Good news for the Indiana Hoosiers: Neither LIU Brooklyn nor James Madison is coached by Bo Ryan.
Indiana earned its No.1 seed in the NCAA men's basketball tournament and doesn't have to deal with Wisconsin or any other Big Ten team before the Final Four unless Illinois stages some crazy run. (I'll be sporting an Afro again before that happens.)
For those who wondered if the Hoosiers would remain a No.1 seed after losing to the Badgers in the Big Ten Tournament, the selection committee said it was not an issue. They put IU in a No.1 slot Saturday, with only the "where" to be determined.
That was the right call. IU won the toughest conference in the country over 18 games. That's a body of good work. I know I've said this before, but the Big Ten tourney is an exhibition money-maker with all the trappings of a tourney but none of the soul. The NCAA showed the stock placed on that nonsense.
So, on to the real March Madness.
I like Indiana reaching the Final Four from the East region. The Hoosiers, who open against LIU Brooklyn (not to be confused with CSI New York) or James Madison on Friday in Dayton, Ohio, will find new life as Victor Oladipo soars against defenders unfamiliar with him and Cody Zeller gets mean, or as mean as Zeller can get. The Hoosiers' energy will be revived from getting away from Big Ten foes and especially Tom Crean's nemesis, Ryan.
I'm sticking with the Big Ten and Ohio State in the West region. The Buckeyes do just enough to squeeze out wins and Deshaun Thomas is due for a streak of hot shooting. Tom Izzo's genius and Michigan State's tenacity disrupt the Midwest region. If Michigan State squares off against Louisville and Rick Pitino, Pitino will over-coach and Michigan State will win. I'm going with Kansas in the South because that region's so weak Michigan could even find its mojo again.
That means I have two No.1 seeds (IU and Kansas), a No.2 (Ohio State) and a No.3 (Michigan State) in my Final Four. In terms of going out on a limb, those picks aren't going to cause the limb to lean, let alone crack.
A popular theme is we're entering The Year of the Upset. The inability of any team to emerge as a dominant No.1 during the season – hence, Gonzaga finishing No.1 but not being the tourney's top seed – will supposedly lead to all sorts of tourney chaos.
I'm not buying any more chaos than usual. There will be an upset or two. Give me No.12 Cal over No.5 UNLV in the East, if you consider that an upset or, rather, if you consider that game of interest at all. No.12 Oregon over No.5 Oklahoma State, too.
Ultimately, I still see mostly schools from the bigger conferences wading into the Elite Eight with their depth and quality of talent. The Big Ten ought to get two teams in the Final Four, minimum. Miami and Duke from the ACC are threats, as is Florida from the SEC. Yes, I know a Miami run would derail Indiana. It's possible. The Hoosiers could also find a rematch ahead with Butler.
I have no idea what to make of Gonzaga. They're a No.1 seed, and they went 31-2 against the only schedule they had. But there were no Indianas, Louisvilles or Miamis on that schedule. The Zags lost to Illinois and Butler.
So who wins the national title? At its best, Indiana is a dynamic team. The bad news is the Hoosiers' best was sometime in early February. But once you're in the Final Four, anything can happen, and I love the idea of Ohio State vs. Michigan State and Indiana vs. Kansas. Yeah, I'm old school that way. Give me Ohio State vs. Kansas in the final.
Since the Jayhawks discarded their tournament choker label last season, their time is here. They had a mid-season mini-slump, but they shook it off. They have four players in double figures scoring, they're a solid free-throw shooting team and they have experience to fall back on. Rarely is coach Bill Self in the “great coaches” discussion. All he does is win a ton of games year after year. He's due.
Keep in mind these are my initial hunches. I have until Thursday to rethink my bracket and put “Ole Miss vs. Young Michigan” in the title game. Maybe I should copyright that phrase, just in case.