Why you should care
Because you can win prizes if you ace this test.
Christmas Eve is here. Well, not literally — it’s mid-March, for Wooden’s sake — but the eve of the greatest four-day stretch in sports is here. Thursday at 12:15 p.m. EST, March Madness starts in earnest. So, print your brackets out, start talking that talk to your least favorite co-worker and book a table for a nice long lunch on Friday afternoon.
And don’t forget to join OZY’s Bracket Challenge for a chance to “Stump the Chump.” That’d be me, folks. My official picks are below, along with regional breakdowns and upsets to watch. Seeing as I am the all-knowing basketball guru, I’m fairly certain that these predictions are 100 percent correct and not at all subject to second-guessing. If you disagree, join the group and let me know! Brackets must be finalized before noon EST on Thursday, and high scorers will win some swag and two tickets to New York City’s hottest summer festival, OZY Fest, July 21-22.
After No. 1 Xavier, the West is headlined by North Carolina, Big Ten Champion Michigan, Gonzaga and Ohio State. A lot of pundits are high on 3-seed Michigan, but I like No. 2 North Carolina to beat the Wolverines in the Sweet 16. On the top of the bracket, watch out for an early exit by Xavier. Florida State, Ohio State and Gonzaga can all upend the Musketeers. North Carolina outpaces Ohio State in the Elite Eight for the Tar Heels’ third straight Final Four visit. No. 2 North Carolina wins the West.
Upset Alert: Florida State over Xavier in the Round of 32. Both 11-seed San Diego State and 6-seed Houston can give 3-seed Michigan a scare.
The bottom half of this region is Tennessee’s to take. On the other side, No. 1 overall seed Virginia was awarded no favors by the selection committee. They’ll face either Arizona or Kentucky — two teams that are riding high after winning their conference tournaments — in the Sweet 16. I’m picking Kentucky to knock off DeAndre Ayton (aka Baby Shaq) and Arizona, before bowing out in a close loss to Virginia. The Cavaliers will be able to smother Kentucky’s less-experienced core, then cruise past Tennessee for the first Final Four trip of coach Tony Bennett’s tenure. No. 1 Virginia wins the South.
Upset Alert: No. 11 Loyola-Chicago is a bona fide Sweet 16 threat. The Ramblers play like a mid-major version of Virginia. Loyola-Chicago will control Miami from the opening tip. Elsewhere, Nevada is an Elite Eight threat at No. 7.
I live by two rules: Never root against my Bucknell University Sigma Chi fraternity brother Jay Wright, and do not bet against the city of Philadelphia in 2018. Thus, the pick out East is Nova. Coach Wright’s Wildcats are 30-4 after barreling through the Big East tournament. They’ll be tested against West Virginia, then cruise past Purdue in the Elite Eight. No. 1 Villanova wins the East.
Upset Alert: In the first round, 13-seed Marshall over 4-seed Wichita State forces a second round in-state clash with West Virginia. Last night’s play-in game winner, 11-seed St. Bonaventure, takes out Florida and will give Texas Tech all it can handle in the Round of 32.
From top to bottom, the potential matchups in this region are captivating. Seton Hall and N.C. State — two tough teams with NBA quality big men — match up well with the Jayhawks. Kansas will make it through, barely, to the Elite Eight. On the other side of this region, Dan Hurley’s Rhode Island squad will send Trae Young and Oklahoma packing in Thursday’s tipoff game. Duke versus Michigan State in the Sweet 16 is the region’s marquee matchup. The Spartans’ bountiful size and athleticism allow them to somewhat contain Duke’s Marvin Bagley III and overwhelm the Blue Devils elsewhere. Michigan State makes it through, then beats Kansas. No. 3 Michigan State wins the Midwest.
Upset Alert: Whichever 11-seed (Syracuse or Arizona State) wins tonight will beat 6-seed TCU in the first round, and watch for No. 13 College of Charleston to shoot their way past imploding 4-seed Auburn. While my 14-seed Bucknell Bison are dangerous, Michigan State is the worst possible matchup for the Herd. Better luck next year.
Virginia over North Carolina
Villanova over Michigan State
Villanova over Virginia, 78-70. It’s Philadelphia’s year. Trust the process.