Commentary

Experts' brackets: Big East looks strong

Updated: March 17, 2009, 12:28 PM ET
By Christopher Harris | ESPN.com

You think an "expert's" bracket looks any smarter than your grandmother's? You think knowing which Missouri player UCLA's Tyus Edney made his famous 1995 layup over (Derek Grimm) entitles you to nail every first-round upset? You think because we drink from the same water cooler as Jay Bilas and Dickie V, we know what we're talking about?

Probably not.

But we do watch a heck of a lot of college hoops. So in order to help you fill out your brackets, three ESPN.com "experts" (me, Keith Lipscomb and AJ Mass) weighed in on the toughest games to pick, the teams we think will flame out and our eventual Final Four favorites. We make no claims of infallibility, and in fact more than one wag around the office has guaranteed we know too much to make accurate selections. But hey, at least here's some evidence you can laugh at come Thursday evening.

Ty Lawson
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesTy Lawson is shooting 54 percent from the field, 47 percent from 3-point land and 81 percent from the line.
No. 1 seed most likely to lose first

AJ Mass: Louisville. They have the toughest road to the Final Four, though if North Carolina is without Ty Lawson, I think the Tar Heels will also have a lot of problems.

Christopher Harris: I have North Carolina bowing out in the Sweet 16. I'm worried about Lawson's toe, and I like Gonzaga.

Keith Lipscomb: UConn. Not having Jerome Dyson makes them the weakest No. 1 seed, and it's possible the Huskies don't get past the Sweet 16.

Toughest first-round game to pick

AJ Mass: Purdue versus Northern Iowa. I think the Boilermakers are severely overrated as a 5-seed, and Northern Iowa should give them fits, and yet I don't know if the Panthers have enough to pull off the upset.

Christopher Harris: California versus Maryland. These teams seem like mirror images of one another. Neither team has any size of note, and while Cal probably boasts better shooters, the Terps have better wins.

Keith Lipscomb: Clemson versus Michigan. Trying to figure out which team is going to show up -- on both accounts -- is what made it hard for me to pick a winner. Clemson just hasn't been the same since it destroyed Duke.

Toughest second-round game to pick

AJ Mass: The entire Midwest bracket is wide open. I wouldn't be surprised to see chalk go through, or two or three Sweet 16 teams seeded ninth or higher. This whole region makes my head hurt.

Christopher Harris: Utah versus Wake Forest. I think the Utes survive the dreaded 5-12 game and present a challenge for athletic but sometimes dunderheaded Wake.

Keith Lipscomb: Arizona State versus Syracuse. I'm really intrigued by the contrast in desired pace, and the star power involved, between James Harden and Jonny Flynn. Definitely looking forward to this matchup, if it happens.

Toughest Sweet 16 game to pick

AJ Mass: Connecticut will have its hands full with Washington, but should win. Syracuse versus Oklahoma, on the other hand, could swing either way.

Christopher Harris: I have West Virginia beating Kansas and playing Michigan State, and I have to say, the Mountaineers are very tempting to me in that game, too. The Spartans rebound, but I can't figure out Raymar Morgan.

Keith Lipscomb: Villanova versus Duke. Duke hasn't made it past the Sweet 16 in six of the past seven years, for starters. I expect the 3s to fly. I went with Nova because I expect Scottie Reynolds to come up big.

Demetri McCamey
AJ Mast/Icon SMIDemetri McCamey and the fifth-seeded Fighting Illini are not getting much respect in brackets.
No. 12 seed most likely to win a first-rounder

AJ Mass: I wouldn't be surprised if Northern Iowa pulled it off, but Western Kentucky is the only one I'm selecting.

Christopher Harris: Western Kentucky almost seems de rigueur at this point. I almost want to not pick them, to go against the trend. But I'm picking them.

Keith Lipscomb: Because of its tournament-tough defense, Wisconsin might be most likely, but I didn't pick it. I went with Western Kentucky to beat Illinois, since I think the loss of Chester Frazier really hurts the Illini.

Sleeper pick

AJ Mass: Eleven-seeds VCU and Utah State have legit chances to reach the Sweet 16, but I'm going with the 14th-seeded Bison of North Dakota State to upset Kansas, and then make it to the second week of play.

Christopher Harris: The Utah State Aggies don't beat themselves, which is a must in a potential second-round game against Missouri (of course, USU would need to beat Marquette in the first round).

Keith Lipscomb: For the first time in my life, I think, I don't have a team seeded seventh or higher winning two games. I'm so ashamed to have such a chalky bracket, especially since I know it never works out that way. If I had to pick one, though, I'd go with Cleveland State. If the Vikings can avoid their classic five-minute droughts at the offensive end, they certainly play strong enough defense to win a couple of games.

Good team that will break pickers' hearts by underachieving

AJ Mass: I think Missouri goes out far earlier than their 3-seed would predict.

Christopher Harris: Wake Forest has great athletes, but they can't shoot over a zone. I won't be shocked to see them lose to Cleveland State.

Keith Lipscomb: Kansas. I've got the defending champs falling to West Virginia in the second round.

Tubby Smith
Andy Altenburger/Icon SMITubby Smith's Golden Gophers didn't finish strong, but won't be a first-round pushover.
Seemingly mediocre team that will win a game or two

AJ Mass: USC will beat Boston College, and Florida State will make it to the Sweet 16, but I also want to shout out to Chief Kickingstallionsims and Alabama State to win the right to face Louisville.

Christopher Harris: Minnesota doesn't have anything that excites you, but on the right night, they can slay giants. I think they beat an underachieving Texas team, and Duke doesn't scare me, either.

Keith Lipscomb: Michigan. Manny Harris and DeShawn Sims obviously have to play well in order for that to happen, though.

Who's in your Final Four?

AJ Mass: Michigan State, Pittsburgh, UConn and Syracuse.

Christopher Harris: Louisville, Pittsburgh, Memphis and Gonzaga.

Keith Lipscomb: Louisville, Villanova, Memphis and North Carolina.

Most confident Final Four pick

AJ Mass: Pittsburgh. I don't see a team that can beat them before the Final Four, whereas Connecticut could lose if Hasheem Thabeet gets into foul trouble.

Christopher Harris: I want to say Louisville, but I can't help feeling they're a little spacey. I guess I'll say Pittsburgh.

Keith Lipscomb: North Carolina. My confidence level drops significantly if Ty Lawson suffers a setback with his toe. Gonzaga in the Sweet 16 will pose a strong threat, for sure.

Least Confident Final Four Pick?

AJ Mass: Syracuse. The Orange have the talent to run with anyone, but Temple, Oklahoma and either Gonzaga or the Tar Heels could all put the squeeze on them.

Christopher Harris: Well, Gonzaga. Anytime you're calling your shot with a No. 4 seed, it seems a little unlikely.

Keith Lipscomb: Villanova. I'm not worried about them getting out of Philly, but beating Duke and Pittsburgh won't be easy.

Who wins it all?

AJ Mass: UConn over Syracuse. Can this one go seven overtimes? Please?

Christopher Harris: Pittsburgh. The perennial tourney underachievers finally figure it out.

Keith Lipscomb: North Carolina. I worry about the Tar Heels turning it on defensively when they feel like it, but ultimately, their talent wins out.

Christopher Harris is a fantasy baseball, football and racing analyst for ESPN.com. He is a six-time Fantasy Sports Writing Association award winner across all three of those sports. You can e-mail him here.

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