Let’s try that again.

The opening weekend of the NCAA Tournament treated brackets like kids treat wrapping paper on Christmas morning. Zero regard. Rip it up. Crumple it up. Throw it away.

At this time last week, we sold you on Kentucky reaching or even winning a national championship. We broke down the possibility that red-hot Tennessee and Iowa would make deep runs after claiming their respective conference tournament titles. We laid out whether Colgate or Chattanooga could be a Cinderella.

But that’s all in the past. All of those teams are gone. A new bracket awaits heading into the second weekend.





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Saturday Down South’s Connor O’Gara and Adam Spencer picked the rest of the NCAA Tournament:

Sweet 16

No. 4 Arkansas vs. No. 1 Gonzaga

Connor’s pick — Gonzaga

It’s tempting to pick the Hogs here. It really is. Gonzaga was pushed to the limit by Memphis. Could Drew Timme struggle with Jaylin Williams on the inside? Will JD Notae look more like his regular season self? Is it possible that Eric Musselman continues to dial up the right looks in close games? Absolutely. But I sense that Chet Holmgren presents a unique matchup that Arkansas ultimately can’t handle. A close game gets out of reach late and the world gets a reminder of why Gonzaga was the top seed in this tournament.

Adam’s pick — Gonzaga

I 100% agree with Connor that Arkansas has no one to match up with Chet Holmgren. If the Hogs put Jaylin Williams on the star freshman, that will allow Timme to take over. Arkansas’ lack of a second post presence is really going to hurt in this game. I think the Hogs keep it close, but Gonzaga does what it likes to do and squeezes the life out of its opponent down the stretch.

No. 11 Michigan vs. No. 2 Villanova

Connor’s pick — Michigan

Remember when Michigan was the No. 6 team in the country to start the year? It’s starting to look like the Wolverines are peaking at the perfect time. Hunter Dickinson put on a clinic in an upset win against Tennessee. I don’t think Eric Dixon slows Dickinson down, and the ageless wonder Eli Brooks continues his hot shooting in March. We just saw Michigan overcome a backcourt playing at an elite level, which could be the case with Collin Gillespie. Juwan Howard’s team is playing looser and more confident than ever, which yields another upset win.

Adam’s pick — Villanova

I expect Hunter Dickinson to have another big game, as Villanova doesn’t have anyone in its rotation taller than 6-9. But, outside of that, especially with the health of DeVante’ Jones in question, I think the Wildcats have the edge. They’re a veteran-laden team, led by an experienced point guard in Collin Gillespie. Jay Wright is no stranger to these tight March Madness situations, so when in doubt, I’ll give the benefit to Villanova.

No. 3 Texas Tech vs. No. 2 Duke

Connor’s pick — Texas Tech

Oh, how ironic it would be if a Texas Tech program led by first-year coach Mark Adams ended Mike Krzyzewski’s career. Is part of me just rooting for this and picking it somewhat blindly? Yeah. And is part of me hoping we see Texas Tech, who ranks No. 1 in adjusted defensive efficiency, slap the court after repeated stops? Absolutely. I question if all of those future first-round NBA picks can grind out possessions and not just play hero ball. That’s what leads to a Texas Tech upset … and 1 final Krzyzewski postgame lecture on sportsmanship.

Adam’s pick — Duke

I really want to pick against Duke here, too, but I can’t just yet. I love Texas Tech’s brand of positionless basketball and do think it can affect Coach K’s stable of elite freshmen. But this figures to be a very pro-Duke atmosphere in San Francisco, as every game from here on out that Duke plays will have plenty of Blue Devils fans in attendance. This should be a tight game, but give me Wendell Moore Jr., one of the more-experienced players on Duke’s roster, to make a big play late to help the Blue Devils advance.

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No. 5 Houston vs. No. 1 Arizona

Connor’s pick — Houston

Look. You might not like it, but Kelvin Sampson’s team just bullies you into submission. They can handle Arizona’s size, they clean up on the offensive glass unlike anybody in the field and they just find ways to win even though it’s an entirely different starting lineup from last year’s Final Four squad. They force teams to play their style, and I think that’s exactly what happens against an Arizona team who is used to getting its way on offense. I think Houston contains Christian Koloko with a similar physical style to what worked on Kofi Coburn and Sampson’s squad returns to the Elite 8.

Adam’s pick — Arizona

Two words: Bennedict Mathurin. That’s all you need to know about why Arizona will win this game. Mathurin is playing like an absolute superstar so far this March. He had a huge game in the Pac-12 Tournament to help the Wildcats cut down the nets in Las Vegas. And, he hasn’t slowed down since. In Arizona’s overtime escape against TCU in Round 2, Mathurin had 30 points and 8 rebounds. He refuses to let Arizona lose, and that continues against a Houston team that finally sees its injury situation catch up to it.

