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The Madness begins: Who wins in New Orleans?

The bracket projections ended Sunday night.  Now it’s time for actual NCAA tournament game projections. In this case,  missing only two (games) would be, well, unbelievable.  And no, I don’t expect that to happen.   For better or worse, here are some thoughts and picks for the 2012 NCAA tournament – including a rematch between Kentucky and Duke in the Regional Final.

SOUTH REGION

Favorite: Kentucky.  The Wildcats enter March Madness as the No. 1 overall seed.

Dark Horse: Connecticut.  Back in November, the Huskies were a projected Top 10 team.  They haven’t played at that level very often, but the talent is certainly in place.

Best chances for an upset: Xavier over Notre Dame.  South Dakota State over Baylor.  Notre Dame shot the ball well during its mid-season run, but that hasn’t been the case down the stretch.  Tu Holloway and Mark Lyons are more than capable of taking out the Irish.  South Dakota State went to Washington – the Pac-10 regular season champ – and dismantled the Huskies.  While Baylor should win, the Bears aren’t always the best at closing out games.

Here are the picks:

  • Round 2
  • Kentucky over Western Kentucky
  • Connecticut over Iowa State
  • Wichita State over VCU
  • Indiana over New Mexico State
  • UNLV over Colorado
  • Baylor over South Dakota State
  • Xavier over Notre Dame
  • Duke over Lehigh
  • Round 3
  • Kentucky over Connecticut
  • Indiana over Wichita State
  • Baylor over UNLV
  • Duke over Xavier
  • Sweet 16
  • Kentucky over Indiana
  • Duke over Baylor
  • Elite 8
  • Kentucky over Duke

WEST REGION

Favorites: Michigan State and Missouri.  The Spartans are nearly impossible to beat when Tom Izzo’s group is a Top 3 seed.  Missouri is having a magical season.

Dark Horses: Louisville and Murray State.  The Cardinals have both momentum after the Big East tournament and workable matchups other than Michigan State.  U of L has been an inconsistent offensive team, but a continued run isn’t out of the question.  As for Murray State, let’s not forget the Racers won at Memphis, a team many think is underseeded and underrated.  If they get past Colorado State, Murray will matchup up well against Marquette, Missouri, or Florida.

Best chances for an upset: Long Beach State over New Mexico.   A 12-seed will beat a 5-seed and this seems logical.  New Mexico played a very weak non-conference schedule and is probably a little overseeded.  LBSU played the toughest non-conference schedule, and if healthy, could win a couple of games.

Here are the picks:

  • Round 2
  • Michigan State over Long Island
  • Memphis over St. Louis
  • Long Beach State over New Mexico
  • Louisville over Davidson
  • Murray State over Colorado State
  • Marquette over BYU
  • Florida over Virginia
  • Missouri over Norfolk State
  • Round 3
  • Michigan State over Memphis
  • Louisville over Long Beach
  • Murray State over Marquette
  • Missouri over Florida
  • Sweet 16
  • Michigan State over Louisville
  • Missouri over Murray State
  • Elite 8
  • Michigan State over Missouri

EAST REGION

Favorite: Syracuse.  However, with Fab Melo now out, the Orange might now be behind Ohio State and Florida State.

Dark Horse: Vanderbilt.  The Commodores have been knocked out early in recent NCAA appearances.  That means their toughest game should be Harvard.  If Vandy wins that one, they should relax and this is a Top 10 talented team.

Best chances for an upset: Montana over Wisconsin, Texas over Cincinnati, and West Virginia over Gonzaga.  Wisconsin relies heavily on making 3-point jump shots to score.  That can be a recipe for disaster, and was a reason why the Badgers lost several games at home.  Neither Texas or Cincinnati scores the ball easily, and the talent disparity isn’t that great.  Gonzaga isn’t the toughest team and will be in trouble if the game gets physical with WVU.

Here are the picks:

  • Round 2
  • Syracuse over UNC Asheville
  • Kansas State over Southern Miss
  • Vanderbilt over Harvard
  • Wisconsin over Montana
  • Cincinnati over Texas
  • Florida State over St. Bonaventure
  • West Virginia over Gonzaga
  • Ohio State over Loyola-MD
  • Round 3
  • Syracuse over Kansas State
  • Vanderbilt over Wisconsin
  • Florida State over Cincinnati
  • Ohio State over West Virginia
  • Sweet 16
  • Vanderbilt over Syracuse
  • Ohio State over Florida State
  • Elite 8
  • Ohio State over Vanderbilt

MIDWEST REGION

Favorite: North Carolina.  If John Henson is healthy, the Tar Heels should reach New Orleans.  Other than Kansas, it’s hard to see a team in this region with enough firepower to knock out UNC.

Dark Horse: North Carolina State.  The Wolfpack played well down the stretch and have two decent matchups in their opening two rounds.

Best chances for an upset: NC State over San Diego State, Ohio over Michigan, South Florida over Temple.  See above for NC State.  Michigan has the potential to reach the Sweet 16 or leave early – the Wolverings depend heavily on three-point shooting.  If they aren’t – as they weren’t against Ohio State in the Big Ten tournament – Michigan could be in trouble.

Here are the picks:

  • Round 2
  • North Carolina over Vermont
  • Creighton over Alabama
  • South Florida over Temple
  • Michigan over Ohio
  • NC State over San Diego State
  • Georgetown over Belmont
  • Purdue over St. Mary’s
  • Kansas over Detroit
  • Round 3
  • North Carolina over Creighton
  • Michigan over South Florida
  • NC State over Georgetown
  • Kansas over Purdue
  • Sweet 16
  • North Carolina over Michigan
  • Kansas over NC State
  • Elite 8
  • North Carolina over Kansas

FINAL FOUR

Kentucky, North Carolina, Ohio State, and Michigan State converge on New Orleans.  Before the season began, UNC and UK were overwhelming favorites as the top two teams in the country, and they played a classic game at Rupp Arena early in the season.  Guess is that we’ll see a repeat of that game for the national title.  And the same team wins again.  This should be the year Kentucky cuts down the nets.

Enjoy March Madness.

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