Before I start, I just want to say the old cliché line about this being such an awesome time of year, regardless of who your team is and what your interest level in college basketball is. Enjoy March. It’s wonderful.

You know what isn’t wonderful? Filling out multiple brackets.

Yes, I’m a bracket of integrity man, through and through. If you fill out multiple brackets with different results, that’s fine. Just know that you’re limiting your fun and you forfeit any right you have to brag about your bracket.

This is my one and only, my bracket of integrity. Rip it apart.

East Region

Favorite underdog — Yale

I tend to think that in order for a lesser-talented team to pull off an upset, it has to have some guys who can catch fire from long range. Yale has that. The Bulldogs can flat out light it up. Miye Oni is an NBA guy, and senior Blake Reynolds has been shooting extremely well lately. Combine that with surging senior Alex Copeland and Yale has all the ingredients of a team that won’t be scared of the moment and can take down a team like LSU, which could be out of sorts without Will Wade.

And for the record, I like Yale to not only take down LSU, but to beat either Maryland, Belmont or Temple and advance to the Sweet 16.

Winner — Duke

Yeah, I’m going with the obvious pick here. It’s hard to pick against Duke with a healthy Zion Williamson, especially when I don’t think there’s a matchup that’s particularly scary. Virginia Tech beat Duke without Williamson, and did so on their home court. On a neutral site, Duke’s freshmen trio will be too much for the Hokies.

And this might sound weird, but I’m not all in on Michigan State’s ability to get it done in March. While I love the guard play of the indispensable Cassius Winston, I have questions about how the Spartans’ front court would handle all of Duke’s playmakers at the rim. Duke ends the long drought and finally reaches a Final Four for the first time in 4 years.

West Region

Favorite underdog — Buffalo

No, I don’t just have Buffalo in this spot because of the Arizona game last year. That Buffalo team returned a ton of talent from that group, and all they did was win 31 games. They aren’t built like a mid-major. They have length and athleticism that will push whoever wins that play-in game, and Texas Tech. They’ll be a brutal team to play on such a quick turnaround, which Kentucky nearly found out last year. It’d be a super underrated strength-on-strength matchup to watch the Bulls take on Tech’s No. 4 defense.

Winner — Michigan

Call me crazy, but I like John Beilein’s chances in March. Betting on him usually works out for the best. Last year, I had Michigan losing in the title game to Villanova, and Beilein’s squad made me look smart. His teams don’t turn the ball over, they understand their roles and always seem to be peaking at the right time.

Big Ten Tournament loss aside, I like the way this could set up for the Wolverines, especially if Buffalo takes care of Texas Tech. I think they get a matchup with Florida State instead of Gonzaga, which would struggle against a battle-tested Seminoles squad. If Beilein can get to a Final Four without having to face Texas Tech or Gonzaga, he’d count his lucky stars.


Midwest Region

Favorite underdog — Houston

It’s not bold to say that a No. 3 seed is an underdog. But is anyone even considering the idea of Houston making the Elite Eight? It doesn’t seem like it. That’s because Kentucky would be standing in the way. Houston, however, is ranked in the Top 25 in offensive and defensive efficiency, and they were a buzzer-beater 3 from knocking off last year’s eventual runner-up, Michigan.

In what turns out to be another case of Kentucky looking past a lesser-talented team in the Sweet 16, a deep Houston team wears down the Cats and moves on to a date with UNC.

Winner — UNC

I find myself siding with quality coaches in March. Someone like Roy Williams, I trust to handle the issues of his team. Like, when freshman point guard Coby White gets out of control, he can sit him down and not let him take the Heels out of a game. But, as is often the case with UNC, the veterans are going to be the difference. Having a pair of senior stars as accomplished as Cameron Johnson and Luke Maye to turn to is extremely rare in this era. Here’s hoping we get to see what would be a torrid pace between UNC and Auburn. Get the track suits ready for that one.

South Region

Favorite underdog — Oregon

Yes, this is the first non mid-major I had as an “underdog” but I feel like having a 12-seed in the Sweet 16 qualifies as such. The Ducks could play like a team with nothing to lose, which doesn’t bode well for a low-scoring Wisconsin team traveling to the West Coast. The Ducks are essentially like the Pac-12 version of Auburn in terms of entering the NCAA Tournament having won 8 in a row, including 4 in 4 days to win the conference crown.

This was an Oregon team that started in the top 15 with some high expectations. It might’ve just taken Dana Altman’s squad a bit longer than expected to live up to that. They had to adjust to playing without Bol Bol, and it looks like they finally found their identity.

Winner — Tennessee

Man, I really hope we get that Virginia-Tennessee matchup in the Elite Eight. I’d love to see how Virginia handles Tennessee’s offensive versatility. As I said, I’m not worried about the Vols getting blown out by Auburn playing their third game in as many days, and especially considering it was immediately after the heavyweight fight with Kentucky. This still feels like a Vols team with something special.

Will Tennessee fall into a similar situation as 2017 Duke, which had to play South Carolina in what felt like a home game for the Gamecocks in the second round? Possibly, but I think Vols fans well show up well to face Cincinnati — it’s a 4.5-hour drive from Knoxville to Columbus — and Tennessee will get over that second-round hump en route to the program’s first Final Four ever.

Final Four

  • Duke vs. Michigan
  • Tennessee vs. UNC

I realize that there are favorable odds for a lower-seeded team to make the field (see 2018 Loyola-Chicago, 2017 South Carolina, etc.) But in a year that’s felt top-heavy, I think we get a relatively top-heavy Final Four. Duke-Michigan would be a ton of fun to see a pair of top 5 coaches go at it. And watching Williamson destroy rims in an NFL stadium would be cool, I suppose. Duke just proves to have too much offensive firepower for Michigan — Cam Reddish and R.J. Barrett know their way around the bucket, too — and we get shades of last year’s title game loss to Villanova.

As tempting as it is to put my chips on the Vols, I like UNC to outlast Tennessee. I say “outlast” because this will feel like a true heavyweight bout. There will be offense galore and a pair of teams with seniors playing like they’re on a mission to be the last ones standing. But unlike last year when Texas A&M proved to be the worst matchup ever for the fast-paced Heels, Tennessee ultimately can’t do enough defensively to get them off their game.

And thus, Duke-UNC Part IV.


I realize that this might just be what I, as someone who loves basketball and entertainment, wants. But seeing Duke and UNC for a fourth time with this collection of talent would truly be special. I mean, half of the top 10 of the current mock drafts would be playing in this game. That’d be absurd. It would be an epic chapter in one of the best rivalries in sports.

But I give the slight edge to UNC to get the better of Williamson-led Duke this time. In the ACC Tournament, the Blue Devils needed 31 points and some late heroics from Williamson to beat a UNC team that shot 15 percent from 3-point range. I think that game sets the wheels in motion for UNC to get some revenge on an even bigger stage.

Here’s hoping for a classic ending to a classic tournament.