Let’s get this out of the way from the jump: We’ve never filled out a perfect bracket.
But neither have you. So we’re all starting on equal footing here.
Sure, we can all daydream that this is the year, but in reality, we’d all have a better chance of getting struck by lightning (three times) than rolling a perfecto. Still that won’t stop us from flying a kite in a thunderstorm.
But this year’s NCAA Tournament might be the hardest one to predict in a long time. Parity from top to bottom, no real dominant team and enough Cinderellas looking for lost glass slippers could turn this year’s Big Dance into a mosh pit.
And we here at FrontPageBets are here for it. Bring on the headbangers!
And we’ve also taken a stab at our own.
Between GM/content director Mike Szvetitz and senior editor Gerry Ahern, there might be enough here to cobble together a little somethin’ somethin’. Or, at the very least, you’ll know what to avoid completely. (Scroll to the bottom for our complete brackets.)
Pencils and brackets ready!?!?!
SZVETITZ: Could this be (finally) Gonzaga‘s year? The No. 1 overall seed will have to get past Duke in the West Region final, but the Zags’ road there isn’t easy. They’ll have to beat a very tough and athletic Arkansas team in the Sweet 16. Duke will be playing for Coach K. But will it be enough?
Also, in early upset news: Look for No. 12 New Mexico State to knock off No. 5 UConn in the first round (yes, I know those 5-12 upsets are trendy, but can’t help myself), as well as No. 10 Davidson to take out No. 7 Michigan State.
AHERN: I’ve got Duke back in the Final Four and ultimately sending Mike Krzyzewski into retirement with his sixth national championship in a storyline reminiscent of Al McGuire’s title-winning farewell campaign at Marquette in 1977. Duke will get past Cal State Fullerton, familiar foe Michigan State, Texas Tech and top-seeded Gonzaga to get there. Agreed on New Mexico State over Danny Hurley and the Huskies, Mike. But Davidson and ex-Spartan point guard Foster Loyer won’t be tough enough to KO Tom Izzo and MSU.
SZVETITZ: The biggest upset for me coming out of this region is No. 5 Saint Mary’s knocking off No. 1 Baylor in the Sweet 16. The Gaels have already beaten Gonzaga this season, and I’m not convinced Baylor is as good as advertised, especially in this year of mediocrity. But Saint Mary’s run (after also beating UCLA in the second round) will end in the region final against No. 2 Kentucky, which will head to the Final Four after knocking off Murray State and Virginia Tech in the second round and Sweet 16, respectively.
AHERN: I like another 2 seed, the Kentucky Wildcats, to prevail here in a loaded region. “The Big O,” Oscar Tshiebwe, will carry the Wildcats past Saint Peter’s, San Francisco, Purdue and UCLA. I have No. 1 and defending national champion Baylor losing to the Bruins.
St. Mary’s, Mike? Nah. They’ll be sent packing by Trayce Jackson-Davis and Indiana in a first-round game.
SZVETITZ: It’s another chalk run for me here. Arizona will come out of the South and into the Final Four after beating No. 8 Seton Hall in the second round and then No. 4 Illinois in the Sweet 16. I do look for No. 12 UAB (there’s that 5-12 upset again) to give the Illini a run in the second round. Arizona will face No. 3 Tennessee in the region final, after the Vols knock off No. 2 Villanova in the region semifinal. It’s too bad No. 8 Colorado State and No. 10 Loyola Chicago got the draw they did; it would be nice to see them deeper than the second round. Alas.
AHERN: Arizona is my lone No. 1 in the Final Four. After a walkover in the opener, the Wildcats will slug through tight games against Seton Hall, Illinois and Villanova to book their ticket to New Orleans. They will advance to the title game with a win over …
SZVETITZ: Kansas has the easiest draw out of any No. 1 seed. The Jayhawks will face No. 2 Auburn in the Midwest final, after beating No. 5 Iowa in the Sweet 16. The Hawkeyes are hot, but Kansas has been there before. Auburn, if it can get better guard play, will get past No. 10 Miami in the second round and No. 3 Wisconsin in the round of 16. Kansas beats Auburn to head to the Final Four.
AHERN: Bold picks, Mike! How about the Iowa Hawkeyes? That’s right the 5 seed keeps up its late run of success all the way to the national semifinals. Player of year hopeful Keegan Murray, Jordan Bohannon and Co. make quick work out of No. 12 Richmond and No. 4 Providence before punching out No. 1 Kansas and No. 2 Auburn to get to the Big Easy.
SZVETITZ: Gonzaga. Yes, this is the year the Zags make it happen, beating Arizona in the national championship game. I know my guy, Gerry, likes the Hallmark movie ending with Coach K and Duke. But not this time. In a year of parity, Gonzaga makes a point.
AHERN: Duke. After being repelled in his home finale at Cameron Indoor by North Carolina and in the ACC tournament by Virginia Tech, K brings home the ultimate prize in the final game of his Hall of Fame career. The NCAA couldn’t write a more public relations favorable script.
Mike Szvetitz is the General Manager and Content Director for FrontPageBets.com. Szvetitz is a 22-year veteran reporter and editor, including serving 17 years as a sports editor in Florida, Alabama and Virginia, covering everything from preps to pros. His “View From The Lazy Boy” column won multiple state and national awards.
Gerry Ahern is senior content editor for FrontPageBets. A 35-year veteran sports editor and digital media executive, he has led coverage of the biggest events in sports, from Super Bowls, to Final Fours, to Olympics, to the Masters.