Lunardi: UCLA Bruins will win it all
My favorite way to wrap up another season of Bracketology is counting down the NCAA field from the first loser to the last winner. Now, for the fourth year in a row at ESPN.com, we forecast every game in every round (with every score!) of the best sporting event ever invented.
If these picks work out, thank me. If they don't, blame ESPN.com for running them. But, during my six prior March visits to Bristol, I have projected 15 of a possible 24 Final Four teams. So here goes:
64. MISSISSIPPI VALLEY STATE This is the team that should have been in the opening-round game against Coppin State. Not that it will matter when the Delta Devils come up against UCLA. The Bruins roll, 84-51.
63. TEXAS-ARLINGTON I'd love to be a maverick and go out on a limb for UTA. But that ain't happening, and neither is a first-round upset. Memphis moves on, 79-50.
62. MOUNT SAINT MARY'S The Mountaineers have won nine of 10 after defeating Coppin State in the opening-round game. The ride ends in Charlotte, however, and it could be ugly. North Carolina dominates, 98-66.
61. BELMONT This is Belmont's third year in a row as a No. 15 seed. The prior visits featured a 25-point loss to Georgetown and a 34-point wipeout by UCLA. Split the difference this time and call it Duke 93-64.
60. AMERICAN The Eagles are here for the first time in school history. That doesn't mean victory, however. It's Tennessee over A.U. in Round 1, 80-60.
59. AUSTIN PEAY Dickie V won't have to stand on his head this time. There's no upset brewing for APSU. Texas wins handily, 74-50.
58. SAN DIEGO UConn may have peaked a bit too soon and could struggle for a time against the Toreros. San Diego keeps it close before falling, 76-65.
57. PORTLAND STATE I thought the Vikings were worthy of a No. 15 seed. Not that it'll matter against Kansas, which was a No. 2 seed up until the final hours of Selection Sunday. It's the Jayhawks in a rout, 101-68.
56. UMBC Georgetown's style may keep this game closer than we would think. But, in the end, the Retrievers are (under) dogs for a reason. UMBC goes down, 75-59.
55. GEORGIA Xavier has been off a beat of late, but the Bulldogs figure to be spent after their marathon hours at the SEC tournament. An incredible story ends in the nation's capital. Georgia falls, 75-57.
54. BOISE STATE The Broncos are better than you think. Not better than Louisville, mind you, but good enough to hang for 30 minutes. It's Louisville in the end, though, by a 76-65 count.
53. CORNELL One could have made a legitimate argument for the Big Red as a No. 13 seed. Overall, though, the committee was much better this year with respect to seeding the bracket's fourth quadrant. None of that will matter against Stanford when the Cardinal win, 73-54.
52. TEMPLE Michigan State is smart enough to find a way to defend the only two Owls who could beat it. And Temple coach Fran Dunphy is smart enough to keep it close. The Spartans move on, 71-65.
51. VILLANOVA The young Wildcats have their hands full against an athletic and experienced Clemson team. Still, this is a tempting 5-12 upset -- but it's the wrong one. The Tigers prevail, 79-71.
50. WINTHROP The Eagles are to be commended for returning to the NCAAs in a rebuilding year. Washington State, though, has plenty to prove after last season's early tournament exit. It's Wazzu, 67-58.
49. KENTUCKY This isn't a good matchup for UK. The Wildcats need to hold up against a tough and tested Marquette club that has key advantages all over the floor. Kentucky saved its season by getting this far but loses fairly handily, 77-62.
48. ORAL ROBERTS ORU could have won a game with the right matchup. Pitt is absolutely not the kind of team to be facing in this situation, though. The Golden Eagles take a beating inside and go home with a 73-59 defeat.
47. GEORGE MASON Did you know Jim Larranaga's son is coaching the Irish? The Ireland national team, that is. Mason will have a harder time keeping up with these Irish in an 82-69 defeat.
46. CAL STATE FULLERTON Teams playing against Wisconsin for the first time rarely survive. That's not going to change on Thursday in Omaha. It's the Badgers over the Titans, 67-55.
45. OREGON The Ducks rarely travel well, and this excursion into SEC country doesn't figure to change that pattern. This is a close one, but Oregon goes down, 75-72.
44. MIAMI I'm not sure how good the Hurricanes are, but I know Saint Mary's can play at this level. I like the Gaels a lot in this mini-upset, 75-68.
