By Lenn Robbins
Selection Sunday has always meant Manic Monday for those of lucky enough to be in the college basketball business. The adrenaline rush that comes with the announcement of the field yields to a more cerebral exercise. Time to pick the field:
Sleeper or favorite, which is the one team that’s going to make a mockery out of most brackets?
Is Syracuse, with Jim Boeheim’s alien 2-3 zone, as close to a first-round lock as you can find? He’s 23-5 in first-round games since 1985 when the field was expanded to 64 teams. Is this the year a No.1 seed gets upset, again? Thanks Virginia.
Filling out an NCAA Tournament bracket is without a doubt the most fun paperwork of all time. Before we get to it, a few tips and thoughts.
Unlike every other year, we’re going heavy favorite. The absence of a crowd will negate the underdog’s greatest advantage – an entire arena suddenly galvanized behind the likes No. 14 Cleveland St. over Indiana in 1986, or No. 13 Princeton over UCLA in 1996, or No. 15 Lehigh over Duke in 2012.
The Big Ten will be validated, not with a national champion but only one team, Wisconsin, will lose its opener. Michigan State will beat UCLA but lose to Texas.
The other story to watch is the continued improvement of the Southeastern Conference. Yes, Kentucky had an off year, additional proof of what a vexing time this has been.
But the league has been committing more money to hiring quality coaches – Rick Barnes (Tennessee), Tom Crean (Georgia), Ben Howland (Mississippi St.) Cuonzo Martin (Missouri), Frank Martin (South Carolina), Bruce Pearl (Auburn), Buzz Williams (Texas A&M) and more recently, Eric Musselman (Arkansas) and Nate Oates (Alabama) – and to resources.
With that in mind we have one Big Ten team (Illinois) in the Final Four and another (Iowa) losing in a regional final. We have one SEC team (Arkansas) in the Final Four and another (Alabama) losing in a regional final.
We have Gonzaga winning it all for two reasons:
The Zags (26-0) are the most balanced team in the nation and it goes beyond offense-defense. Their balance on offense – inside/out, depth, shot makers and creators, and three-point shooting – might be the best we’ve ever seen.
And because of COVID, coach Mark Few and players won’t face questions the overweight bulldog in the room. Sooner or later being asked why haven’t you won it all gets tedious to say the least. There will be less of those grating questions.
O.K., that’s the only advice we’re doling out this March. Here are our picks. Good luck.
No. 1 Gonzaga over No. 16 Appalachian State – Fast forward to Final Four.
No. 8 Oklahoma over No. 9 Missouri – No Harmon, no problem.
No. 5. Creighton over No. 12. UCSB – Blue Jays red-faced in Big East.
No. 13. Ohio over No. 4. Virginia – COVIDliers, bummer.
No. 11. USC over No. 16. Wichita State. Mobley Better Blues.
No. 3. Kansas over No. 14. Eastern Washington – Reverse outcome in football. Honest.
No. 10. Oregon over No. 7 VCU – Ducks have a Rutgers transfer and a St. John’s transfer.
No. 2. Iowa over No. 15 Grand Valley St. – Garzilla.
No. 1 Gonzaga over No. 8 Oklahoma – Back to spring football for Sooners.
No. 5 Creighton over No. 13. Ohio – Blue Jays emerge as most fascinating tourney team.
No. 6. USC over No. 3. Kansas – You know Bill Self; get to know Andy Enfield.
No. 2. Iowa over No. 10 Oregon – Without even knowing the over, we’re taking it.
No.1 Gonzaga over 5. Creighton – It’s starting to get real for the Zags.
No. 2 Iowa over No. 6. USC – Garzilla vs Mothly
No. 1 Gonzaga over No. 2. Iowa – A great, I mean great!, regional final.
WEST REGION CHAMPION – GONZAGA
No.1 Michigan over No. 16 Mount St. Mary – Howard by a TKO.
No. 9 St. Bonaventure over No. 8. LSU – Cheaters never win.
No. 5. Colorado over No. 12 Georgetown – Off year for the Big East.
No. 4. FSU over No. 13. UNCG – Coaching in pain.
No. 12 Michigan State over No.6. BYU – BYU has one quality win (San Diego St.).
No. 3 Texas over No. 14 Abilene Christian – Longhorns smart not to fire, uh, Smart.
No. 10 Maryland over No. 7 UConn – Turgeon by a split decision.
