By Kyle Almekinder
Every week Chris presents the new bracket projections and I follow with its predictions. This week’s games made quite the difference in the pairings and what the results could be.
Breaking down the Bracket
Most surprising upset: Several upsets are listed on the bracket, but none greater than the wins accumulated by No. 6 Wichita State. In this bracket, not only do I have the Shockers beating a down Baylor team, but also a Duke team that has momentum from two comeback wins this past week. Wichita State’s win over Davidson (albeit another mid-major) showed me that Gregg Marshall's team is not afraid of anybody. The Shockers have already clinched a share of the Missouri Valley regular season title while having a great inside-out game with seven-footer Garrett Stutz guarding the paint and Toure’ Murry leading the charge from the perimeter. A mentally lost Baylor team should be a good test for the Shockers before they ‘shock’ the world (sorry, had to do it) against Duke.
Least surprising upset: No, I won’t repeat myself about Wisconsin. The bracket does that for me. But, I will not be surprised if No. 12 Long Beach State takes out No. 5 Louisville in their rematch game. The 49ers traveled to Louisville earlier this year and lost by thirteen. Louisville has improved since then with Gorgui Dieng becoming a defensive threat and gaining Wayne Blackshear from injury. Long Beach State, on the other hand, has endured arguably the toughest non-conference schedule of any contending team. Their narrow loss in the BracketBusters to Creighton (in Omaha) only builds their toughness and confidence to win games on larger stages. The Beach gets revenge on the Cardinals. Hello to another early round exit for Rick Pitino.
Darkhorse Final Four contender: I have Michigan State moving to the Final Four over Missouri, but it was a difficult decision. I’d have Missouri, Duke, and North Carolina in Final Four contention based on the matchups. Missouri is the best fit though; they could be considered the ‘fifth’ Final Four team in this bracket. Duke and North Carolina have not shown me that they have staying power this year. Both have glaring weaknesses that will be addressed come March. A true darkhorse could be Georgetown. They have impressed me with their 10-4 record in Big East play. Wins versus Notre Dame and at Marquette to close out the season could mean more chances for a late March push.
Other notable games: No. 3 Georgetown vs. No. 2 North Carolina; No. 8 Creighton vs. No. 9 Harvard; No. 5 Florida State vs. No. 4 Florida; No. 1 Ohio State vs. No. 2 Kansas; No. 5 Saint Mary's vs. No. 12 Mississippi State; No. 6 Vanderbilt vs. No. 3 Michigan.
Champion: Kentucky. The Wildcats continue their winning ways in the SEC, sitting a perfect 12-0 including rolling over Florida and a late squeaker versus Vanderbilt (in Nashville). Kentucky senior Darius Miller and freshman Kyle Wiltjer have been key in coming off the bench as of late. Miller’s solid defense and zone penetration skills combined with Wiltjer’s outside presence could mean “8pril” for the Cats (their eighth title in April). Syracuse poses great size matchups with Kentucky but with several narrow wins over Louisville, Georgetown, West Virginia, and Cincinnati, I question their ability to handle such an atmosphere. Kentucky wins 79-71.