The caveat is the same from everyone: It's a crapshoot filling out an NCAA March Madness bracket
in any season, but this year it's even more unpredictable.
Five teams occupied the No. 1 spot in The Associated Press's top-25 poll at some point this season. So maybe that means picking one of -- or four of -- Gonzaga, Indiana, Louisville, Michigan or Duke to win the tournament might make sense, right?
The beauty of this tournament is its unpredictability. An off-night from a power team combined with a hot shooting performance from somebody else can smash hundreds of thousands of brackets in an instant.
In terms of things to take away from the regular season, teams that are effective on the offensive glass always (naturally) have an advantage. As far as what to forget: Road record. All teams in the NCAA lose some games on the road. It's losing games at home that should be an alarm bell.
Squads like Michigan, Michigan State, Kansas, Ohio State and California all have something of a home-floor advantage in the early rounds of this year's tournament as they're playing close to home, so that's something to look for. But the brackets generally fan out to more neutral sites for the regional rounds.
Let's look at the teams to watch:No. 1 seedsGonzaga (No. 1, West)
A school-record 31 wins against only two losses -- centred by U.S. national player of the year candidate and Canadian Kelly Olynyk
-- sounds great, but critics are more than willing to point out that the bulk of that success came against weaker West Coast Conference opponents like Pepperdine and Portland. Having said that, this team scores in bunches, led by Olynyk, power forward Elias Harris and guards Kevin Pangos (of Holland Landing, Ont.) and Gary Bell Jr.Louisville (No. 1, Midwest)
This team looked like an absolute machine at points this season, and figures to be the consensus pick to take it all. Senegalese centre Gorgui Dieng mans the middle with experienced guards Russ Smith (junior) and Peyton Siva (senior) outside. In what was the final year of the Big East conference as we know it (the Cards head to the ACC next year along with Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Notre Dame) Louisville came as close to dominating the tough conference as one team can.Indiana (No. 1, East)
It's been a long time since the Hoosiers were in this position going into the big tournament, and that's why they represent something of a sentimental favourite. Indiana has two of the top players in the country in Cody Zeller and Victor Oladipo. They also were the regular-season champs of what was hands-down the best conference in the NCAA this year, the Big Ten.Kansas (No. 1, South)
The perennial power Jayhawks are well coached (Bill Self) and possess one of the most NBA-ready players in college basketball (guard Ben McLemore). They are among the top 25 nationally in the major statistical categories (points per, rebounds per, assists and field goal percentage) and could make some real noise.Other teams to watchGeorgetown (No. 2, South)
I personally like the Hoyas because they defend well and have a star player who can do it all in forward Otto Porter Jr. They are in the toughest bracket, though, and will have to get by Florida and Kansas or Michigan to reach the Final Four in Atlanta.Florida (No. 3, South)
The Gators are getting a lot of love. Led by big man Erik Murphy, who can hit from outside, and guards Kenny Boynton and Mike Rosario, Florida is trending as a Final Four pick in some circles. Michigan (No. 4, South)
The Wolverines briefly spent time atop the national polls this season, and boast a big-name lineup: Tim Hardaway Jr. and Glenn Robinson III are the sons of former NBA All-Stars Tim Hardaway and Glenn Robinson. They join Mississauga, Ont.-born and raised sharpshooter Nik Stauskas and point guard Trey Burke in a very potent offence.Miami (No. 2, East)
Continuing the theme of sons of star athletes from the 1990s playing in this tournament, the Hurricanes are led by 5-foot-11 guard Shane Larkin -- son of former Cincinnati Reds shortstop Barry Larkin. Wisconsin (No. 5, West)
Some feel the Badgers were shortchanged with a No. 5 seed. They beat both Indiana and Michigan twice this season (both in the regular season and the Big Ten tournament), no small accomplishment in the best conference in the country. And coach Bo Ryan's tough defensive sets are the sort of thing that can get a team to the Final Four. Michigan State (No. 3, Midwest)
What else can you say about coach Tom Izzo's record in March?Duke (No. 2, Midwest)
As with Izzo, you can never count out Coach K (although it's tremendously fun when they lose). They are one of the sharpest-shooting teams in the country with Mason Plumlee, Seth Curry (Steph's brother and Dell's son), Ryan Kelly and Quinn Cook.Syracuse (No. 4, East)
I have a personal bias here, but I wasn't thrilled by what I saw from 'Cuse this season. That said, they played well in the Big East tourney (Louisville's explosive second half was more about how good they were than how bad Syracuse was) and coach Jim Boeheim's 2-3 zone defence can always cause problems for opponents.UNLV (No. 5, East)
A lot of people are down on the Rebels because they drew Cal in the Bears' backyard in San Jose. And while Brampton, Ont.'s Anthony Bennett hit a rough spot late in the season, he's still a double-double threat every game.Belmont (No. 11, West)
The analytics guys like ESPN's Peter Keating are saying Belmont is ripe for an upset over Arizona, and considering the Pac-12 seems to be getting no love from anyone, consider it as a potential 6-11 surprise.New Mexico State (No. 13, Midwest)
The reason I'm including this 13-seed is because the Aggies are basically Team Canada Southwest. Boasting four Canadians - with leading scorer Daniel Mullings, seven-foot-five, 350-pound behemoth Sim Bhullar, Tyrone Watson and Renaldo Dixon on the roster, there will be lots of support coming from north of the 49th. The Aggies are in tough however against a very good Saint Louis team that defends well and can score from each position.Final Four picks
I've tried to stop prognosticating on things, but it's March Madness and I have to fill out a bracket for betting's sake. So I'm going with Louisville, Wisconsin, Indiana and Georgetown in the Final Four, with the Cardinals beating the Hoosiers in the title game on April 8 in Atlanta.
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