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Predicting the 2015 NCAA Tournament

Widely considered the most impossible task in all of sports, filling out a bracket for the NCAA tournament is a sacred tradition for millions of people around the world every March. Whether you have no knowledge of college basketball or have watched every game of ACC play this season, filling out a bracket for March Madness has become as commonplace as wearing green for St. Patrick’s Day.

With every year come new storylines — 2015 is no different. Among the hundreds of headlines entering the tournament, Kentucky’s quest for perfection reigns supreme. Since the 1976 Indiana Hoosiers, no college basketball team has ever completed the season with a national championship and a zero at the end of the loss column. Kentucky ­is looking to complete this quest, especially with NBA-bound prospects Karl Anthony-Towns and Willie Cauley-Stein, but 63 other talented teams stand in its way.

So let’s try to do the impossible: successfully predict every single game of the NCAA tournament out of more than 9 quintillion possible bracket combinations. Which team will be this year’s Cinderella? Does anybody have the firepower to knock off the Wildcats? Will a power-conference school make a run to April or will a mid-major catch the world by surprise? I don’t claim to be able to come close to making every single successful prediction, but as the esteemed Wayne Gretzky — but really Michael Scott — once said, “You miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take.”

Mr. Gretzky, here is my shot at perfection.

Midwest Region

Upset alert: Twelfth-seeded Buffalo (23-9) over fifth-seeded West Virginia (23-9).

Headline wins over Kansas and Oklahoma put an extremely positive stamp on West Virginia’s season, but Buffalo will be unlike a team it has encountered since the start of conference play. The Bulls play extremely quickly, with the ninth most possessions per game among teams in the tournament. Usually when mid-majors play quickly, they fall victim to relying on the three ball too much, but Buffalo’s play relies largely on power forward Justin Moss, who almost averages a double-double. Such a well-rounded, mid-major stacks up well against the Mountaineers — especially when two of West Virginia’s better players are banged up — and I think Buffalo will be able to stage the upset.

Sweet Sixteen

Kentucky (34-0): Kentucky is just too good to fall to a No. 16 seed or the winner of Cincinnati/Purdue. Neither of these potential opponents have the individual skill that is required to take down the best defensive team in the country, and Kentucky’s size will manhandle any competition that is not immaculate on the defensive boards.

Maryland (27-6): Freshman starlet Melo Trimble has paced the Terrapins to one of the best seasons in Maryland’s history, and Trimble — along with Dez Wells and Jake Layman — should be able to survive two upset-minded teams in Valparaiso and Buffalo.

Butler (22-10): Those pesky Bulldogs have their work cut out for them, with a first round matchup with The University of Texas at Austin and then a probable tilt with the extremely hot Notre Dame. Notre Dame relies too much on the three for my liking, and if Butler can shut down Jerian Grant, it can take down the Irish.

Wichita State (28-4): After disappointing many by not living up to its No. 1 seed last year, the Shockers are back in this year’s tournament as the Midwest Region’s seventh seed. Kansas is a very formidable No. 2 seed opponent, but the Jayhawks are as tournament-tested as many pundits make them out to be. Give me Wichita in the battle for the pride of Kansas.

Final four pick: Kentucky

East Region

Upset alert: Eleventh-seeded Dayton (25-8) over sixth-seeded Providence (22-11).

This pick is less about Dayton being a good team as it about Providence not being as good as advertised. Another theme in my bracket is the lack of teams from the Big East — a conference that has devolved after losing Syracuse, Louisville, Pittsburgh and others. Our very own Brown Bears beat Providence at the Dunkin Donuts Center, capitalizing on poor shooting and abysmal post play from seven-footer Cameron Desrosiers. I’ll take Dayton.

Sweet Sixteen

Virginia (29-3): This team is unbelievably good defensively with Tony Bennett at the helm. And it’s not the athletic defensive style employed at Kentucky; it’s a system that revolves around all five players on the court doing their jobs. Getting Malcolm Brogdon back will be huge for the Cavaliers, who will reach the Sweet Sixteen quite easily.

Wyoming (25-9): The state of Iowa will be heartbroken, but I really don’t have confidence that Northern Iowa can retain its unbelievable team shooting statistics in the tournament. A No. 12 seed that can share the ball and play respectable defense is always a dangerous team, so the Cowboys should have the right upset combination.

