One thing is sure about this year's NCAA tournament. Come Thursday, work productivity will be on a rapid decline in offices throughout the country.
The third-seeded Michigan State Spartans will open up the games Thursday when they take on the 14th-seeded Valparaiso Crusaders out of the Horizon League, which will be a relative home game for Tom Izzo's club.
With that, Thursday's madness will begin in the 2013 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament.
There are about 13 teams who can cut down the nets in Atlanta. There is parity across the board. You're better off taking the seeding and throwing it out the window. The selection committee did.
Here is all you need to know before you fill out your bracket.
* Disclaimer: I refuse to call the first and second rounds, the second and third rounds. Can we officially recognize the Tuesday play-in games as what they are, play-in games.
Breakdown: Kansas heads this stacked region, in what is looking like one of the tougher brackets for the one seed to advance through.
The Jayhawks are clicking at the right time with Freshman phenom Ben McLemore. Atlanta is a real possibility for Rock Chalk nation. If senior's Elijah Johnson, Travis Releford and Jeff Withey are playing their games, this team can take on anyone. Though it won't be easy for Bill Self's club, as the South boasts Georgetown, Florida, Michigan and perennial tournament giant killers VCU and the coach genius Shaka Smart.
A potential second-round matchup with North Carolina awaits Kansas, assuming the Tar Heels get past Jay Wright's upstart Villanova team. Roy Williams has Carolina playing some solid ball since going to a smaller lineup mid-season.
Game to Watch: (5) VCU vs. (12) Akron. While VCU has earned the respect come tourney time, the Zips will be no easy match-up for the Rams. Shaka Smart knows how to coach in the tournament, though it will take the Rams best effort to get past the pride of the MAC. I expect VCU to pull out the victory. If a second-round date between Kansas and UNC comes to fruition, that will be a must watch.
Player to Watch: This was a tough pick between UCLA freshman Shabazz Muhammad and Michigan guard Trey Burke, but the nod goes to Burke. This kid is a baller. He can pass, shoot and break you down off the dribble. This kid is explosive and seems to thrive in the spotlight. I expect big things this March from the Wolverines and it starts with Burke at the point.
Upset Alert: (2) Georgetown vs. (7) San Diego State. I'm looking to the second-round here for the upset. I expect both the Hoyas and Aztecs to win their respective first-round match-ups setting up this upset alert special - though Georgetown better not look past the 15-seeded Florida Gulf Coast, who knocked off Miami early in the season.
San Diego State is tournament tested and has some big time players in guards Jamaal Franklin and Chase Tapley. This is a team that has knocked off UCLA, Colorado State, New Mexico and lost to Arizona by 1 point this season. I like the Aztecs to make a Sweet 16 run.
Final Four Pick: Michigan. There are no easy games in this bracket. There are seven teams that can legitimately make it out of the South, making it tough to claim your spot in Atlanta out of the South. Michigan, with Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Freshman guard Nik Stauskas have the make-up to make a deep run. Whether they will is yet to be seen.
Breakdown: Some call the Midwest the best region. And the best starts with the tournament's number one overall seed, the Louisville Cardinals. Rick Pitino's squad is vying for a return trip to the Final Four, though unlike last year's run, this time it's expected out of Peyton Siva, Russ Smith and Co.
Down on the either end of the bracket is Duke. The Blue Devils may feel they have something to prove after last year's upset at the hands of Lehigh. Between Louisville and Duke are several teams capable of making runs and knocking off the favorites. Tom Izzo's Spartans club is the third-seed in the region, along with Saint Louis, Oklahoma State and Memphis.
Game to Watch: (8) Colorado State vs. (9) Missouri. The eighth-seeded Rams senior-laden bunch is an overall solid team out of the Mountain West Conference. Missouri has some big time players in point guard Phil Pressey and center Alex Oriakhi, who has championship experience with the 2011 Kemba Walker-led Connecticut Huskies. Like Duke, Mizzou has something to prove this time around after losing last year in a 15-2 upset.
Whoever makes it out of this game will give Louisville all it can handle in the next round.
Player to Watch: It's too bad Creighton won't be around long enough to garner Doug McDermott the attention he deserves. This skilled big man has been doing it for years, but the player to watch in this region is Duke guard Seth Curry. Hate them or love them, Duke has a baller in Curry. Fundamentally, he can't be touched. He can knock down the three coming off the screen, take you off the dribble, pull up, drive, you name it. And he has a knack for doing it in the big spot. Does Seth Curry have a Steph Curry March run in him?