No. 15 Saint Peter’s vs. No. 3 Purdue

Connor’s pick — Purdue

Nothing is impossible after what Saint Peter’s did against Kentucky. In that game, they let Oscar Tshiebwe get his and they forced Kentucky’s guards into some tough spots. Purdue, however, has a multi-faceted scoring attack. Even in the likely event that this game script doesn’t turn into the high-scoring affairs that we’ve grown accustomed to seeing from Purdue, I think Zach Edey and Trevion Williams are too much for the Peacocks to handle. Matt Painter makes it to the Elite 8 for the second time in his career and sends Cinderella back to New Jersey.

Adam’s pick — Purdue

I want to pick the Peacocks so badly. Shaheen Holloway has made a name for himself in a big way and now everyone knows exactly where Saint Peter’s campus is located (in New Jersey, just outside of New York City). But, Purdue has Jaden Ivey. Purdue has Zach Edey. Purdue has Trevion Williams. Saint Peter’s magical Cinderella run finally comes to an end. The Boilermakers’ offense is simply unlike anything Saint Peter’s has seen so far this year.







No. 4 Providence vs. No. 1 Kansas

Connor’s pick — Kansas

Just by getting to this point, the Friars proved a ton of people wrong. Their ability to win close games has been a mainstay throughout 2021-22, yet they routed Richmond to reach the second weekend. Kansas, however, is a different beast than Richmond and South Dakota State. The Jayhawks are playing their best basketball at the right time of year having won 7 in a row. It’s been on the defensive end where Bill Self’s squad continued to improve. Against a Providence team who has been in total control offensively in the tournament, Kansas puts the clamps on. Providence struggles to get clean looks and Self leads the Jayhawks to the Elite 8 for the 9th time.

Adam’s pick — Providence

I thought Providence was going to lose to South Dakota State in Round 1. When the Friars advanced, I thought Richmond was hot enough to knock off a Providence team that got a ton of lucky breaks in the regular season. Well, I’m done picking against the Friars. It seems there’s something divine going on with this team, and it’s not just because they’re named the “Providence Friars.” Could this be the team of destiny? If they knock off the Jayhawks, they’ll certainly cement themselves as one of my favorite March Madness teams of the past decade.

No. 8 North Carolina vs. No. 4 UCLA

Connor’s pick — UCLA

Who doesn’t love a blue-blood battle in the NCAA Tournament? It took some kind of toughness to hold off the defending national champs after Baylor overcame a 25-point deficit to force overtime. As improved as UNC clearly is, I default to the experience of UCLA. Johnny Juzang and Jaime Jaquez Jr. won’t force shots and they’ll slow the tempo down to a place where UNC isn’t particularly comfortable. Mick Cronin’s squad can win in a variety of ways. In a down-to-the-wire game, I expect UCLA to convert at the free-throw line and ultimately hold on for dear life against a surging UNC team.

Adam’s pick — UCLA

UCLA has been here before. The Bruins made an improbable run to the Final Four last year. This year, the Bruins’ run isn’t quite so improbable. Jaquez is a stud. Juzang is a bucket. Jules Bernard is vastly underrated. Tyger Campbell is as cool as a cucumber. Mick Cronin is a big-game coach. After UNC nearly blew a 25-point lead against Baylor, I’m giving the edge in this game to a steady UCLA squad.

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No. 11 Iowa State vs. No. 10 Miami

Connor’s pick — Miami

If you ignored the “No. 10” by Miami, you’d assume the Hurricanes were one of the favorites to win the title. That’s how well they played in the opening weekend. Sure, Auburn had its issues. But making Jabari Smith struggle like that wasn’t something we saw during the Tigers’ late-season tailspin. Two lights out defensive teams could end up playing in a total rock fight. Iowa State showed in basically a road game vs. Wisconsin that it can play at that snail’s pace and still get high-percentage looks. But I think Iowa State is a team built to play with a lead and against Miami, that doesn’t happen. The Hurricanes’ phenomenal guard play continues and Jim Larranaga reaches the Elite 8 for the first time since he made that improbable Final Four run at George Mason in 2005-06.

Adam’s pick — Miami

The Hurricanes have a 4-guard lineup that is darn near impossible to stop. All 4 scored at least 12 points in Sunday’s win over Auburn. Isaiah Wong, Kameron McGusty, Charlie Moore and Jordan Miller. Learn the names now, because you’re going to hear them plenty in this game. Miami doesn’t utilize its bench very often, but it doesn’t have to. Jim Larranaga is doing a masterful job with this team, and the Hurricanes will make it to the Elite 8 for the first time ever.

