Need bracket breakdowns? We've got you covered from East to West, South to North Midwest, and you should probably go read all of those previews right this very second. When you're finished, come back to this space, because yours truly, though too paralyzed by self-doubt to actually make his picks, has spent a bit of time with the bracket and thinks he's come up with 10 potential late-round matchups he would very much like to see. Let's take a gander:
1. Kentucky vs. North Carolina, national championship game: Let's just start at the top. North Carolina entered the season as the national title favorite. Kentucky enters the tournament having rightfully won that status. Forward Anthony Davis is a matchup problem for basically every team in the country, with minimal exceptions (Syracuse's Fab Melo says hello), but perhaps no player in the country matches up better with Davis on a sheer size/athleticism curve than UNC forward John Henson. Of course, Henson is injured, and his status for the tournament remains somewhat uncertain (though UNC did tell the committee it planned to have him back in short order). Obviously, both teams will have plenty of hurdles to cross before they get to this game. But it's hard to think of a more fittingly epic end to the season than this. We can only hope.
2. Michigan State vs. Saint Louis; Michigan State vs. Louisville: There's a good chance Saint Louis won't get a crack at the Spartans in the second round, because No. 8-seed Memphis is as talented as any non No. 1 or No. 2 seed in the country, and played incredibly well down the stretch. But there's a possibility we could see Michigan State coach Tom Izzo -- arguably the greatest tournament coach of the past 15 years -- face Rick Majerus and Rick Pitino in consecutive games before the Elite Eight. Basketball strategy nerds, say it with me: Yes please.
3. Syracuse vs. Ohio State, Elite Eight: At first glance, Kentucky's bracket looked among the toughest. When you zoom out and take the full measure of the tournament, though, it's unlikely the Wildcats would envy Syracuse, which, if seeds hold, has to find a way through a tough defensive team in Kansas State (if Kansas State handles Southern Miss) in the second round, followed by a none-too-friendly Sweet 16 opponent in Vanderbilt, which just dropped Kentucky in the SEC championship game, or Wisconsin (which looks like a much more favorable matchup, but is still one of the best defensive teams in the country). And if the Orange do get through all that, they're likely to get Ohio State in the Elite Eight. OSU's Aaron Craft versus Syracuse's Dion Waiters. Jared Sullinger and Deshaun Thomas against Melo and the rest of the Orange's shot-blocking, ball-swiping 2-3 zone. William Buford searching for spots on the perimeter; Syracuse fighting to score against Ohio State's vaunted defense. The stylistic differences would define this game, and they'd be fascinating, and I'd very much like to see it happen.
4. North Carolina vs. Creighton, round of 32: All season, yours truly has marveled at Creighton forward Doug McDermott -- who has had one of the most productive and efficient offensive seasons in recent memory -- primarily because McDermott has far outranked his former high school teammate, UNC forward Harrison Barnes, in both performance and perception. This game would see the two match up, and while it's hard to imagine Creighton taking down the Tar Heels, it's not so hard to imagine McDermott and Barnes staging a thoroughly enjoyable personal battle. It's a painfully obvious storyline, sure. But for good reason.
5. Memphis vs. Louisville, Sweet 16: Speaking of storylines: The Memphis-Louisville rivalry used to be one of the nation's best, but the teams haven't faced off since Louisville bolted Conference USA for the Big East in 2005. That season, Darius Washington's missed free throws cost the Tigers a tournament bid, and ended the rivalry on a brutal note. The good news? It's coming back. The better news? There's a chance these two fan bases could add to the legacy as early as next weekend.
6. Kentucky vs. Indiana, Sweet 16: One of UK's two losses came Dec. 10, when Christian Watford's last-second 3 gave Indiana a thrilling win at Assembly Hall, and announced to the college hoops world that the program -- after three miserable years of post-Kelvin Sampson malaise -- was truly back. It's hard to imagine the Hoosiers replicating that feat on a neutral floor in Atlanta, but wouldn't you like to see them try? (At the very least, the fan bases will provide a textbook example of how you travel en masse for NCAA tournament games. Expect a blue-red split to rival any electoral map.)
7. Kentucky vs. UConn, round of 32: Another UK matchup? You bet. Why? Because these teams just so happen to be coached by Jim Calhoun and John Calipari, former New England rivals stemming back to Calipari's days at UMass, and let's just say neither of them particularly likes the other. Last season, they met in the Final Four, and in the run-up to that game, Calhoun said he had "no relationship" with Calipari. He also delivered an excellent quote involving provincialism and clam chowder:
“John came here from Moon Township in Pennsylvania and said that UMass was the king of New England,” said Calhoun last season. “He didn’t know what 'chowda' was, with an A. You got to know what 'chowda' is before you start saying (you’re the king). Especially for a guy from South Boston, it’s pretty tough to (hear) that."
Calhoun's Huskies got the better of Calipari's Wildcats last season, and one imagines Calipari -- with an even more talented team and a UConn squad on the ropes -- would very much like to return the favor.
8. Baylor vs. Duke, Sweet 16: Two years ago, Duke ended a stacked Baylor team's bid for a spot in the Final Four en route to its own national title. If seeds hold (and given the other teams in the bracket, it's a little hard to imagine that not being the case) these teams will meet again on the tournament's second weekend in Atlanta. The differences? Duke isn't nearly as good as it was in 2010, especially on the defensive end, and Baylor -- though arguably more talented than the LaceDarius Dunn- and Ekpe Udoh-led 2010 Bears -- has been a beguiling, frustrating team all season. Plus, the coaching subtext that has begun to form around Scott Drew (that he is a very good recruiter, but not a particularly good coach) would be fully put to the test against a living legend like Coach K. (How Ryan Kelly's foot injury impacts the Blue Devils remains to be seen. But it isn't good.)
9. Kansas vs. Georgetown, Sweet 16: It seems like a lifetime ago, but these two have met this season -- all the way back in November in the Maui Invitational. Kansas won that game 67-63, but Georgetown was in the mix throughout, a performance that announced (at least for me) how good this young, remade Hoyas team could be. Both teams have only improved since, and the stylistic and strategic undertones -- one of the nation's best offensive set coaches in the country in Bill Self facing off against John Thompson III's princely Princeton offense (and Thomas Robinson facing off against guard-in-a-center's-body Henry Sims -- has me salivating. I'll admit it.
10. Ohio State vs. Michigan State, national championship: This one seems even less likely than Kentucky-North Carolina, but it's not as unlikely as you might think. And in a year in which the Big Ten was clearly the nation's best conference, how fitting would it be to see these two Midwestern powers square off for a fourth time, this one with everything on the line? Another helping of Draymond Green versus Jared Sullinger? I'm in.