PREVIOUSLY APPEARING ON WTOP.COM…

 

Welcome to three of the best weekends of the sports calendar…as workplace productivity and healthy diets take major hits.  Copy machines are overused…and people who are very private about everything are more than happy to share every single pick they’ve made–and why.  There’s also the person who lets you know at 4:30 on the first day of the tournament that your early-afternoon picks went 2-2.  Who’s ready for March Madness?

Yes…there are those who will pick every single one of the games (including the semi-legitimate First Four that thankfully is no longer viewed by the NCAA idiots as the “First Round”).  Do you really want that from me?  How would I be any different than the guy or girl in the next cubicle sharing way too much?   Thus, we return to our “Bold, Fold and Gold” picks.  Bold meaning “which team has a really good chance to advance beyond its seed level?”.  Fold means “which school should you run away from…at all costs!”.  Gold denotes “who is going to get to the Final Four when the dust clears?”.

 

EAST-North Carolina enters as the favorite among favorites…although Kentucky is hitting its stride just like they did two years ago as a #8 seed.

BOLD- Wisconsin has been all over the map this season:  coach Bo Ryan retired in December and the Badgers staggered to a 9-9 start before winning 10 of 11-a stretch that included three wins against schools ranked in the top ten and a fourth against the eventual regular season champ Indiana.  Nigel Hayes leads a roster of players who were on last year’s Final Four team but didn’t play a lot during the run.  Greg Gard’s crew faces a Pitt squad that barely belongs in the bracket…with underwhelming Xavier lurking around the corner.  The Badgers have reached four Sweet Sixteens in the last five years…I wouldn’t sleep on them.

FOLD- Indiana is another Big Ten team that’s defied description…from coughing up 92 points at Duke to winning the conference.  The Hoosiers played fellow league contenders Maryland, Michigan State and Purdue just once (how does the Big Ten let THAT happen?  I mean the Hoosiers and Boilermakers just happen to be located in the same state!).  They face a testy Chattanooga team that counts among its alums Dennis Haskins (Mr. Belding from Saved by the Bell).  Gamewatching parties at the Max?

GOLD- North Carolina.  The Tar Heels have talent–that is obvious.  Brice Johnson inside and Marcus Paige outside provide one doozy of a double-play.  They also have a defensive fire masked in their pace of play…while leading the ACC in scoring UNC also has a D that can choke teams from time to time.  Witness last weekend when they held Notre Dame without a field goal for 11+ minutes of gametime… and held Virginia to a pair of free throws in a crucial 8-minute second half stretch.  Defense is often the difference in March… and the Tar Heels are headed to Houston.

 

SOUTH– Maryland gets a #5 seed but has to go to Spokane?  Good news for Terp fans is that on the off-day they can go to Idaho and Montana…crossing both off their “states visited list”.

BOLD- Miami enters the tournament having lost two of three…but coach Jim Larranaga’s team is built for March.  Backcourt depth (Ja’Quan Newton averages 11 points off the pine) is a nice X factor to have in your favor…and the potential softness on their side of the region could open up an easier avenue to Louisville.  Larranaga’s team also starts its tournament run in Providence…and the coach is a 1971 PC alum.  And on the 10th year anniversary of George Mason’s Final Four run–why not?

FOLD- Villanova- much like Arizona under Lute Olson in the early 90’s, I can’t be sold on these Wildcats under Jay Wright even if he’s already taken this program to the Final Four.  Forget that they led the Big East in assist-to-turnover ratio and field goal percentage defense…the first weekend derailed better Nova teams as of late.  Potential matchup headaches with Iowa’s size and Temple’s three-point shooting loom in the second round.

GOLD- Kansas has blown up more than a few brackets in recent memory thanks to earlier than expected losses to Bucknell, Bradley, Northern Iowa & Wichita State.  But this year’s Jayhawks enter the Big Dance on a major roll with 14 straight victories (8 against teams in the top 25).  They won the regular season and tournament in the toughest league in the nation.  And they have a high-flying forward named Perry Ellis…who encourages you to check out his new spring line of casual wear.

 

MIDWEST– Virginia’s a #1 while Michigan State is a #2?  I’m still getting my head wrapped around that one…

BOLD- Butler should they get past Texas Tech in the first round would give top-seed Virginia a stylistic challenge as the Bulldogs average over 80 points per game (22nd in the nation).  Even though they started 3-6 in the Big East and allowed Georgetown to force overtime on a 14-1 closing run, Kelan Martin and Kellen Dunham provide threats from three-point range that always come in handy during March.

FOLD- Seton Hall.  Momentum lasts until a matchup nightmare unveils itself.  Yes, the Pirates won the Big East Tournament and have taken 12 of their last 14 games.  They boast a fantastic guard in Isaiah Whitehead.  But they’re going up against a Gonzaga team with more than enough size…and their disadvantage inside will be further underscored in a potential second round game with Utah.

GOLD- Michigan State somehow did not receive a #1 seed despite winning the Big Ten Tournament.  Despite having just a three-game hiccup in January and taking nine straight.  Denzel Valentine does so many of the little things that helps teams win…and he also does quite a few of the big things too.  Tom Izzo’s team plays its best basketball in March year after year- and there’s no reason not to think they won’t get to Houston.

 

WEST–Holy Cross has to travel from Dayton to Spokane…get one day off and then face the top seed less than 48 hours after their First Four game?  Tommy Heinsohn wants to meet several committee members in an alley…

BOLD- VCU is back in the Big Dance even with Shaka Smart departing for Texas last spring.  First-year coach Will Wade has the Rams causing the usual disruption (they led the Atlantic 10 in steals as well as turnover margin)…and an experienced group (two seniors and two juniors in the starting five) faces an Oregon State program that is 26 years removed from their last tournament game.  We’re dreaming of a VCU-Texas Regional Semifinal…

FOLD- Oregon took the Pac-12 regular season and tournament championships…but they just have that feel of a team that isn’t for real.  Oh, they’ll blow out the Holy Cross-Southern winner.  They might even change Nike uniforms at halftime…or have each player wear a different color of Oregon highlighter shoe to keep things interesting.  That rout will give them the overconfidence that will come back to haunt the Ducks against scrappy squads Saint Joseph’s or Cincinnati in the second round.

GOLD- Duke.  Their rotation is razor-thin and the Blue Devils have benefitted from more than a few ridiculous victories this winter.  But they’ll have a full week off to rest and recharge…while not having to play on consecutive days from here on out.  Coach K is at the top of his game in preparing teams for the tournament…as long as they’re not facing Lehigh or Mercer.  Grayson Allen-despite his shenanigans-combines with Brandon Ingram to provide a devastating one-two punch.

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