Dream matchup: Everything. Can I say everything? OK fine, I pick Louisville vs. St. Louis. I wanted so badly to pick the tough-and-disciplined Billikens. But the Cardinals are just too good, too strong defensively, too capable of dismantling the unfortunate Billikens. The Ville will top the Saint, but it should be a good one to the end.
Upset special: Middle Tennessee over Memphis. Hey, you guys made it! Glad you were able to join the party. How does a little Tiger sound? OK then. I have no doubt Middle Tennessee, which barely slid into the Big Dance, is pumped to be here and show the world why Ken Pomeroy has them ranked 32nd in the country. Memphis, which just might be a little overrated, won’t be able to hold on against an in-state opponent.
And the winner is ... It won’t be the easiest road — in fact, the Midwest Region is easily the toughest of this year’s bracket. That’s where the tests of Big Ten will come in handy for Michigan State to survive and get to the Final Four.
Dream matchup: Virginia Commonwealth vs. North Carolina. There’s no way this one isn’t exciting. How can the Tar Heels’ new small lineup run and compete with Havoc? Probably pretty well. But I still say Shaka Smart’s hands-everywhere, high-energy, watch-where-you-put-that-and-don’t-think-I-won’t-take-it-from-you defense comes through in the end and takes the Rams all the way to the Final Four.
Upset special: VCU over Georgetown. What’s this? The Rams plowing past both North Carolina and Georgetown? That’s right, and taking prisoners (plenty of steals) from the turnover-susceptible Hoyas along the way. Otto Porter will do his best, and that will be thrilling, but in the end, it’s not the best team that always prevails — just the one that gives the other one the most fits. Enter VCU.
And the winner is ... Do I need to say it again? VCU. Let the party begin.
Dream matchup: Gonzaga vs. Ohio State. How will Kelly Olynyk and Co. like going against the brutal Big Ten, especially after being told over and over how few games they would have won had they been in that league? I can’t wait to find out. The Zags, who lost at home to Illinois in December, will have to go through two Big Ten teams in Wisconsin and then Ohio State to eventually get to the title game. Bulldogs: Let’s see what you’re made of.
Upset special: Belmont over Arizona. This region is about as straightforward as you get in a year where my bracket isn’t exactly dusted with chalk. First round matchups will be the most exciting here, with Iowa State overcoming Notre Dame and the Bruins trumping Arizona, which has done some impressive things this season but remains totally beatable, in my opinion.
And the winner is ... Let’s find out if the Bulldogs’ bite is as lethal as their bark. We’ve watched them plow through the West Coast, now it’s time to meet the big boys in the Big Dance.
Dream matchup: Indiana vs. Syracuse. The Orange can adapt really well and play a variety of styles. Multiple styles you say? Well that’s Indy, too. Who can do what better, and what eventually gives? Should be fun to the end, just like this season has been across the board.
Upset special: Bucknell over Miami. Yes, I understand you are the ACC champs. Yes, I acknowledge that you’re quite experienced, very mature and, well, pretty darn good. Doesn’t matter, Miami — it’s Mike Muscala time. My prediction: The Bucknell senior from Roseville puts his team on his back for long stretches and defense prevails.
And the winner is ... The national champ can’t stop here. Indiana, and the country’s most efficient offense, prevails in the region.