By Matthew Soderberg | Editor-in-Chief
I watch a lot of college basketball, and one of these days, I will get one of these brackets correct. Well, probably not, considering there is only a 1 in 9,223,372,036,854,775,808 chance, but a guy can dream.
Gonzaga is really, really good. It is the highest-rated team in the history of the KenPom metric. The Bulldogs are undefeated, and they’ve played a schedule about as tough as the ACC. They will sweep through the West with ease.
In the bottom half of the West, who knows what to do with Kansas? After withdrawing from the Big 12 Tournament, the Jayhawks are the most unpredictable team in the field. I have them losing to Evan Mobley and the underrated Trojans from the University of South Carolina in Round Two. Iowa is also missing a player or two, and Oregon, who was on a run prior to its conference tournament, will keep Player of the Year candidate Luke Garza from the Sweet 16. USC takes out its conference foe and ultimately gets its helmet smashed in by Gonzaga.
Michigan played one of the toughest schedules in America and excelled in it, but the injury to star forward Isaiah Livers will be brutal to fight through. Fortunately, they have an exceptionally easy road through the Sweet 16. LSU is the most inconsistent team in the country, St. Bonaventure doesn’t have the talent to compete, Colorado isn’t riddled with blue-chip prospects and Florida State is as turnover prone as opponents come. The Wolverines won’t have trouble getting past any of them.
The trouble comes from the two and three seeds. Alabama would be a No. 1 most other years, and Texas just swept its way through the Big 12 Tournament. Each will have tough second- round matchups with UConn and Michigan State, respectively, but both will make it through for one of the most fun Sweet 16 matchups this year. Texas ekes it out, and the Longhorns will stampede their way into the Final Four for the first time since 2003 over a beaten-up Michigan.
This is the toughest region by far. Illinois has its work cut out for it. I wouldn’t want to see the No. 2, No. 3, No. 4 or No. 8 seeds. Illinois will squeak by Loyola Chicago (who is ranked No. 9 in KenPom). But Oklahoma State is led by Cade Cunningham, and I don’t see the Cowboys losing within this region. They’ve got tough dates with Liberty and Tennessee, but don’t discount them just because they’re young.
The bottom half of this bracket is less interesting. Other than Rutgers over Clemson in the 7-10 matchup, it’s straight chalk. Oklahoma State has an intense battle on its hands with Houston in the Elite Eight, but Cunningham wins the quickdraw with Quinten Grimes for the team’s first trip to the final weekend since 2004.
The South and the Baylor Bears
When the bracket was initially released, this region scared me. A lot.
But I have now realized it’s all just name brands. North Carolina can’t shoot. Wisconsin doesn’t have premier talent (but don’t be fooled, they are No. 10 in KenPom). Villanova is on a downswing. Purdue doesn’t have anything like Carson Edwards. After a tough matchup with Wisconsin in the second round (Wisconsin over UNC was the hardest first round game to pick for me), Baylor breezes through the Sweet 16.
Ohio State is quite good. It beat Purdue and Michigan on the way to the Big 10 title game, and then the Buckeyes lost in overtime to Illinois. They will have very little trouble with the likes of Texas Tech or Arkansas or Virginia Tech or Florida. Then comes a matchup with the Bears. Baylor spreads out way too much for Ohio State to defend, and Baylor’s defense is capable of shutting down anyone in the country. The Green and Gold move on to their first Final Four since 1950.
The Final Weekend
I’ve got three teams from a single conference in the Final Four for the first time since 1985 when three Big East schools (Villanova, Georgetown and St. Johns’s) marched into the last three games. Baylor, Oklahoma State and Texas are great teams, but Gonzaga is a monster for anyone.
The Bulldogs face off with Texas on the left side, and I don’t think it’s going to be particularly close. The only teams I think the ‘Zags would have any trouble with are on the right side (namely Baylor, Oklahoma State and Illinois), and they’ll only have to play one of them.
Next up is a big-time rematch from Baylor’s last game in the Big 12 Tournament: the Cowboys. I can’t see Jared Butler and crew losing twice in a row to any team. Give me the Bears in a close one with Davion Mitchell nailing a three to put ice on the game.
Baylor against Gonzaga. The game everyone has been waiting for all season, and a matchup we should have gotten back in November.
Baylor is one of the few teams that can match Gonzaga’s depth, but no one can match the quality talent the Bulldogs have at the top. Unless a COVID-19 scare or injuries plague the No. 1 team in the country, I think Gonzaga finishes the season undefeated with an overtime win.