John Clay

John Clay's predictions: Ricky P. in title run

John Clay
John Clay

Predictions for the NCAA Tournament:

Final Four

Louisville: On the heels of a terrific coaching job, Rick Pitino will reach his sixth Final Four, coaxing the overall No. 1 seed through short trips to Dayton and Indianapolis.

Memphis: The Tigers have the talent and John Calipari has the moxie, now Memphis has the added chip on its shoulder after being relegated to second-seed status despite 30 wins. The Tigers will cash that chip in for a trip to Detroit.

Pittsburgh: The Panthers are rugged enough to muscle a finesse-driven Duke team out of the way in the East Regional finals.

North Carolina: If the Tar Heels can get by the first weekend without Ty Lawson putting too much pressure on that injured toe, Roy Williams' team should hold off Blake Griffin and Oklahoma, if the Sooners can make it that far.

Champion

Louisville: Tyler Hansbrough has done everything but win an NCAA title. But where North Carolina kept U of L from a Final Four berth last year, the Cards will keep the Tar Heels from winning it all this season.

Upset specials

No. 12 Arizona over No. 5 Utah: The Wildcats were one of the last teams to get in, and they'll use the unexpected rush to run down the Utes.

No. 13 Mississippi State over No. 4 Washington: Rick Stansbury's Bulldogs are playing their best basketball of the year, and will expose the Huskies.

No. 10 Minnesota over No. 7 Texas: Tubby Smith takes the Golden Gophers to the Big Dance, where they will beat a Texas team that never quite got it together.

Cinderella

Arizona State's James Harden might be the best player in the country, and some smart Herb Sendek strategy could get the Sun Devils all the way to the South Regional finals.

Kentucky teams

Louisville: Give Ricky P. his props, the Cardinals won the Big East regular-season title, the Big East Tournament title, and claimed the No. 1 overall seed. Their dedication to defense will take them at least to the Final Four.

Morehead State: Coach Donnie Tyndall's gritty team will beat Alabama State in the play-in game, but fall to Louisville for the second time this season.

Western Kentucky: The Hilltoppers won't reach the Sweet 16 like last year's WKU team, but Ken McDonald's club could pull the rug out from under fifth-seeded Illinois in the first round.

Bracket breakdown

■ Not quite sold on Michigan State, and could easily see third-seeded Kansas slipping through to meet Louisville in the Midwest Regional finals.

■ Coach (John) Calipari vs. Coach (Jim) Calhoun could be quite the lip-fest if Coach Cal's Memphis Tigers and Coach Cal's Connecticut Huskies reach the West Regional finals, as they should.

■ Travis Ford and Oklahoma State could give Pittsburgh trouble in the East second round, thanks to Ford's style of play. And VCU Coach Anthony Grant could use another nice tournament run to catapult into a more high-profile job.

■ In the South, that first-round LSU-Butler matchup is a dandy, but the Selection Committee concurred with the popular wisdom that SEC basketball was dreadful this year, picking just three teams.

Don't forget the NIT

Not even the NIT gave UK much credit. As a No. 4 seed, the Cats will have their hands full with a UNLV team that beat Louisville in Freedom Hall earlier in the year. Even if UK wins that one, chances are Billy Gillispie's club will have to travel to Omaha to play top-seed Creighton. Wouldn't bank on a Big Apple trip.

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