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Posted: Mar 19, 2015

The sports desk’s NCAA tourney predictions

Sidelines: Central Maine Sports Blog

Screen Shot 2015-03-19 at 4.27.01 PMNearly three hours into the first full day of the NCAA tournament and we’re certain more than a few brackets out there took a hit when No. 14 University of Alabama-Birmingham toppled No. 3 Iowa State in a South Regional second round game Thursday afternoon.

We’re also (fairly) certain other upsets will follow. It is, after all, the nature of the Big Dance. It’s also part of the allure.

Who doesn’t love an upset? Setting aside rooting interests, it’s easy for fans — hard core or otherwise — to get behind a “Little Engine That Could.”

So, as we delve into the tournament, here’s a look at how members of the staff see the tournament shaking out.

Bill Stewart

Each year — usually sometime between the Sweet 16 and Elite 8 — I promise myself that moving forward I will no longer fill out a bracket.

It’s by this time in the tournament that my bracket is a proverbial dumpster fire. However, each year I fail to make good on that promise and enter at least one pool.

Admittedly, I do not watch a lot of college basketball save for a few conference tournament games in the days leading up to the Big Dance. With two young children at home, I’m lucky if I have enough time to tie my shoes.

I spend anywhere between 10 and 15 minutes filling out a bracket, and this year was no exception.

After pushing Kentucky all the way through as the national champ, I worked backward to find some upsets. I like No. 12 Buffalo over No. 5 West Virginia and No. 6 Providence to win a couple of games. Oh, and I always pick Michigan State to win at least two games no matter where it’s seeded or who it plays. You can never count out a team coached by the great Tom Izzo.

FINAL FOUR: Kentucky, Arizona, Villanova, Duke

CHAMPIONSHIP: Kentucky over Duke

BIGGEST UPSET: No 12 Buffalo over No. 5 West Virginia

Matt DiFilippo

To begin with, I preface my predictions as someone who doesn’t watch any Division I men’s college basketball before March. I started following the NBA again this year, but I can honestly name more players on the Thomas and UMaine-Farmington teams than I can on Kentucky or Duke.

That said, I do follow the tournament each year. And when I do predictions, I almost always go with the premise that you’re the best until someone knocks you off, so I’m going with Kentucky. The Wildcats are clearly the best team — coach John Calipari has said so himself, and coaches usually don’t say that unless it’s obvious. And it’s obvious.

However, as Calipari also said, any team can be beaten, but, Kentucky’s the pick for me. In my bracket, I picked Stephen F. Austin to win a couple games. Go Lumberjacks!

The only “pool” I’m in is with my wife. We each fill out brackets for bragging rights. She doesn’t watch college basketball either, so she picked Duke to do well because “It sounds like a cool name, like for a dog.”

We’re like a scene out of a sitcom.

FINAL FOUR: Arizona, Kentucky, Southern Methodist and Villanova

CHAMPIONSHIP: Kentucky over Villanova

BIGGEST UPSET: No. 9 St. John’s over No. 1 Duke

Evan Crawley

As I write this my bracket is currently in danger of imploding by Game 2 courtesy of the University of Alabama-Birmingham, a perfect example of just how much parity there is in this year’s bracket outside of Kentucky. As much as I wanted to pick against the Wildcats, I can’t envision a scenario they lose given the sheer amount of talent they have. Here’s a brief look region by region for what I’m looking for and let the madness begin!

MIDWEST

As far as I’m concerned everyone else is playing for the right to lose to Kentucky. Notre Dame had some trouble with Northeastern on Thursday before out-lasting it, but the Irish are likely Kentucky’s biggest threat in the region. I’ve got New Mexico St. over Kansas as my boldest prediction. The Aggies have lost just one game in 2015 after struggling early with injuries. They have the size to hang with Kansas, a team that has been very good but not great all year. The other double-digit seed to keep an eye on is Buffalo. Bulls coach Bobby Hurley knows a thing out two winning in the tournament, don’t be surprised if Buffalo survives the first weekend.

WEST

Wisconsin and Arizona seem set for a collision course once again this year in the regional final, but don’t be surprised if a team like North Carolina, VCU or Ohio State give either of those two teams trouble along the way though. As for sleepers, keep an eye on Georgia State. R.J. Hunter is seen as a potential top 20 pick in the NBA draft and Kevin Ware has found a home in Atlanta after that gruesome knee injury with Louisville two years ago.