Upset Alert: (3) Michigan State vs. (14) Valparaiso. I searched long and wide for an upset in this bracket. And I refuse to call Oregon, a 12 seed, a potential upset over fifth-seeded Oklahoma State. What kind of an explanation was that why Oregon is a 12 seed. For travel logistics purposes? What is the point of seeding then? Oregon is clearly not a 12 seed and it's unfair to Oklahoma State to have to play them in round one. (though guard Marcus Smart should be able to lift the Cowboys over the Ducks, regardless)
Back to the upset alert. Who coaches Valparaiso? Bryce Drew. Who gave us one of the best buzzer-beating upset-clinching moments in NCAA tournament history? Bryce Drew. I'm sold.
* Drew's shot lifted 13th-seeded Valparaiso over 4th-seeded Ole Miss in the first round of the 1998 tournament.
Final Four Pick: Duke. Yes. Duke. The Blue Devils have playmakers at every position. Only the Maryland Terrapins have beaten them with Ryan Kelly in the lineup. A potential Louisville-Duke match-up in the Elite Eight should be explosive. Coach K will get the job done.
You knew I was getting a Maryland reference somewhere in this column, right? On to the East.
Breakdown: The East region in scary. Indiana leads a bracket of big-time teams including Miami, Syracuse and the always-tournament-ready Butler Bulldogs. Don't be surprised if we see Brad Stevens take his team on another deep run. A talented North Carolina State roster awaits the Hoosiers in round two and a potential date with Syracuse in the Sweet 16 if they get past the Wolfpack. At the bottom of the bracket is Miami and its superstar guard Shane Larkin. Forget baseball, this kid is a star and fun to watch.
Game to Watch: (8) NC State vs. (9) Temple. The Wolfpack have as talented a roster as any team in the tournament field. C.J. Leslie is a future NBA'er, Lorenzo Brown can handle the rock and Scott Wood can drain the three. Temple is no slouch of its own. Senior guard Khalif Wyatt can score in bunches, averaging almost 20 ppg for the year, and fellow senior Scootie Randall can shoot the long ball. This game will be a battle.
Player to Watch: Shane Larkin, Miami. The boy wonder. This kid is fun. He can drain the three, drive to the bucket or dish the rock. Just ask the teams in the ACC how good he is. But it's not just Larkin for Miami, senior Durand Scott is a scorer, and big men Kenny Kadji, Julian Gamble and Reggie Johnson are beasts down low. But Larkin is the one who makes them go. Watch out, this sophomore, son-of-a-hall-of-famer can explode this tournament.
Upset Alert: (5) UNLV vs. (12) California. The committee essentially gave Cal a home game, making it that much easier for the Golden Bears to pull off the upset.
Final Four Pick: Syracuse. `Cuse sophomore point guard Michael Carter-Williams is a match-up nightmare. The 6-foot-6 MCW is a problem to contain. The Orange have size, speed and length. If they put all of it together, they can make a special run. Senior guard Brandon Triche is the calming presence of the team, senior forward James Southerland can stroke it from anywhere on the court, and Rakeem Christmas and Senegal native Baye Keita give them size inside. Add the length of C.J Fair to the mix, and it's the makings of a championship team. Anyone see a little Hakim Warrack in C.J. Fair? He can be the difference maker when it's all said and done.
Breakdown: The bracket appears to set up favorably for the favorites in this region. Top-seeded Gonzaga should be able to make it to Los Angeles for the Sweet 16 with relative ease, while Ohio State is looking to make a repeat appearance to the Final Four. But don't punch their tickets yet, there are potential upsets in this region.
Game to Watch: (7) Notre Dame vs. (10) Iowa State. Both these teams can light up the scoreboard. Iowa State has five guys who can knock down the three, led by Michigan State transfer Korie Lucious - remember him? The Cyclones have Will Clyburn, Tyrus McGee, Chris Babb, Georges Niang and Melvin Ejim, all of whom can score. On the other side of this match-up is Notre Dame who plays a solid brand of basketball. Sophomore Pat Connaughton has shown he can take over a game with his shooting. The question is, which Jack Cooley will show up?
I totally see the "One Shining Moment" montage at the end of the tournament including a clip of Cooley crying on the bench.
Player to Watch: Marshall Henderson, Ole Miss. Henderson is a maniac. That alone makes him the player to watch out West. Not to mention, when he's on, he can shoot from the locker room. He takes almost 11 three point attempts a game, and at least two attempts at opposing fans. Henderson is perfect for March Madness. I'll be watching.
Upset Alert: (5) Wisconsin vs. (12) Ole Miss. See above.
Final Four Pick: Ohio State. Arizona can make a run if they're on, but I can't rely on the Wildcats. The pick here is the Buckeyes. They've been there before and have lock-down guard Aaron Craft, who can shut down anyone. Junior Deshaun Thomas will almost always be the best player on the court and the supporting cast of Lenzelle Smith Jr. and LaQuinton Ross can step up when needed. The Buckeyes are deep, so will be their run this March.
There you have it, your guide to help you through your bracket selections. Happy Madness!
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