Normally, I can't wait to fill out my brackets in our NCAA office pool.  Typically, I am right in the hunt when it comes down to the final weekend.  I have won a couple of grand prizes here at work and have come up JUST short a couple of other times as well.  But, this year, I was on vacation for two weeks and didn't have the chance to fill out my brackets.  So, I thought I would try and redeem myself and share my Sweet 16 predictions.  Now, I'll be honest.  Some of the teams still left in the mix should, well, not still be in the mix.  I would never have predicted some of these folks getting through two rounds in the draw.  But which have the depth, speed and power to advance to the Elite Eight and beyond.  The Final Four?  The National Championship?  Let's take a look into my crystal, inflatable basket balls!

I probably should begin with the SOUTH region, but that's where the tri-state's most intriguing matchup is.  So, the Cats and Hoosiers have to wait til the end of my blog.  I am milking this, people!  For all it's worth.  It's like a big, swollen cow udder and I am milking it!  So, we'll begin with the . . .


#1- North Carolina vs. #13 Ohio-  Much ado was made about the fact that four teams from Kentucky actually made it into the NCAA Tournament.  But four teams from Ohio actually it all the way to the Sweet Sixteen.  #13 Ohio is one of them.  But don't expect them to see the Elite Eight.  Yes, Tar Heel star Kendall Marshall may have broken his wrist last weekend, but Tyler Zeller and the rest of the North Carolina squad are going to have WAY too much game for Ohio.  Tar Heels advance.  In fact, they may have the easiest time of advancing of any team left in the field.

#11 NC State vs. #2 Kansas-  Anytime I have ever won money in an NCAA tournament pool, I have done it with the help of the Jayhawks.  But something (maybe a little birdie or the ghost of former Wolfpack coach Jim Valvano) is telling me that NC State is going to win this game.  In 1983, this team famously made a run to the National Championship and I just have the feeling it's their time for another deep trip into the draw.  Sorry, Dorothy.  But we ain't in Kansas no mo!  But thanks for all the dough you won me in the past. 


#1 Syracuse vs. #4 Wisconsin-  The Orange had a helluva regular season.  But, since getting beaten by Cincinnati in the Big East Tournament, they have looked completely shaken.  While they did breeze past a formidable Kansas State team, they barely survived a first-round matchup with #16 seed UNC Asheville.  The Badgers, on the other hand, destroyed Montana, then beat Cat-killer Vanderbilt.  Wisconsin is going to win this game and prove that the Big Ten is just as powerful and deep a conference as the Big East.

#6 Cincinnati vs. #2 Ohio State-  Oh my gosh!  See above!  The Bearcats have been a powerhouse in the post-season, but Ohio State has been  rock solid all year long.  The Buckeyes are going to win this game and the Big Ten will prevail over the Big East once again. 


#1 Michigan State vs. #4 Louisville-  It amazes me that Kentuckians constantly throw stones at Rick Pitino.  What a difference and decade and some change makes, right?  Look.  The fact is . . . his Cardinals CAN play.  They have put together a helluva season and they have done it (for much of it) undermanned and hurt.  Yes, they have had some miserable losses.  But they have had some big wins (i.e. the Big East Tournament title) too.  But, Thursday, they will come to the end of the road (suddenly, I'm quoting Boys II Men)!  I watched Michigan State win the Big Ten title and knew they deserved a #1 seed.  They got it.  And now, they're going to defend it.  In fact, I think Tom Izzo's squad could actually win the National Championship.  If I had taken time to fill out a bracket, they would have been my pick to win.  For the record, they still are.

#3 Marquette vs. #7 Florida- Jae Crowder is a beast.  I both love and hate watching him play.  Why is that?  Because I went to college with his dad, Corey, and the fact that Jae is in college himself makes Benefield feel like I'm 607-years-old.  But Jae, like his dad, is a force on court and he anchors this Marquette squad beautifully.  The Gators have had a decent season, but they haven't really had any HUGE wins.  They're not going to have one here either.  The Gators are gone.  Marquette advances.  Hey, hear that Big East!  One of your teams survives the bloodshed!


#3 Baylor vs. #10 Xavier-  LaDonne Craig, our general manager, picked Baylor to win the National Championship on her office pool bracket.  She said she knows nothing about basketball, but I think she was playing coy.  Fact is, Baylor had a fine season (a routine player inside the AP Top Ten) and is still kicking late in the game.  Xavier is a good matchup for them.  In the last round, Baylor manhandled a pretty good Colorado team.  Xavier did something Duke couldn't do.  They beat #15 seed Lehigh.  But Baylor is more battle-tested and that, at this point in the game, is what matters.  Baylor will make the Elite Eight, but that's as far as they'll get.  And here's why . . .

#1- UK vs. #4 Indiana-  This is going to hack off some Cats fans, but I was jumping up and down in my living room when the Hoosiers beat Kentucky at the buzzer early in the season.  Now, I have nothing against the Cats, but here's why I was pulling for Tom Crean and company.  The Hoosiers needed that win.  Thanks to that slimeball Kelvin Sampson the Indiana basketball program, once storied, was in ruins.  I love a good Cinderella (or Cinderfella) story and that win was definitely a glass-slipper victory.  Much ado has been made about this rematch and I think this is a game lots of analysts and fans looked to when the NCAA Selection Committee set the draw.  But here's the deal.  And this is going to hack off some Indiana fans.  I watched that game earlier this season and it was painfully clear that Kentucky SHOULD have won it.  There were moments you sensed they were going to blow it wide open.  For some reason (maybe the impenetrable will of the Hoosier crowd or just destiny making amends), it just never happened.  In some ways, the Cats were kittens then.  But they are a fully grown litter now and have been the best team in the country since that loss.  And the Cats are going to prove it Friday night . . . at 8:45pm . . . right here on The Country Station.    

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