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The madness has officially begun! Just watch the NCAA Tournament promo and tell me you are not unbelievably fired up for one of the greatest times of the year to be a sports fan. I am going to breakdown the bracket from all angles, give you some sweet sleepers and games you can’t miss in the first round, all to help you finally win that bracket contest over the guy or college obsessed with college hoops you have been trying so gallantly to defeat for years :).

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HERE…….WE…..GO!!!!

Check out Dan’s Bracket [here].

Take the Bracket Challenge [here].

Sleepers

Stephen F Austin – Aside from the fact that their mascot is a Lumberjack, which is inherently awesome, this team comes in completely on fire, much like last year, having won nine in a row and an insane 29 of its last 30 en route to the Southland Conference championship.

The Jacks are one of the best teams in the country in points scored (No. 9) at almost 80 per game, a key for a lower seed to make a run. Junior guard Thomas Walkup is a bear to contain and is a great leader for Brad Underwood’s squad. The Jacks took down Shaka Smart’s VCU Rams as a 12 seed last year and get No. 5 seed Utah as a 12 again this year — the Utes are definitely beatable if you can score – and would then face a Georgetown team trending downward in the round of 32.

Northern Iowa – Yes, Ben Jacobson’s squad is a No. 5 seed so this isn’t George Mason type Cinderella, but bottom line is the Panthers can ball! Led by MVC Player of the Year Seth Tuttle, who can simply do it all, UNI can rock you from all angles. By the way that MVC Player of the Year award is named after Larry Bird, so you know it isn’t to be taken lightly.

The Panthers get a tricky Wyoming team in the first round, but should win going away only to encounter a likely date with Louisville, who is a great matchup for the Panthers defensive length and aggressive offensive style. The MVC tourney champs don’t score a ton but are one of the best defensive teams in the country (No. 4), allowing only 54-points per game, which will give the Pokes and Cards fits in the first two rounds.

Buffalo – Cause “No one circles the wagons like the Buffalo Bulls,” right? This is truly a dangerous team out of the improving MAC conference, which has had its share of teams send shockwaves thru the tournament throughout the years. Buffalo is brilliantly coached by Bobby Hurley — yes that Hurley — who in his second year had the Bulls with a top 30 RPI in a conference that doesn’t normally receive such an illustrious ranking. The G/F combo of Shannon Evans and Detroit’s own Justin Moss is going to be a nightmare for West Virginia in the first game and would give either Maryland or Valpo fits in a potential second round match-up.

Valparaiso -Speaking of the Crusaders, this is one of the best inside-out teams in the entire field. Once you see Jamaican 7-footer Vashil Fernanndez you will be afraid; very afraid. First Team All Horizon League forward Alec Peters is a great shooter and presence in the post with an uncanny ability to score at the most opportune moments for Bryce Drew’s squad. Drew had his team playing at a high level all season long and seems to be continuing the phenomenal Drew family coaching legacy with his expert in-game management.

Both Buffalo and Valpo are in the same sub-regional so only one could possibly go on a magical run, but I would bet good money that one of the two is still dancing come Sweet Sixteen time

Toughest Opening Round Game For A 1-3 Seed

East Region – No. 3 Oklahoma vs. No. 14 Albany – The Sooners played some very high level basketball towards the end of the year including a win over Kansas and taking eventual Big 12 Tourney champ Iowa State to the brink in two of its last three. The problem is the loss to the Cyclones in the semifinal, despite leading by 11, could put Oklahoma in a funk as it faces a Great Danes team that has tourney experience.

Albany won a First Four match-up a season ago before giving No. 1 seed Florida all it could handle for most of its second round game. The Great Danes have a beast in senior forward Sam Rowley who almost averaged a double-double this season not to mention Australian native and junior guard Peter Hooley setting a great tempo for the Albany offense. Look for this game to be tight throughout and while it is definitely a long shot, it would not be crazy at all for the Great Danes to pull off the monster upset.

Best Opening Round Game

West Region – No. 7 VCU vs No. 10 Ohio State – This is going to be an absolute war between the Atlantic 10 Tourney champs and the Buckeyes, who might have struggled at times late in the season but are a team that can turn it on in a heartbeat and sandblast you. Shaka Smart’s Rams play about as good a brand of pressure defense as you will see in the field this side of Virginia and will press you until your heart wants to explode. The Bucks, led by freshman phenom D’Angelo Russel, love to push the tempo and this game could end up being played in the 80’s with how fast these teams like to run and gun.

First Round Games You Simply Can’t Miss

SOUTH REGION (HOUSTON)

No.5 UTAH vs. No. 12 S.F AUSTIN – The Lumberjacks are winners of 29 of its last 30 games and look to have lightning strike for the second year in a row in a 12/5 game against a Utes team that is tremendously balanced.

No. 8 SAN DIEGO STATE vs. No. 9 ST JOHN’S – Lavin V Fisher, need I say more!

