NCAA Bracketology from coach Bobby Gonzalez

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By BOBBY GONZALEZ
Sheridan Hoops

The NCAA Tournament field is set. The favorite is Kentucky. My best first-round game to watch is SMU-UCLA, Larry Brown's present against Larry Brown's past. My favorite player is D'Angelo Russell of Ohio State. My old team, the Manhattan Jaspers, have a chance to earn a head-on collision with John Calipari's SuperTeam. The best point guard not named Emmanuel Mudiay is ...

I'll get to that.

I promise: It's here in this column, which runs a little long. My apologies, but I've got a lot to say. If you read the entire column, you'll have some wisdom to put to use in your office pool.

Best week of the year, in my eyes.

Doesn't matter if you ever watched these teams or these players.

I did, and I am here to share what I know, what I've heard and what I've seen. What you do with it is your own business. My advice would be to read this column once, then read it again. Then go win your bracket pool.

But enough about the money you are going to win, and what something like $7,000 could get you.

Let's get to the tournament.

The basic thing is this: Everyone's eyes will be on the Kentucky Wildcats every single time they play as they look to go 40-0, becoming the first team to complete an undefeated season with an NCAA championship since Bobby Knight's Indiana Hoosiers in 1976. I will be rooting for Kentucky for reasons I explained in my Sunday column, and I will counsel you to pencil them in as your champion, too.

But as we all know, the winners of NCAA Tournament bracket pools pile up their points by keying on the one or two teams that overperform and keep on winning. Anybody can pick Kentucky, and many will. But how many will figure out who is the next upstart to crash the Final Four as Butler did in 2010 and 2011, or as Virginia Commonwealth did in 2011 as an 11th seed.

I will try my best. And I should probably remind you that Connecticut was a No. 7 seed a year ago when they won the national title, defeating a No. 8 seed – Kentucky.

A look at each of the four regions, my general thoughts, a few underdog teams to believe in, a few special players to watch.

EAST REGIONAL:

General thoughts: Giving Dayton a home game for a play-in and an 11 seed ... damn, where did that idea come from? Maybe this is a game just to generate some buzz. Dayton sells out all their home games, so they did that to create some buzz for the play-in games - make them that more exciting and interesting at the venue itself. They give the people of Dayton a chance to see "our" team. But Boise State, they've got to be saying, "we're playing Dayton at Dayton? That's an interesting little twist. I like Villanova, they haven't lost in 2-3 months.

Jay Wright's team has a legit chance to win the national championship. They are not dominant like Kentucky, but they are a pretty special team. They've got veterans, seniors, a pretty good point guard in Ryan Arcidiacono, they pass the ball well, they play tremendously well together. They are like the Spurs of the college game. They play unbelievably well together.

Underdog to believe in: Northern Iowa. Can I call a 5 seed an underdog? Look, they're from the Missouri Valley, and Wichita State was in that league so they were second fiddle, but only had three losses all year. They got a kid named Seth Tuttle, who the NBA is checking out. He's a big kid who can play and put it on the deck. He could be a first-rounder, and he's one of the most underrated players in the country because who the hell watches Northern Iowa? But they got some respect with a 5 seed.

Player to watch: I've got a couple. Villanova's sixth man, Josh Hart, helped them win the Big East championship, a total glue guy, comes off the bench and makes threes. Providence has Kris Dunn, co-Player of the Year in the Big East whose stock went through the roof. I watched him at the Big East, I talked to a bunch of NBA personnel, and they thought he has the best chance to go in the top 20 in the draft. So Hart, Dunn and Tuttle, and Jordan Mickey of LSU, a 6-9 pro. He's a potential first-round pick, a pogo stick – put-back dunks, runs the floor, can put the ball on the floor, a pro.

Final Four representative: Villanova (although I am tempted to pick Virginia).

SOUTH REGIONAL:

General thoughts: This is Duke's region, I do think Duke will survive - this is a special Mike Krzyzewski team. If I had to pick someone aside from Kentucky to win it all, I'd take Duke because they'll be right there. So that's the chalk, but let's talk about SMU. (Imagine if they had Emmanuel Mudiay, who went to play professionally in China instead of keeping his commitment to SMU and Larry Brown. I understand he needed to make money for his family. It's interesting that Michele Roberts thinks so, too.) Oh, and by the way, Larry Brown just beat UConn in Hartford, which isn't easy to do. They play great defense, they grind it out and are not a particularly fun team to watch, but their point guard, Nick Moore, is one of the more underrated players in the nation. I'd have them coming out if it wasn't for Duke.