SOUTH

I expect a mix of chalk and double-digit upsets in this one. Duke has been one of the best teams all year and should make at least the Elite 8 (barring a repeat of their more recent history). My feeling of Fred Hoiberg’s Iowa State squad are apparent, while this is one of Gonzaga’s deepest teams in recent memory. SMU, coached by hall-of-famer Larry Brown, is dangerous, while No. 10 Davidson is one of the best offensive teams in the country led by Atlantic 10 player of the year Tyler Kalinoski. Utah and Georgetown are solid, but should be on alert with Round of 64 games against high-scoring Stephen F. Austin and Eastern Washington — led by the nation’s leading scorer, Tyler Harvey.

EAST

Good luck picking this one as it is by far the deepest region. If you told me you picked any one of the top nine seeds would make the final four, I’d buy it. Villanova and Virginia were front-runners all year, but each has weaknesses that could be exploited. Oklahoma has quietly put together a great year. Can you ever count out Rick Pitino and Louisville, even on their year’s offensively challenged squad with players like Motrezl Harrell leading the way? Seth Tuttle is a stud for Northern Iowa, while Providence has one of the region’s best one-two combinations in point guard Kris Dunn and G/F LaDontae Henton (second player in school history with over 2,000 points and 1,000 rebounds in a career). Michigan State is as hot as anyone in the country while NC State and LSU are equally dangerous if they play to their potential. I switched my Final Four pick around here four or five times before settling on the Spartans, a prediction I feel shaky about at best.

FINAL FOUR: Kentucky, Wisconsin, Iowa State, Michigan State

CHAMPIONSHIP: Kentucky over Iowa State

BIGGEST UPSET: No. 15 New Mexico State over No. 2 Kansas

Randy Whitehouse

I picked Iowa State to play Kentucky for the national championship in a pool, so you really shouldn’t care what I think.

I did so for three reasons: 1). The Cyclones were fun to watch the three-quarters of a game I saw them play; 2). My high school coach once showed us a video on defensive drills by Iowa State coach Johnny Orr. Why my coach showed us the tape rather than have us actually do the drills is still beyond me. But it may explain why you haven’t watched Lake Region in anything close to a state championship game in 29 years; and 3). Julius Michalik was my favorite player of the 1990s. His former teammate, Fred Hoiberg, let me and millions of others down.

All I know is I am still looking forward to the next two weeks because I want to see Kentucky make history and read all of the grousing of the subway alums of various college programs on Twitter about how John Calipari cheats (as if their coach actually gives a damn about his players).

So, go Wildcats. And Hoiberg, you’ve been demoted from “The Mayor” to “The Dog Catcher.”

FINAL FOUR: Kentucky, Arizona, UAB, Michigan State

CHAMPIONSHIP: Kentucky over UAB

BIGGEST UPSET: No. 13 N. Dakota St. over No. 3 Gonzaga

Dave Dyer

I’m the boring guy who goes chalk almost 95 percent of the time. If I pick an upset it usually comes in the first round, and it’s never higher than a No. 13 seed beating a No. 4 seed. As I’m writing this, Georgia State defeated Baylor 57-56. As a on-the-border crazy person, I’m predicting No. 14 Georgia State moves on to the Sweet 16 by beating No. 6 Xavier. Though I’m a shameless Notre Dame fan, I’m not crazy enough to think that the Fighting Irish will beat Kentucky in the Elite 8; that is where they will drop off. I don’t believe Kentucky wins it all. It’s incredibly rare a team goes undefeated for an entire season, no matter how talented. Kentucky is great, but not great enough. I see Wisconsin beating the Wildcats in the Final Four and winning the whole thing. Why? Because Badgers are cool. Logic goes out the window in picking the national champion, which is why you’re significant other is more likely to win the pool based on color of uniform than you are because of your hours spent scouting each team.

FINAL FOUR: Kentucky, Wisconsin, Villanova, Gonzaga

CHAMPIONSHIP: Wisconsin over Villanova

BIGGEST UPSET: No. 14 Georgia State beats No. 6 Xavier to move on to Sweet 16

 

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