Elite 8

Connor’s picks:

  • WEST — No. 1 Gonzaga beats No. 3 Texas Tech
  • EAST — No. 4 UCLA beats No. 3 Purdue
  • SOUTH — No. 5 Houston beats No. 11 Michigan
  • MIDWEST — No. 1 Kansas beats No. 10 Miami

Did you know that there’s been a team seeded at least No. 5 or worse in every Final Four since 2013? That’s right. It’s been 10 years since we had a Final Four with just teams seeded 1-4. That’s my way of justifying Houston reaching that spot because as I said, I think the Cougars handle bigs as well as anyone in the country, and they frustrate Dickinson in a rematch of the Round 2 buzzer-beater of 2018.

I think Gonzaga and Kansas are both pushed to the brink and in need of late comebacks to win their respective regions. But both turn to their All-Americans in big moments. Timme and Ochai Agbaji lead the 1-seeds in thrillers to clinch Final Four berths.

With UCLA also handling the size and offensive versatility of Purdue, that would mean that we’d have 3 of last year’s 4 Final Four teams advancing to New Orleans. Unlikely? Perhaps. But that storyline would write itself.

Adam’s picks:

  • WEST — No. 1 Gonzaga beats No. 2 Duke
  • EAST — No. 4 UCLA beats No. 3 Purdue
  • SOUTH — No. 1 Arizona beats No. 2 Villanova
  • MIDWEST — No. 10 Miami beats No. 4 Providence

Gonzaga and Arizona are the easy picks for me. Even though they’ll both have to beat No. 2 seeds to reach the Final Four, I think they get the job done. They’re the 2 best teams in this tournament for a reason. UCLA has the experience and the talent to get past a North Carolina squad that is prone to mistakes down the stretch of close games. Meanwhile, the Hurricanes finally end Providence’s impressive season. That gives us 2 No. 1 seeds, a No. 4 and, yes, a No. 10 in the Final Four. That should shape up for plenty of excitement in New Orleans!

Final Four

Connor’s picks:

  • Gonzaga beats UCLA
  • Kansas beats Houston

Remember how incredible last year’s Gonzaga-UCLA game was? Of course you do.

Maybe I’m just wishing that back into existence. Of course, there’s no Jalen Suggs anymore. Instead, this winds up being an ideal showcase game for Holmgren. With all eyes on him, the future lottery pick puts Cronin’s veteran-laden group in a pretzel. He explodes for a career-high 30 points to send the Zags back to the title game.

Like last year, Houston’s semifinal matchup comes against a team with all-world guard play. Also like last year, a Big 12 team with a 1-seed uses that advantage to catch fire from deep and keep the Cougs at an arm’s length.

A Gonzaga-Kansas national championship? Yes, please.

Adam’s picks

  • Gonzaga beats UCLA
  • Arizona beats Miami

Yes, here is where the Cinderella magic comes to an end. Miami has been a great story up to this point, but Arizona’s firepower and depth is something the Hurricanes haven’t seen yet. Gonzaga-UCLA, as Connor mentioned, should be another all-time great Final Four matchup, but expect a similar result. Like last year, when Gonzaga and Baylor entered the tournament as the top 2 teams and advanced to the title game, Gonzaga and Arizona will match that feat this year.

After a topsy-turvy tournament, the top 2 seeds show why they dominated all year long and meet up in a showdown for the ages in New Orleans.

National Championship

Connor’s pick:

  • Gonzaga beats Kansas

Funny story. I actually had Kansas winning it all in my original bracket. I had Gonzaga reaching the Final Four, but losing to Kentucky. Yeah … about that. Now that Gonzaga doesn’t have to deal with Tshiebwe and the Cats in a potential semifinal matchup, I have them matching up better with Kansas than Kentucky would. This time, it’s not Holmgren or Timme who earn all the accolades. It’s former Florida transfer Andrew Nembhard. Just like we saw against Memphis, Nembhard plays the game of his life scoring, distributing and guarding Agbaji. That effort finally gets Mark Few over the hump, and once and for all Gonzaga cuts down the nets.

Adam’s pick:

  • Arizona beats Gonzaga

The mentee vs. the mentor. Tommy Lloyd in his first year at Arizona after more than 20 years on Mark Few’s staff at Gonzaga. Mark Few and the rock-solid behemoth he’s built in Spokane looking for his first national title.

The headlines write themselves for this matchup. Unfortunately for Few and the Bulldogs, this isn’t the year they get over the hump and finally win that elusive title. Lloyd and his Wildcats cut down the nets in New Orleans, leading many to wonder why the heck he wasn’t handed a big-time coaching job much sooner.

Benn Mathurin has another monster game, earning himself millions as he slides into the top-8 pick range of the 2022 NBA Draft. Azuolas Tubelis exposes Drew Timme defensively. Christian Koloko and Oumar Ballo team up to limit the damage Chet Holmgren can do. I love the way this Arizona team has played all year long. It’s only right the Wildcats win it all after a magical season.