Graphics are by me. Team logos are from Chris Creamer’s SportsLogos.net.
Last season, my picks went 39-24, not counting the First Four, 41-26 with the two extra games included. I selected half of the Final Four correctly, as Gonzaga and Baylor made it, while Texas and Illinois both fell quite short. But, I picked the Bulldogs over the Fighting Illini in the title game, leaving me 1-2 in the Final Four.
My 2021 picks’ winning percentage was identical to 2019’s 39-24 overall record, though none of my regional picks reached the Final Four. In 2018, I was 40-23 overall, but again, whiffed on all four regional champs.
Let’s dive right in, starting with the First Four, which are only here for illustrative purposes, since brackets won’t lock until Thursday.
Note: Winners are highlighted. Asterisks denote auto bid winners.
This season’s First Four winners will need to travel a bit more than usual. Throwing out 2021, since everyone was based in Indiana, the first nine editions of the 68-team tournament saw Tuesday and Wednesday winners typically stay in the Eastern and Central Time Zone. Of the 36 winners, only two had to travel to the Pacific Time Zone (Holy Cross to Spokane in 2016 and Kansas State to Sacramento in 2017) and another to the Mountain (Fairleigh Dickinson to Salt Lake City in 2019). However, this time around, three of four teams are headed to one of the two Western sites, with the exception—the winner of Tuesday’s Texas Southern-Texas A&M-Corpus Christi game—returning to the Lone Star State to meet Kansas on Thursday in Fort Worth.
Now to the bracket itself, starting in the upper left corner with No. 1 overall seed Gonzaga’s West region.
UPDATE (03/17): With Rutgers eliminated, I changed the winner of the West 6 vs. 11 game to Notre Dame.
I was tempted to pick New Mexico State over UConn, along with Davidson over Duke in the second round, but ultimately did not.
Let’s move across to the upper right region, the South, home of the No. 2 overall seed, Arizona.
This is the region that I think has the most potential to go haywire, though things ultimately quiet down in the Sweet Sixteen, with Arizona defeating Villanova to advance to New Orleans.
Shifting down to the bottom right and the Midwest, anchored by No. 3 overall seed Kansas.
This region sees both the first No. 1 seed (Kansas) and No. 2 (Auburn) to exit the Tournament, though at least the Jayhawks make it out of the first weekend. Those losses help set up an all-Big Ten regional final in Chicago.
The final region, on the bottom left, is the East, with No. 4 overall seed Baylor at the helm.
I guess the Bears would tie with their Big 12 rivals in being the first No. 1 out, as both the East and Midwest regionals are scheduled for Friday and Sunday. This is the most chalk regional in my picks, even with a fourth-seeded UCLA team in the Elite Eight.
That sets up a Gonzaga-Kentucky and Arizona-Iowa National Semifinal doubleheader.
So there you have it, an all Western national title game, with the Bulldogs finally breaking through, extending the Pac-12’s title drought that dates back 1997 (after Arizona extends the Big Ten’s, which began with Michigan State’s 2000 championship).
Good luck and remember to root for upsets and not your bracket!