EAST (SYRACUSE)

No. 5 LOUISVILLE vs. No. 12 UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA IRVINE – First off, who doesn’t love an Anteater, but the truth of the matter is the Big West Champs, in its first NCAA Tourney ever, will be unafraid of the sometime dysfunctional Cards.

No. 7 MICHIGAN STATE vs. No. 10 GEORGIA – Many think this will be a romp for Sparty; think again. The Dogs will be barking and this should be a tight game until the bitter end.

WEST (LOS ANGELES)

No. 4 NORTH CAROLINA vs. No. 13 HARVARD – The contrast in styles between these two teams is worth a watch by itself.

No. 8 OREGON vs. No. 9 OKLAHOMA STATE – Remember the name Joseph Young and say that DTM told you!

MIDWEST (CLEVELAND)

No. 5 WEST VIRGINIA vs. No. 12 BUFFALO – Bobby Huggins is in for a war against Bobby Hurley’s MAC champs.

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No. 4 MARYLAND Vs. No. 13 VALPARAISO – America is going to fall in love with Crusaders’ big man Vashil Fernandez.

Toughest Path For a Top Seed To Indy

East Region – WISCONSIN – While I not only think the Badgers have a legit chance to get to Indy — and could give Kentucky all it can handle in a potential national semi-final — it won’t be an easy path for Frank the Tank and Bo Ryan’s squad. A potential second game could come against a very dangerous Ducks team with either Arkansas or UNC causing a lot of problems in the Sweet Sixteen. If Wisconsin gets to the Elite 8 they could get the reward of the Arizona Wildcats for the right to get to the Final Four. One word…….BRUTAL!

Champion – KENTUCKY – I rarely go with the overall chalk in the tourney (actually this is only the second time I have gone with the overall No. 1 seed in the past decade). That is simply because it rarely is that overall top seed cutting down the nets when all is said and done. This Kentucky team is different though. Not only have the Wildcats yet to lose this season, and faced every kind of late game adversity known to man, UK will be ready for all situations, but it — GASP — actually plays phenomenal defense. For a team that is highly thought of as the Cats of 2014-15, it is a rarity to have said a team can be as good on the defensive side of the ball as Kentucky is.

Whether or not you believe John Calipari got the best team “money could buy” in Lexington, it truly is a team made up of the perfect balance you need to win it all. Look for Harrison to once again have a huge March into April and for Karl Anthony Towns to be a true difference maker in the post that teams simply won’t be able to contain in big moments. The Cats will be tested and in a potential epic national semifinal with the Badgers could be one of the better tourney games in recent years. When all is said and done though, the Cats just have too much in all facets of the game to not become the first team since the 1976 Indiana Hoosiers to go unblemished all season long.

Vegas Odds To Win The Title

KENTUCKY EVEN-MONEY (which is simply insane in the modern era- bet 100$ to win 100$)

DUKE 6.5-1

WISCONSIN 7-1

VILLANOVA 8-1

ARIZONA 12-1

VIRGINIA 17-1 (DTM VALUE PICK IF YOU DON’T LIKE THE WILDCATS)

GONZAGA 22-1

NORTH CAROLINA 25-1

IOWA STATE 35-1 (DEEP DTM VALUE PICK-CYCLONES CAN BALL)

NOTRE DAME 50-1

MICHIGAN STATE 60-1

MICHIGAN-NIT BUBBLE BURST

2015 BRACKET TIDBITS (ASSIST FROM @RJBELL)

-Legendary bookmaker Bob Scucci says the 1991 UNLV team would be favored by six-points over this year’s Kentucky team. That Rebels team, the last to have a truly legit shot at going undefeated and as big a favorite to win it all as Kentucky is this year.

– Great college team vs. worst NBA team?

– Vegas bookmaker estimate is that the New York Knicks would be favored by 15 points over Kentucky with the game being played under NBA rules. How many would a healthy Carmelo Anthony have is the real question….56?

– Kentucky was a 50/1 long shot to go undefeated when this proposition bet was first offered at the start of the season!
– There are 9,223,372,036,854,775,808 possible brackets (9.2 quintillion)
That’s the number nine followed by 18 zeros!
That’s over one million times bigger than nine TRILLION!

An example of how big that number is …

If one bracket per second were filled out, it would take 292 BILLION years to fill out all possible brackets (that’s 20 times longer than the universe or Spacecoats have existed).

So tell that to your resident office pool smack talker :)

Since 1985 (Modern Era)

No No.16 seeds have won a game
No. 15 seeds are 7-for-120
At least one Top four seed has lost in the first round in 26 of the last 30 years.
No. 12 seeds have won at least one game in 24 of the last 26 years — last year three No. 12 seeds won.
No. 9 seeds have an overall winning record against No. 8 seeds.

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Dan Leach has a PhD in Bracketology and Early Roman Architecture; his middle name is appropriately termed as ”Madness.” In the 2009 tourney DTM picked all but one game correctly in his “American Samoa” bracket contest and was instantly named king of the island, also recently tabbed to play Brad Stevens in the upcoming film “The Butler Almost Did It,” chronicling the Bulldogs magical run to the National Title game in 2010 against Duke.