Hello, college basketball/Big Ten fans!
Now after posting my annual Schmolik 64 and comparing it to the actual NCAA Tournament bracket, I go to my other favorite annual tradition when I actually try to predict the winners of the NCAA Tournament, a segment I like to call Schmolik Bracket Analysis!
I will begin in the South Regional because it is home to my alma mater Illinois as well as my adopted hometown team Villanova. Illinois is the #4 seed in the South and their first game is vs. #13 seed Chattanooga. Illinois and Chattanooga have played in the NCAA Tournament back in 1997, a few years after I graduated from Illinois. It is one of the biggest upsets in NCAA Tournament history as Chattanooga is one of only two #14 seeds ever to advance to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Division 1 Men's Basketball Tournament (the other is Cleveland State in 1986). I wrote about it from Illinois' point of view as one of the most painful losses in Illinois history. Illinois is also coming off another of their most painful losses last year as they lost in the 2nd round to Loyola Chicago despite being a #1 seed. If Illinois fails to learn from the past mistake of underestimating Chattanooga, they will suffer the same fate as the 1997 team. The difference is at least that team won a game in the NCAA Tournament.
Illinois will play in Pittsburgh. If Illinois wins, they will play the winner of Houston-UAB on Sunday. Houston made the Final Four last year but don't be so sure they will repeat. UAB is a Conference USA member and consider the performance of Conference USA in the tournament since 2015:
2015 - #14 UAB beat #3 Iowa State
2016 - #15 Middle Tennessee beat #2 Michigan State
2017 - #12 Middle Tennessee beat #5 Minnesota
2018 - #13 Marshall beat #4 Wichita State
2019 - #14 Old Dominion lost to #3 Purdue
2021 - #13 North Texas beat #4 Purdue
CUSA is 5-1 in the last six NCAA Tournaments, all seeded #12 or lower. Five different teams represented CUSA with four different teams winning.
I would hate to be Houston right about now. On the other hand, if Illinois gets past Chattanooga and UAB does beat Houston it would work in Illinois's favor in the 2nd round as no C-USA team since 2015 has made the Sweet 16.
Villanova is the #2 seed in the South Regional. They could have played in the East had the Selection Committee placed the top #2 seed Auburn here in their home regional instead of the Midwest Regional and the next #2 seed Kentucky in the Midwest. Auburn is slightly closer to Chicago than San Antonio by about 100 miles and Kansas is by the NCAA a weaker #1 seed than Arizona is. This prevented Villanova from playing the Sweet 16 and Elite 8 in Philadelphia's Wells Fargo Center where they played three games this year. The same thing happened back in 2016 when Villanova was also moved to the South Regional as a #2 seed (and they were the #7 overall team that year as well!) Then again, we know what happened that year, Villanova went on to win the NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP! Should Villanova advance to the Sweet 16, they will travel to San Antonio, the same city they won the 2018 National Championship. But before then Villanova has to get through Delaware and likely the same Loyola Chicago that upset Illinois last year (it's hard to defeat Sister Jean!) Loyola is playing Ohio State in the first round, a school that couldn't beat Oral Roberts in the first round last year and lost at home to Nebraska late this year.
Also in the South Regional is #1 seed Arizona. Last year, the Pac-12 shed their "Pathetic 12" name and won more games than any other conference in the 2021 Men's Tournament. They had four Sweet 16 teams, three Elite 8 teams, and UCLA (which started out in the First Four) made the Final Four). Arizona was not one of the teams that made last year's Sweet 16 or even made the NCAA's but are led by Gonzaga assistant Tommy Lloyd who should know about winning in the NCAA Tournament from his days at Gonzaga. Tennessee is the #3 seed and after winning the SEC Tournament for the first time since 1979 probably should have been a #2 seed.
I picked Villanova to make the Final Four in 2018 and they not only did but won the national championship. But I picked them to make the Final Four in 2019 and they lost in the second round. But I'm not afraid to pick them to win and after picking Illinois to make the Final Four only to see them fall on their faces I'll be more cautious with them.