43. VANDERBILT In terms of our metrics, Vanderbilt may be the most overrated team in the field. Siena can score with the Commodores and has every opportunity for the biggest upset of the first round. I'm going with the Saints, 80-76.
42. BAYLOR The last team to make it on the Selection Show will have its hands full with crafty Purdue. I don't like this matchup at all for the Bears, who lose a tough one, 74-69.
41. OKLAHOMA The Sooners are banged up. Phil Martelli is 7-1 in first-round NCAA and NIT games at Saint Joseph's, losing only when Delonte West was injured in 2003. It's the Hawks' balanced offense besting the OU defense, 73-68.
40. UNLV Kudos to the Runnin' Rebels for winning another conference tournament on their home floor. But Kent State is better and will prove it with a 71-69 victory.
39. BUTLER The Bulldogs are a bit under-seeded, but not by much. This is an even first-round pairing in which South Alabama, playing in its home state, gets the slightest edge in a 68-65 win.
38. BYU This BYU team, like the Mountain West overall, didn't do it for me this season. The Cougars figure to have a tough time scoring against the more tested Aggies. It's Texas A&M in this one, 71-63.
37. DRAKE The Drake-Western Kentucky match up is nearly dead even across the board. You know what that means? Here's your 5-12 upset special and a WKU victory, 76-72.
36. KANSAS STATE K-State has hit the wall in my view, and not even the remarkable Michael Beasley can save the Wildcats. The better team (USC) beats the better player in Round 1, 68-63.
35. INDIANA This one's easy. I think the Hoosiers stopped playing a couple of weeks ago, and the committee noticed. So will Arkansas in a 73-67 victory.
34. DAVIDSON Davidson, in Raleigh, is perhaps the most popular double-digit seed in the board. But I don't think travel or opponent will matter to Gonzaga as the Zags prevail, 72-70.
33. WEST VIRGINIA The Mountaineers have been inconsistent all year long, same as first-round opponent Arizona. The difference, though, when both are at their best, is significant. I like Arizona in a big way, 68-65.
32. SIENA Siena's first-round upset of Vanderbilt is the biggest (by seed) of the tournament. Clemson will remember to guard the Saints, however, in a 79-71 second-round victory.
31. KENT STATE The Golden Flashes win their first NCAA game since the Elite Eight run six years ago. There's no chance of a repeat, though, with a buzz saw like Kansas looming in the second round. It's KU all the way, 81-64.
30. MISSISSIPPI STATE The Bulldogs are the classic 8/9 team. They are just good enough to win one game, but most likely outclassed in the second round. Memphis rolls on, 79-65.
29. SAINT JOSEPH'S The Hawks have rarely strung together consecutive good performances all year long. After upsetting Oklahoma, Saint Joseph's can't manage a repeat against Louisville in a 67-61 defeat.
28. PURDUE The Boilermakers are playing with house money, as their core group is a good year or two ahead of schedule. A relatively easy win over Baylor leads to an unexpectedly close loss against Xavier, 73-70.
27. ARKANSAS It's tempting to think Arkansas can get hot and hang with North Carolina in the second round. And then reality kicks in. Looks like an 88-73 Carolina victory over the Hogs.
26. SAINT MARY'S Did the committee forget about trying to avoid regular-season rematches in the first two rounds? The Gaels may be wondering the same thing after they fall to Texas for the second time this year, 74-64.
25. WESTERN KENTUCKY In a potential second-round pairing with UConn, the Hilltoppers encounter the best defense they have seen all year. The Huskies advance to the Sweet 16, 76-69.
24. MICHIGAN STATE Who knows why the Spartans have been so inconsistent this season? Seems that State could lose in the first round or play well into the second weekend. Let's split the difference and forecast a close loss to Pitt, 65-62.
23. NOTRE DAME Doesn't a potential second-round matchup with Washington State strike you as exactly the type game (and site) that would frustrate the free-flowing Irish? Me, too. Wazzu goes to the Sweet 16 by beating Notre Dame, 67-65.
22. TEXAS A&M Interestingly, the Aggies played a fabulous game against UCLA in Anaheim just last season. It doesn't figure to be as close this time around. The Bruins aren't losing in their own backyard and advance with a 71-61 victory.
21. GONZAGA A very tempting upset pick would be Gonzaga over Georgetown in an all-Jesuit, second-round showdown. Ultimately, though, the Hoyas have too much size and strength and they wear down the Zags, 69-63.
20. SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA The Trojans will find Wisconsin a whole lot tougher than Kansas State once they reach Round 2. You can just see the Badgers forcing O.J. Mayo into one of those 6-for-22 shooting nights. USC goes down, 67-60.
