Bracketing Sweet 16

With the first Thursday and Friday of the NCAA basketball tournament complete and most of us with brackets featuring lots of red ink, we are down to 32 teams, so I’ll take a stab at the regional finals to right through the national championship game. Forgive me if I have anybody playing who has already lost.

In the East, Syracuse makes the regional final with wins over Montana, Cal and Indiana, where its zone proved effective against cold Hoosier shooters. It meets Miami, which cruised against Pacific and Colorado before winning against scrappy Butler in the sweet 16. Miami proves too much for the Orange, with Shane Larkin distributing to Durand Scott and Kenny Kadji, and the duo of Julian Gamble and Reggie Johnson dominating the boards.

In the South, Kansas beats WKU and Villanova, nips UCU and proves steadier than Florida in the regional final. Ben McLemore is the MVP of the regional. Florida was game with wins over Northwestern State, UCLA and Georgetown, but Kenny Boynton goes ice-cold in the final.

In the Midwest, Saint Louis has a terrific run by beating New Mexico State, Oregon and then in a tremendous battle beating top seed Louisville in OT. Jimmy Crews becomes the big coaching story of the tournament. That matches it up with Duke, which defeats Albany, Creighton and Michigan State, with Mason Plumlee and Seth Curry enjoying big games. In the regional final, Ryan Kelly is the one who solves the suffocating Saint Louis defense and puts Coach K in another final four.

In the West, Gonzaga knocks off Southern, nips Pitt and wins a one-point game against Wisconsin. Kelly Olynyk proves he is a legit post player, and Elias Harris and Kevin Pangos take star turns for the Zags. Ohio State continues where it left off after winning the Big 10 tournament, cruising past Iowa, Notre Dame and New Mexico. Deshaun Thomas is scoring almost at will and Aaron Craft makes his case as the best point guard in college basketball.

In the regional final, Gonzaga breaks out fast, but the Buckeyes keep up steady pressure with Craft shutting down Pangos in the second half, and Ohio State moves on to the Final Four.

In Atlanta, Kansas and Miami play an even game for 32 minutes, with Withey and Releford keeping pace with Kadji and Larkin before Durand Scott scores eight consecutive points for the Hurricanes in the second half to put Miami in the championship game.

When Duke and Ohio State meet on the other side, Deshaun Thomas and Ryan Kelly both score early and often. In the second half, Duke struggles with foul trouble for Plumlee, and Curry goes cold from deep. Aaron Craft takes over late and hits all six free throws down the stretch to give the Buckeyes a berth in the championship game.

On a Monday night in Atlanta, Miami and Ohio State battle evenly well into the second half, but Miami struggles to contain Thomas, while Gamble and Johnson get into foul trouble. Despite a heroic effort by Larkin and a 20-point effort by Kadji, the Canes run out of time against the Craft-led Buckeyes. The 2013 national champion is Ohio State.

That’s my story and I’m sticking with it. At least until the weekend.

By the way, the odds of having a perfect bracket: 9.2 quintillion to 1.