No point in wasting time with an intro. It's bracket picking time...
Key player: Louisville point guard Peyton Siva is often maddening. Frequently the opposition becomes irritated because they are unable to stop his penetration and showy moves. Sometimes, the Cardinals faithful are the frustrated ones because the erratic playmaker disappears or turns error-prone. In Louisville's loss to Georgetown, Siva played a scoreless 23 minutes with three turnovers.
Others: Seth Curry (Duke), Doug McDermott (Creighton), Dwayne Evans (Saint Louis)
Round of 64 upsets: No. 11 St. Mary's over No. 6 Memphis, No. 12 Oregon over No.5 Oklahoma State, No. 10 Cincinnati over No. 7 Creighton...I have one NCAA Tournament bracket rule - pick against Memphis coach Josh Pastner until further notice. That call is made easier with St. Mary's being higher rated than the always undisciplined Tigers.
Sweet 16 matchups: Louisville (1) over Saint Louis (4), Michigan State (3) over Duke (2)...Dying to pick the savvy Billikens - also the rare NCAA team with its primary players all above drinking age - and would against any of the other No. 1's. As for the physical Spartans, only since 1999 have they gone three years between Elite Eight trips. The current run is two years.
And going to the Final Four…Louisville. In January, the Cardinals inexplicably lost three straight games, including one to the Hoyas. Just a couple of weeks ago they were outside the No. 1 seed discussion. Now, Louisville is the chalky favorite to win it all. Turning a large deficit into a blowout victory as the Cardinals did against Syracuse in the Big East will change seemingly everyone's mind. Winning 10 straight - the last five by at least 12 points - will also help.
West (Los Angeles)
Key player: This region is light on the high-end contenders. That is unless Gonzaga proves the critics wrong for saying stuff like not having faced a Top-25 team since Jan. 19 hurts the Bulldogs' chances. Should the Zags rise up, center and National Player of the Year contender Kelly Olynyk will have done so as well.
Others: Aaron Craft (Ohio State), Travon Woodall (Pittsburgh), Ben Brust (Wisconsin)
Round of 64 upsets: Belmont (11) over Arizona (6), Iowa State (10) over Notre Dame...Led by senior guard and NCAA Tourney veteran Ian Clark, Belmont really knocks down its 3-point shots. Arizona does not always like guarding the 3-point arc.
Sweet 16 matchups: Pittsburgh (8) over Wisconsin (5), New Mexico (3) over Ohio State (2)...With four defensive-oriented teams, first to 55 wins both games.
And going to the Final Four...New Mexico. One can make a deep-run-case for six or seven teams to reach Atlanta, site of this year's Final Four. Mine for New Mexico is largely that its lack of offensive punch is not a hindrance in a region filled with similar defensive-first type programs. That's hardly inspiring, but the Lobos have just enough scoring pop and first-rate ball-stoppers. Also, isn't it time for Steve Alford to make a Final Four?
East (Washington, D.C.)
Key player: Much was made earlier in the season about certain Miami losses coming with senior wide-bodied center Reggie Johnson out with injury. Recently the 6-foot-10, 290-pounder has simply been out of sorts. No double-digit scoring games since Feb. 13, just five points during the entire ACC Tournament. The Canes still won that tourney despite Johnson's production. Not sure they can win this tourney without it.
Others: Victor Oladipo (Indiana), Vander Blue (Marquette), Mike Muscala (Bucknell)
Round of 64 upsets: Bucknell (11) over Butler (6)...Because the Bulldogs struggle with the scoring and Muscala is perhaps the nation's best player nobody has heard of.
Sweet 16 matchups: Indiana (1) over UNLV (5), Miami (2) over Bucknell (11)... In terms of NBA Draft prospects, this is the deepest region, so perhaps some future pro like UNLV's Anthony Bennett takes his game to another level while still in school and in turn shocks the world. Not seeing such a scenario unfold right now.
And going to the Final Four...Miami. Unlike the other regions, only two teams here are legitimate Final Four contenders. From purely a bracket pool perspective, taking Indiana is the safer call because the Hoosiers have the easiest path to reach the Elite Eight of all the No. 1's and 2's. From a who-is-playing-better perspective, not sure I can pick against the Canes. Miami might not have any legit NCAA experience, but its coach, Jim Larranaga, surely does.
South (Arlington, Tx.)
Key player: The Jayhawks one evident weakness is turnovers and much of the concern in that area falls on their erratic point guard, Elijah Johnson. With potential matchups against notables like Michigan's Trey Burke and Georgetown's Markel Starks, against team threats like North Carolina's deep backcourt and VCU's "Havoc" pressure, there is plenty of pressure on Johnson to stay composed - and maintain possession.
Others: D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera (Georgetown), Erik Murphy (Florida), Trey Burke (Michigan)
Round of 64 upsets: Oklahoma (10) over San Diego St. (7), Minnesota (11) over UCLA (6)...No team should advance out of the matchup between the skidding Golden Gophers and enigmatic Bruins, but apparently someone must.
Sweet 16 matchups: VCU (5) over Kansas (1), Georgetown (2) over Florida (3)...Setting up to be the glamor regional. If I do four brackets, will have each of these teams advancing to Atlanta once.
And going to the Final Four...Georgetown. I previously looked at how the pros and cons of the Hoyas facing the primary South Region contenders and we know simply getting out of the first weekend has been problematic lately. The top five teams in this region can run the gauntlet of storied programs and championship winning coaches. Only one of them has a truly stingy defense and Otto Porter, the player Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim called a better all-around player in college than Carmelo Anthony. Combined with John Thompson III's subtle yet overt confidence in this squad, Florida lacking a crunch-time performer, not falling in love Kansas and thinking VCU gets close but not close enough, Georgetown it is.
And cutting down the nets: Louisville after downing Miami...I've maintained this position for several years, especially once Larry Brown lost something on his coaching fastball. If I could pick any college or NBA coach for a game or short series, I'm taking Rick Pitino since he arguably offers the best combination of motivational mastery and tactical smarts. In other words, my taking the Cardinals is not some bandwagon pick. If anything, Louisville's unpredictable backcourt has me strongly debating picking the Canes, the Hoyas or even teams I didn't have reaching the Final Four winning it all, but, in Pitino we trust. That is, as long as he avoids Georgetown in the title game (four straight losses to the Hoyas).