North Carolina State (20-13): Another upset here in the East, as the Wolfpack makes Villanova the first No. 1 seed to bow out of the tournament. Jay Wright has had a tough time getting out of the first weekend, and with a lack of real competition in the Big East, Villanova won’t be able to contain Cat Barber and the Wolfpack.

Dayton (25-8): Anyone who is still reading might be tempted to stop after these three sweet sixteen picks, but I’ll stick to them. This has a lot to do with the fact that the feel-good story of Peter Hooley and Albany can knock off Oklahoma, in which case the Flyers will be the favorite after beating Providence.

Final four pick: Virginia.

West Region

Upset alert: Eleventh-seeded Ole Miss (21-12) over sixth-seeded Xavier (21-13)

Ole Miss beat BYU in one of the best play-in games in tournament history, overcoming a 17-point Cougar lead to advance to the first round. Stephan Moody’s athleticism and the Rebels’ exceptional free throw percentage can take down a Xavier team that has only won seven of its last 13 games.

Sweet Sixteen

Wisconsin (31-3): Frank Kaminsky is just too much for any potential first- or second-round opponent to handle, and Sam Dekker is an athletic complement that should make a trip to the Sweet Sixteen an easy job for the Badgers.

North Carolina (24-11): As someone born in Chapel Hill, I tend to favor my Tar Heels over most teams. But in this tournament, Carolina has a particularly easy road to the Sweet Sixteen. Undersized Harvard should not be able to contain post players Brice Johnson, Kennedy Meeks, Joel James and Isaiah Hicks, while inexperienced Arkansas will have trouble against Marcus Paige’s veteran savvy.

Baylor (24-9): Here’s my tip of the cap to the Big 12, in which Baylor has recently been close to the top. As the second-best offensive rebounding team in the country, neither Georgia State nor Ole Miss should be able to take care of the glass enough to upset the Bears.

Arizona (31-3): After going crazy in the East region, I decided to go chalk in the West, picking the top four teams to make the Sweet Sixteen. Arizona is one of the strongest teams in the country and is largely considered to have the best starting five in the tournament, so in March — when the minutes are condensed to the best players — the Wildcats should retain supremacy.

Final four pick: Arizona.

South Region

Upset Alert: Twelfth-seeded Stephen F. Austin (29-4) over fifth-seeded Utah (24-8).

Stephen F. Austin was a huge bracket-buster last year, upsetting VCU after receiving one of the weirdest referee decisions the NCAA tournament has seen. This year, the Lumberjacks are back and better than ever, taking on a Utah team that won just one of its four matchups against top-25 teams. The Lumberjacks will use their offensive rebounding prowess to beat the Utes.

Sweet Sixteen

Duke (29-4): The combination of Jahlil Okafor and Tyus Jones is the best freshman duo in the country — as any true North Carolina fan will tell you — and those two future NBA stars will be too much for any team before the final 16.

Stephen F. Austin (29-4): The Lumberjacks are primed for a deep tournament run, especially with an extremely weak No.4 and No. 5 seed combination of Georgetown and Utah as potential opponents. Stephen F. Austin will get to the Sweet Sixteen with the esteemed position of being able to fall to Duke.

Iowa State (25-8): I love Iowa State. The team beat Kansas for the Big 12 conference tournament title and is a No. 3 seed for the second straight NCAA tournament. Last year, the Cyclones beat my Tar Heels even without their star Georges Niang, who was sidelined with a broken foot. This year, with Niang healthy, the Cyclones should get to the Sweet Sixteen.

Gonzaga (32-2): I hated this team when they were a No. 1 seed two years ago, and I was proven right when they lost to Wichita State in the second round. This year, Kyle Wiltjer and Kevin Pangos lead a team that has the depth and quality guard play to make a deep run.

Final four pick: Iowa State.

So there you have it. My final four of Kentucky, Arizona, Virginia and Iowa State will be sure — read: trust me at your peril — to win your bracket pool. I won’t tell you my national champion — I want to win any possible bracket pool that I have with you, reader — but let’s just say that like this bracket attempt, one team will fall just short of perfection.


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