This week's Barometer will serve as a pint-sized preview of the NCAA Tournament field. I will highlight my strategies and theories on picking a successful bracket. Then we will delve into the more intriguing matchups, upsets and storylines in each region. It's called March Madness for a reason, but this year's tourney in particular should be a wild ride. First, let's look at the NCAA Tournament Gospel, reprised and edited from a season ago.
1. Do not pick all four No. 1 seeds in the Final Four. First of all, where's the fun in that? Second, the only year since seeding began in 1979 that four No. 1 seeds made the Final Four was 2008. In fact, three No. 1 seeds have made it just three times in the same year in the modern era. Last year, just one No. 1 seed made the Final Four. Two years ago, not a single top-ranked squad was among the last four teams standing. I have a sneaking suspicion this year may be the same.
2. If you don't like a high-seeded squad, pick it to go out as soon as reasonably possible. So, if you don't believe in, say, Duke, pick the Blue Devils to lose once they get past the No. 15 seed. You'll be the only one who picks that game correctly, and even if it's an incorrect selection, you wouldn't have had the Blue Devils going that far anyway.
3. There are no bragging rights for picking a No. 10 over a No. 7 seed, or a No. 9 over a No. 8 seed. These are not upsets. All those teams are basically even. Take bigger risks!
4. While we're on the subject of upsets, pick at least one 12-5 trap game. Since the NCAA expanded to at least 64 teams, it's happens about once every three contests. It occurred twice last season, with VCU beating Wichita State and South Florida taking down Temple.
5. Pick at least one seed lower than a 10 to make the Sweet 16. Last season, N.C. State and Ohio were seeded that low and made it to the next set of games. I'd rather pick the game by favorite color, or which mascot would win in a fight, than pick all favorites.
Now that you're primed to fill out that winning bracket, let's take a more in-depth look at the regions.
The committee did coach Rick Pitino and the Louisville Cardinals no favors, as this is the toughest region by far. The No. 1 overall team was rewarded with easy travel but also a power-packed region containing Duke, Michigan State, Oklahoma State and the Billikens of St. Louis. The Cardinals made it to the Final Four last season and return their entire squad. In such a dynamite side of the bracket, duplicating that performance could be a tough task. In any other region, the Billikens would be a Final Four darkhorse. That won't happen with the juggernauts in the East, though.
The Creighton vs. Duke matchup in the Round of 32 should be a dandy. Don't sleep on the winner of the Middle Tennessee State and Saint Mary's matchup. They'll face a Memphis squad that only has four losses this season but not too many big wins. The only tournament team they beat this season was Harvard.
Nate Wolters should scare Michigan. That's the upset special of the tourney. Add in the Wolverines' penchant for early exits from the Big Dance, and this game has all the makings of a Jackrabbit victory. Minnesota over UCLA will also be a chic pick. The Pac-12 in general got no respect in regard to seeding, and UCLA will be without the Jordan Adams, who suffered a broken foot in the Pac-12 Tournament Semifinals. Minnesota may actually be favored heading into that game.
An Otto Porter-Ben McLemore Elite Eight battle could be awesome. The Jayhawks likely would have to beat former coach Roy Williams first, though, followed by Shaka Smart and the always dangerous VCU Rams. This Kansas squad got a higher seed than last year's team that made it to the NCAA Final; the Jayhawks subtracted Thomas Robinson but added the aforementioned McLemore, who is a virtual lock for a top-5 selection in this June's NBA Draft should he decide to go pro.
This region has a lot of personality. Rock star Kelly Olynyk leads the top-seeded Zags, while hot-headed Marshall Henderson and the No. 12 Rebels will give both the Badgers as well as his own coaches nightmares. If you haven't seen Henderson play yet this season, set your DVR. No. 11 Belmont is an upset pick over an Arizona team that struggled down the stretch. Ohio State's path to the Final Four seems pretty clear. Will the Bulldogs prove their doubters wrong? Gonzaga's first real test will be against either the underseeded Pitt Panthers and the underrated Wichita State Shockers. Certainly no walk in the park.
Is this the year for the Lobos? Kendall Williams and Tony Snell have New Mexico playing some great basketball, and center Alex Kirk gives the Lobos a size advantage on the interior. On the downside, the Mountain West has done notoriously poorly in the tourney over last few years. However, the Lobos have lost just three times in 2013, and could give Ohio State a run for its money in the Sweet 16.
The Hoosiers and Hurricanes look destined for an Elite Eight clash. Would the Hoosiers put Victor Oladipo on Shane Larkin in the Regional Final? Coach Jim Larranaga has done wonders with the Miami program, which has become a national powerhouse in just two seasons under his direction. Coach L also knows a thing or two about the NCAA Tournament; he took George Mason to the Final Four in 2006.
Keep an eye on Butler, though, as coach Brad Stevens does his best work in March. Davidson and Bucknell have nice teams, but won't have enough to upset Marquette and Butler, respectively. This is the region with the 12-5 upset in 2013; Cal gets essentially a home game against UNLV. The two teams played already this season too; the game was 76-75 UNLV at the buzzer. Look for Allen Crabbe and the Bears to get back at the Rebels.
In a topsy-turvy season with so many so-called contenders, it seems appropriate to not pick any No. 1 seeds to make it to Atlanta. Gonzaga could be the first No. 1 seed to lose (shocked by the Wichita State Shockers?), followed by Kansas, which faces a daunting road through hot-shooting UNC and up-tempo VCU. Indiana has the best chance of the top seeds to get to the Final Four, but Miami still feels disrespected despite winning the ACC regular season and tournament crowns. It's the first time in bracket history that an ACC squad has won the regular season and tournament crowns and not been rewarded with a No. 1 seed. Meanwhile, Louisville could be in for the nightmare scenario of facing Marcus Smart and Oklahoma State in the Sweet 16, followed by either Duke or Michigan State in the Midwest Regional Final.
Predictions? Miami, Ohio State, Georgetown and Oklahoma State to the Final Four. The Final? Canes vs. Buckeyes in a rematch of the one of the greatest college football championships ever from 2003. In a season of firsts for the Hurricanes, Miami exacts revenge on the Buckeyes and cuts down the nets in the ATL.