Well it’s down to just 16 teams now and for most of us, we can throw our brackets out and finally just sit back and enjoy the games. Fortunately, I still have all four (4) of my Final Four teams remaining in my office pool and six-of-eight Elite Eight teams left. While I trail a couple people in the standings after the first two rounds, my Final Four is a little different than most people are predicting and I am the only one in my office pool to pick the team that I picked to win the national championship. Which team might that be? Before I reveal the team, let’s break down tonight’s matchups.
East (Thursday Night) – This bracket is pure chalk. All four of the favorites have advanced with North Carolina looking a few notches better than their competition.
However, with that said, they may face their most difficult matchup tonight against Washington State. Notice I didn’t say that this is the best team in the tournament but it could be the most difficult match-up for them. In just two tournament games, the Tarheels are averaging 110.5 points per game while the pesky Cougar defense is only allowing 40.5 points per game. I believe the Cougars will hold the Tarheels to a season-low in points scored but will pull away late for the victory.
Prediction: North Carolina (-9) 62 Washington State 48
This may be the most fun game to watch of all of the Sweet Sixteen matchups. Hot on the heels of their 30 point win over Oklahoma in the second round, Louisville actually comes into this game as a 3 point favorite. My guess is that Vegas is throwing this number out there based on the Cardinals big win on Sunday compared to Tennessee’s two close wins. However, in predicting this game I will think back to an interview with Bruce Pearl done after the brackets were released on Selection Sunday. "It is a series of three tournaments," he said to ESPN when asked about his road to the title game. Tennessee has done what it has taken to win the first tournament and now it must do what it takes to win the second four-team tournament (North Carolina, Tennessee, Louisville, Washington State.) I think Tennessee is the better team and will find a way to win. Survive and advance.
Prediction: Tennessee (+3) 78 Louisville 74
West (Thursday Night) – Sometimes close wins are representative of the fact that a team is not very good and maybe should have lost. Other times it is just an example that a team may not have played their best game but found a way to win anyway. As for UCLA, I believe the Texas A&M game was one of those games where A&M matched UCLA’s defensive intensity ounce for ounce but in the end, UCLA was just the better team. Western Kentucky is a nice story and I would love to see them knock off the #1 seeded Bruins, but I don’t think it is in the cards. The Hilltoppers have knocked off two mid-major teams at best (Drake & San Diego) in getting to the Sweet Sixteen and were 0-1 vs. Top 25 teams during the regular season. They may be able to play one really great half but the Bruin defense will be too much for Western Kentucky to handle.
Prediction: UCLA 70 (-11.5) Western Kentucky 48
Despite successfully picking both Xavier and West Virginia to meet in the Sweet Sixteen, I do not feel comfortable with the team I picked to win this game, Xavier. West Virginia seems to be on a roll and should be able to get by Xavier in this one. If I could re-do my bracket, I would definitely have them winning this game and might even take them over the Bruins in the Regional Final.
Prediction: West Virginia (-1) 73 Xavier 63
Here are my predictions for Friday night's games.
Midwest (Friday Night)
Prediction: Kansas 85 Villanova 70
Prediction: Davidson 65 Wisconsin 63
South (Friday Night)
Prediction: Michigan State 67 Memphis 62
Prediction: Texas 79 Stanford 71
East Regional Final
Prediction: Tennessee 92 North Carolina 89
West Regional Final
Prediction: UCLA 70 West Virginia 67
Prediction: Kansas 75 Davidson 58
Prediction: Texas 77 Michigan State 70
Semifinal Game One
Prediction: Tennessee 80 Kansas 77
Semifinal Game Two
Prediction: Texas 74 UCLA 72
National Championship Game
Prediction: Tennessee 82 Texas 77
While I did change a few picks from my original bracket, this is the same Final Four I submitted before the tournament began. With that said, I am the only one in my office pool that picked Tennessee to win it all which gives me a shot to still win. Go Vols!
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