SoE Bracket Breakdowns: EAST | MIDWEST | SOUTH

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Somebody has to conduct the meekest regional, so this time the honor of national derision and sneering goes to the West, with its No. 1 seed (Gonzaga) a target of big-conference snobs and its underlings sort of questionable (New Mexico, Kansas State, Arizona, Notre Dame, Pitt). Yet when it all finishes at Staples Center in Los Angeles, they're still going to give a Final Four berth to whoever emerges from this clutter, and they're still going to fly that team to Atlanta.


13 Boise State (21-10) vs. 13 LaSalle (21-9)
Wednesday, Dayton

Whenever these two get together, you can take the statistics and throw them through the window and onto the front lawn, where they will pile up in an indecipherable muddle. So to kick off predictions for this hodgepodge of a tournament, I try my new method: I choose the team I believe will win, then predict the other team.

Prediction: Boise State


1 Gonzaga (31-2) vs. 16 Southern (23-9)
Thursday, Salt Lake City

While there's time, let's use this paragraph to fete Mr. Roman Banks. This should be the time to mention that Mr. Banks has done one of the remarkable jobs in the vast country. This, before Gonzaga gets through with Southern, is where it should say that when Banks took over Southern in 2011, Southern had gone 4-26 the previous year to occupy the cellar of the SWAC, and had averaged 580 fans per game which, given the way people pad attendances, means the number really must have been around 575. Previous people in Jaguars uniforms pulled off one of the all-timers in NCAA tournament history, a 93-78 upset shredding of Georgia Tech. That was 20 years ago, and remains Southern's lone NCAA tournament win.

Prediction: Gonzaga

8 Pittsburgh (24-8) vs. 9 Wichita State (26-8)
Thursday, Salt Lake City

You really must like the Panthers. Coached beautifully, they share the ball (16.5 assists per game, seventh in the country). They have the commendable Tray Woodall, who averages five assists to go with 11 points. They have the nation's sixth-best scoring defense, which isn't all that surprising. They finished a solid fourth, all alone, in the unforgiving Big East, toughness that should be enough to overcome the Shockers' fine rebounding. Pitt's tournament pedigree does give some pause, but the past should be the past.

Prediction: Wichita State

5 Wisconsin (23-11) vs. 12 Mississippi (25-8)
Friday, Kansas City

The Badgers have to be reeling at their seeding, wishing it would have been 11 slots lower and in the East opposite No. 1 Indiana, which they have beaten 12 straight times including this past Saturday. With Wisconsin a hip pick to provide trouble to Gonzaga, there's a temptation to go contrarian here and go ahead and select Mississippi, which will face that thick Wisconsin defense with the nation's sixth-most prolific offense (78 points per). Further, Mississippi just up and won the Southeastern Conference tournament where, because of an anemic year for the conference, they decided to give a shrunken trophy. (Just kidding.) But with Wisconsin a mainstay (six Sweet 16s this century), contrarianism deflates . . .

Prediction: Wisconsin

4 Kansas State (27-7) vs. 13 Boise State
Friday, Kansas City

With its damned-good first-year coach (Bruce Weber), its fine backcourt (Rodney McGruder, Angel Rodriguez), its 14-4 Big 12 season (tied for first) and its run to the conference tournament title game, Kansas State just got through playing an entire weekend in Kansas City. The team will be close enough to home that they can go to Manhattan just to do laundry before returning.

Prediction: Kansas State

6 Arizona (25-7) vs. 11 Belmont (26-6)
Thursday, Salt Lake City

You know when you do your bracket and you seek to save yourself from total-chalk tedium and amuse yourself? You know when you find a matchup that sort of glows off the board as an upset? You know when you take, say, a team that started off 14-0 and then 20-2 but finished 5-5 (albeit losing thrice to UCLA) in an undistinguished conference, and then you take a team that just has an upset sort of name and a fine recent legacy, and you think, Yeah, that's the one! And then you see those magical, mysterious words we never see anymore: "senior guards" (Ian Clark, Kerron Johnson). And you remember how Rick Byrd's Belmont lost 71-70 to Duke in 2008 on Gerald Henderson's driving basket with 11.9 seconds left? So then you're really excited? But then you start to think it's too obvious? But then you decide that it's too obvious that it's too obvious?

Prediction: Belmont

3 New Mexico (29-5) vs. 14 Harvard (19-9)
Thursday, Salt Lake City

Steve Alford's New Mexico claimed its conference tournament to go with its conference regular season to stoke high expectations with an AP ranking of 15 and an RPI of, well, 1. Even the 55-34 eyesore against San Diego State in January got amends in two subsequent wins over the South's No. 7 seed. Tommy Amaker's Harvard plays in the Ivy League, a crazy place where people believe teams prove more across four months than they do in a fleeting 72-hour period in March, and thus do not hold a conference tournament.

Prediction: New Mexico

7 Notre Dame (25-9) vs. 10 Iowa State (22-11)
Friday, Dayton

What fun, the Cyclones, with their 878 three-point shots, their 9.9 made threes per game, their 37-percent three-point shooting. To determine a winner here against a good team that made Louisville so mad with that five-overtime win that Louisville hasn't lost since, it's almost as if we're going to have to wait to see how many of the shots go in.

