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The Big Lead: March Madness Upset Picks


President Barack Obama fills one out, so does just about everyone you know.

Yes, the NCAA Tournament begins this week and that means it's bracket-picking time. We're here to help make sense of March Madness.

We want to provide you some insight on the 68 teams that were slotted into four regional brackets for the annual sports spectacle that culminates in Indianapolis on April 7. However, be advised that most people win bracket contests by picking the better mascot or team color, so use the following information with caution.

Good luck.

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MIDWEST REGION

FAVORITE: Kentucky gets to open with either Manhattan - coached by Steve Masiello, who played for the Wildcats - or Hampton, which got in by winning the Mid-Eastern title with a 16-17 record.

UPSET WATCH: Many will pick 12th-seeded Buffalo over 5th-seeded West Virginia, with good reason. First of all, the Bulls are coached by Bobby Hurley, who went 18-2 in NCAA Tournament games when he starred at Duke. Plus, it's only a five-hour drive from Buffalo to Columbus, Ohio, so Bulls fans will travel well. (Then again, Ohio State made that same drive to Buffalo last year and lost to THE University of Dayton, prompting one of the greatest front-page headlines in Dayton Daily News history.)

THEY MIGHT DO IT: Butler was picked seventh in the Big East, changed coaches unexpectedly and then gave Chris Holtmann the job on a permanent basis. They'll have to beat two big-name programs in Texas and (probably) Notre Dame, but why not?

WORTH NOTING: Wichita State won't be happy about its No. 7 seed. Indiana will be ecstatic to just get in as a 10th-seed. Upset watch here, too.

SEMIFINALISTS: Kentucky, Kansas, Maryland, Butler.

TITLE GAME: Kentucky vs. Kansas. It's a rematch of a game from Nov. 18, when Kentucky won 72-40. This one will be closer, but not much.

TO THE FINAL FOUR: Kentucky.

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EAST REGION

FAVORITE: Villanova, which opens with Lafayette in an all-Pennsylvania matchup. Villanova and Lafayette are barely an hour apart, and they play in Pittsburgh - basically 4-1/2 hours from both schools.

UPSET WATCH: Take a flyer on 13th-seeded UC-Irvine (and 7-foot-6 Mamadou Ndiaye) against fourth-seeded Louisville. One, it's cool to always pick teams with nicknames like Anteaters. Two, Louisville is only 5-5 in its last 10 games and just doesn't look as good as it did a few weeks ago, for many reasons.

AUSSIE, AUSSIE, AUSSIE: The Great Danes will have fans from Albany (their city) to Australia (which may as well be their adopted country). Peter Hooley left the team for a few weeks to go back to his native Australia and spend as much time as he could with his mother, who died of cancer. He then returned to Albany ... and hits the 3-pointer with about 2 seconds left to put his team in the tournament. It'll be daunting to face third-seeded Oklahoma, but New York's Capital Region loves NCAA magic (see Siena).

WORTH NOTING: Tom Izzo's seventh-seeded Michigan State team could see second-seeded Virginia this weekend. Never count out Izzo in the NCAAs, ever. ... Dayton gets a home game in the play-in against Boise State.

SEMIFINALISTS: Villanova, Virginia, Northern Iowa, Providence.

TO THE FINAL FOUR: Villanova.

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WEST REGION

FAVORITE: Wisconsin, which could see Oregon in its second game (a rematch of a 2-7 game last season, won by the Badgers 85-77) but should escape the first weekend pretty easily.

UPSET WATCH: 13th-seeded Harvard over fourth-seeded North Carolina is tempting, but we'll go really off the board. Kevin Ware (you remember the young man who broke his leg playing for Louisville) is in the field with Georgia State, a 14th-seed taking on third-seeded Baylor. If you believe in made-for-Hollywood stuff ...

NEVER YIELD: Arkansas is probably the best No. 5 seed in the tourney.

WORTH NOTING: BYU has the triple-double machine in Kyle Collingsworth, with six of them already this season. The rest of Division I basketball - combined - has 11.

SEMIFINALISTS: Wisconsin, Arizona, Arkansas, Xavier.

TO THE FINAL FOUR: Wisconsin.

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SOUTH REGION

FAVORITE: Duke. The Blue Devils might see North Florida in their first game; North Florida won the Atlantic Sun, the team whose champion (Mercer) ousted Duke last year in Game 1.

UPSET WATCH: UCLA was maybe the most questionable pick of all the at-large teams. Watch the 11th-ranked Bruins now knock out sixth-ranked SMU ... coached by Larry Brown ... who used to coach at UCLA. Of course.

MAGIC MCCAFFERY: Fran McCaffery has done a fine job at Iowa this season, and gets rewarded with a opening game against Davidson in a 7-10 matchup. But if the Hawkeyes survive that one, they figure to have a shot - even in Seattle - of taking down second-seeded Gonzaga. The Zags have been two-and-out in the NCAAs in each of the last five years.

WORTH NOTING: Duke's opening game will be the Devils' 22nd in North Carolina this season.

SEMIFINALISTS: Duke, Iowa State, Utah, Iowa.

TO THE FINAL FOUR: Duke.

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FINAL FOUR

Yes, we picked four No. 1 seeds.

Kentucky over Wisconsin, Villanova over Duke.

Your national champion: In an all-Wildcat battle ... Kentucky.

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