There’s no shame in admitting you were wrong.
Yes, the first round of the NCAA Tournament was pretty much chalk, but the second round finally gave us the stunners we’re used to seeing this time of year and plenty of close games.
SportsLine: Pro bettors all over one side of Gonzaga-WVU
But some pretty sweet matchups await in the Sweet 16 -- starting with No. 3 UCLA vs. No. 2 Kentucky in the South.
In ourUCLA is on the top line and UK is just outside. It’s a monster matchup that tips Friday at 9:39 p.m. ET.
Moving on to the predictions you came here for, each of our experts filled out a new bracket based on the Sweet 16 field. Each of those brackets are below. If your bracket is busted, remember, you can start fresh in our Sweet 16 bracket games.
Stephen Oh’s Upset Bracket
Last year SportsLine expert Stephen Oh correctly predicted eight out of nine NCAA Tournament upsets, including six out of seven double-digit seed upsets, with his computer algorithm. Check out who he has winning each game for the rest of the Big Dance.
This, needless to say, is not the way I or anybody else expected the Sweet 16 to look -- especially in the East Region. A week ago, just about everybody assumed we were headed for Villanova-Duke in the Elite Eight at Madison Square Garden. But then Wisconsin upset the Wildcats and South Carolina upset the Blue Devils. So now we’re probably headed toward ... Baylor-Florida? Such a wild turn of events.
And, either way, this much is certain: Either Greg Gard (Wisconsin), Michael White (Florida), Scott Drew (Baylor) or Frank Martin (South Carolina) is headed to the Final Four for the first time. That’s four coaches from four teams that did not win their regular-season league titles or league tournaments. My bracket has Baylor coming out of the East to make the Final Four, where the Bears will play Gonzaga. So, yes, I think Mark Few is making it to the last weekend for the first time. Kansas and UCLA will join Baylor and Gonzaga in Phoenix, I think. And I have the Bruins and Zags -- West Coast stand up! -- meeting in the national title game with the winner being the same winner I had winning the national title on Selection Sunday -- Lonzo Ball and the UCLA Bruins.
Well, my title pick is still in the field. So that’s a win. Looking around, and yeah ... everyone got smoked in the East. We’ll start there. I’m going to take Florida to come out of the region. I think Mike White’s guards (so fast!) and that defense will match up well with Wisconsin. I think UF can score on the Badgers. And then it’s a matter of playing with Baylor’s athletes in the Elite Eight. The East is a crapshoot. Love it.
I’m sticking with Arizona over Gonzaga because I have no reason to change my mind, while UCLA coming out of the South still looks good. Kansas out of the Midwest feels as close to a lock as any of the regions because the Jayhawks get their next two games in Kansas City. Huge advantage. I think KU winds up playing Oregon. I like Tyler Dorsey and Dillon Ennis to end the Michigan story. Those guys are all stones. Fearless. So I have Florida, Arizona, Kansas and UCLA, with Kansas over Arizona in the championship game. Sean Miller breaks through to his first Final Four, then makes his first title game because he just has too much for the Gators. The Jayhawks have looked too good through two games to back off that pick. I’m still all in on KU to win its second title under Bill Self.
The elimination of Villanova and Duke has opened things up for other title contenders like Kansas, North Carolina, Kentucky and UCLA. Now they will all have to play each other before the championship game on April 3. While the country’s top teams battle it out on one side of the bracket, Baylor (a team that did reach No. 1 in the polls, if only for a week) looks ripe to emerge from the East and reach the Final Four for the first time under Scott Drew. I like the Big 12’s chances to get three teams in Phoenix, though I’m picking Arizona to win the West. I think North Carolina gets right after its scare against Arkansas and emerges victorious from the glamour region in the South but falls short against Kansas, the best team in the country as long as Frank Mason and Josh Jackson are on the floor.
All season Gonzaga has been questioned for its strength of schedule, and for its ability to play up to the level of elite competition when the pressure is on. All of those are valid questions about a team that has historically underperformed relative to expectations in the Big Dance. But this season I think that narrative shifts.
The Zags are the absolute real deal. They have depth, they have shot-blockers galore and they boast one of the better defenses Mark Few has ever had the chance to coach in his tenure. He has had similar squads in the past, but none as talented as this one. Not only do I think this team breaks through with the first Final Four appearance in program history, I’m picking the Zags to land in the title game. But in the end, North Carolina will be too much. Heels win it all.
Kansas and Arizona have convinced me they are the big dogs left in this bracket. Watching Kansas all season, it has too much firepower with arguably the nation’s best back court. That’s without even mentioning Josh Jackson. The Jayhawks are sneaky good in the post. For anyone to beat KU the opponent is going to have to make shots in a half-court offense while running the clock down to 10 seconds.
That team, I think, is Arizona, which has the athletes to score a number of ways.
Yep, this is Arizona’s season of destiny. The Wildcats have everything -- a big man (Laurie Markkenan), a backcourt and excellent coaching. Watch for Wisconsin as the dark horse. The Badgers just seem to be in the Sweet 16 each season.
Well, my original bracket blew up with Duke’s loss at South Carolina as part of the week-long purge of most of the ACC from this tournament. So it’s time to start over. I still have UCLA alive for the championship game. As prolific as the Bruins are on offense, from here on out, they will go as far as their defense will take them. I am very tempted to go against my original pick of Kansas to the Final Four and go with Purdue or Michigan instead, but it’s hard to imagine the Jayhawks losing in Kansas City. Frank Mason against Caleb Swanigan should be fun to watch in the Sweet 16 battle regardless. Mason vs. Lonzo Ball will be even more fun if it happens because they may actually go head-to-head on the court.
I’m going with Wisconsin in the East Region now, choosing experience and guile over the defense of Florida and the athleticism of Baylor. I’m sticking with Arizona in the West and getting a chance to play in front of a friendly crowd in Phoenix. I’m picking the Wildcats to exorcise some demons against the Badgers in the semifinals and take down UCLA for a third time in four games in an all-Pac-12 title game. Overall, basketball in the west hasn’t been great this season, but the good teams have been very good and we should see that at the Final Four.
In the wreckage that is the East bracket for virtually all of us, I will bank on the intelligence and toughness of Ethan Happ, Nigel Hayes and company to carry the day in a group consisting of only elite defensive teams. My champion, Arizona, remains intact in the West, and while Gonzaga is a worthy adversary, nothing I’ve seen has changed my mind.
In the Midwest, however, I see Michigan coming out of the bracket, perhaps the only team that can outscore Kansas, with just enough defense from John Beilein’s crew to continue the miracle run. Same goes for UCLA in the South, where Lonzo Ball’s crew has found another level. I thought Cincinnati’s defense would slow them down, and the extent to which they proved that wrong has made me a believer. Accordingly, come Final Four time, Arizona and UCLA will advance to the title game, where Arizona, the most complete team I’ve seen all season, will cut down the nets.