27 Mar

Picking winners of all 63 games in the NCAA Tournament with 63 reasons why

I never fill out my bracket until the First Four is over. After all, First Four teams have a well-established propensity to go further than just one game, and this year’s bunch — especially the No. 10 seeds from the Centennial State, Colorado and Colorado State — could add to that.

That also gives me more time to research and distance myself from championship week. That’s the upside. The downside is it gives me more time to fret. What am I missing? What am I looking into too much?

What am I doing?

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But eventually Thursday comes, and my bracket is due. So I boil it down to one sentence for every matchup. It’s part adages I believe in (great, experienced guard play and NBA talent are requisites), part research and part “I need to get this done.” So here’s the result: 63 picks, 63 sentences and too many reasons to worry (and be excited) to count.

First round
No. 1 UConn over No. 16 Stetson: The Hatters’ first NCAA Tournament trip is a short one as UConn just has too many options.
No. 8 Florida Atlantic over No. 9 Northwestern: If Northwestern was healthy, I’d take the Wildcats, but Florida Atlantic wins a high-scoring one with Johnell Davis and Boo Buie going back and forth.
No. 5 San Diego State over No. 12 UAB: Jaedon LeDee is the best player on the court.
No. 4 Auburn over No. 13 Yale: The Tigers’ depth, athleticism and length overwhelms the Bulldogs.
No. 6 BYU over No. 11 Duquesne: The Cougars are third in 3-pointers made this season.
No. 3 Illinois over No. 14 Morehead State: Behind Terrence Shannon Jr. and Marcus Domask, the Illini are the first Big Ten Tournament champion to make the second round since 2021.
No. 10 Drake over No. 7 Washington State: Darien and Tucker DeVries are the latest father-son duo to lead an upset.
No. 2 Iowa State over No. 15 South Dakota State: The Cyclones flex their defensive muscle.
No. 1 Houston over No. 16 Longwood: The Cougars bounce back from a rough Big 12 Tournament title game loss.
No. 9 Texas A&M over No. 8 Nebraska: The Aggies’ massive advantage on the boards proves the difference.
No. 12 James Madison over No. 5 Wisconsin: The Dukes are experienced and explosive, and they defend the 3-pointer exceptionally well.
No. 4 Duke over No. 13 Vermont: Jon Scheyer’s club should be well-rested and refocused after losing its ACC Tournament opener.
No. 6 Texas Tech over No. 11 NC State: The Wolfpack are a popular upset pick, but Pop Isaacs leads a Red Raiders team with five double-digit scorers.
No. 3 Kentucky over No. 14 Oakland: Greg Kampe and the Golden Grizzlies are one of the great stories in this tournament, but Kentucky has too much offense.
No. 7 Florida over No. 10 Colorado: The Gators have great guards, active bigs and terrific size across the board, making things tough on KJ Simpson and Co.
No. 2 Marquette over No. 15 Western Kentucky: The Hilltoppers will push the Golden Eagles to their limits, especially with the nation’s fastest tempo, but Tyler Kolek’s return pays huge dividends.
No. 1 Purdue over Grambling State: the Boilermakers are back and on a mission.
No. 9 TCU over No. 8 Utah State: The Horned Frogs have a ton of experience, and Jameer Nelson Jr. or Emanuel Miller will make some big shots late.
No. 5 Gonzaga over No. 12 McNeese: This will be a tight one, and in a battle of great guards (Ryan Nembhard plus Nolan Hickman vs. Shahada Wells), big man Graham Ike powers the Bulldogs.
No. 13 Samford over No. 4 Kansas: The Jayhawks, especially without Kevin McCullar Jr., don’t have the firepower or depth to keep up.
No. 6 South Carolina over No. 11 Oregon: One of the hardest calls of the first round goes the Gamecocks’ way thanks to better guard play.
No. 3 Creighton over No. 14 Akron: I named Akron my favorite No. 14 seed to win, but Creighton is just too experienced and composed to fall this early.
No. 7 Texas over No. 10 Colorado State: Max Abmas and Dylan Disu get the inconsistent but talented Longhorns off on the right foot.
No. 2 Tennessee over No. 15 Saint Peter’s: The Peacocks will have major trouble on the boards and against Dalton Knecht.
No. 1 North Carolina over No. 16 Wagner: RJ Davis fuels the Tar Heels in their opener.
No. 9 Michigan State over No. 8 Mississippi State: The Spartans have won nine of their last 10 first-round games.
No. 5 Saint Mary’s over No. 12 Grand Canyon: The Gaels are really, really solid up and down the roster, and their defense is terrific, too.
No. 4 Alabama over No. 13 Charleston: This game will feature a ton of points, but Mark Sears will be the difference.
No. 11 New Mexico over No. 6 Clemson: Get ready to know the names Jaelen House, Jamal Mashburn Jr. and Donovan Dent.
No. 3 Baylor over No. 14 Colgate: The Raiders’ close-but-no-cigar first-round tradition continues.
No. 10 Nevada over No. 7 Dayton: The Wolf Pack have the backcourt and, at long last, the defense to get their first NCAA Tournament win since 2018.
