Brackets out! Hmm, after a quick perusal, I'm sure that the Midwest bracket is stacked, the East is not so stacked, and the West and South regions are nice and balanced.
Point of fact: The Midwest has the overall No. 1 team in Louisville and in my view the strongest No. 2 (Duke) and No. 3 (Michigan State) and a very tough No. 4 (Saint Louis). Whew—there's no other region close to that kind of firepower, especially in tournament-tested coaching.
Further point: The East set-up makes it easier for me to slide No. 1 seed Indiana through because No. 2 Miami is the only other looming national-title contender in that region. I'm not a fan of No. 3 Marquette or No. 4 Syracuse.
OK, that's a long way of getting to my fast Final Four picks, made quickly, without a ton of deep thinking and based mostly on intuition and quick guesswork—frankly, I'm probably better off doing this as rapidly as possible.
* My Final Four: Indiana to win the East, Florida to win the South, Gonzaga to win the West, and Michigan State to win the Midwest.
I'll pick an NCAA champion in a blog-item/column later tonight... For now, some region-by-region flash analysis:
MIDWEST: Louisville's recent run through the Big East, and Rick Pitino's presence on the sidelines, should point to Louisville as a prime title-contender. But the Cardinals come up incredibly small in some statistical catetogies that are usually predictive of eventual NCAA champions.
Basically, Louisville rebounds (ranked 66th in the nation) and definitely shoots (ranked 100th) far too wobbly to count as a sure-fire Final Four team. Add in the gauntlet of top teams placed in their way and the Cardinals are the No. 1 seed I was most looking to eliminate... and did.
I think Michigan State vs. Duke in the Elite Eight will be the most important game of the region. I think it's close, because Duke can put a lot of pressure on Michigan State's off-and-on guards, but I'll go with the Spartans. You almost never go wrong picking Tom Izzo when he has the right pieces.
SOUTH: I've gone down the road with Kansas many times in the past—the Jayhawks always profile very well (17th in rebound-differential, 18th in FG% this season), and Bill Self always has a good system filled with NBA-level players.
But I've been burned by Kansas too many times and I just think Florida's two-way efficiency will get the Gators through past 2nd-seed Georgetown (which could suffer another early-round exit) and 4th-seed Michigan.
EAST: Very nice break for Cal to slip all the way to the 12 line and somehow land in the San Jose sub-regional where it could give a decent test to 5th-seed UNLV. I still think Vegas—with potential No. 1 overall pick Anthony Bennett—gets past Cal, though.
Otherwise, I don't see a team that can really push Indiana—maybe the most talented team in the nation with Oladipo, Zeller and others—until and unless it gets Miami in the regional final. And it's no sure bet that Miami, which has major rebounding issues, gets there.
WEST: I'm not ga-ga over Gonzaga, but this is clearly one of the great teams to ever come out of a non-power conference. The 'Zags can score with anybody, bring scorers from all over, can rebound, and probably can cover up enough of their defensive issues at least for the four games it takes to win a region.
Mostly, I'm picking Gonzaga because I think 2nd-seed Ohio State is going to run into a scoring drought at a bad time in the first two or three. I think New Mexico is good but not good enough to win two or three straight games against good competition. And I think 4th-seed Kansas State and 5th-seed Wisconsin aren't built for long runs.
There ya go, that's the quick look. More to come...