Well as you can see in my official bracket, I've gone completely as expected and taken the Kansas Jayhawks and the Michigan State Spartans to have their destined clash at the pinnacle of this year's March Madness. How'd I get here? Well let's work backwards, shall we?
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SOUTH BRACKET - #1 Kansas Jayhawks
Part of the reason to get behind Kansas is simple: they're the best team in the country, and that usually holds plenty of value for long term investments. The Jayhawks are not only the top ranked team in the country, they're the consensus favorite to win the whole tournament by almost every advanced metric.
How come? Well they're balanced and talented in all the right places, boasting a polished mix of everything you want in a March Madness bet. I love that they killed it down the home stretch with a 10-0 SU and 7-3 ATS record that yielded a +13.3 point differential.
And I also adore the fact that the rest of the South Bracket is a little uneven. Villanova is the second seed, but they haven't made it out of the first weekend for the past six years despite being a highly regarded program. The #3 Miami Hurricanes are a nice treat, but they are sloppy in the details and lack energy in their perimeter defense. They also don't crash the boards nearly as well as you'd hope.
People are enamored with the #4 California Bears because of their freshman duo of Jaylen Brown and Ivan Rabb, but I'm hesitant to lump a huge sum of money behind a team that's so young and erratic. Very rarely do teams such as these pan out long term, and there have been varied speed bumps. They just lost to Utah in the semi-finals of the Pac-10 Tournament. There are lots of reasons to talk yourself into betting on Cal, but they'll have an early meeting with Kansas and the timing of that matchup submarines their hopes.
Iowa is merely a team of convenience. They're a truly intriguing seventh seed, with lots of length, tons of scoring and a big center. There's no way they can get past Kansas, but they're more than capable of upending Villanova and Miami en route to an Elite Eight butt-kicking.
WEST BRACKET - #2 Oklahoma Sooners
This feels like a two horse race. The top-seeded Oregon Ducks are the fifth best offensive team by advanced standards, and it more than makes up for their lacking defensive holes. I am crossing my fingers that they will clash with the Oklahoma Sooners, a team so star driven that it flies in the face of typical convention.
With a few exceptions, great teams usually make for the best bets in March Madness. Buddy Hield is so otherworldly gifted that he's forcing me to make an exception. I prefer the Sooners but that's just me. Both teams have relatively easy routes to the Elite Eight and a showdown with each other.
Unfortunately, neither has the size or refinement to compete with Kansas. Upsets happen, but the likely outcome is the Jayhawks over either.
EAST BRACKET - #2 Xavier Musketeers
I will absolutely agree that I'm in the minority here, but I love what Xavier has done this season. At 27-5 SU and 19-13 ATS, Xavier ripped through the majority of the season as an under-the-radar play before the oddsmakers caught them down the stretch. Even still, Xavier is a great team that very few will credit. They have a ton of size thanks to Jalen Reynolds and James Farr, and can score in bundles. In short, Xavier has everything you'd want in an upstart and they have been pressing after a Sweet Sixteen berth since last year.
Their biggest challenge is going to be UNC because…well…they're UNC. If you like the top seed in the East - as you probably should - then by all means take them. They're a much higher rated team. The Tar Heels roared down the stretch with an 8-2 SU and 7-3 ATS record that included a pair of losses to Virginia and Duke but that shouldn't completely deter you from liking them.
All I'm suggesting is that UNC is a bit more vulnerable than people would believe. Roy Williams' teams simply haven't performed to the highest level since resurfacing from the NIT Championship they won in 2010. Brice Johnson is a menace from the perimeter, but the program as a whole has a habit of letting down their backers.
The #3 West Virginia Mountaineers and #4 Kentucky Wildcats are also decent threats, making this the toughest grouping to forecast. Devin Williams of WVU is a stud, but he can disappear at times making his team a wobbly take to go the distance. I love Kentucky's fight this season but they're just as suspect to carry a big name into the tournament and be handed an early exit. I believe UNC does just that when they meet in the second weekend.
It might not matter who you prefer between UNC and Xavier because one of those teams is going to have to play Michigan State, and that is a freight train you don't want to be standing in front of.
MIDWEST BRACKET - #2 Michigan State
There is no team in this entire group that I actually like outside of the Spartans. They shouldn't even be a second seed. Instead, that honor went to the consistently overhyped Virginia Cavaliers. The last time they were a top seed was in 2014, where they were upended by - you guessed it - Michigan State. That same fate awaits them at the Elite Eight level if they get that far.
The problem with Virginia has nothing to do with their production; it's their size. They have bigs on the roster, but they never see the court. And while everything on paper about Virginia screams contender, their sordid history in the tournament denounces them as a pretender. I just don't love defensively-minded teams that are based on small ball, especially when they aren't as offensively proficient as the other top teams in the country.
The Spartans will crush the Midwest Bracket and continue to win until they set up the dream matchup against Kansas. From there, I obviously prefer the Jayhawks just like the oddsmakers do long term. As a great lunatic once said, "that's why we play the games".
You are now ready to Embrace the Madness. Prepare to go insane.