By BRADEN LAYER
---- — The hallowed week is finally upon us. The wonderfully chaotic, stress inducing madness of March began on Tuesday, and a full slate of 16 games starts tomorrow. Luckily for me, I don't have to perform the juggling act of appearing to work while also using my iPad, iPhone or computer to religiously check scores or watch the craziness live, fortunately it's in my job description.
Which is why Ryan and I have decided to use our combined expertise, and I use that term loosely, to share our picks in a "Dueling Brackets" segment. We'll go through each region and highlight who we have advancing to Atlanta, along with a little upset special selection at the end. With no further ado, here is your winning bracket...
MIDWEST- This bracket runs through Louisville, and it should. I'll admit that Pitino has duped me before, but I'm doubting they do it again. The Cardinals are playing their best basketball at the best possible time, winning the Big East tournament title on Sunday against Syracuse. If you took away anything from that contest, it's that the Cards are never out of a game. Syracuse led by double digits at halftime before Louisville awoke from its slumber to win in convincing fashion.
Louisville plays fantastic defense, and I'm finally ready to watch Peyton Siva without being consistently scared of a turnover. Siva may still cough the ball up a few times, but he's been noticeably better and has a career high average of 5.9 assists this season. Count on Siva to provide some flashy highlights, Russ Smith to score consistently, and the stable of Louisville big men to get the job down on the boards down low. I can comfortably say I see no signs as to why the Cardinals won't be heading to Atlanta, and they're my pick from the Midwest.
To get to Atlanta, I have Louisville taking down Liberty, Missouri, Oklahoma State and Michigan State in that order.
UPSET SPECIAL - Tenth-seeded Cincinnati over seventh-seeded Creighton, and fifth-seeded Oklahoma State over fourth-seeded St. Louis.
WEST - I picked Ohio State, and I'm from Columbus. But before anyone accuses me of being incredibly biased, can you blame me? The Buckeyes were gifted a very favorable draw, and I'm more worried about a second-round date with either Iowa State or Notre Dame than I am of the other teams in the region. Ohio State won the Big Ten tournament not because Aaron Craft scored more, but because the Buckeye defense was out of this world. Holding Wisconsin under 50 has been done plenty of times, but Ohio State's defense has been phenomenal for weeks. To find the last time Matta's men allowed more than 60 points, you'd have to go all the way back to Feb 10., when the Buckeyes gave up 68 to Indiana, which is impressive as well.
Now if you add that to Craft's newfound urge to attack the basket and his recently surprising ability to make a jump shot, Ohio State is unquestionably one of the top five teams in the bracket. I see the ever-reliable Deshaun Thomas pouring in above 20, Craft adding somewhere between 10-16 with a handful of assists, and Sam Thompson soaring for a number of backboard-shaking slams as my hometown team takes down the rest of the West field. I have Ohio State beating Iona, Notre Dame, New Mexico, and Wisconsin in that order.
UPSET SPECIAL: Fifth-seeded Wisconsin over top-seeded Gonzaga. I strongly dislike everything about Bo Ryan and the Wisconsin brand of basketball, but I can't find a reason to pick against them. They have the big bodies to battle Kelly Olynyk, and Traevon Jackson may be the most underrated point guard in the country.
SOUTH - Spoiler alert! This region contains my national champion (shocked it's not OSU?). I could rave on and on about what I love about Georgetown, but I can best sum it up in three words. Otto Porter Jr. Watching Porter dissect Syracuse in the last regular-season matchup between the two Big East rivals was truly a thing of beauty. He effortlessly flicked the ball through the hoop with a sound midrange game not often seen in college basketball. And if you need him to step back and hit a 3, he'll do that too, currently at a 42.7 percent clip.
He's also pretty angry coming off a disappointing loss to said Orangemen in the Big East semifinals, a game in which he went just 4-of-13 from the field. An upset, determined Otto Porter will take the floor in the NCAA tournament, and opponents won't enjoy that. I have Georgetown heading back to their first Final Four since 2007 with wins over Florida Gulf Coast, San Diego State, Florida and Kansas, in that order.
UPSET SPECIAL - Eleventh-seeded Minnesota over sixth-seeded UCLA. The Bruins have no momentum after suffering a bad loss to Oregon, and they also don't have freshman guard Jordan Adams after he went down with a broken foot. Look for Minnesota to finally get the monkey off its back and win a big game, something they haven't yet done with Tubby Smith at the helm.
EAST - If you have read my columns, you may have noticed that I picked Indiana to win the Big Ten title, which they did in the regular season. Predictably, I have Tom Crean cutting down the nets again, this time with a smile, as the Hoosiers advance to the Final Four. No team is loaded with as much offensive talent, and no team is as remarkably efficient and fun to watch than when Indiana is rolling. Every player that starts is capable of going for 20 points in any game, but Christian Watford will determine just how far the Hoosiers go. If he isn't aggressive offensively, they may slip, but if Watford plays to the level he is capable there isn't a more talented team in the land. I like Indiana to beat LIU-Brooklyn, Temple, Syracuse and Marquette in that order.
UPSET SPECIAL - Temple over NC State. So it's not a big upset, but I really had no others to choose from, I see the seeding working out pretty well in the East.
FINAL FOUR- Ohio State over Louisville, Georgetown over Indiana.
CHAMPIONSHIP- Otto Porter caps a season to remember by winning it all and riding off into the sunset with an NBA lottery pick in his future.