- Andy Katz, ESPN Senior Writer
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Quick hitters on the bracket:
The First Four will be a good watch. Well, at least the two games involving bubble teams. USC has proved it can beat just about anyone in the field. The matchup against VCU will be one of the better early-round games. Clemson is one of the toughest defensive teams in the field and UAB is one of the more controversial picks. Oh, and Kevin O'Neill has been reinstated to coach the Trojans, meaning there are plenty of storylines in Dayton on Tuesday and Wednesday.
I liked Oakland as a possible Sweet 16 team when I watched the Golden Grizzlies early in the season, but once again it's all about matchups. I don't like Oakland beating Texas because of the Longhorns' ability to defend on the perimeter.
Wisconsin couldn't have drawn a worse matchup than sneaky-good Belmont. The Bruins can win a first-round game. The Badgers struggled against Wofford and Cornell last season and now Mike Bruesewitz is hurt. This isn't a positive draw for Wisconsin.
The committee doesn't play the matchup game. But geez, how odd is it that Memphis coach Josh Pastner, who played and coached at Arizona, has his first game as a head coach in the NCAA tournament against Arizona? UCLA and Ben Howland against Michigan State and Tom Izzo on the first day? Wow. It would have been hard to predict that in the preseason.
There will be blood during the Butler-Old Dominion 8-9 game in D.C. This is going to be a battle with two teams that like to grind defensively.
Florida State's Chris Singleton told me after the loss to Virginia Tech that he could have played in the ACC tournament but it was coach Leonard Hamilton's decision. He said he is going to play in the NCAA tourney. If he does, the Seminoles should beat Texas A&M.
Georgetown's Chris Wright said he's playing in the NCAAs. But the Hoyas didn't get an easy draw. The Hoyas have to prep for two different styles in USC and Virginia Commonwealth. The better matchup for Georgetown would be VCU. USC has the bigs in Nikola Vucevic and Alex Stepheson that could cause problems for the Hoyas in the second round.
The two toughest teams to predict in the Southwest Regional are playing in the 8-9 game. UNLV and Illinois have shown flashes of playing at a high level or looking very pedestrian. Neither team can beat Kansas.
Vanderbilt can't catch a break. The Commodores drew hot mid-majors Siena and Murray State in recent tournaments and lost to both in the first round. Richmond is on a roll right now with the A-10 title win. The Spiders will be a trendy 12-5 upset pick.
A Purdue-Notre Dame Sweet 16 game in San Antonio would be an intense affair. JaJuan Johnson and Ben Hansbrough have the ability to put up monster numbers. But whoever wins that game will probably fall to Kansas. That's my pick.
Utah State finally may win a first-round game. The Aggies have been playing do-or-die type affairs for weeks with little margin for error. Kansas State was a bad stock to buy since the Wildcats have been all over the map. The Aggies have the personnel to get to the Sweet 16 and if Belmont were to upset Wisconsin, or even if it didn't, a win over K-State could pave the way for Utah State to get to New Orleans.
Pitt should breeze to the Elite Eight. I'll be surprised if it doesn't get to its first Final Four since 1941.
Gonzaga got an 11-seed, but got St. John's sans D.J. Kennedy. The Red Storm started the season losing to a WCC team at Saint Mary's and I think they'll end it losing to a WCC team in the Zags.
Jimmer Fredette could pull a Stephen Curry and lead BYU to the Elite Eight. The reason? The bracket is winnable for the Cougars. UCLA and Michigan State aren't getting out of the first weekend and Florida is beatable.
For much of the last two months, George Mason was a popular pick to go far in the NCAA tournament. But the matchups aren't favorable after Villanova. Ohio State has too much balance and strength inside for the Patriots.
Princeton can cause Kentucky's younger players problems, but the Wildcats have figured out how to play together more consistently. A Kentucky-Ohio State Sweet 16 game in Newark would be a tough ticket.
Marquette isn't playing well enough for me to buy into the Golden Eagles, but Tu Holloway can lead Xavier for a few rounds.
If Syracuse plays up to its potential, this bracket could open up for the Orange to at least get to the Sweet 16.
North Carolina didn't defend well against Duke on Sunday in the ACC tournament but the Tar Heels will not lose in Charlotte. No way. The Tar Heels will be playing at home for two games. Book them to Newark.
If the Elite Eight game is Ohio State against North Carolina, the NBA scouts will drool with Jared Sullinger against the bigs of Tyler Zeller and John Henson in addition to Harrison Barnes going against the host of wings of OSU.
I thought UNC could get to Houston, but I don't like the Tar Heels getting past the Buckeyes. It's all about matchups.
Paging Tennessee? Part of me is convinced the Vols are in position to be the most dangerous No. 9 seed. If the Vols play up to their potential, they could beat Michigan and Duke to get to the Sweet 16. But Tennessee could also lose badly to Michigan and the Wolverines' 1-3-1 defense.
Texas is a No. 4 after projecting as a No. 1 a few weeks ago. Which Texas team will show? If it's the one that is sharing the ball, defending and has Jordan Hamilton taking quality shots, then the Longhorns can knock off Duke and be on the doorstep of playing as host in Houston.
The bottom part of the West bracket will be about Kemba Walker. The UConn star led the Huskies to an incredible five-game run in the Big East tournament. Can he do it again in the NCAA tournament? Playing either Cincinnati or Missouri, assuming the Huskies beat Bucknell, is a good draw.
How about Temple playing Penn State, two schools from Pennsylvania playing in Tucson, and Louisville and Morehead State, two schools from the state of Kentucky, playing in Denver?
I'm done doubting Louisville's Rick Pitino. This Cardinals team has shot down every question and continues to win. The Cards could be playing Kansas in the Sweet 16 in San Antonio. Talk about a fun game.
San Diego State was treated well by the NCAA tournament committee. The Aztecs earned a No. 2 seed by losing to only one team -- even though it was twice -- in BYU. The Aztecs will play in Tucson and then possibly Anaheim. I like their experience, defense, fast tempo and half-court game. If D.J. Gay is on, especially defensively against elite guards in this bracket, then the Aztecs can advance. They're the one team not on the No. 1 line that I have getting to Houston.
This bracket will be dominated by star players having headline games, just like we saw during Championship Week.
We should see plenty of upsets, but when the Final Four is upon us in a few weeks, I don't see Ohio State or Kansas losing. I'm less confident in Pitt, but the Panthers have a favorable bracket. I'm going with OSU, KU, Pitt and SDSU.