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My Official 2011 NCAA Tourney Bracket (I Think)

I’m a part of four bracket groups this year, which may be a low number for some of you. But the number doesn’t matter to me. I subscribe to the all-eggs-in-one-basket plan. When I watch these games, I want to have a legitimate rooting interest; I accomplish that by going static in all of my brackets. Whatever happens — if I get crushed or am extremely successful (read: fortunate) — will happen across the board. I understand the pleasure of filling out a black bracket with a bunch of different possibilities, but my style is to commit to one team in each game.

Here are the screen shots of each region and the teams I’ll be pulling for and sweating over during the next few weeks. Now, why should this matter in the slightest to you on the morning when the round of 64 gets underway? In the past three years, starting in 2008, I finished second, fourth and third, respectively, in my most serious bracket group. Each one of them consisted of at least 45 participants, and some money may or may not have exchanged hands because of my high finishes. Maybe this is the year I claim the top spot.

Or 37th, I don’t know.

EAST

  • I went against the Big East in my two tossups in this region. Villanova has lost its confidence, and its guards are too banged up to toppled a George Mason squad that has won 16 of its last 17. Mason won’t have to worry about any size disadvantage because ‘Nova isn’t a towering team.
  • I also have Marquette being ousted by Xavier. I love the Musketeers’ inside-outside game with Tu Holloway running the show. X should be able to easily exploit the Golden Eagles’ spotty D. Plus, this game is being played in Xavier’s home state of Ohio.
  • I don’t think Syracuse has much to worry about with Indiana State unless Larry Bird finds that time machine I buried deep in the Mojave Desert. But consider this: The game will be tipping off late, around 10 p.m. It’s on a Friday night. People will be well lubricated and rowdy. The game will be played in Cleveland, which is just a two-hour drive from the Sycamores’ campus. Syracuse is a huge favorite. Gus Johnson is on the call. … You can almost feel the ghosts of T.J. Sorrentine.
  • Since 1997, about 41 percent of No. 2 seeds (23 of 56) have fallen in the first weekend. If there’s one team with the ability to pull the trick this year, it’s Washington. I just don’t have the guts to call it. As is a theme with this bracket, I’ll play it safe and wait for Syracuse to take out the young Heels.
  • I also can’t bring myself to put Xavier in the Sweet 16 over Syracuse. But such a result shouldn’t be a shock.
  • This lifetime supply of chalk is capped by Ohio State making it out of the region. It’s the most complete team of these 16.

WEST

  • I don’t have much to say about Michigan, but I can’t go for Tennessee, one of the most frustrating teams to watch. I wonder if they will be inspired to play for Bruce Pearl or be distracted by rumors regarding his shaky job security. Actually, it probably won’t affect them either way. But somebody will certainly point one way or the other depending upon Friday’s result.
  • John Calipari has won extensively with freshmen before, but his current group doesn’t carry as much talent, and Arizona sports the possible top pick in June’s NBA Draft — Derrick Williams.
  • Another Big East team falls in the “first” round as Missouri’s pressure D, which is captivating to watch, stifles the over-seeded Bearcats.
  • Texas scares the hell out of me in a good and bad way. True, the Longhorns play unbelievable defense. But you never know when they are just going to mentally pack it in. I think Duke’s maturity and own solid D causes Texas to tap. I’m just not completely sold because you can’t ignore the fact that Texas has the best athletes of any team in this tournament.
  • When will Connecticut’s legs finally fall off? Well, I think they can breeze through the first two rounds. A battle against San Diego State presents two challenges: A strong, long, veteran front court and a long flight to Anaheim, Calif. However, I am of the belief that sports teams need to learn how to walk before they can run. I just can’t see the Aztecs gaining their first-ever NCAA Tournament win and advancing to the Elite Eight in the same year.
  • If Kyrie Irving returns and gives valuable minutes from the starting lineup or off the bench, Duke’s road to Houston will be much less bumpy. They aren’t flashy up front, but I think the Blue Devils are big enough to deal with more athletic big men, of which they coul see plenty in this region.

SOUTHWEST

  • Richmond shoots the 3 very well, starts four seniors and doesn’t turn the ball over. I have the utmost confidence in the Spiders pulling off this 12-5 upset. Plus, Vanderbilt is proficient at losing out of the gate.
  • I marveled at Kenneth Faried during his conference tournament and am looking forward to him face Louisville. Louisville still wins. Easily.
  • I am surprised that VCU beat USC, but it resulted in one positive: It made my decision on VCU’s next game — versus Georgetown — much easier. With its quick guards and good interior size, I thought USC could really give the Hoyas some problems. But with Chris Wright ready to return, I don’t see G-Town losing to the Rams.
  • Can’t wait to not watch the Texas A & M/Florida State contest. If those teams could score, I would think they have a shot at knocking of Notre Dame. Alas …
  • The Fighting Irish may have the worst defense of any team on the top three lines. That’s fine against Akron, but it’s going to hurt them versus JuJuan Johnson and E’Twaun Moore. On the flip side, the Boilermakers still have plenty of defense, even without the suspended Kevan Barlow Kelsey Barlow.
  • Rick Pitino is 9-0 in the Sweet 16, and Louisville will be Kansas’ toughest test in this region. But the Jayhawks should be able to dominate inside with the Morris’ and make the short trip from San Antonio to Houston.

SOUTHEAST


Here is where it gets fun.

  • I’m buying into all the talk about how Old Dominion is just bigger and stronger than Butler, and will impose its will on the 2010 national runner-up. But I feel like Admiral Ackbar with that game.
  • Utah State is great on both sides of the court and starts five upperclassmen. The Aggies are facing a fearsome Kansas St. team, and this game will be all about which team can set its preferred pace. Utah State wants to slowly mold its offensive sets while the Wildcats want to get up and go. I think it’s time for the Aggies to move on.
  • I’m also putting a lot of stock in another 30-win team with a double-digit seed: Belmont. I know Wisconsin doesn’t commit a lot of turnovers, which Belmont thrives on. And the bigger Badgers have the length to limit the Bruins’ 3-point strength. But I am sticking to my guns here. Belmont plays fierce pressure defense and averages 80 points per game. I’ve liked the Bruins to beat whomever they face in the first round for at least a few weeks; I’m not going to jump ship now.
  • But I think I am ready to do a massive flip-flop and dive off the St. John’s bandwagon. This was the most difficult pick I had to make among the first-weekend games. The Red Storm have the Big East pedigree, force turnovers and carry a ton senior leadership. Gonzaga has the size and a home-court advantage at altitude in Denver. Plus, Gonzaga isn’t dealing with a season-ending injury to one of its best players as the Red Storm are. I might change this pick five more times before the brackets lock, but I’m going with Gonzaga at this moment.
  • Michigan State has had a lot of hardships this year, but I am not betting against Tom Izzo at the start.
  • Jimmer, Jimmer, Jimmer. While I can’t decide if Gonzaga or St. John’s is going to win, I don’t think the Jimmers can get past either one.
  • Old Dominion is a lot like Pittsburgh, but the Panthers have much more offensive firepower. Really, how can the Panthers not make it out of this region? There are so many teams bothered by injury, suspension or inconsistency. The only legitimate challenger I see is Florida, but I think its young guards will wilt as the field shrinks.

FINAL FOUR

Yes, Mabel, that’s four No. 1 seeds in the Final Four. I picked the two most well-rounded teams to meet in the championship game, in my opinion. I think the Jayhawks are on a mission after such a disappointing exit as the top overall seed in 2010. Rock Chalk, 70-66.

Now THAT’S a bracket that can’t fail …

… for another five hours when the first games of the day begin.

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