Each March, FOXSports.com’s Jeff Goodman challenges a country full of college basketball fans by releasing his NCAA tournament bracket before the action kicks off later this week.
Below are Goodman’s explanations for his picks along with his filled-in bracket.
Top seed Ohio State may be tested by the winner of the George Mason-Villanova game, but should advance and meet No. 4 seed Kentucky in what could be one of the most exciting matchups of the entire tournament in the Sweet 16. I’m going with Ohio State — mostly due to its experience, leadership and the fact that the Buckeyes have Jared Sullinger in the middle.
On the other side, there are no shortage of teams that could come out. Second-seeded North Carolina has looked like a different team over the past two months, but the Tar Heels should have problems in the second round with a No. 7 Washington team that could match their size. I’m going with the Huskies because they can push around Tar Heel big men John Henson and Tyler Zeller — and Isaiah Thomas could disrupt UNC’s backcourt.
No. 3 Syracuse should get by Indiana State — as long as Larry Bird doesn’t make a cameo with the Sycamores — and also the winner of Xavier-Marquette.
Look for an Ohio State-Washington Elite Eight matchup with the Buckeyes advancing to the Final Four because of their balance and experience.
I’m worried about Duke. The Blue Devils just aren’t overpowering without Kyrie Irving, who has been out since early December with a toe injury. Even if he does return (which is up in the air), I just don’t know how effective he’ll be.
I think Coach K gets past the Michigan-Tennessee winner in Round 2 (I’ve got the more athletic Vols, who are playing for Bruce Pearl’s job), but I don’t see Duke getting past No. 4 seed Texas in the Sweet 16.
The bottom half of the region is tough to figure. No. 3 UConn has Kemba Walker, but I don’t like the Huskies’ matchup against a Missouri team that can rotate guards on Walker and really wear down UConn.
I’ve got Missouri taking out No. 2 seed San Diego State in the Sweet 16 because of its pressure before losing to a talented Texas team in the Elite Eight.
I call this the all-injury region with Purdue, Georgetown and Florida State. The No. 3-seeded Boilermakers lost Robbie Hummel for the year while Georgetown and Florida State are both hoping to get their stars, Chris Wright and Chris Singleton, back from injuries.
But this is all about Rock Chalk Jayhawk — and the top-seeded Kansas Jayhawks should roll through. Bill Self’s team shouldn’t have any problems with Self’s former employer, Illinois, in the third round — and then the Jayhawks will roll past any one of Louisville, Vanderbilt or even Richmond to advance to the Sweet 16.
The other half of the region should come down to a Notre Dame-Purdue matchup — which would be a terrific game between two teams that vie for the same players. I’m going with Purdue because the Irish have no answer for JaJuan Johnson. But that’s where the road ends for Matt Painter & Co. as they won’t have enough to get past Kansas.
Top seed Pittsburgh drew the easiest region and the Panthers should make their first-ever Final Four appearance. Butler was fortunate to go dancing, but last year’s Cinderella will make an early exit to Old Dominion. Kansas State has turned it around, but I don’t have much confidence in anyone except for Jake Pullen — and he can’t carry this team for long.
Everyone will be pulling for The Jimmer, but I don’t see No. 3 seed BYU advancing far, either. In fact, I’ve got 11th-seeded Gonzaga taking down the Cougars in the third round because BYU won’t have an answer for Robert Sacre and Elias Harris down low.
However, Florida does have an answer with no shortage of big bodies and that’s why I have the No. 2 seed Gators moving on — and losing — to Pittsburgh in the Elite Eight.
Ohio State vs. Texas — The Buckeyes enter as the favorite, but the Longhorns have the homecourt advantage, playing down the road in Houston. These are two of the most talented teams in the nation, but ultimately I think that Buckeyes freshman big man Jared Sullinger is the difference and Thad Matta’s team advances to the national title game.
Kansas vs. Pittsburgh — This one will be a war. Two of the tougher teams in the country and also two of the most balanced. In the end, though, I like the Jayhawks because they have The Morris Twins — who will be difficult for Pittsburgh’s frontline to try and contain.
NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
Ohio State vs. Kansas — Unless Duke freshman Kyrie Irving comes back, this is the game everyone will want to see. The Buckeyes and Jayhawks are the two most talented teams in the nation. Ohio State has all the pieces — and Kansas has most of them as well. While the Jayhawks may be more talented, I’m sticking with my preseason pick to win it all: The Ohio State Buckeyes.