South Regional Pick: Villanova over Arizona
I'll move to the Midwest Regional. Kansas shared the Big 12 regular season title with defending national champion Baylor and won the Big 12 Tournament. This looks like a top Kansas team. They're the #1 seed, a place they've often been throughout the 2010's (six times that decade as a #1 seed). Right behind them is Auburn, the SEC's regular season champion and 2019 Final Four team. Wisconsin is the #3 seed and they will play their first two games (assuming they win the first game) in state in Milwaukee and the regionals in Chicago. Rounding out the top four is Big East regular season champion Providence although I feel they are overrated as they lost twice to Villanova and the Big East Tournament semifinal to Creighton. They are playing a very dangerous first round opponent in South Dakota State. They not only won their conference's regular season and tournament titles but were a perfect 18-0 in their league. Also in the regional is #5 Iowa, the Big Ten Tournament champion. They have been playing as well as anyone in the Big Ten lately. One team I'd be worried about on the other side is #6 LSU. They fired their head coach right before the tournament and the last thing you want a rookie head coach to get his feet wet is during the NCAA Tournament. LSU is also facing NCAA allegations, things are not looking well in Baton Rouge. I wouldn't be surprised if they were one and done and #11 Iowa State, their first round opponent, has nine "Quad 1" wins this year.
Midwest Regional Pick: Kansas over Auburn
I'll move to the East and it's been so bad a year for Eastern men's basketball that the #1 seed in the regional is Baylor, a team West of the Mississippi. The only other time has a team west of the Mississippi been the #1 seed in the East Regional was 2003 when Oklahoma was the #1 seed in the East. In fact, all four #1 seeds this year are west of the Mississippi River, that has never happened. This is coming off last year's crapfest of an NCAA Tournament when all four teams in the Final Four and seven of the Elite Eight were west of the Mississippi. Since 2000, there have only been two national champions West of the Mississippi, Kansas in 2008 and Baylor last year. UCLA is the #4 seed in this regional as well but at least that guarantees both UCLA and Baylor won't make the Final Four this year (or even the Elite Eight). On the other side is #2 seed Kentucky who had a strong year including dominating Kansas in Lawrence and #3 seed Purdue, one of the strongest Big Ten teams. Baylor could meet North Carolina in the second round in new head coach Hubert Davis's first season in Chapel Hill although they have to get through Marquette, led by Shaka Smart, formerly of Texas and VCU, who he led to the Final Four. Also in the regional is #5 St. Mary's, who beat Gonzaga this year. I think the East Regional could have the strongest top four seeds if they all get there. I saw a statistic on FOX Sports saying a team that lost its first conference tournament game has never won the NCAA Tournament. So I'm going for an upset and picking UCLA over Baylor and Kentucky to win the regional.
East Regional Pick: Kentucky over UCLA
Finally we go to the West. Gonzaga is the top seed and obvious favorite. By the NCAA's seed list, they were given the weakest #2 seed, Duke, the weakest #3 seed, Texas Tech, and the weakest #4 seed, Arkansas. All three of them would have to travel west for the regional in San Francisco so that would be a huge advantage for Gonzaga if they get there. There aren't many other western teams in the West Regional and most of them are longshots to make it to San Fran (one of them, Boise State, would have to beat Gonzaga to get to San Fran). This is Duke head coach Mike Kryzezewski's last season at Duke and I'm sure he would like to go out with a bang with his sixth national championship. Texas Tech could be a challenging team in the Sweet 16. Chris Beard left for Texas but one of his assistants took over and they had a great season, beating Kansas and Baylor twice and making the Big 12 Championship game before losing to Kansas. We could be treated to Duke/Michigan State in the second round. They met in the 2019 East Regional final and play every three years in the Champions Classic. Another team to look out for is #5 seed Connecticut.
If you are looking for Coach K's last game, I'll predict the Sweet 16 vs. Texas Tech. There's a decent chance Tom Izzo gets him in the 2nd round. I can't imagine Duke gets past Gonzaga, especially out west, although Duke did beat Gonzaga in Las Vegas earlier in the year.
West Regional Final: Gonzaga over Texas Tech
Final Four: I'd like to believe Gonzaga has what it takes to win a national championship but last year was their chance when the only thing that stood between them and the title was Baylor and they were humiliated. If Gonzaga can't even beat Baylor to win a national championship, I won't believe they can beat the big boys. I think Kentucky will beat Gonzaga, Kansas to beat VIllanova, and when it all is over Kentucky will prevail like they did in Lawrence.
Championship Pick: Kentucky over Kansas
Before you bet a dime on these picks, consider my past performance!
