Method to the Madness: Picking an NCAA bracket

By Eli Schwadron

Is there a better feeling in the world than printing and filling out that very first bracket each year on Selection Sunday? It’s like tearing open presents on Christmas morning.

After that initial euphoria, it’s likely that you spend the next three days second-guessing yourself, crafting countless pick combinations and ultimately deciding on what you believe to be your ticket to the top of the bracket pool standings. During this stage you’ll ask yourself questions like, “Did I pick the right number of upsets? How many 15 seeds have beaten 2 seeds in NCAA history? Where the heck is Wofford College?”

You’re so locked in that you might avoid social outings, miss homework assignments and have nightmares about Jahlil Okafor matching up against your intramural squad. But that’s all just a part of the Madness.

And everyone has a different method to the Madness. Whether your bracket is upset-heavy, all chalk or some blend of the two, one thing’s for sure: You’ll be glued to CBS, TBS, TNT and TruTV through the next couple of weeks. The NCAA tournament kicked off Tuesday and Wednesday with the four play-in games, but the real action begins Thursday. Let’s take a look at some of the more intriguing storylines from each region.

Midwest

The Midwest is arguably this year’s most stacked region. It boasts No. 1 overall seed Kentucky, the overwhelming favorite to win it all. The Wildcats are the obvious choice to make the Final Four in Indianapolis, but there’s also a lot to like about the other 15 teams that make up the top left portion of the bracket.

Maryland probably deserved better than a No. 4 seed, but that’s where the Terrapins landed after a terrific Big Ten debut. Led by freshman point guard Melo Trimble, the Terps should handle Valparaiso on Friday afternoon in Columbus, Ohio.

I like Buffalo upsetting West Virginia in the 12-5 matchup, so the Terps might catch a break by facing two double-digit seeds en route to a Sweet Sixteen matchup with the aforementioned Wildcats. But that’s likely where the road ends for Mark Turgeon’s bunch.

East

Villanova captured the No. 1 seed in the East region, and the “other Wildcats” are another popular pick to reach Indy. But there are a couple lower seeds that I wouldn’t overlook, either.

Don’t sleep on Michigan State at that No. 7 seed. It’s no secret that Tom Izzo’s favorite month of the year is March. The Spartans nearly capped off their season with a Big Ten tournament championship, losing to Wisconsin in the final.

The fact that Michigan State even made it there is proof it should be taken seriously in the Big Dance. We’ll see if Branden Dawson, Denzel Valentine, Travis Trice and company put together yet another postseason run for MSU basketball.

Northern Iowa is another team I like out of the East. The Panthers finished at 30-3 and 16-2 in the Missouri Valley Conference. They have quality wins over Iowa, Wichita State and Stephen F. Austin, and have themselves a stud power forward in Seth Tuttle.

The 6-foot-8, 240-pound senior averages 15.3 points per game and pulls down 6.8 boards per outing. He’ll be a force down low for sure and he’ll want to end his collegiate career on a high note. Could the Panthers of Northern Iowa be this year’s Cinderella?

West

Frank Kaminsky will try to lead No. 1 seed Wisconsin to its second-straight Final Four appearance and fourth in school history. In my opinion, the Badgers have the best chance of any team to knock off Kentucky.

I also like No. 2 Arizona to potentially reach Indianapolis. The Wildcats’ (how crazy would it be if three teams with Wildcat mascots reached the Final Four?) freshman sensation Stanley Johnson averages 14.1 points and 6.6 boards per game. But his best asset might be his on-ball defense. He’s an incredible competitor and his game is a bit reminiscent of Ron Artest.

South

Duke is dancing as the No. 1 seed out of the South region, but my gut tells me to go with No. 3 Iowa State to make it out. The Cyclones are incredibly balanced with five players averaging double-digits scoring. They’re well-coached and they have 13 wins against top-50 teams.

Georgetown has had a rough time in the first round of the tournament as of late, but I really like this year’s squad. The No. 4 seed Hoyas have one of the best guards in the country in junior D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera, who drops 16.2 points per game and grabs 4.1 rebounds a game. They have six players 6-foot-9 or taller, so size isn’t a problem. G-Town has lost 10 games, but it also had one of the toughest schedules in the nation and the Hoyas beat Villanova by 20 this season.

Eli is a junior in Media.

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