Selection Sunday is great, but Bracket Monday is where the real fun comes in. Today is the day you fill out bracket after bracket until you reach a zen-like state, you black out for a few minutes, wake up in a daze to find that your bracket is filled out.
Sometimes the bracket is a little bit of art, sometimes it is a little bit of science. But it is always beautiful.
It is still early in the bracket week, so my bracket thoughts are not yet fully formed, but here are some general thoughts before getting into regional specific thoughts and predictions.
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Most of my overall thoughts come from this specific graph. Below you are seeing each team based on their offensive and defensive efficiency. Often an good indicator of the quality of team. Also, often a decent indicator of tournament success. Basically upper right indicates good offense AND good defense. Lower left is the opposite.
What I find really interesting is that I don’t ever recall seeing a natural gap like this between 14 teams, a big block of decent teams and then yet another noticeable gap before you get to the bad teams.
There are 2 things worth noting here.
1 - above the red line there are 14 teams. Those teams can all reach the Sweet 16 without having to face each other until that round. All of those teams are 4-seeds or higher with Iowa and Houston being the 5-seed exceptions.
Of course not all 14 of those teams will make it, there are always upsets. This is what makes the tournament so much fun. But if you are looking for some sort of quantifiable reason to make your selections, this is as good as any. Those 14 teams and then you have two other 2nd weekend slots to pick another upset or two.
2 - Other than Gonzaga standing out, really ANY of these teams could reach the Final Four. Usually at least a few teams stand out from the pack, but this year it is just Gonzaga. But the other 13 teams above the line (along with Illinois or UConn or Texas) could make it to New Orleans without any surprise.
Potential Upset: Sorry, Tom, but Davidson over Michigan State might be my lock of the tournament. Also, Zips will tell me that 10 over a 7 doesn’t count as an upset, but I don’t really like anything else in this bracket. Maybe the Rutgers/Notre Dame winner to beat Bama. That wouldn’t surprise me either. But Davidson is going to beat the Spartans.
Players to Watch: Luka Brajkovic is going to be a fun one to watch against Michigan State. He was the A10 player of the year and should be a matchup problem for the Spartans inside.
PrizePicks Lock: Jaylin Williams of Arkansas UNDER 10.0 rebounds. The Razorbacks are up against Vermont, who is the #1 defensive rebounding team in the country.
Later Round Matchups: Assuming chalk holds till the 2nd weekend, both Sweet 16 games should be outstanding.
Regional Winner: I’m going with the regional final to be UConn and Texas Tech. This is my region where I’d be thrilled to see it go nuclear. Shoot me, if I have to watch Gonzaga and Duke in the regional final. I don’t really have any love for UConn either, so let’s be rooting for the Catamounts or Montana State or something. But I’m taking Texas Tech and their incredible defense to win it.
Potential Upset: I like the Wyoming/Indiana winner to take down Saint Mary’s. Every year one of those Dayton games turns into a 1st round upset. I think it is likely Indiana, but there must be something to be said about getting that early game to get acclimated to the Tournament and on a roll into that first weekend.
Players to Watch:
PrizePicks Lock: Oscar Tshiebwe 14.5 Rebounds. Take the under. The Kentucky big man pulls in a ton of rebounds. But two things work against him in this game. First, Saint Peter’s has KC Ndefo, a rebounding big man. who is a 3-time MAAC Defensive Player of the Year winner. Ndefo can rebound as well. Will he dominate? No, but he will secure enough defensive rebounds to make 15 difficult for Tshiebwe. Secondly, let’s assume this game is a blowout (cause it will be) and Tshiebwe players fewer minutes than usual.
Later Round Matchups: Kentucky against Purdue is a game I’m very excited to watch in the Sweet 16. Both teams are very good offensively and have enough star power to make this an epic 2nd weekend game.
Regional Winner: I like Kentucky to come away with the East. I’m abnormally high on the SEC this year and Baylor & Purdue have just been too inconsistent for me this season. Any of those three could pull it off, and before the brackets were released Purdue was my favorite of the Big Ten teams to make it to New Orleans. But I like Kentucky to pull it off.
Potential Upset: Again, not a major upset, but I like Loyola over Ohio State. This bracket has a lot of low-seeded teams I like. Chattanooga has some legit talent, UAB is very good. I’d be picking both of those against almost any other matchup. I’m sure Michigan over Colorado St is going to be a popular upset pick. But I’m taking Loyola while those other potential upsets hold serve.
Players to Watch: Silvio De Sousa for Chattanooga is a former 4-star, top 35 player in the country who had committed to Kansas. He is now with the Mocs to go along with Malachi Smith and David Jean-Baptist to form a very dangerous trio. De Sousa going up against Kofi Cockburn is going to be a great matchup.
Peter Kiss of Bryant might also be kind of fun to watch. Maybe one of the most obnoxious players in the tournament, but might be fun to watch in Wednesday’s 16/16 matchup. As the nation’s leading scorer, this is his chance to do something on the national stage.
PrizePicks Lock: Jordan Bohannon over 2.5 threes made. Richmond does not defend the three very well (219th in the country) and this is the stage where shooters make shots.
I will also be taking Peter Kiss over 24.5 points against Wright State.
Later Round Matchups: Houston at Arizona in the Sweet 16 intrigues me very much. The Cougars play elite defense.
Regional Winner: I will take Villanova to make a run to the Final Four.
Potential Upset: This is going to be the most common of all the 1st round upset picks, but I like South Dakota State over Providence. The Friars have sort of been out-punching their weight class all year and they are up against a team that is elite at shooting the three. SDSU is under-seeded at 13.
The other guaranteed upset is LSU over Wisconsin in the 2nd round.
Players to Watch: Baylor Scheierman for the Jackrabbits is shooting 46.6% from three on over 160 attempts this year. If he gets hot or SDSU is able to find open looks for him, he could be extremely fun to watch on Thursday morning.
PrizePicks Lock: Nate Watson 18.5 Pts/Reb/Ast, take the over. The big man for Providence might have himself a day. South Dakota State is not great in the middle and I suspect he will be a major part of the game-plan for the Friars.
Later Round Matchups: LSU and Wisconsin could be a fun game, especially when the Tigers win by 18.
Regional Winner: I haven’t completed my bracket yet but the three teams I see capable of winning this bracket are Kansas, Auburn or Iowa. I might take the Hawkeyes just to be different, I’m leaning Kansas though.