Sleeper Picks: SMU or Wisconsin.
If you read my last post, Let the Madness Begin!, you can understand why I think either of these two teams could be Cinderella stories and come out of this region. SMU comes in hot, whereas Wisconsin comes in experienced. I would not be surprised whatsoever to see either of these two teams wind up in Phoenix.
My Pick: Duke
Although I’d love to see the Cinderella story happen, and again, I could easily see it happening in this region, I find myself leaning towards Duke coming out of this bracket. Even with all of the drama that they have gone through this year, from the Grayson Allen trippings to the Coach K surgery, I see a Duke team finally realizing the lofty expectations placed upon them at the beginning of the season. They have stars, can score with anyone, and have the best coach possibly in the history of college basketball. That is a dangerous combination.
Sleeper Pick: West Virginia
I know the 4-seed isn’t that deep of a sleeper pick. But my rule is any team outside of the top 2 seeds counts. With their unique “Press Virginia” style of play, the Mountaineers pose a unique challenge to their opponents. If your guards aren’t up to the task, things could get ugly.
My Pick: Gonzaga
I think this is the year. The Bulldogs are in their 19th consecutive NCAA Tournament, but have yet to play in a Final Four. This year, they come in as a top seed in their region, and arguably are the best they have ever been. If they are ever going to get there, this is their time.
Sleeper Pick: Iowa State
The bracket lines up pretty well for the Cyclones to make a deep run in this year’s tournament. Assuming things go as projected, they will see Purdue in the 2nd round, where I foresee their small-ball style of play being too much for the bigger Boilermakers. They would then face off for a third time this season against top-seeded Kansas. They split the season series with Kansas so far, playing them tightly in both match-ups, so I would expect a tight game in the Sweet 16 as well. After that, they would face off against whoever came out of the bottom half of the region. None of these teams impose serious threats in my opinion to a hot Iowa State team.
My Pick: Iowa State
I am going to go with my sleeper in this region. I am tempted in some of the others because I truly can see it happening, but in the Midwest, I genuinely think that Iowa State has the path paved for them to win the region.
Sleeper Pick: UCLA or Wichita State
I had a tough time picking a sleeper in this region simply because of how deep it is at the top. UNC, Kentucky, and UCLA make, in my opinion, the most difficult top three seeds in any of the regions. However, going off of my “any team outside of the top 2 seeds counts” rule to qualify a sleeper pick, I did throw UCLA in here. As much press as Lonzo Ball has been getting for the ridiculous things his father has said, the kid can live up to his last name and truly ball. I could easily see them making it out of this bracket.
The true sleeper out of this bracket is Wichita State. They have a very tough road, as they would likely have to beat Kentucky, UCLA, and then UNC, but I wouldn’t count them out. I would be surprised to see them actually do it, but of all of the other teams outside of the top three, I think they pose the biggest threat.
My Pick: North Carolina
What a tough bracket. I could easily see any of the top three seeds making its way out of this bracket, but I went with UNC because part of me feels that it is destined to be a 4th match-up bewteen Duke-UNC in the finals, and the other part just knows how good UNC is. They can play with anyone in the tournament, and the good news for them is Kentucky and UCLA will likely be matching up in the Sweet 16, eliminating one of them, and likely wearing the other one down. UNC is looking at a pretty smooth path to the Elite 8, with Minnesota, my pick to be playing them in the Sweet 16, still too inexperienced to pose a serious threat.
North Carolina over Duke
Duke has a 2-1 season series advantage over UNC, but it just feels like they owe us a rematch of the last game when the 4th foul on Joel Berry II was a clear turning point that resulted in the Blue Devils coming back and advancing. I foresee these two teams matching up for a classic championship game, with Roy Williams and the Tarheels cutting down the nets in Phoenix.