Get your March Madness bracket ready

Jim O'Connell

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A wise old TV announcer named Bill Raftery once told me the smartest thing to do when radio hosts ask you for your Final Four is to keep changing it, so at least people in one city will think you’re smart.Here’s a grasp at a Final Four (check some place to see if I’m smart):

MIDWEST: It’s hard to pick against top-seeded Louisville after the way the Cardinals played during their 10-game winning streak that included the Big East tournament. This, however, is by far the toughest of the regions. No. 2 Duke, with Ryan Kelly back in the lineup, is in it, along with third-seeded Michigan State which gets to play its first two games in nearby Auburn Hills, Mich. Then there’s Saint Louis, the team filling the bill of everyone’s “chic” pick. 

Even with the depth of the bracket (Memphis, Oklahoma State, Creighton, Cincinnati), it’s still too hard to pick against Rick Pitino leading the Cardinals to a second straight Final Four.

WEST: The talk was all about Gonzaga getting its first No. 1 seed and keeping aloft the banner for the non-BCS schools. The other seeded teams are Ohio State, off a win at the Big Ten tournament, New Mexico, a team a lot of people are still waiting to make up their minds about, and Kansas State, a team that would have had a great season if not for Kansas, which beat the Wildcats three times.

Wisconsin is here and that’s about as scary a name you can get in your bracket, especially when a team would have only one day to prepare for its second meeting of a weekend. Arizona is coming off a tough loss that sure looked like a bad call. Notre Dame is dangerous when the threes are falling, but so is every other team.

Ohio State played a brutal schedule through February and into March. Gonzaga didn’t. Why not have another Final Four repeater in the Buckeyes?

SOUTH: Another really interesting group of seeds. No. 1 Kansas has made its three-game losing streak seem like months ago. Georgetown had been on a very solid 12-game run until the Hoyas ran into Syracuse in the Big East semis. Third-seeded Florida was everybody’s pick a couple of weeks ago and the Gators even got players back from injuries, but they have struggled in close games. Michigan rounds out the group and the Wolverines have to find a way to follow the lead of star guard Trey Burke.

The Jayhawks will keep riding freshman Ben McLemore on the wing and veteran Jeff Withey inside for yet another Final Four repeat.

EAST: Indiana spent the most weeks this season as the No. 1 team in the poll so the Hoosiers are right at home as the top seed. Miami, the veteran team with the sophomore point guard in Shane Larkin, can’t let not being the No. 1 seed affect them. The No. 3 seed is Marquette, a Big East tri-champion which came up flat in the Big East tournament. Syracuse, which comes in off the devastating loss to Louisville in the Big East title game when the Cardinals went from 16 down to 18 up in 13 minutes of the second half.

There’s no reason to think any less of Indiana because it will be playing a second weekend in Washington instead of Indianapolis. The Hoosiers end the streak of Final Four repeaters because the other team in last year’s national semifinals Kentucky is playing in the NIT after winning it all last year.


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