By Michael Almonte
Finally, the NCAA Tournament is here and it’s time for the three greatest weeks in sports during the year. Brace yourself fans for the upsets, the moments, the games and the players who will define the 2012 NCAA Tournament. Can the four No. 1 seeds in Kentucky, North Carolina, Syracuse and Michigan State all advance to the Final Four for the second time since the tournament expanded the field. 2008 was the only year when all No. 1 seeds made the journey to the Final Four.
Kentucky by far has the toughest road among the No. 1 seeds in the South Region where stiff challengers await them. Defending national champion Connecticut could be waiting in the third round and a regional final date with Baylor or Duke could loom. Imagine another Kentucky-Duke Elite Eight match-up with this year being the 20th anniversary of their memorable encounter in 1992. Wichita St. is a sleepy in this region and I look for them to advance to the Sweet 16 before losing to Kentucky. In the end, Kentucky will be marching on to the Final Four for the second straight year.
The West Region is led by No. 1 seed Michigan State and No. 2 Missouri but they are some teams who could prevent a Michigan St.-Missouri showdown. Fans should keep their eye on No. 12 seed Long Beach St. and No. 6 seed Murray State who I predict will both advance to the Sweet 16. My upset pick is Davidson over Big East tournament champion Louisville. Marquette is definitely gaining a lot of attention from people and it wouldn’t surprise me if they are in the Elite Eight, but I look for Missouri to advance for the first time in school history to the Final Four.
The East Region is where top seed Syracuse leads the charge followed by No. 2 seed Ohio State and ACC Tournament champions in No. 3 seed Florida State. If No. 8 seed Kansas St. beats No. 9 seed Southern Miss, look for them to give Syracuse a battle before losing in a close game. The match-up I’m looking for could be Sweet 16 showdown between Ohio St. and Florida St with the Buckeyes prevailing in a highly contested game. When it comes to down to it, Ohio St. will defeat Syracuse in the Elite Eight and make the journey to another Final Four their first since 2007.
The Midwest Region is headed for a North Carolina-Kansas showdown in the regional finals as the top two seeds will take care of business. No. 3 seed Georgetown could spoil the party and I look for them to meet-up with the Jayhawks in the Sweet 16. But in the end North Carolina will get another crack at Kansas and look to avenge their 2008 loss in the National Semi-final .The Tar-Heels in a classic game will defeat Kansas and make another trip to the Superdome.
Kentucky will face Missouri in one semi-final and Ohio St. will tangle with North Carolina in the other game on March 31st in New Orleans. That sets up the rematch between Kentucky and North Carolina in the title game. These two great teams and storied programs met back on December 3rd with the Wildcats winning in exciting fashion 73-72. North Carolina has lost the last two games including last year in the Elite Eight and is ready to get revenge. Great coaches and NBA talent will be on display come April 2nd when the college basketball will culminate with a title game for the ages. I predicted in the fall North Carolina would be cutting down the nets in the Superdome and I look for that to happen.
No matter what happens during the next three weeks, the NCAA Tournament will always be filled with surprises and something incredible will happen once again.