No. 2 Arizona over No. 15 Long Beach State: The Wildcats avoid a repeat of last year’s 2-vs.-15 loss to Princeton.
Second round
No. 1 UConn over No. 8 Florida Atlantic: The Huskies pass their first major test of the tournament, with their excellent offense tearing up a poor FAU defense.
No. 4 Auburn over No. 5 San Diego State: The rugged Aztecs are used to wearing opponents down, but the Tigers are too deep and talented for that.
No. 3 Illinois over No. 6 BYU: The Illini get to the second weekend for the first time since 2013, with the guards dominating.
No. 2 Iowa State over No. 10 Drake: Keshon Gilbert continues his breakout season, and that Cyclones defense leads the way again.
No. 1 Houston over No. 9 Texas A&M: The Aggies just don’t make enough perimeter shots to keep up with Jamal Shead, L.J. Cryer and Emanuel Sharp.
No. 4 Duke over No. 12 James Madison: Duke beats the Dukes with Kyle Filipowski continuing a strong postseason.
No. 3 Kentucky over No. 6 Texas Tech: Antonio Reeves, Rob Dillingham and Reed Sheppard carry the Wildcats.
No. 7 Florida over No. 2 Marquette: Shaka Smart hasn’t made it past the first weekend since VCU’s 2011 First Four-to-Final Four run, with 10 first-weekend exits since.
No. 1 Purdue over No. 9 TCU: The Boilermakers are just too much inside (Zach Edey) and outside (country’s second-best 3-point shooting percentage vs. a suspect TCU perimeter defense).
No. 5 Gonzaga over No. 13 Samford: This isn’t Mark Few’s best team, but having two composed guards against Bucky Ball’s press is a huge advantage.
No. 3 Creighton over No. 6 South Carolina: Ryan Kalkbrenner is the perfect defensive anchor against the Gamecocks’ hard-driving guards.
No. 2 Tennessee over No. 7 Texas: The Volunteers have the length, strength and versatility to limit Abmas and Disu, and the Longhorns don’t have enough consistent answers elsewhere.
No. 1 UNC over No. 9 Michigan State: Tyson Walker and AJ Hoggard vs. Davis is a great guard matchup, but the Tar Heels are too good offensively all-around.
No. 4 Alabama over No. 5 Saint Mary’s: The Crimson Tide’s length, pace and athleticism overwhelm the Gaels.
No. 3 Baylor over No. 11 New Mexico: The Bears’ 3-point edge (39% vs. 33%) is too much for the Lobos to overcome.
No. 2 Arizona over No. 10 Nevada: In a game against his former conference rival, Keshad Johnson’s toughness, athleticism and improved shooting (39% from 3-point range) are key.
Sweet 16
No. 1 UConn over No. 4 Auburn: I trust the steady Tristen Newton more than I trust Auburn’s many guards.
No. 3 Illinois over No. 2 Iowa State: The Cyclones have seen a lot of good offenses, but they haven’t seen anything quite like the Illini’s.
No. 1 Houston over No. 4 Duke: The Blue Devils struggle against really physical, tough teams, and Houston might be the nation’s best at both.
No. 3 Kentucky over No. 7 Florida: These two split their regular-season meetings, decided by five points combined, and Sheppard makes some big ones to win this one.
No. 1 Purdue over No. 5 Gonzaga: The redemption tour continues as Edey gets Ike in foul trouble early, and the Zags have no interior answer after that.
No. 2 Tennessee over No. 3 Creighton: This was the only pick I crossed out and re-picked, and I did so because Knecht’s status as the best player on the floor overcomes Creighton’s balanced attack.
No. 4 Alabama over No. 1 North Carolina: Alabama has the widest range of outcomes this tournament, and in an up-tempo battle, the Crimson Tide are just a little better getting the shots they want.
No. 3 Baylor over No. 2 Arizona: Scott Drew and his bevy of guards are too much for an Arizona team that struggles to defend the 3.
Elite Eight
No. 1 UConn over No. 3 Illinois: Both of these teams can really score, but the Illini have too many defensive lapses against the Huskies’ intricate offense.
No. 1 Houston over No. 3 Kentucky: In a battle of contrasting styles, the Cougars’ physicality wins the day.
No. 2 Tennessee over No. 1 Purdue: The Volunteers can put together a solid gameplan against Edey thanks to their size, and Knecht’s rampage through the tournament continues.
No. 4 Alabama over No. 3 Baylor: The Bears finally meet their match in the 3-point shooting department, and Alabama’s 2-point proficiency helps the Crimson Tide win a thriller to make their first Final Four.
Final Four
No. 1 UConn over No. 4 Alabama: The Huskies have the interior defense to protect the rim, the athleticism to defend the perimeter and the composure to end the Crimson Tide’s run.
No. 1 Houston over No. 2 Tennessee: Both teams are excellent defensively and can struggle offensively, but I trust Houston’s backcourt a little more to get big buckets down the stretch.
National Championship
No. 1 UConn over No. 1 Houston: The Huskies are the complete package and pull off the first repeat since 2006-07 Florida.

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