For the second straight year, I decided against taking part in an NCAA tournament bracket challenge (for years, friends of mine and I had one with points based on teams' seeds, and it was a lot of fun, but I decided against it last year and this year). Last year, it turned out great as I just sat and watched the games with no rooting interest (my alma mater Clemson wasn't in the tournament, after all, and isn't again this year).
That said, here are my thoughts on the field, some picks for the Final Four and my picks for the first two rounds (and the others will come as the tournament progresses).
* I was stunned that Miami wasn't given a No. 1 seed. I just assumed after the Hurricanes beat North Carolina for the ACC tournament title Sunday that they would get a top seed. After all, we've never seen a team win the ACC regular season and tournament titles and then fail to get a top seed. The Hurricanes deserved a No. 1 seed but were dropped to a No. 2.
* The SEC only has three teams in the field, and the ACC only has four, but there really was no uproar about the conferences deserving more because they didn't. Think about it this way: Mississippi was considered a bubble team and won the SEC tournament but only got a No. 12 seed. The Rebels would not have been in the tournament without winning that conference tournament. Sure Maryland and Virginia (ACC) and Tennessee and Kentucky (SEC) could have had arguments for a tournament berth, but they weren't really strong ones.
* The Midwest Regional certainly looks like the toughest, which is odd considering that Louisville, the No. 1 seed in the regional, is the No. 1 overall seed. But standing in the way of the Cardinals could be Duke (No. 2), Michigan State (No. 3), Saint Louis (No. 4), Oklahoma State (No. 5), Memphis (No. 6), etc., etc.
* For years, Gonzaga has been the program seeded lower in the bracket that none of the favorites wanted to play. It will be interesting to see how the Zags do with a No. 1 seed. They have been terrific all season and should be able to handle that pressure (see more below).
* Watch out for (double-digit seeds that could make a run): Oregon (No. 12 in Midwest), Colorado (No. 10 in East), Middle Tennessee State (No. 11 in Midwest), Belmont (No. 11 in West), California (No. 12 in East), South Dakota State (No. 13 in South).
* Under the radar (seeds three to nine that are dangerous): Saint Louis (No. 4 in Midwest), New Mexico (No. 3 in West), Marquette (No. 3 in East), Butler (No. 6 in East), N.C. State (No. 8 in East), San Diego State (No. 7 in South), VCU (No. 5 in South).
Final Four picks
My Final Four would be made up of Duke, Gonzaga, Georgetown and Miami with Gonzaga beating Georgetown for the championship.
First two rounds picks
North Carolina A&T over Liberty
Middle Tennessee State over St. Mary's
Louisville over North Carolina A&T
Colorado State over Missouri
Oregon over Oklahoma State
St. Louis over New Mexico State
Middle Tennessee State over Memphis
Michigan State over Valparaiso
Creighton over Cincinnati
Duke over Albany
Boise State over La Salle
Gonzaga over Southern
Pittsburgh over Wichita State
Wisconsin over Mississippi
Kansas State over Boise State
Belmont over Arizona
New Mexico over Harvard
Notre Dame over Iowa State
Ohio State over Iona
Kansas over Western Kentucky
North Carolina over Villanova
VCU over Akron
South Dakota State over Michigan
Minnesota over UCLA
Florida over Northwestern State
San Diego State over Oklahoma
Georgetown over Florida Gulf Coast
James Madison over LIU Brooklyn
Indiana over James Madison
N.C. State over Temple
California over UNLV
Syracuse over Montana
Butler over Bucknell
Marquette over Davidson
Colorado over Illinois
Miami over Pacific