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The IX: Basketball Wednesday with Howard Megdal, March 16, 2022

In my experience, the more thought I put into my NCAA Tournament bracket, the worse it turns out.

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I’ve learned to live with this, with the losing to my children in our family pool. It’s a delightful part of the month. So much of the time, what I cover are games that generally turn out the way I expected. The surprises, the delights, of sitting courtside as Morgan William sank a shot that shocked an arena, have long been the best part of this journey.

All of which is to say: don’t take these as the gospel. I do my best. I crunch the numbers. And then, ultimately, it is a series of one-game samples under vastly different conditions than the regular season.

Sit back and watch.

Here’s how my bracket looks:

Now, how did I get here? Let’s get into it!

I went pure chalk in Round 1 for Greensboro region. I think either Dayton or DePaul will give Georgia a great game, but Joni Taylor will get her Bulldogs into Round 2. In Wichita, I have a minor upset — Gonzaga as a 9 over Miami, the 8, under the theory that the Zags are underseeded and Miami played its best basketball last week in the ACC tourney. My double-digit seed winner is Villanova, who is criminally underseeded, and honestly better, in my opinion, than BYU. I don’t think the Cougars can slow down Maddy Siegrist.

In Spokane round one, another minor upset — Georgia Tech as a 9 over Kansas, an 8, Nell Fortner’s group will come out ready to win. Then my biggest upset, seed-wise: Karl Smesko’s consistently ignored power at FGCU will upset Virginia Tech, though it won’t be as shocking a 5/12 appears. FGCU will have the best player on the floor in Kierstan Bell. I’ll also take Mike Neighbors and Arkansas as a 10 over Utah, a 7, though this one is a pick ’em that’ll be decided somewhere in the 90s, points-wise. Don’t miss it.

On to Bridgeport, where several of my favorite teams are in direct competition. Washington State has been a tough matchup for the Pac-12 all year, but I don’t think they can slow down Ayoka Lee enough, so I have the nine seed prevailing here, too. I love what Kyra Elzy has built at Kentucky, and first-round loss sounds like a disappointing season, but it’s simply because Princeton is insanely underseeded at 11. As for UCF, they were another Sweet 16 team for me before seeing the brackets, and they’ll dispatch Florida, I believe. But then…

On to round two, and we’ll snake back, starting in Bridgeport, where UCF will make things tough for UConn, but the Huskies advance, especially at home. Meanwhile, Princeton/Indiana will be a fun one, but Grace Berger and company are too tough — in a different region, I’d have them in the Final Four.

I think Texas’s defense is too tough for Arkansas, as is LSU for Ohio State, setting up a rockfight between Vic and Kim. Maryland ends FGCU’s run, while Stanford beats Georgia Tech to round out Spokane.

My first non-chalk comes in Greensboro, where I have five-seed UNC and the best point guard between the two teams, Carlie Littlefield, advance over Arizona. In a way, between Littlefield and head coach Courtney Banghart, that means the Ivy League does get to the second weekend. Down in Wichita, my biggest surprises loom: I think Nova can upset Michigan, while Oregon and Kelly Graves are always money in the bank in March, the five-seeded Ducks beating four seed Tennessee. The future WNBA battle between NaLyssa Smith of Baylor and Shakira Austin of Ole Miss goes Baylor’s way. But see you both at the WNBA Draft April 11, ladies!

Sweet 16 time! Starting back with Wichita: Nicki Collen and Baylor prevail over Villanova, ending Maddy Siegrist’s run, and Kelly Graves gets to the Elite Eight by shocking Louisville. I know, it’s strange to predict Graves in the Elite Eight without his team being a double-digit seed, but I’m doing it anyway. South Carolina beats its upstairs neighbor, and Caitlin Clark ensures we get the matchup with Aliyah Boston we’ve all been dying to see. Maryland puts it all together and takes down Stanford, while Texas wins the rockfight over LSU thanks to the preternaturally mature Rori Harmon. NC State and UConn hold down chalk in Bridgeport.

Who’s my Final Four? Well, I just think Boston and South Carolina are too tough, though Iowa would have beaten some other top seeds. Maryland completes the run by upending Texas, who can’t cover everyone and doesn’t really have an answer for Diamond Miller. Baylor should have been a one seed, and proves it by finishing off Oregon and advancing. And no, I am not betting against UConn winning on its home floor, essentially, with a fully healthy roster and Paige Bueckers at that point nearly 10 games into her return. I’ll believe UConn isn’t in the Final Four once… UConn actually isn’t in the Final Four.

Ultimately, my projections have South Carolina as the best team in the field, UConn getting to the title game. That sets up the thing we really always deserved but haven’t yet gotten, somehow: Dawn vs. Geno in the national final. It was the matchup Dawn expected back in 2017. I happened to be sitting next to her on the baseline as Mississippi State upended her plans as she scouted. Two days later, the Gamecocks were champions. Yet somehow, despite the dominance of South Carolina and UConn, we’ve never seen this permutation. I predict that ends in 2022. And this time around, it’s South Carolina cutting down the nets in Minneapolis.

Just remember: you’re better off going with my children, bracket-wise.

This week in women’s basketball

Stanford got The Players’ Tribune treatment.

Alexa Philippou summarizes every team (and mascot!).

Good stuff from Ben Pickman to get you prepared as well.

NCAA watch guide from Jonathan Tannenwald.

One stat for every team.

Terrific Charlotte Carroll on Sedona Prince.

Kareem Copeland digs into how likely the Big Ten is to win a title this year.

Important Mia Berry piece on the catch-22 of HBCU seeding in the NCAA Tournament.

And Sabrina Ionescu is worth hearing on NIL.

I always love talking to Ben Heisler.

Sound the Jenn Hatfield alarm!

Terrific deep dive on Cameron Brink.

Five at The IX: Kellie Harper, Tennessee head coach

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Written by Howard Megdal

Howard is the founder of The Next and editor-in-chief.