With few true powerhouses in the field and more teams than usual holding their breath when the bubble burst Sunday, this year's NCAA men's basketball tournament should be wide open. That will make for hair-raising hoops on TV, but it will leave you pulling out your hair while filling out bracket. I will probably be right there with you, but here are my semi-reliable, hopefully winning picks for your bracket anyway. Please don't send me hate mail when I'm wrong.
The contenders — Lock, chalk, Jayhawks?
1. Kentucky: Of all the players in the tourney, fab frosh John Wall is the most likely to go all Carmelo on us and carry his team to a title.
2. Syracuse: Never, ever count out a team coached by Jim Boeheim, especially when it has this kind of talent to run its 2-3 zone defense. (Not 3-4 defense ... whoops. Too much football in my life.)
3. Kansas: With guard Sherron Collins and big man Cole Aldrich, the Jayhawks have the perfect rock-chalk solid inside-out combo for March Madness.
The pretenders — Don't let these guys fool you
1. Duke: Of all the No. 1 seeds, they've got the easiest road to the Final Four. They're prime for an early upset, though.
2. Villanova: The No. 2 seed in the weak South region behind Duke, the Wildcats stumbled into the tourney. They'll soon stumble out.
3. Pittsburgh: The rugged Panthers are always a tough team to play, but they never seem to put it all together with a deep run.
The sleepers — In the hunt if things get wacky
1. Baylor: Overshadowed by Kansas and K-State in the Big 12, Baylor is loaded with top talent and capable of sneaking into the Final Four.
2. Michigan State: The Spartans will probably have to go through the Terps and Jayhawks to get back to the Final Four, but don't overlook last year's national runner-up.
3. Butler: The balanced Bulldogs, winners of 20 straight games, have four double-digit scorers and a favorable road to the Elite Eight.
The Cinderellas — Busting up a bracket near you
1. Old Dominion: The Monarchs won both the CAA regular season and tournament titles. Sure, teams such as Towson are in the CAA, but don't discredit that feat.
2. Murray State: Six players on this 13-seeded squad score 9.5 points or more per game. If Vandy starts slow in the opening round, Murray State will take advantage.
3. Cornell: I know, the Big Red is in the Ivy League. But Cornell is strong inside, rebounds well and plays good defense, a Cindarella-ific combination.
Sidenote: I love West Virginia's team this year. De'Sean Butler is a beast. The Mountaineers and the Kentucky Wildcats are my favorite two teams in the tournament. Unfortunately, they're in the same region because WVU got robbed of a No. 1 seed. My gut is telling me to pick them to make the Final Four, but my head is telling me there is no way they beat Kentucky. Let's consider this a science experiment.
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