SHUHoops.com: Final Four and Big East picks

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It’s been two, maybe three years since I’ve last filled out a bracket, but what would March Madness be without making some predictions.

I’ve found that filling out a bracket, especially when you’re in a significant pool for money or bragging rights, really skews the rooting experience.

Imagine having Virginia in your Final Four or title game last year and being even the slightest bit conflicted during UMBC’s historic upset last year.

Wouldn’t wish it upon my worst enemy.

Hell, it’s pretty much proven that people who only tune in for the Madness are better at picking brackets than us faithful who are on the edge of our seats for Wednesday night non-conference games against schools your bracket pool hasn’t heard of.

All that said, I will make a few picks to prove just how little I know about the sport.

Unfortunately for the Big East, which has already lost Georgetown, Butler, and Providence in the N.I.T. (Xavier, Creighton remain), also saw St. John’s get manhandled by Arizona State last night in what turned out to be a disappointing season for St. John’s.

That leaves just Villanova, Marquette, and Seton Hall left in the Dance, and all three schools have tough paths to reach the second weekend.

Big East picks

Villanova (#6, South) — Saint Mary’s is fresh off a win over Gonzaga in their conference tournament final and they beat Villanova in 2010, but I think the Wildcats will advance. My gut says ‘Nova will fall to Purdue, but I think they sneak into the Elite 8 should they reach the Sweet 16.

Marquette (#5, West) — Ah, the dreaded 5-12 game. It’s usually mid-majors and/or bubble teams who battled to make the field against a program which may have fell a few seeds late in the season, which is the case here (how did Marquette get a better seed than Villanova??). I think the Golden Eagles match up well with a Murray State Racers team that likes to race, but it’ll take a minor miracle to get past Florida State and into the Sweet 16.

Seton Hall (#10, Midwest) — Hey, we know these guys! I can’t possibly pick a first round exit, can I? Nope. So will Seton Hall take down Kentucky and Big Blue Nation for a second time this year? Finding the last time the Wildcats lost twice in the same season to a team outside their conference should be a treat.

If PJ Washington is banged up to the point where his minutes are severely limited, then the needle moves a good deal. Smart money says to advance Kentucky out of this pod and that’s what I would do if I were to fill out a bracket. But I’d say Seton Hall gets a bit of an edge due to familiarity in a quick-turnaround game; it’d be a lot tougher to prepare for Michigan State on short notice.

Conclusion: More likely than not, the Big East will be eliminated from the tournament in a couple days time to conclude an overall down year from start to finish.

Final Four and title game picks

East (#2 Michigan State): Pretty much everyone has Michigan State-Duke in a chalky Elite 8 in this region. I’m no different, but I think Michigan State upsets Zion University in an epic to advance to the Final Four.

South (#3 Purdue): Until Virginia gets it done, it’s easy to discredit them no matter how good they are and even Tennessee is a little bit shaky after getting blown out by Auburn in the SEC title game. Purdue is 17-2 against schools not named Minnesota since mid-December and their chicken cutlets have never let me down. Big Ten solidarity.

Midwest (#1 North Carolina): It’s strange to see Kansas as a four-seed and with a non-power team like Houston as the three-seed, it makes me want to roll with North Carolina as my first and only one.

West (#3 Texas Tech): Featuring a top-seeded Gonzaga team that has hardly played a close game in the past couple months, this has to be the region of madness and with the greatest variance of survivors to the point where picking Gonzaga is a non-chalky chalk pick. Florida State is popular here so we can’t choose that… let’s go with Texas Tech.

Title game: #2 Michigan State vs #1 North Carolina

Champion: #2 Michigan State – Even with Sparty up against Duke and every mainstream sports media outlet that wants more clicks, it’s tough to bet against Tom Izzo in March (and April).