Let’s call it The Syracuse Conundrum.
As I review my NCAA brackets, I can’t actually picture Syracuse making it to the Final Four, but when I scan over the region’s other possibilities, no one stands out. Unless the NCAA makes a sudden rule change, someone has to represent the region, meaning Syracuse or a lesser seed will be playing in Indianapolis.
It doesn’t seem possible, though.
Syracuse certainly deserves the No. 1 seed in the region, having come from an unranked spot early in the season to eventually nabbing the top post in the Associated Press and coaches’ polls. The ‘Cuse have slipped a time or two, most notably twice against Louisville, but they have a strong blend of athleticism and aggressive play that gives them a sizeable advantage most games.
At the same time, I think they’re vulnerable, which comes from a combination of late-season injuries, poor play down the stretch and the mere fact they’re perennial underachievers in the tournament. ESPN.com, while not actually predicting a stunning upset in the first round (no 16 seed has ever won a game in the tournament), has posted pieces about how it wouldn’t be end-of-the-world shocking to see Syracuse lose.
Factor in a potential second round game against Gonzaga, and the ‘Cuse could definitely see their season end this weekend.
Of course, Gonzaga could lose in the first round to Florida State, and since I don’t see Florida State beating Syracuse, that means there’s a pretty strong chance the Orangemen will make it to the Sweet 16. Once there, they potentially face Vanderbilt, although many experts think Vandy will lose to Murray State in the first round. Since I think UTEP upsets Butler, that could mean the 12th-seeded UTEP squad would play a13th-seeded Murray State team, meaning Syracuse would have a pretty easy game in the Sweet 16.
On the bottom side of that bracket, I think Kansas State advances, but I also think they could lose to BYU in the second round (assuming, of course, BYU beats Florida in its first game). Xavier has a team that could do some damage, but I think they’ll lose to Minnesota (part of that is just old-fashioned Tubby love, though), given the Golden Gophers a game against Pitt in Round Two. I think Pitt will beat Minnesota, but should they play Xavier, I’m not so certain they’d advance. This is why I ultimately talked myself out of a Pitt run to the Final Four.
There’s truly no way I can pick any team from this region with any level of smug satisfaction, but since the rules require someone to advance, ultimately I’m going with Kansas State.
Assuming they don’t lose to North Texas in the first round.
This means, of course, Syracuse will likely win the whole thing.
Some first-round upsets I like are Georgia Tech over Oklahoma State, Siena over Purdue, Missouri over Clemson and St. Mary’s over Richmond (although anybody beating Richmond can hardly be considered an “upset”).
I’m going mostly chalk with the Final Eight, with Georgetown and Baylor (both are 3 seeds) the exceptions.
My Final Four is made up of Kansas, Kansas State, Kentucky and Duke.
My head says to pick Kansas, my heart Kentucky. This is why I have two different brackets.