Prediction: Notre Dame

2 Ohio State (25-7) vs. 15 Iona (20-13)
Friday, Dayton

Seldom does a No. 2-vs.-No. 15 game boast such pre-game vividness; in fact, seldom does a No. 2-vs.-No. 15 game boast any pre-game vividness at all. Iona returns to the site of the astounding first-round game last year when the frenetic Gaels scored 55 points in the first 15 1/2 minutes, then zero across the next 4 1/2, then 17 in the entire second half and zero in a nine-minute span. Thereby did they achieve a startling double: squandering a 25-point lead to Brigham Young for the biggest comeback in tournament history and, after squandering a 25-point lead, losing by six! "It's going to be one of that we have to live with for the rest of our lives," said their excellent coach, Tim Cluess. They did score 2,663 points this year, which must have been fun, but they did not play in the Big Ten and will not until the Big Ten ultimately expands to 50 teams.

Prediction: Ohio State


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1 Gonzaga vs. 9 Wichita State
Saturday, Salt Lake City

So it's a blase regional. So there's usually one. So in the official blase region of 2013 that will serve dutifully as a referendum on Gonzaga's No. 1 seed, Gonzaga will get a second-round win that will tell us . . . nothing just yet. That's sort of blase.

Prediction: Gonzaga

5 Wisconsin vs. 4 Kansas State
Sunday, Kansas City

Everybody loves Wisconsin. Everybody on TV panels loves Wisconsin. And the way it smothered Indiana at the second-half crux of the Big Ten semifinal certainly piled on the evidence. Wisconsin is a tournament mainstay that has reached six Sweet 16s in this young century. Nobody wants to play Wisconsin. Boy, is Wisconsin sort of hot right now. At some point, though, the NCAA tournament does tend to ask you to score. How prudish of it.

Prediction: Kansas State (by about 37-36)

11 Belmont vs. 3 New Mexico
Saturday, Salt Lake City

As a lofty No. 3 seed in 2010, New Mexico took a decisive loss to No. 6 Washington in the second round. As a No. 5 seed in 2012, New Mexico took a hard-fought loss to No. 4 Louisville in the second round. These results have combined with the Lobos' inability to surpass the first weekend since 1974 to ensure that, voila, New Mexico has an image as a soft tournament team. But this is not a year to go around pegging people, especially people on a team with 7-footer Alex Kirk and Mountain West Player of the Year Kendall Williams.

Prediction: New Mexico

2 Ohio State vs. 7 Notre Dame
Sunday, Dayton

Speaking of teams people distrust in March, here's Notre Dame, bringing its gutty bunch and its gaudy assists-to-turnovers ratio and its fine basketball combo of Jerian Grant and Jack Cooley into a hostile arena against a Big Ten tournament champion that just won at Indiana to boot.

Prediction: Ohio State


1 Gonzaga vs. 4 Kansas State

This would be a rematch of December 15, when Gonzaga won 68-52, and Gonzaga won 38-12 in the paint, and Kelly Olynyk from Kamloops dunked four times among his 20 points, and Olynyk's monster slam with nine minutes left yielded him a technical foul for screaming.

Prediction: Gonzaga

2 Ohio State vs. 3 New Mexico

It's not that New Mexico is soft; it's that Ohio State is hard.

Prediction: Ohio State


1 Gonzaga vs. 2 Ohio State

So after the most wildly unpredictable season since whenever, in the soupiest regional in the bunch with the most-questioned No. 1 seed, the seeds hold. The Final Four bid grinds down to the final minutes. One of the teams, having played in the best conference, can grind more.

Prediction: Ohio State

Around the West Bracket

Best Player You've Never Heard Of: Well, junkies have heard of him, but chances are you aren't (a junkie), so here's Lamont "MoMo" Jones, the 6-foot guard who after two years at Arizona then two at Iona is averaging a neat 23 points per game for Iona this season.

Sartorial excellence: After decades of what the late Rick Majerus once bemoaned as "a haberdashery contest" among coaches, it seems we'll finally catch a break and see some coaches in the attire their maker intended. Ever since Iona's staff wore sweatsuits on March 1 to raise money for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, and Iona won, the coaches have maintained this understated elegance to sustain the winning luck. May it continue on the Dayton fashion runway.

Something to see: Ever since Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan rummaged around his mind and came up with the name "Hal Greer" for a way to help 6-foot-6 swingman Ryan Evans with free-throw woes, Evans has treated the 21st century to a rare sight: jump-shot free throws. Yeah! Evans, who had sunk from a career level of 71 percent to a horrendous level of 40.5 percent, has made 11 of 19 since February 26, when he debuted the standing jumper. Viva variety.

Something to see and hear: Here's the regional that, for a time anyway, will have Marshall Henderson, the Mississippi junior who averages 20 a game, who mockingly performed the Gator chomp toward Florida fans during the SEC final and who said of the coaches who didn't select him all-SEC and didn't pick Mississippi to win the tournament, "Maybe they'll be smarter next year." For such obnoxiousness, I'd just like to say: Thanks for the spice.

Big Bol: A backup senior center for Southern University who has averaged nine minutes and 1.8 points per game generally wouldn't get much of a look from the curious. But the 6-foot-9, 200-pound backup center in question here is Madut Bol, the eldest son and one of the 10 children of the late Manute Bol.

Nickname change request: Back when people were tougher than we are, Wichita State students went out and harvested wheat to help them get by, thus the informal name "Wheatshockers," even as the formal nickname is, of course, "Shockers," but if the school managed to adopt "Wheatshockers," that would not be the un-coolest thing ever.