THE BRACKET

March 19, 2012

SOUTH

PLAY-IN GAME

MISSISSIPPI VALLEY STATE

WESTERN KENTUCKY

1 KENTUCKY

16 MISS. VALLEY/W. KENTUCKY

8 IOWA STATE

9 CONNECTICUT

5 WICHITA STATE

12 VIRGINIA COMMONWEALTH

4 INDIANA

13 NEW MEXICO STATE

6 UNLV

11 COLORADO

3 BAYLOR

14 SOUTH DAKOTA STATE

7 NOTRE DAME

10 XAVIER

2 DUKE

15 LEHIGH

KENTUCKY

A No. 16 seed has never won a game; that doesn't happen against the top overall seed.

CONNECTICUT

Sophomore guards Jeremy Lamb and Shabazz Napier are too good to be one and done.

VIRGINIA COMMONWEALTH

VCU coach Shaka Smart knows shockers. So, Shockers, beware.

INDIANA

The deadeyes from the Big Ten outgun an Aggies team that can't hit the three (32.7%).

UNLV

The Mountain West—not the Pac-12—provides the power team in this matchup.

BAYLOR

Electric 6'4" guard Nate Wolters wins over the fans, but the Bears win the game.

XAVIER

Muskies PG Tu Holloway, fresh off an A-10 tourney loss, erupts against the Irish.

DUKE

The best team the Mountain Hawks played, by far, was Michigan State, a 90--81 loss.

KENTUCKY

UConn has underachieved despite talent and Final Four experience. That hasn't been an issue for John Calipari and the Wildcats.

INDIANA

VCU's Havoc defense gets picked apart by the Hoosiers, a team that has six players who shoot better than 40% from beyond the arc.

BAYLOR

The Rebels' 6'8" Mike Moser is a force, yes. But he can't bang with Baylor's Perry Jones III (6'11"), Quincy Miller (6'9") and Quincy Acy (6'7").

DUKE

The Musketeers' decent defense (63rd most efficient) gets shredded by a superefficient Blue Devils offense (ninth best in the country).

KENTUCKY

Calipari's latest crew of superfreshmen has been hoping for a rematch since Dec. 10, when a buzzer-beater by Christian Watford downed the Cats 73--72. This finish isn't as dramatic.

DUKE

The Blue Devils have the bodies—and the brothers (6'10" forwards Mason and Miles Plumlee)—to bang down low with the Bears' bigs. The best guard on the floor, Austin Rivers, gives Duke the edge.

KENTUCKY

Whether this matchup was engineered by the NCAA or by fate, 20 years after one of the best games in basketball history, Duke and Kentucky meet again. This time around? Led by freshman forward Anthony Davis, the more athletic Wildcats run the Blue Devils off the floor, eliminating any hope of another miracle shot.

WEST

PLAY-IN GAME

BYU

IONA

1 MICHIGAN STATE

16 LIU-BROOKLYN

8 MEMPHIS

9 SAINT LOUIS

5 NEW MEXICO

12 LONG BEACH STATE

4 LOUISVILLE

13 DAVIDSON

6 MURRAY STATE

11 COLORADO STATE

3 MARQUETTE

14 BYU/IONA

7 FLORIDA

10 VIRGINIA

2 MISSOURI

15 NORFOLK STATE

MICHIGAN STATE

LIU lost to UNC 102--87 last year as a 15th seed. It isn't that close here.

SAINT LOUIS

Coach Rick Majerus has an elite D (10th most efficient) and a long NCAA résumé.

LONG BEACH STATE

Playing the nation's toughest schedule pays dividends now.

LOUISVILLE

A Big East tournament run provides a special kind of fuel. The Cards keep rolling.

MURRAY STATE

They didn't go undefeated, but the 30--1 Racers can bury anyone from deep.

MARQUETTE

The streaking Golden Eagles went 13--3 in the Big East to finish the season.

FLORIDA

The Gators have two NBA first-rounders in Bradley Beal and Patric Young. UVA has none.

