This series of articles will break down each region of the tournament, calling out potential double-digit upsets and schools that will likely advance out of the region to give you the best odds of winning your bracket pool.
Cinderella Pick – Arizona State/Syracuse winner, New Mexico State
Neither of these teams have much of a chance beyond the Sweet 16, but picking some of these upsets can set you apart from others who are more inclined to go “chalk.”
Arizona State/Syracuse Winner (11)
I do not care who wins this play-in game. Pick this pair to beat TCU, at least. Arizona State has one of the best resumes for an (11)-seed in tournament history, with wins against two (1) seeds (Xavier and Kansas). Yes, ASU has struggled lately but has the potential to play like the top-10 team they were early in the season. Alternatively, Syracuse is battle-tested from ACC play and was plagued early in the season with injuries that cost it a few wins. This ‘Cuse team is only two years removed from a Final Four birth in 2016. TCU is over-seeded and over-hyped, failing to beat almost every good team it played this season (lost twice to Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas Tech) and living and dying by the 3-ball.
New Mexico State (12)
Much of my love for New Mexico St. is a product of its position in the bracket. I predict Auburn getting upset and do not have much faith in a Clemson team that has faltered down the stretch, losing 5 out of their last 12 games. The Tigers just are not the same without Donte Grantham and there is no Dabo Sweeney in sight to save them. Following this premise, I see New Mexico State advancing past College of Charleston to the Sweet 16. New Mexico State will have the best player on the court against Clemson in senior guard Zach Lofton, and I see Clemson struggling to score against a New Mexico State squad allowing only 63.8 PPG this season.
Team(s) to Advance Out of Region – Kansas, Duke
This one is simple. Kansas has been dominant all year, led by the trio of Devonte’ Graham, Udoka Azubuike, and Svi Mykhailiuk. Stopping these three has been as difficult as spelling their names for opposing players, and the Jayhawks are playing efficiently on both sides of the ball. Considering every game up until the Final Four is essentially a home game for Kansas (games played in Wichita and Omaha), the Jayhawks will continue their momentum from a successful Big 12 Tournament and at least make it to the Elite Eight.
Picking the Evil-Empire to win any games is always painful to me, but if you want to win your bracket pool, you cannot pick against talent. Soon to be #1 overall pick Marvin Bagley III is good enough to carry this team at least to the Sweet 16, and with senior guard Grayson Allen capable of getting hot and taking over a game, Duke is a scary team that will not be defeated easily. Do not let the seven losses deter you, as Duke has played one of the toughest schedules in the country both in the ACC (playing UNC three times, UVA, Clemson, Miami) and non-conference (wins against Florida and Michigan State). Duke matches up well against Michigan State and is more athletic and talented at the bigger positions and on the bench. I foresee a date with Kansas looming in the Elite Eight but I think KU will sneak past due to better guard play.
Pick to Win Region: Kansas