19. MARQUETTE It's Big East versus Pac-10 in a great second-round matchup in Anaheim. The operative word there is Anaheim, giving a distinct advantage to Stanford. The Cardinal prevails in narrow fashion, 71-70.
18. TENNESSEE Call me crazy, but not all No. 1 and No. 2 seeds are surviving into the second weekend. Tennessee appears vulnerable to me, and the run-and-gun South Alabama Jaguars have the firepower and site (Birmingham) to pull a huge upset. The Jags play on, 75-70.
17. DUKE Let me ask you this: If Arizona and Duke had played in December on a neutral court, which would have been favored? The honest answer is "we don't know." Sounds to me like two teams much closer in talent than their respective seeds. Also, sounds like an upset special for Arizona, 71-69.
16. SOUTH ALABAMA In the first round (and maybe more), pick against South Alabama at your own risk. The Jaguars can score and are unafraid of SEC opponents. Louisville ends their run but not until the Sweet 16, 71-62.
15. WASHINGTON STATE I can't imagine a less appealing trip than Pullman, Wash., to Charlotte, N.C., to play North Carolina. Wazzu's ride ends in the Sweet 16, 65-49.
14. CLEMSON I'd like Clemson's chances a whole lot more against any of the other No. 1 seeds. But Kansas has even more horses and athleticism than the Tigers and advances to the Elite Eight, 84-75.
13. STANFORD Stanford is very good, but Texas is better (especially in Houston). The home-state advantage for the Cardinal in Round 2 goes the other way in Round 3. Stanford falls to the Longhorns, 74-70.
12. CONNECTICUT UConn's last tourney appearance ended ignominiously at the hands of Cinderella George Mason. The Huskies are back and Sweet 16-bound, but UCLA is far superior in the Sweet 16, sending UConn home with a 74-68 defeat.
11. XAVIER The Musketeers are a hard team to figure, as their incredible balance can be both a blessing and a curse. What it's not is enough to beat another Arizona school in its home state. Xavier falls to Arizona in the Sweet 16, 75-71.
10. WISCONSIN Don't expect many fireworks if and when Wisconsin and Georgetown square off in the Sweet 16. This is a "system" game, and the Hoyas have had a little more success with theirs the past two years. The Badgers bow out, 69-67.
9. MEMPHIS All those worries about the Tigers facing Texas in Houston may be premature. First Memphis may need to get past Pitt, and I think the Panthers match up with the Tigers chest-to-chest. The upset of the second weekend sees Memphis go down, 69-65.
8. ARIZONA Why is no one talking about the possibility of Arizona's winning two games and playing in Phoenix? You heard it here first. The Wildcats edge West Virginia and then stun Duke. The run ends in the Elite Eight against Pac-10 rival UCLA, 74-71.
7. PITTSBURGH The streaking Panthers finally run out of gas in the South regional final. D.J. Augustin's quickness is the difference as Texas reaches its second Final Four in six years, knocking out Pitt, 74-65.
6. LOUISVILLE Anywhere but Charlotte and I might take the Ville over North Carolina. The Tar Heels aren't being denied a Final Four appearance this year, though, and Carolina eliminates Louisville, 80-71, in the East regional final.
5. GEORGETOWN Last year, the Hoyas stunned North Carolina in the East regional title game. But Kansas is too good in this year's Midwest title game, and Georgetown falls just short of a second straight Final Four. The Jayhawks play on, 77-69.
4. TEXAS The Longhorns are aligned for a rematch with UCLA, and this time the Bruins return the favor. Texas defeated the Bruins in California, but UCLA knocks off the Longhorns in San Antonio. Call it 70-65.
3. NORTH CAROLINA It's only a matter of time before Roy Williams faces his former team. That it comes in the Final Four is even better, but Kansas has an edge at the defensive end and enough big bodies to wear down Tyler Hansbrough. It's KU over UNC for a chance to play for the title, 81-78.
2. KANSAS The Big 12 gets its two best teams into the Final Four, but neither cuts down the nets. The Jayhawks leave it all on the floor to best UNC in the game of the tournament and then succumb to UCLA's incredible balance two nights later, 74-71.
1. UCLA May the best team win.
To watch Joe Lunardi's video analysis of each team, click here.
Joe Lunardi is the resident Bracketologist for ESPN, ESPN.com and ESPN Radio. Comments may be sent to email@example.com.
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