Past Schmolik Bracket Analyses(Click on year for details):
Final Four: North Carolina (South #1), Pittsburgh (East #1), Louisville (Midwest #1), Memphis (West #2)
Championship: Louisville over North Carolina
Final Four Correct: 1 (North Carolina)
Final Four: Kansas (Midwest #1), Syracuse (West #1), Kentucky (East #1), Texas A&M (South #5)
Championhip: Kansas over Kentucky
Final Four Correct: 0
Final Four: Louisville (Southwest #4), Pittsburgh (Southeast #1), Duke (West #1), Ohio State (East #1)
Championship: Duke over Pittsburgh
Final Four Correct: 0
Final Four: Kentucky (South #1), Michigan State (West #1), Florida State (East #3), North Carolina (Midwest #1)
Championship: Kentucky over North Carolina
Final Four Correct: 1 (Kentucky), Correct Champion
Final Four: Louisville (Midwest #1), Georgetown (South #2), Indiana (East #1), Ohio State (West #2)
Championship: Indiana over Louisville
Final Four Correct: 1 (Louisville)
Final Four: Florida (South #1), Michigan State (East #4), Arizona (West #1), Louisville (Midwest #4)
Championship: Michigan State over Florida
Final Four Correct: 1 (Florida)
Final Four: Kentucky (Midwest #1), Wisconsin (West #1), Villanova (East #1), Iowa State (South #3)
Championship: Kentucky over Villanova
Final Four Correct: 2 (Kentucky, Wisconsin)
Final Four: North Carolina (East #1), Michigan State (Midwest #2), Kansas (South #1), Oklahoma (West #2)
Championship: Michigan State over Oklahoma
Final Four Correct: 2 (North Carolina, Oklahoma)
Note: First year since at least 2008 that I picked a non #1 to make the Final Four and they did. All my other correct Final Four picks have been #1 seeds.
Final Four: Duke (East #2), Gonzaga (West #1), Louisville (Midwest #2), North Carolina (South #1)
Championship: Duke over North Carolina
Final Four Correct: 2 (North Carolina, Gonzaga)
Final Four: Virginia (South #1), Villanova (East #1), Michigan State (Midwest #3), North Carolina (West #2)
Championship: Virginia over Villanova
Final Four Correct: 1 (Villanova)
Final Four: Duke (East #1), Michigan (West #2), Villanova (South #6), North Carolina (Midwest #1)
Championship: Duke over North Carolina
Final Four Correct: 0
Final Four: Gonzaga (West #1), Illinois (Midwest #1), Ohio State (South #2), Texas (East #3)
Championship: Gonzaga over Illinois
Final Four Correct: 1 (Gonzaga)
I have only correctly picked the champion once, back in 2012 when I picked Kentucky to win it all. Of the twelve champions I picked, only three made the Final Four (Kentucky in 2012 and 2015, Gonzaga in 2021). Two of the last four teams I picked to win it all (2016 Michigan State and 2018 Virginia) lost in the first round and another (2017 Duke) lost in the second round.
On the other hand, five of the twelve years a team I picked to make the Final Four did win it all: 2009 North Carolina, 2012 Kentucky, 2013 Louisville, 2017 North Carolina, and 2018 Villanova. Other than 2012 Kentucky, I picked the other four teams to lose the championship game.
In 12 years, I picked 12 Final Four teams correctly or an average of 1 per season.
I have never picked all four #1 seeds to make the Final Four since they've only done it once in NCAA history (2008).
I have picked 29 #1 seeds, 10#2 seeds, 4 #3 seeds, 3 #4 seeds, 1 #5 seed, and 1 #6 seed. I have only correctly picked one #2 seed to make the Final Four and have never correctly picked any team seeded below #2 to make the Final Four. Of the 29 #1's I picked to make the Final Four, 11 of them did (about 38%). In that span, 17 #1 seeds made the Final Four (out of 48 total #1 seeds, or about a third). In 2015, three #1 seeds made the Final Four (Duke, the national champion, Wisconsin, the runner up, and Kentucky, while Villanova was the only one who choked and #7 Michigan State was the other Final Four team). In 2011, none of the #1 seeds made the Final Four (in fact, none of the #2's did either!). To win a pool, you have to pick some non #1 seeds to make the Final Four. The problem is I keep picking the wrong ones!
This is the third time I have picked Kentucky to win the national championship. I have also picked them to win in 2012 and 2015. This may be a good sign though for Kentucky. as they made the Final Four both times I previously picked them to win it all (and won it all in 2012). I have only picked Kentucky to make the Final Four three times and they made the Elite Eight or better all three times. I have also picked Duke to win it all three times (2011, 2017, and 2019) although they didn't make the Final Four in any of those three years and won the national championship in two years I didn't pick them to get to the Final Four (so they like the fact I didn't pick them to go to the Final Four this year). The only other team I picked to win the title more than once since 2009 was Michigan State in 2014 and 2016 and MSU fans would like to forget 2016 as they were one and done that year. Interestingly I have never picked North Carolina to win the national championship even though they have won two national championships in that time span (2009 and 2017). However, I picked UNC to make the Final Four six times (2009, 2012, 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019), more than any other team in that time frame. Carolina was a #1 seed in every one of those years except 2018 when they were a #2. North Carolina made the Final Four during their national championship years (2009 and 2017).
So happy picking!