MISSOURI

Pegged by the NCAA as the weakest two seed, the Tigers take it out on the Spartans.

MICHIGAN STATE

Few coaches are more dependable in March than Tom Izzo, who makes sure the Billikens' Cinderella dreams end in Columbus.

LONG BEACH STATE

Casper Ware (17.4 ppg, 3.3 apg) didn't have name recognition before, but he does after the 49ers avenge their 79--66 November loss to the 'Ville.

MARQUETTE

One of 10 teams that rank in the top 25 in offensive and defensive efficiency, the Golden Eagles easily overwhelm the Ohio Valley champ.

MISSOURI

Mizzou's speedy, four-guard lineup gives Florida a bitter taste of what to expect next season when the Tigers join the SEC.

MICHIGAN STATE

Six players average at least 6.9 points for the Spartans, and all of them make their presence felt. The 49ers are deep, too, but they don't have enough talent to stop the Big Ten tournament champs.

MARQUETTE

The Tigers run into double trouble: Big East player of the year Jae Crowder (17.4 ppg) and All--Big East guard Darius Johnson-Odom (18.5 ppg)—savvy seniors who are also lockdown defenders.

MICHIGAN STATE

As fantastic—and entertaining—as Marquette coach Buzz Williams can be, Izzo reaches his seventh Final Four since 1999. The spark plug for Sparty in this showdown between blue-collar teams is do-everything senior forward Draymond Green (16.1 ppg, 10.4 rpg, 3.6 apg, 1.5 spg).

EAST

1 SYRACUSE

16 UNC-ASHEVILLE

8 KANSAS STATE

9 SOUTHERN MISS

5 VANDERBILT

12 HARVARD

4 WISCONSIN

13 MONTANA

6 CINCINNATI

11 TEXAS

3 FLORIDA STATE

14 ST. BONAVENTURE

7 GONZAGA

10 WEST VIRGINIA

2 OHIO STATE

15 LOYOLA (MD.)

SYRACUSE

In all seriousness: The Orange can beat the Bulldogs just playing its bench.

KANSAS STATE

The Wildcats take quick advantage of the Golden Eagles' weak D.

VANDERBILT

Commodores center Festus Ezeli gives Keith Wright all he can handle down low.

WISCONSIN

No points off turnovers for Montana: the Badgers average the second fewest.

TEXAS

The Longhorns' backcourt (J'Covan Brown and Myck Kabongo) is finally clicking.

FLORIDA STATE

What's the prize for being a bid thief? A first-round exit for the Bonnies.

GONZAGA

For the fourth year in a row, Bulldogs coach Mark Few makes the round of 32.

OHIO STATE

Little Loyola has the look of a bracket-buster, but OSU doesn't let this get close.

SYRACUSE

After a season full of off-court drama for Syracuse, the inconsistent Wildcats barely register as a distraction.

VANDERBILT

Emboldened by Vandy's first NCAA tournament win in five years, its three future NBA players (Ezeli, John Jenkins, Jeffery Taylor) make it two.

FLORIDA STATE

The Seminoles went 4--1 against ACC powers Duke and North Carolina. They don't stumble against the Big 12's sixth-place team.

OHIO STATE

Buckeyes ace point guard Aaron Craft shuts down counterpart Kevin Pangos, and Jared Sullinger outmuscles Elias Harris down low.

VANDERBILT

The inside-outside combo of Ezeli, who dominates Orange pivot Fab Melo, and Jenkins, perhaps the best pure shooter in the nation, is more than enough to bust Syracuse's vaunted 2--3 zone.

OHIO STATE

FSU guard Michael Snaer (14.4 ppg) scores enough to make it interesting, but the Buckeyes' skilled rotation has too many scorers and too many guys who can clamp down on D.

OHIO STATE

The country's most efficient defense (.843 points per possession) has to hustle against the streaking Commodores, but that's nothing new: The Buckeyes are also second in defensive rebounding rate (75.2%). Sullinger neutralizes Ezeli, while William Buford and Deshaun Thomas flourish on the wings.

