As a sports writer, I’m a night owl by trade.
So naturally I took in the Pac-12 tournament last week, and it was awesome.
Throughout the four-day event I had the privilege — I think — to listen to NBA great Bill Walton call games alongside Dave Pasch, and the phrase “Conference of Champions” kept popping up during the broadcasts.
Being from New York, I’m a Big East guy. And now that Syracuse plays in the ACC, I’m an ACC guy. So calling the Pac-12 the Conference of Champions didn’t sit with me quite right at first. But the more and more I watched the Pac-12 tournament, the more I started to agree with Walton.
Once the NCAA Tournament bracket was released Sunday night, I couldn’t agree more. If it wasn’t for Oregon forward Chris Boucher’s ACL injury in the Pac-12 semifinals, ending his season, I would have put three Pac-12 teams in the Final Four.
Flavor of the Week is back, and instead of breaking down each slate of NFL games, from a fantasy football perspective, I’m going to help you fill out the perfect bracket. Or at least attempt to.
There’s two real players in the East: Defending champion, and No. 1 overall seed Villanova and a red-hot Duke squad, the No. 2 seed.
As a No. 6 seed, I like SMU to take down it’s play-in opponent and then an up-and-down Baylor team before falling to Duke in the Sweet 16. Virginia’s defense always gives teams trouble, and I see the Wahoos getting to the Sweet Sixteen before they meet their match.
This Villanova-Duke Elite Eight matchup gave me a really tough time, but if you look at the Blue Devils’ season, this team’s just too up and down. The Wildcats are back in the Final Four.
Many pundits are calling the West the easiest region this year. However, I don’t see it this way.
No. 1 seed Gonzaga, No. 2 seed Arizona and No. 5 Notre Dame all have legitimate Final Four bids.
The Zags will be the first top seed to go down, and it’s not because Gonzaga can’t hang with the big boys. This might be Mark Few’s best team, but I’m a big fan of the Irish this season. Notre Dame beats Gonzaga in the Sweet 16 before falling to Arizona in the Elite Eight.
No. 6 Maryland is a team to watch. The Terps take down a questionable No. 3-seeded Florida State team before falling to the Wildcats in the second weekend.
I think Kansas is vastly overrated this year, but without Boucher, the Jayhawks should have a pretty easy time making the Final Four.
Iowa State takes out Purdue in the Round of 32 before falling to a superior Jayhawks team.
No. 11 Rhode Island is my big upset of the Round of 64, but make it no further because they run into an Oregon team that’s still talented enough to make it to the second weekend, but fall short before the Final Four.
Louisville takes out the Ducks in the Sweet 16 before pushing the Jayhawks to the brink in the Elite Eight.
I had a lot of trouble making decisions in this part of the bracket.
No. 1 North Carolina has little trouble making the Elite Eight, taking down No. 8 Arkansas and No. 12 Middle Tennessee in the process. Oh, Middle Tennessee is my Cinderella team this year.
You might remember the Blue Raiders from last year. They took down Michigan State as a No. 15 seed last year. But this time around I see Middle Tennessee still standing in the second weekend, after bouncing No. 5 Minnesota and No. 4 Butler in back-to-back games. They’re better than a year ago.
The bottom half of the region isn’t so easy.
I love what Coach Cal has done this year with No. 2 Kentucky, and how can you not enjoy watching Lonzo Ball and a potent No. 3 UCLA team. They’re impressive.
But I think UCLA’s offense carries them past both Kentucky and UNC. The Bruins are back to the Final Four for the first time since 2008.
Villanova. Arizona. Kansas. UCLA.
Two No. 1 seeds and two teams from the Conference of Champions. Who will prevail?
If ‘Nova was on the other side of the bracket, I would have them making the national championship game once again, but Arizona is too well-rounded. Six players average from nine to 17 points a game, led by Lauri Markkanen and Allonza Trier, who averages 17.3 points per game and is the catalyst for the Wildcats.
Remember how I led my column with all of that Conference of Champions bolstering? Yeah, I like UCLA over Kansas too. Don’t get me wrong, I like Kansas, but an offense like UCLA’s can power a team to a national championship. That is until they face Arizona again.
Arizona vs. UCLA, round four. The Wildcats just have too much depth for the Bruins to keep up with.
This team Arizona head coach Sean Miller has been waiting for.