Finally, the wait is over.
By “wait,” I mean how long it took to actually reveal the brackets. Crazy concept for a bracket reveal show, right?
Lost in the shuffle of TBS was busy messing up the selection show was the fact that a record 8 SEC teams are in the NCAA Tournament.
Here’s how far I have each of them going:
Alabama — Round of 32
Man, I love me some Collin Sexton. In case I haven’t said that enough, here’s a couple more times. I love Collin Sexton. I love Collin Sexton.
What I don’t love is the type of offense that Alabama will have to face if it gets past Virginia Tech. A No. 9 seed is better than nothing, and Villanova did lose as a No. 1 seed in the second round last year, but this is a battle-tested squad that looks every bit like a national championship contender.
But hey, two more games of Sexton is better than none.
Arkansas — Round of 64
I mean, it’s Butler in March … need I say more?
Yes, I understand that the Bulldogs enter the first round having lost 6 of their past 9 games albeit to some really good Big East teams. This isn’t Brad Stevens or even Chris Holtmann’s Butler squad, but it’s one that’s going to give Arkansas problems.
Kelan Martin and Kamar Baldwin can be matchup nightmares and are capable of taking over a game. That’s not good for an Arkansas team that really struggled to defend the past few weeks.
I also understand that the Razorbacks won 8 of their previous 10 games and a quick turnaround might have fueled that ugly effort against Tennessee. But I wonder if Daryl Macon and the Razorbacks have enough left in the tank to beat a battle-tested Butler squad. Call it an upset if you want, but I’m not liking the chances of Mike Anderson’s squad reaching their third Round of 32 in the past 4 years.
And again, it’s Butler in March.
Auburn — Round of 64
One team won 14 of its last 15 games to end the season. Another lost 4 of its final 6 games. The former was Charleston, and the latter was Auburn. No, not all wins are created equal. Obviously Charleston didn’t have to face the SEC. Still, Auburn looks like a team that ran out of gas.
Recapturing that magic without Anfernee McLemore is easier said than done. The Tigers have plenty of time to regroup after getting waxed by Alabama in the SEC Tournament, but I can’t get that image out of my mind. Charleston has a pair of elite guards in Grant Riller and Joe Chealey. Both of them could go off against the Tigers.
I hate to say it, but this feels like a dream season turning sour in a hurry.
Florida — Sweet 16
Florida is easily a team that could make me look really stupid and rattle off 4 consecutive wins to reach a Final Four. I just think that the road to get there is a challenging one.
Contrary to what Seth Davis said on the TBS broadcast, I think Florida’s guards are good enough to beat whoever comes out of that play-in game. And in the second round, an inexperienced Texas Tech squad that lost 5 of 7 games down the stretch shouldn’t be able to hang with the Gators if they play with the pace that they did against Kentucky.
But Purdue? Their size could be a nightmare matchup for Florida. I don’t know who guards Isaac Haas. Shoot, I don’t even know who stops the experienced forward Vincent Edwards.
Florida did surprise teams and reach the Elite 8 after an SEC Tournament dud last year, but this squad has been a bit too unpredictable in the second half to trust to do much more.
Kentucky — Elite 8
Yeah, I called my shot. I wrote that I was going to base my Kentucky pick in the NCAA Tournament based off what they did in the SEC Tournament.
So I should have Kentucky winning it all, right?
Well, I’m not willing to go that far. I am, however, willing to pick a Kentucky upset of the top-seeded Virginia squad. Call me crazy, but I think the Cats have this thing figured out.
With Shai Gilgeous-Alexander playing at the level that he’s playing at right now, I think Kentucky is a different team. I like the chances of the Cats making a deep run even if Jarred Vanderbilt doesn’t return. Kevin Knox doesn’t have to shoot lights out for this team to be a legitimate contender. But if he wants to make my Virginia upset happen, he and a few others catching fire would certainly help.
Ironically enough, I think Kentucky’s run stops with Cincinnati. No, the Bearcats haven’t faced a gauntlet in the AAC, but this still a team that, like Virginia, defends extremely well. I think Kentucky uses up all of its energy on Virginia and having to face a team like Cincinnati on a quick turnaround proves to be too tall of a task.
But all things considered, an Elite 8 would be quite the achievement for Kentucky considering where it was a few weeks ago.
Mizzou — Round of 32
Yes, I think Michael Porter Jr. is able to play start-to-finish in a winning Mizzou basketball game. No, I don’t think he gets multiple wins under his belt.
The Tigers had to adjust to playing with Porter in the SEC Tournament, which was a difficult thing to figure out against a team that defends as well as Georgia. I think we see the Tigers break out against a much more up-and-down Florida State team. Jontay Porter can fuel that effort.
But yeah, running into a No. 1 seed like Xavier in the second round is a tough draw. The Tigers could’ve been in a much more favorable spot had they taken care of business at least once in St. Louis. Instead, they’ll watch their entertaining season end in the second round.
Tennessee — Sweet 16
Yeah, I’m doubling down on the Vols. I don’t care if they don’t have the 5-star talent or experience that others in the field do. There was something about Rick Barnes’ team that was easy to like. Call it toughness, call it grit, whatever you want to call it — the Vols have it.
If not for running into a buzzsaw Kentucky squad that finally lived up to its 5-star potential, the Vols would have had their first SEC title in nearly 4 decades.
As much as we all want to see super freshmen like Sexton, Porter and Trae Young go deep in the tournament, I’m all in on Admiral Schofield. He’s the heart and soul of that team. This time of year, everyone wishes they had a player like him. I think he’s the difference in getting past what I think will be a tough out in Wright State.
But just like I said with Kentucky, Cincinnati’s defense proves to be too much and the Vols struggle to string buckets together in the second weekend.
Still, the takeaway will be that Tennessee will be a force next year with nearly everyone back.
Texas A&M — Round of 64
Like so many SEC teams, the Aggies have been extremely streaky throughout the year. It’s hard to figure out which teams can make a run and which can’t, but this one is more about just having a bad matchup.
It’s hard not to be impressed with Providence after it nearly knocked off Villanova in New York. All they did before that was beat an extremely talented Xavier squad to reach the Big East Tournament championship. They’re loaded with seniors who don’t panic when they fall behind.
How cool is Providence under pressure? Ed Cooley ripped his pants and simply put a towel over them in the Big East Championship.
Providence Coach Ed Cooley is so into the Big East title game that he ripped his pants. pic.twitter.com/EX0oKmWhYL
— Tom Jolly (@TomJolly) March 11, 2018
I love the heart of T.J. Stark and the Aggies, but I question if they can regroup after that devastating loss to Alabama in St. Louis. This one should still go down to the wire, too.
But unfortunately for the Aggies, I see them coming out on the wrong end of another heartbreaker.