It’s the most wonderful time of the year!  The fastest, craziest playoff in all of sports is finally upon us.  Had a great regular season record?  Won your conference championship?  March doesn’t care.  And the madness is going to have us screaming at TV screens and ripping brackets in half for the next few weeks.

Aside from possibly the Stanley Cup Playoffs, March Madness is the most exciting, and by far my favorite tournament in all of sports.  College basketball is so unpredictable as it is, and when you throw 68 teams into a bracket that should logically work out a certain way, the only thing you know for certain is that it won’t.

Last year Michigan State busted my bracket when they lost to a #15 seed in the first round, and there may have been more upsets and buzzer beaters (including Villanova in the championship game) than I have ever seen.  I think this March may be a bit tamer, but just like the weather here in Pittsburgh, you never know what you’re going to get.

Tournament Overview

Dayton kicks off the tournament almost immediately with the play-in games starting on Tuesday, March 14th.   We then move into the actual tournament and will pass through Buffalo, Orlando, Milwaukee, Salt Lake City, Indianapolis, Tulsa, Greenville, and Sacramento.  Regardless of who survives this gauntlet of basketball titans, all roads lead to Phoenix for the Final Four on April 1st and the National Championship on April 3rd.

Quick Tips

-Pick a few upsets.  12 over 5 is always popular, but don’t get too carried away.  I’d say have at least 2 per region but not too much more than that.

-Don’t pick all No. 1 seeds to go to the Final Four.  The likelihood of 1 or 2 of them making it is very strong, but more than that is statistically very unlikely.

-Pick with your brain, not with your heart.  I made this mistake last year by making my brackets a little too “what I want to see” as opposed to what was actually more likely to happen.

-Look for winning streaks, not overall records.  If you’re actually going to do a little research, the overall record shouldn’t be the end-all, be-all.  Look at winning streaks and games won since January.  Take Michigan for example.  Not a fantastic record and not the highest seed, but they’ve won 9 out of their last 10 and just took the Big 10 Championship when nobody gave them a chance.  That’s the type of thing I like to see in a bracket contender.

East Region

The East has 2 teams that could easily win the whole thing in defending champs Villanova and perennial favorite, Duke.  It’s honestly a shame that they’ll most likely end up facing each other in the Elite Eight, because that could very well be the best game of the entire tournament.

My upset for this corner is going to be Marquette over South Carolina.  Those boys are looking good, and South Carolina got a much lower seed than I expected.  You also want to watch out for SMU, because I think they have a good chance to beat No. 3 Baylor and end up in the Sweet Sixteen.

As much as I hate to admit it, I think Duke takes the East, even though I’d much rather see Villanova back in the Final Four.  Duke is still riding the high from the ACC championship win, and we haven’t seen a repeat champion since Florida in 2007.

West Region

The West also packs a solid 1-2 punch with Gonzaga and Arizona, who was a bit of a disappointment to me last season.  I feel like this corner is a little “all over the place” with a few Ivy League schools and some real heavy hitters.

I see Xavier taking out Maryland in the first round for a solid upset, and if No. 10 VCU can clean up their act and stop playing so sloppy, they’ll send Saint Mary’s home, especially if they’re hitting from beyond the arc.  Notre Dame may be a 5 seed, but they’re constantly flying under the radar and made it to the Elite Eight the last two years.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see that happen again.

The Zags and Wildcats are going to make for an epic battle to get into the Final Four, with Gonzaga edging them out solely because of their defense.

South Region

You’ve got UNC, Kentucky, and UCLA as the top 3 seeds, but also the 3-point shooting experts at Butler coming in at No. 4. Butler has handed defending champion, Villanova, 2 of their 3 losses this season.  Any one of them could make a serious run.

I see Minnesota losing to No. 12 Middle Tennessee, simply because they’re not good enough to be a 5 seed.  And I think Cincinnati could lose to Wake Forest before they get crushed by UCLA in the second round.  Despite losing in the A-10 tournament, I think Dayton has a ton of potential to play through the bracket, but I’m not sure they have what it takes to get past No. 2 Kentucky.  They’ve also never won a single game in the tournament when seeded in single digits.

I think Butler upsets UNC in the Sweet Sixteen and finally gets some recognition for what that program has been doing, but loses to Kentucky who will represent the South in the Final Four.

Midwest Region

I think this comes across as the weakest of the four regions this year, although there are still some very solid teams to come out of the Midwest.

No. 11 Rhode Island should upset Creighton after their big win over VCU in the A10 tourney.  My biggest stretch bet of this bracket is going to be No. 7 Michigan upending No. 2 Louisville.  If anyone watched them handle themselves in the Big 10 tourney, then you saw those flashes of brilliance that should carry them into the Sweet Sixteen.

Oregon is going to shock the world by beating Kansas to move on to Phoenix.  Even without their best player, they’ve got enough weapons in Brooks, Dorsey, Ennis, and Bell to knock that No. 1 seed out of contention.

Final Four Predictions

I see Kentucky edging out Oregon to get to the big dance in the Final Four.  On the other side, I predict Gonzaga will be too much for Duke to handle if they are able to squeak past Villanova.  I think the Zags have been too consistent all year to fall off now.  Gonzaga will be your national champion.

Allie is a lifelong resident of Beaver County. She is a 2006 graduate of Blackhawk High School, and still resides in Patterson Heights with her husband Andy and their 3-year old son, Luke. She is a Regional Manager at PLS Logistics and a sports fanatic. You can find her on Facebook as Allie Dixon.