A few weeks ago, this would’ve been Michigan’s bracket to lose. Before Isaiah Livers’ foot injury, before the Wolverines struggled down the stretch. It is wide open now, with SEC Tournament champion Alabama, the second seed, and Big 12 Tournament winner Texas, at No. 3, both capable of reaching the final weekend. So is No. 4 Florida State and BYU, under-seeded as a six. Seventh-seeded UConn and Brooklyn’s James Bouknight can do damage. LSU, too talented to be an eighth seed, can make noise as well. The survivor won’t be a surprise.
Final Four pick: Florida State
Florida State may have been the best team in the country last year, had there been an NCAA Tournament. It will get to the Final Four this year. Coach Leonard Hamilton will use recent losses to Notre Dame and Georgia Tech as a kick in the butt for his team, which takes advantage of Livers’ absence in the Sweet 16 against Michigan and, behind fantastic freshman Scottie Barnes, edges Alabama in a classic Elite Eight game.
Player to Watch: Cameron Thomas, LSU
The fourth-ranked scorer in the country at 22.8 points per game, Thomas is one of the premier NBA prospects in the tournament. At 6-foot-4, he’s a big guard who lives at the free-throw line and makes LSU a dangerous eight-seed.
Unsung Player: McKinley Wright IV, Colorado
Put the 6-foot guard on one of the big-name teams in the Pac-12, or any of the other power conferences, and he’s a household name. The senior is smart, skilled and poised. He will score or set up his teammates, depending on what the situation calls for. Don’t forget this name when the draft comes along.
Best first-round matchup: No. 7 UConn vs. No. 10 Maryland
An East Coast battle between two programs looking to regain their place among college basketball’s elite. Connecticut’s James Bouknight against Maryland’s Eric Ayala is worth your time, two mega-talented guards who are each capable of wrecking a game in a matter of minutes.
First-round upset watch: No. 12 Georgetown over No. 5 Colorado
It would be understandable if the Hoyas were just happy to be here, satisfied to be dancing after their stunning run to the Big East Tournament. But coach Patrick Ewing is unlikely to be satisfied, and as a result neither will his players. Georgetown will control the paint and has the length and athleticism to control the Buffaloes’ potent perimeter game.
BracketBuster: No. 6 BYU
Twice, BYU pushed Gonzaga, the best team in the country. It beat tournament teams San Diego State and Utah State. It rebounds the ball well, is experienced and is a strong 3-point shooting team — three important qualities for any team hoping to go on a March run. Third-seeded Texas’ aggressiveness is used against it in a heartbreaking loss that leads to more Shaka Smart questions in Austin.