March Madness predictions 2024: This No. 12 seed crashes Final Four in men’s bracket

Let’s get this out of the way: We had a good year in this space a year ago. A real good year. We nailed the UConn national championship pick, and finished in the 100th percentile (41,822nd out of over 20 million brackets) on ESPN.

Basically, we’re due for a massive regression 12 months later. Fade this bracket.

East Region

This is the toughest region in the tournament. I said it on Sunday, you said it on Sunday, it’s been said a million times in the three days since Sunday.

Two things are still true here: 1) As tough as it is at the top, the region is not immune to chaos. 2) I don’t believe anyone is beating Connecticut until I see it with my own two eyes.

We get a chalky opening round, even though Yale keeps it interesting against Auburn and Morehead State pushes Illinois to the brink (came very close to pulling the trigger on the upset). FAU/Northwestern feels like a toss-up, but the Owls get the edge because of their March pedigree. Drake over Washington State is the only numerical upset the region sees.

FAU nearly pulls off another March miracle in the second round and plays UConn closer in the tournament than anyone has in two years. Dusty May takes off to whichever power conference job he decides he wants to take. San Diego State does pull off some repeat March magic and takes out Ken Pom darling Auburn to reach the second weekend and set up a rematch of last year’s national title game.

In the bottom half of the bracket, Illinois outlasts BYU in one of the most fun second round games of the tournament, and then Iowa State continues the trend of 2-seeds that began the season unranked not being able to make it out of the tournament’s opening weekend. Everyone starts wondering why Drake head coach Darian DeVries isn’t being targeted by some of these power conference programs with head coaching vacancies. Darian DeVries starts getting targeted by some of these power conference programs with head coaching vacancies.

The coach’s son, Tucker DeVries, continues his absolute tear in the tournament as he lights up Illinois in the Sweet 16 to get the Bulldogs one game shy of the Final Four. UConn handles SDSU in pretty much the same fashion they did last April, and then ends the Cinderella story in the regional final to book its trip to Phoenix.

West Region

At least one region is going to completely fall apart this weekend. The top seeds in the West are certainly erratic enough to make that happen, but I couldn’t bring myself to pull the chaos trigger here.

Three double-digit seeds to advance to the second round. New Mexico over Clemson is the trendiest upset pick in the tournament for a reason: It’s not actually an upset pick. The Lobos are favored by 2.5 points, and 11-seeds favored to beat 6-seeds are 10-1 all-time in this tournament. Nevada takes down Dayton in the ugliest first round game of the tournament, and Pat Kelsey’s Charleston team gets the win everyone thought they were going to get a year ago by taking out an Alabama team that has been screaming “first round upset” for pretty much the last eight weeks.

Saint Mary’s beats Grand Canyon in the most entertaining game of the first round, and Colgate’s outside attack nearly torpedoes third-seeded Baylor. The Raiders are going to get someone in this tournament eventually, and I’m already worried that I might be kicking myself for not recognizing that this is the year.

Baylor does go down in round two, as Richard Pitino guides New Mexico to its first Sweet 16 in program history. One of the most underrated fan bases in all of college basketball is floating for the next week.

Both Arizona and North Carolina reap the benefit of unscary competition to set up the “Caleb Love Bowl” in the Elite Eight. Both Love and First Team All-American R.J. Davis put on shows in an up-and-down thriller. Ultimately, the mini-tradition of early Tommy Lloyd flameouts is eviscerated, and Zona finally gets back over the hump and into the Final Four for the first time since 2001.

The Pac-12 lives for at least a few days longer.

South Region

Here’s where things fall apart.

Buzz Williams is good for at least one second weekend run everywhere he goes, and he hasn’t had his at Texas A&M yet. That changes this weekend. Buzz was a missed layup at the buzzer away from knocking off Zion Williamson and Duke in the Sweet 16 during his last season at Virginia Tech. He finally gets that signature tournament win this year as the Aggies upset top-seeded Houston in the second round.

A&M then turns right around and loses to the signature Cinderella of this year’s tournament, James Madison, in the Sweet 16. The Dukes beat Wisconsin and then, uh, Duke to capture the hearts and minds of the American sporting public.

Serve is mostly held in the bottom half of the bracket, outside of Colorado going from the First Four to taking out a wounded Florida team in the first round. Kentucky and Marquette square off in a chalky Sweet 16 matchup, where the tournament ghost of Dwyane Wade carries the Golden Eagles into the Elite Eight.

I will repeat this statistic 50 times every March until it stops being a trend: Every tournament but one since 2012 has featured at least one team seeded 7th or worse. Pretty much every expert bracket that you’re going to find on the internet features zero Final Four teams seeded 7th or worse. Recent history says they’re all going to be wrong.

If it’s all going to fall apart anyway, you might as well swing big: JAMES MADISON IS GOING TO THE FINAL FOUR.

Midwest Region

I get that Samford over Kansas is trendy, but it’s trendy for good reason. The Jayhawks are banged up, they weren’t deep to begin with, and they’re playing a veteran team that’s going to press them for 40 straight minutes. The world is about to get a crash course on Bucky Ball.

The other big upset that everyone seems to have isn’t going to happen. McNeese is competitive with Gonzaga, but the Bulldogs haven’t lost a first round game in the NCAA tournament since 2008, and that doesn’t change this year. The Zags then pick off Samford two days later to make the Sweet 16 for a ninth consecutive season. Everyone in the world responds to that fact by tweeting out that they’ve still never won a national title.

Oregon picks off an overachieving South Carolina team and Creighton survives a scare from Akron to set up the Dana Altman Bowl in round two, which the Bluejays win. Colorado State makes it 2-for-2 for the First Four at-large teams, but gets pummeled by Tennessee in the second round.

Purdue gets pushed to the brink by TCU, which has everyone predicting another early March exit. Those talks cease when the Boilermakers blowout Gonzaga in the Sweet 16.

It feels like we’re overdue for an Elite Eight weekend loaded with powerhouse 1v2 matchups. We’re getting it this year, and this one might be the most highly anticipated.

It’s Purdue vs. Tennessee in the “Losing Fan Base Might be Pushed to Give Up College Basketball Forever” classic.

It’s Purdue. Purdue fans are the ones that might be pushed to give up college basketball forever.

Tennessee finally breaks through and rids itself of the title of “best college basketball program to never make a Final Four.” Dalton Knecht introduces himself to the portion of the sports world that still doesn’t know who he is with an outrageous string of performances.

FINAL FOUR

The semifinal games suck. UConn embarrasses Arizona, and James Madison looks like a lot of Cinderella Final Four teams have looked over the years when they reach the sport’s biggest stage.

Thankfully, the title game salvages the season’s final chapter. Tennessee stays within striking distance for all 40 minutes, but never gets all the way over the hump and into the lead.

UConn becomes college basketball’s first back-to-back national champion since 2006-07, and Danny Hurley establishes himself as the new coaching face of the sport.

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