Breaking down the 2016 NCAA Tournament bracket:
California. Picking against Kansas because the Jayhawks often disappoint when expectations are highest. In fabulous freshmen Jaylen Brown (15 ppg, 5.5 rpg) and Ivan Rabb (12.5 ppg, 8.5 rpg), Cuonzo Martin’s Golden Bears have two potential one-and-done NBA lottery picks.
Oklahoma. Jump-shooting teams often let you down in NCAA Tournament play — but there haven’t been many jump shooters like Buddy Hield (25 ppg, 46.4 percent three-point shooting).
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North Carolina. Remember how Texas A&M hurt Kentucky on the backboards? Brice Johnson (16.6 ppg, 10.6 rpg) and the powerful Tar Heels front line boast a plus-8.1 rebounding margin (A&M is only plus-3.9). The Tar Heels are among the worst possible matchups for a UK team that has the guard play to win it all.
Michigan State. The Spartans enter the NCAAs having won 13 of 14 (with the loss by one point in overtime at Purdue). Versatile Denzel Valentine (19.4 ppg, 7.6 rpg) has played as well as any player in the country.
Michigan State over Oklahoma. Tom Izzo is long overdue in adding to the one NCAA title he won way back in 2000.
No. 11 Northern Iowa will deny the world a Texas-Texas A&M matchup in the round of 32 by upsetting the Longhorns in the West Region.
No. 13 Iona will ruin ex-Murray State coach Steve Prohm’s Iowa State NCAA Tournament debut by upsetting the No. 4 Cyclones in the Midwest.
No. 12 Arkansas-Little Rock will beat No. 5 Purdue, putting some oomph back in the 12-5 upset line after 12 seeds went 0-for-4 last year (No. 12s were 6-2 combined in 2013 and ’14).
No. 11 Wichita State will send program cornerstone guards Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker out with one final tournament run by beating Vanderbilt in the First Four, then upsetting No. 6 Arizona in the round of 64.
No. 4 Kentucky will win a tough round-of-64 matchup with No. 13 Stony Brook and its powerful 6-foot-8, 260-pound star Jameel Warney (19.8 ppg, 10.7 rpg), then withstand an intense renewal of its dormant border war with No. 5 Indiana before falling to top seed North Carolina and its potent front line in the round of 16.
1.) By averaging the rankings of the top four seeds in the Ken Pomeroy ratings, the East Region (8) is the toughest, followed by the South (10), the Midwest (13) and the West (13.8).
2.) Since 2002, every NCAA champion except Connecticut in 2014 has finished in the top 25 of both basketball statistics guru Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted offensive efficiency and adjusted defensive efficiency ratings. This year, there are eight such “dual qualifiers”: Kansas (8 adjusted offense, 5 adjusted defense), Virginia (9, 4), Michigan State (2, 19), North Carolina (4, 16), Villanova (11, 7), West Virginia (23, 6), Oklahoma (20, 11) and Purdue (21, 18).
Kentucky is number one in the country in adjusted offensive efficiency, but No. 70 in defensive efficiency.
3.) The inclusion in the field of 68 of Michigan (22-12), Syracuse (19-13) and Vanderbilt (19-13) and the exclusion of Monmouth (27-7), St. Mary’s (27-5) and St. Bonaventure (22-8) is yet another example of the selection committee misguidedly rewarding major-conference mediocrities over smaller-conference excellence. As Al Gore might put it, it’s wrong, it’s just wrong.