No. 2 Alabama over No. 15. Iona – Pitino wins the press conference.
No. 1 Michigan over No. 9 St. Bonaventure – Thank you, Bonnies.
No. 4 FSU over No. 5 Colorado – Hamilton’s teams are deep and physical.
No. 3 Texas over No. 12 Michigan State – Sparty won’t go quietly.
No. 2. Alabama over No. 10. Maryland – Nike over Under Armour.
No. 4 FSU over No 1. Michigan – Livers and let die; Mr. Glue is missed.
No. 2 Alabama over No. 3 Texas – Cotton Bowl.
No. 4. FSU over No.2 Alabama – 2025 BCS Playoff Game.
EAST REGION CHAMPION – FLORIDA STATE
No. 1 Baylor over No 16. Hartford – Baylor giving 26. Better to give and give and give.
No. 8 North Carolina over No. 9 Wisconsin – Roy Williams is 29-0 in 1st-round games.
No. 12. Winthrop over No. 5 Villanova – Wildcats miss Colin Gillespie.
No. 4. Purdue over No. 13 North Texas – Matt Painted another coaching masterpiece.
No. 6 Texas Tech over 11. Utah St. – Raiders man-to-man defense is a felony.
No. 3 Arkansas over No. 14 Colgate – Over/under is 161. Over and Colgate out.
No. 10. Virginia Tech over No. 7 Florida – Mr. March Upset, Mike Young
No. 2. Ohio State over No. 15 Oral Roberts – From Butler to Ohio St to the NBA?
No.1 Baylor over No. 8 North Carolina – Didn’t the Tar Heels used to get this talent?
No. 4. Purdue over No. 12 Winthrop – Reasonable road to the Sweet 16.
No. 3. Arkansas over No. 6 Texas Tech – Aspiring coaches should watch the Hogs.
No.10. Virginia Tech over 2. Ohio State – The upset of the tournament.
No. 1 Baylor over No. 4 Purdue – Bearly.
No. 3 Arkansas over No. 10 Virginia Tech– Hogs and Hokies, sounds like a biker bar.
No. 3 Arkansas over No. 1 Baylor – The upset of the tournament II.
SOUTH REGION CHAMPION – ARKANSAS
No. 1 Illinois over No. 16 Drexel – Wait, these aren’t Daenerys’ Dragons.
No. 8 Loyola-Chicago over 9. Georgia Tech – Not enough Wright stuff for Tech.
No. 5 Tennessee over 12. Oregon St. – Leave Beavers; magical run over.
No. 4 Oklahoma State over 13. Liberty – Cade Cunningham prevents an upset.
No. 6 San Diego State over No. 11 Syracuse – Two Boeheims can’t save the Orange.
No. 3 West Virginia over No. 14 Morehead State – Why isn’t Bob Huggins in HOF?
No. 10 Rutgers over No 7 Clemson – RU basketball, Knight and Day.
No. 2. Houston over No. 15 Cleveland State – See FSU, substitute Kelvin Sampson
No.1 Illinois over No. 8 Loyola-Chicago – Land of Lincoln Championship.
No. 4 Oklahoma State over No. 5 Tennessee – Cowboys got scared straight by Liberty.
No. 3. West Virginia over No. 6 San Diego State –Aztecs 15-game win streak snapped.
No. 2. Houston over No. 10 Rutgers – Could have edginess of Red State vs Blue State.
No.1 Illinois over No. 4 Oklahoma State – NBA declares for Cade Cunningham.
No. 2 Houston over No.3. West Virginia – Hide the women and children, bloodbath.
No.1 Illinois over No. 2 Houston – Knicks fans make an offer to Ayo Dosunmu.
MIDWEST REGION CHAMPION – ILLINOIS
Semis: Gonzaga over Alabama
West Virginia over Ohio State
Championship: Gonzaga over West Virginia, 62-50
Sleeper: Ohio University
Semis: Gonzaga over Michigan
Oklahoma State over Ohio State
Championship: Oklahoma State over Gonzaga, 75-73
Michigan over Gonzaga
Ohio State over Illinois
Championship: Michigan over Ohio State, 68-59
Sleeper: Virginia Tech
Semis: Gonzaga over Florida State
Illinois over Arkansas
Championship: Gonzaga over Illinois, 83-79
Sends us your picks and we’ll respond.