MIDWEST

PLAY-IN GAME

LAMAR

VERMONT

PLAY-IN GAME

CALIFORNIA

SOUTH FLORIDA

1 NORTH CAROLINA

16 LAMAR/VERMONT

8 CREIGHTON

9 ALABAMA

5 TEMPLE

12 CAL/SOUTH FLORIDA

4 MICHIGAN

13 OHIO

6 SAN DIEGO STATE

11 N.C. STATE

3 GEORGETOWN

14 BELMONT

7 SAINT MARY'S

10 PURDUE

2 KANSAS

15 DETROIT

NORTH CAROLINA

No tirade from coach Pat Knight (Bob's son) gets his team past UNC.

CREIGHTON

Player of the year contender Doug McDermott delivers in his tournament debut.

TEMPLE

The Owls have gone 13--2 since Jan. 15; neither Cal nor USF closed as strong.

MICHIGAN

A new rivalry between these states ends before it even gets off the ground.

N.C. STATE

Wolfpack forward C.J. Leslie (14.6 ppg, 7.5 rpg) dominates the Aztecs' frontcourt.

GEORGETOWN

The Bruins can hang tough against more talented foes. But tough is not enough.

SAINT MARY'S

Matthew Dellavedova (15.6 ppg, 6.4 apg) is the best Gael since Omar Samhan.

KANSAS

Detroit's McCallums (coach Ray Sr. and star guard Ray Jr.) run into a blue buzz saw.

NORTH CAROLINA

Even if McDermott gets the best of his former Ames (Iowa) High teammate Harrison Barnes, the Tar Heels have too many other weapons.

MICHIGAN

The deep Wolverines (six regulars average more than 7.3 ppg) overpower Temple stars Ramone Moore (17.7 ppg) and Khalif Wyatt (17.1 ppg).

GEORGETOWN

The best three-point defense in the country (27.0%), combined with a balanced offense, thwarts N.C. State's bid for an upset.

KANSAS

Jayhawks guard Tyshawn Taylor has brighter pro prospects than Dellavedova. More important, he has All-America big man Thomas Robinson.

NORTH CAROLINA

Maybe one Wolverine (guard Tim Hardaway Jr.) would start for UNC, a team that boasts six potential first-rounders. That kind of disparity doesn't always make the difference—but it does here.

KANSAS

Still smarting from an Elite Eight loss to VCU last year, the Jayhawks rely on their stout two-point defense (second best in the country) to make sure the Hoyas don't knock them out.

NORTH CAROLINA

Robinson (17.9 ppg, 11.8 rpg) has feasted in his first and possibly last year as a college starter. (The junior is a projected top five pick this June.) But his NCAA run is spoiled by the Heels' own big bodies, John Henson (10.1 rpg, 2.9 bpg) and Tyler Zeller (9.3, 1.3), as high-octane UNC never lets KU settle into its preferred methodical pace.

MICHIGAN STATE

Two highly efficient offenses, two highly efficient D's, one big difference in talent: UK has six top prospects to MSU's one (Green). But Izzo and his video team develop a scheme to slow the dribble-drive and exploit the Wildcats' youth. And the experience of competing in the nation's toughest conference gives the Spartans the edge.

NORTH CAROLINA

There won't be a better guard matchup in this year's bracket than OSU's pesky Craft (2.4 spg) against distributor supreme Kendall Marshall (9.7 apg). Unfortunately for the Buckeyes, Carolina has NBA-ready athleticism to spare. The Tar Heels' unrelenting pace leaves Ohio State in the dust.

MICHIGAN STATE

THE SPARTANS CAN'T MATCH NORTH CAROLINA IN LOTTERY PICKS, BUT THEY CAN GO TOE-TO-TOE IN TOUGHNESS. COACH TOM IZZO EARNS HIS SECOND TITLE, 76--74

ILLUSTRATIONIllustration by JASON LEE

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
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HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)