Over the next few weeks, we’ll offer a countdown to the 28th annual edition of Bradley’s Bracket Fiasco. (And they said it wouldn’t last.) Selection Sunday is March 15, and our contest will be up and running that night.
The ACC tournament will again be in Greensboro before moving next year to Washington D.C. and then, in 2017, to that Tobacco Road bastion of Brooklyn, N.Y. The SEC tournament shifts to Nashville for the start of a three-year run. The Sun Belt tournament, which is a big deal to two Georgia schools, will again be staged at New Orleans’ Lakefront Arena.
The Final Four is in Indianapolis over Easter weekend. I’m scheduled to go, and this would mark my third consecutive Easter in Indy. (In 2013 and 2014, post-Mass lunch was taken at the Steak ‘n Shake on West Maryland.) But enough logistics. On with the show.
Question 1: Will Kentucky lose? I say yes. The most dangerous remaining regular-season game will come March 3 in Athens against a pretty good Georgia team that played the Wildcats tough in Rupp Arena even without Marcus Thornton. If not there, it would be no great surprise if Kentucky was beaten in the SEC tournament. Two of the Wildcats’ past three national champions (in 1996 and 2012) suffered one of their two losses in the SEC final. And the SEC, as has been noted, has gotten halfway decent.
Question 2: Will Kentucky win it all? Yes. Three teams could give the Wildcats a run in the NCAA tournament — Wisconsin, Arizona and Duke — but let’s face it: Kentucky is so loaded it will have to have a really bad night to lose. The loss of second-leading scorer Justin Anderson doesn’t help Virginia, which by design doesn’t score much. (Anderson broke his finger Feb. 9 and was projected to miss four to six weeks.)
Question 3: Will Georgia make the Big Dance? Yes. Even after Saturday’s flop against Auburn, the Bulldogs have an RPI of 30, which is good enough to make the field of 68 as an at-large entry. (Beyond 40 is when things get dicey.) Four of Georgia’s six remaining regular-season games are against teams that are sub-.500 in league play — though two of the four (South Carolina and Auburn) have already beaten the Bulldogs. Win three of those four and Georgia is no worse than 19-11 headed to the SEC tournament. Upset Kentucky on March 3 and the case is closed.
Question 4: Who’ll win the Sun Belt? Georgia State, which was 17-1 in league play a year ago, was favored to repeat as regular-season champ, but the Panthers haven’t been quite as good as advertised. They’re third in the conference, a game behind Georgia Southern and 1 1/2 games behind UL Monroe. But the Atlanta-based GSU has four soft games upcoming before closing against Monroe there and Georgia Southern here. The Panthers should still prevail, though they learned a year ago that, for a mid-major, a regular-season title rings hollow if you waste a late lead and lose the tournament final in overtime.
Question 5: Who’s the best local team you’ve never seen? The Emory Eagles are 17-5 and tied for the lead in the University Athletic Association. As of last week, they were 20th in the NCAA’s Division III rankings. Emory reached the Elite Eight of the D3 tournament last season and will surely land in the Little Big Dance again. And say this for the Eagles, who are coached by Jason Zimmerman: They can score. They average 80.5 points a game. (Georgia Tech, by way of contrast, averages 64.4, albeit at a different level.)
Question 6: Speaking of Tech, will Brian Gregory get fired? I’m guessing no. Tech paid Paul Hewitt $7 million to leave in 2011, and the Institute doesn’t want to buy out another coach so soon. Gregory isn’t making quite what Hewitt was — he is making $1.075 million per season, though — and has three years remaining on his contract, as opposed to Hewitt’s always-rolling-over five, but still: I’m thinking Mike Bobinski bets on continuity. Me, I don’t know that things are going to get much better than they are, and where they are is 13th-best in a 15-team conference.