Underdog to believe in: I already have said this one is coming down to Duke-SMU, but in the rounds before that, keep an eye on Eastern Washington. The NBA guys know about him, the 6-5 guard who came in as a walk-on and led the country in scoring, Tyler Harvey, a lefty two-guard who had no Division I offers coming out of high school. I have them as an upset special, and they are the nation's best-kept secret – except among the NBA folks. But even the scouts and GMs are wondering whether he is first-round material or a second-round nugget of buried treasure. Bonus sleeper team: Davidson. They could win a game or two.

Player to watch: A lot of people have Gonzaga coming out of this region, but I disagree. I will say this. The son of Arvydas Sabonis, Domantas, is a 6-10 lefty who is quite similar to Donatas Motiejunas, and not just because they are both from Lithuania. The kid runs the floor well, which his dad never did in the NBA – only because he was trapped in the Soviet system and didn't come here until he was past his prime. Another guy is Delon Wright, a 6-5 point guard who everyone is saying might be the next point guard taken after Mudiay. He does a little bit of everything, reminds me a lot of Andre Miller – except he shoots it better than Andre did at Utah, or does now in Sacramento.

Final Four representative: Duke.

MIDWEST REGIONAL:

General thoughts: I like Maryland a little bit to survive and come out of there ... well, not come out of there at the end. Look, this is Kentucky's regional. But, with that being said, Bobby Hurley Jr. could pull an upset against Bob Huggins in the first round, making Buffalo an upset special. I like Notre Dame, also, I like Maryland to win a couple games. But they've got to get out of the first round, get past a Northeastern team that starts four seniors. A year ago, when I picked Mercer to upset Duke in the first round, it was because they had five seniors. I like veteran teams that have senior-laden rosters. But Northeastern is a bitch of a game for Notre Dame, more than anyone would think.

Underdog to believe in: I like Buffalo and Northeastern but unfortunately I like Notre Dame, too. So that is what we would call an issue. If Northeastern didn't have Notre Dame, I'd have Notre Dame winning a couple games. And by the way, nobody remembers this: Buffalo played Kentucky early in the season and were up five at halftime. And that's a big deal - to even beat Kentucky for a half.

Player to watch: I love the kid Melo Trimble, freshman from Maryland. Probably will come out as a one-and done, not a lottery pick but maybe a top 20. He is a two-guard who can really score the ball, reminds me a little bit of Bradley Beal, but with a little more athleticism as a slasher. Also, the guard from Notre Dame from the Grant family (Horace and Harvey) is Jerami Grant's younger brother, Jerian. He is the reason why they won the ACC championship. I'm telling you, he is a pro. A faster version of the Pistons' Reggie Jackson, and a little more athletic.

Final Four representative: Kentucky.

WEST REGIONAL:

General thoughts: I think it's the weakest region of the four. Everyone is going with Wisconsin, but I'm going with second seed Arizona to go to the Final Four because Stanley Johnson is a lottery pick, a superstar freshman. They have 6-10 Brandon Ashley back after he broke his foot last year and they are a very good defensive team. Johnson is a more athletic version of Ron Artest, as I told you in the preseason. He is a lottery lock. He is more of a wing than Aaron Gordon, who left Arizona last year and is scuffling as a rookie in Orlando. Also, Harvard did win a game in the tournament last year, and although I have NC beating them, there is an NC-Duke thing there with Crimson coach Tommy Amaker being a Duke grad. VCU is dangerous. Georgia State is dangerous, but so is Baylor. And even though I called it the weakest region, it also is the "anything can happen" region.

Underdog to believe in: I'm going with Xavier. Here's why. They have a throwback big man, Matt Stainbrook, a senior, and I love their freshman wing guard Trevon Bluiett, one of the better freshmen in the Big East. Yes, they got blown out in the Big East Final against Villanova, but they are an upset type team. As a sixth seed, they are just low enough to call an upset team. But when you are filling out your bracket, any team not playing Wisconsin or Arizona might be worth the bonus points often awarded for picking a lower seed to beat a higher seed in the first two rounds.

Player to watch: I told you about this guy already, and here is the column in case you don't believe me. R.J. Hunter is the son of the head coach, Ron Hunter, and is one of the best deep range shooters in the country. You want a poor man's Steph Curry" This is your ma,. He's got ridiculous range. But I will also hit on the obvious, and I will say this about Ohio State's D'Angelo Russell: He's my favorite kid in the draft. He's got superstar written all over him. He can do everything. A mini-James Harden.

Final Four representative: Arizona.

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