It's the best time of the year -- well, at least one of them. Bracket-mania!
Your friends at Sip & Savor are here to help. So grab a nice cold soft drink, your bracket and a pencil - you're going to need the eraser this year. (This is going to be one of those years where the person in your office who picks teams based on their nicknames or who lives closest to their grandmother will be the favorite to win the office pool. No offense to those people but, then again, we really don't need to worry because they won't be looking for help or insight on the Internet anyway.)
A couple overarching thoughts to keep in mind about this year's tournament:
1.) First two rounds will be chaotic. Upset-mania. For these purposes we'll define upset as any high-seed that beats a low-seed. So don't be afraid to go with your gut on that upset this year, especially early on. If in doubt, pick the school with the nicest uniforms the first round.
2.) The big dogs will ultimately emerge as things settle down, but choosing which big dogs get to the Elite Eight and beyond will be trickier. We offer help below.
3.) We hate to say it, but this year's tournament is going to essentially be a replay of the Big East Conference Tournament. Sip & Savor isn't necessarily big fans of the Big East, so there is absolutely no bias in this assessment. But they are what they are - and this year, they've got the best teams in the land. So don't be afraid to take Big East teams far.
OK - here's our picks from the Elite Eight on:
Elite Eight: Louisville, Michigan State, Connecticut, Marquette, Pittsburgh, Villanova, North Carolina, Oklahoma. See what we mean: five of the eight are Big East beasts.
Final Four: Louisville, Connecticut, Pittsburgh, Oklahoma. Only Oklahoma (who will be Big East's Syracuse in Sweet 16) will keep this from being an all Big East Final Four. CBS is thankful, as it has now retained at least some viewership west of the Mississippi...well actually west of the Ohio River.
Championship Game: Louisville vs. Pittsburgh. All Big East.
Champion: Pittsburgh. Panthers get a karma assist from coach's baby sister to beat the Cardinals 78-75 on a buzzer-beater after Louisville ties the game with 3 seconds left. How's that for detail.
Aahh, but let us also help you through those chaotic first rounds with our upset picks.
Mississippi State over Washington (13 over 4); Wisconsin over Florida State (this year's 12 over 5 and a revenge game from these two team's bowl matchup in football won by the Seminoles); VCU over UCLA (11 over 6); Temple over Arizona State (11 over 6); Michigan over Clemson (10 over 7...Michigan beat Duke and barely lost to UConn this year); USC over BC (10 over 7); Maryland over California (10 over 7). And don't be afraid to go Western Kentucky over Illinois, another 12 over 5; we just felt the Illini hold on barely in that one.
Things will settle down in the next few rounds - our only upsets come from the same team: Marquette. Despite an injury to their best player, we have them beating Missouri and then pulling off a shocker over No. 1 seeded Memphis. MU will be a feel-good story for CBS to annoy us with constantly.
Finally, one they'll be talking about for decades. Our Upset Special: North Dakota State over defending champion Kansas. That's a 14 seed over a 3 seed. Team on a mission vs. team on coast.
Well, I hope we've helped. Send in your thoughts, your picks, your advice to fellow bracketeers.
And good luck. We're all going to need it this year.