing the Monkling again that I completely bonked on turning in a bracket. But I have picks, and as long as I'm going down, I might as well do so in flames.
The East bracket is the toughest, but it's also the Carolina invitational. UNC tends to reach the Final Four after winning the ACC Tournament (11 of 16 so far and UNC won this year), and UNC tends to reach the Final Four when playing in its home state in the regionals (see 1997). The committee did the Tar Heels no other favors: Louisville is solid; Tennessee is the top #2 seed (which should not have been placed in the same bracket as the top overall seed); Indiana is a tough potential second round opponent. UNC should win. If the regional final were in any other state, I might pick Louisville.
Possible upset specials: (7) Butler over (2) Tennessee (round two), (13) Winthrop over (4) Wash. State, (12) GMU over (5) Notre Dame.
You heard it here first: (11) St. Joe's over (6) Oklahoma.
Sweet 16 teams: UNC, GMU, Louisville, Tennessee; UNC over Louisville for the regional title.
The Midwest is much more difficult to pick because it is riotously difficult to pick KU, and probably foolish not to do so. Bill Self has coached four teams to the regional finals, and those teams are 0-4 with a trip to the Final Four on the line. But the #2 seed is a bit weak -- Georgetown simply lacks offense and in basketball, defense alone never wins championships (see Princeton). The #3 seems strong -- Wisconsin and its 29-4 record. But the Badgers played in the Big T(elev)en and that conference is horrid. Wisco's record against top nonconference opponents is mixed -- a buttwhipping from Duke, a loss to middling Marquette, and a win at Texas. Without my doubts about Self, this would be an easy pick.
Possible Upset Specials: (10) Davidson over Gonzaga, (13) Siena over (4) Vandy.
You heard it here first: USC to reach the Sweet 16.
Sweet 16 participants: Kansas, Clemson, USC, G'Town. KU over G'Town for the Final Four.
No, I haven't gone out on a limb yet and I won't for the West either. After all, Phoenix is just a drive down I-10 from Los Angeles, home of UCLA, the two-time defending West Regional champ. The tournament committee did UCLA and Duke a big favor -- this is the weakest of the four regions, and Duke's half of the bracket is a joke. Coach K is 10-1 in regional finals . . . he should be 10-2 after this year.
Possible Upset Specials: (11) Baylor over (6) Purdue; (10) Arizona over (2) Duke.
You heard it here first: This region is most likely to follow seedings but I'd say Xavier goes out in round two.
Sweet 16 participants: UCLA, UConn, Duke, Baylor/Purdue winner. Seriously. And another trip to the Final Four for UCLA . . . this time without Florida in its way.
Finally, the South region is a curiosity. Texas is good enough to win, Memphis has more talent than some NBA teams, and the other two top seeds (Pitt and Stanford) are perennial underachievers. Location is key here -- Houston is the site of the regional final and it's closer to Austin than to Memphis.
Possible Upset Specials: (3) Stanford can lose at any time; (5) Michigan State is a Tournament overachiever and could even spoil Memphis's run.
You heard it here first: Miami-St. Mary's will be the best game of the tournament. Or the least watched.
Sweet 16 participants: Texas, Memphis, Michigan State, Marquette, with Texas beating Memphis for the Final Four.
UNC has a difficult task: winning the toughest region then having to beat both KU and UCLA in the Final Four to win a national title. It won't. The pick here is UCLA over Carolina.
We'll see if I'm right.