John Clay's Final Four predictions

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistMarch 17, 2013 

  • NCAA TOURNAMENT

    Louisville vs. Wichita State/Kentucky winner

    When: TBA
    Where: Indianapolis
    Radio: WMKJ-FM 105.5 Lexington
    TV: TBA
    Records: Louisville 31-5 (15-3 AAC)

NCAA Tournament predictions:

FINAL HOUR

Although it was the No. 1 overall seed, Louisville got a tough road to Atlanta. Saint Louis will be a difficult Sweet 16 opponent, and the guess here is that there will be a rematch with Duke in the regional final. The Cards didn't have Gorgui Dieng when they lost to the Blue Devils in the Bahamas on Nov. 24. They have him now and that — plus a partisan crowd in Indianapolis — means U of L will make it through the Midwest to Atlanta.

Michigan is not playing its best basketball right now, but the season starts anew with the NCAA Tournament. The post-season is often predicated on great guard play, and Trey Burke is among the nation's best guards. Plus, John Beilein's team should benefit from a rugged Big Ten schedule. I Pick Michigan to pull the upset(s) here and win the South Region.

True, a young team won it all last year, but the guess here is that this year veteran play will make a difference. Miami might not have any tournament experience, but the regular-season and tournament ACC champs are a veteran, talented team. Plus, their coach has the NCAA experience. Jim Larranaga took George Mason to the Final Four in 2006. He'll win the East with the Hurricanes.

On Feb. 17, when Ohio State lost 71-49 at Wisconsin, I wouldn't have given you a bucket of Buckeyes for the team's post-season chances. Ohio State hasn't lost since. Aaron Craft has discovered a shooting stroke. Deshaun Thomas is a stud. And Ohio State knows how to get there, having made the Final Four last year. On a roll, the Buckeyes will win the West.

NATIONAL CHAMPION

In 2009, Alabama won the BCS national football championship. In 2010, the Tide's archrival, Auburn, won the BCS national football championship. We are about to witness the same 1-2 in college basketball. Kentucky won the NCAA Tournament in 2012. Its archrival, Louisville, will win the 2013 NCAA Tournament. The Cards have the depth, the coaching and (most importantly) the defense to win it all. For the second time in his brilliant career, Rick Pitino will cut down the nets on the final night of the season.

UPSET SPECIALS

No. 11 Minnesota will beat No. 6 UCLA and then No. 3 Florida — Tubby Smith over Billy Donovan — to reach the Sweet 16 in the South Region. The Gophers struggled at the end of the regular season, but this is a new season.

No. 12 Oregon, which got absolutely jobbed in the seeds but rewarded in geography, will beat No. 5 Oklahoma State in the Midwest.

No. 11 Bucknell will surprise an overrated No. 6 Butler in the East.

CINDERELLS

Not sure if you can call the Mountain West Conference champion a Cinderella, but New Mexico is the best team out there the nation knows very little about. Some computers ranked the MWC ahead of the Big 10, and the Lobos won the regular season and the conference tournament. If they can beat a hot No. 2 seed in Ohio State, Steve Alford's team can make the Final Four.

KENTUCKY SCHOOLS

Louisville: It is slim pickings for the state this year, what with defending national champ Kentucky relegated to the NIT. And no way UK diehards are going to root for the Cards, even if they should. This is, after all, a basketball state. And Louisville is my pick to win it all.

Western Kentucky: Ray Harper is 8-0 in the Sun Belt Tournament, but alas, he will drop to 1-2 in the NCAA Tournament after the Hilltoppers lose to No. 1 seed Kansas in Kansas City. Getting there will be Western's only reward.

BRACKET BREAKDOWN

Indiana seems to have put all its marbles into winning the Big 10 outright and letting everyone know it won the Big 10 outright. The Hoosiers might make it to the East Region final, but I think they'll have trouble with Miami's quickness and athleticism.

Expect to see a lot of Butler blue in Lexington as the Bulldogs play in Rupp on Thursday. Can't fight the feeling that Brad Stevens' team is overrated, but it has enough tournament experience to be a tough out. A Butler-Marquette second-round game would be interesting.

Analysts are making a big deal out of a possible North Carolina-Kansas game, with Roy Williams facing his old school. But that already happened in the 2008 Final Four, when Kansas rolled 84-66.

John Clay: (859) 231-3226. Email: jclay@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @johnclayiv. Blog: Johnclay.bloginky.com.

Lexington Herald-Leader is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service