LOS ANGELES — I picked Fairleigh Dickinson to lose to Texas Southern in the First Four.
I whiffed on the entire Sweet 16 of the East Region.
All my Cinderellas didn’t find their March romance and went home dateless for the second weekend.
In other words, I’m just like most of you. But what may make me different is that I actually watched a good portion of nearly every game played from Thursday to Sunday. I’m either going to be on-point for the rest of the tournament because of it, or I currently have “square eyes,” which is what I tell my 5-year-old daughter she will contract if she doesn’t get off her iPad.
We’ll find out the answer soon enough. Here goes with my annual Sweet 16 reset of the bracket — an exercise that won’t make me any new friends in Westwood.
Sweet 16 picks and predictions
No. 4 Connecticut vs. No. 8 Arkansas
Thursday, 4:15 p.m., Las Vegas
Line: UConn by 3.5.
Original pick: UConn over Kansas.
New pick: I had the Huskies pulling off the same upset the Razorbacks just pulled, knocking off the defending national champion Jayhawks. Arkansas showed a lot of moxie getting past Kansas, but it took a ridiculous showing from backup guard Davonte Davis, who stepped in for a struggling Nick Smith Jr. UConn’s dominant performance in wins over Iona and Saint Mary’s seems more sustainable and keeps my confidence in the Huskies’ spectacular depth across their rotation.
— Prediction: UConn 68, Arkansas 61
No. 2 UCLA vs. No. 3 Gonzaga
Thursday, 6:45 p.m., Las Vegas
Line: UCLA by 2.
Original pick: UCLA 63, Gonzaga 60.
New pick: In my original pick, I wrote, “The Bruins absolutely need a healthy Adem Bona to have a chance of slowing down Drew Timme inside.” I am not at all convinced that Bona, who hurt his shoulder during Saturday’s win over Northwestern, is going to play, much less be able to handle Timme, one of the great NCAA Tournament big men of the modern era. The Zags showed tremendous toughness coming back to beat a capable Texas Christian squad. I underestimated the supporting cast around Timme. Sorry, Bruins fans, but I’m flipping this one upon further review.
— Prediction: Gonzaga 66, UCLA 63
No. 1 Houston vs. No. 5 Miami
Friday, 4:15 p.m., Kansas City
Line: Houston by 7.
Original pick: Houston over Drake.
New pick: When I picked the Drake over Miami upset, I had assumed Norchad Omier’s injury was going to limit him or keep him out entirely. Omier was a force over the weekend, helping the Hurricanes to the second weekend once again. Miami is feisty, but Houston has the best guard on the floor in Marcus Sasser, plus the athletes to tussle with Omier inside in J’Wan Roberts and Jarace Walker. The Cougars move on even with the tougher Sweet 16 matchup.
— Prediction: Houston 64, Miami 59
No. 2 Texas vs. No. 3 Xavier
Friday, 6:45 p.m., Kansas City
Line: Texas by 4.
Original pick: Texas 72, Xavier 67.
New pick: In my original pick, I wrote, “The Longhorns are playing with an edge that only comes with trying to get your interim head coach the full-time job.” Texas struggled in the second half to close out Penn State, but the Longhorns ultimately didn’t waver much in their resolve to play for Rodney Terry through two games. Watching Xavier, on the other hand, felt like riding a roller coaster. The Musketeers nearly lost to Kennesaw State and then blew out Pittsburgh. Texas’ consistency, particularly on the defensive end, will win out. I’ll stay with Bevo — and by the same score.
— Prediction: Texas 72, Xavier 67
No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 5 San Diego State
Friday, 3:30 p.m., Louisville
Line: Alabama by 7.5
Original pick: Alabama 83, San Diego State 57.
New pick: In my original pick, I wrote, “This one is going to be ugly. There just isn’t much San Diego State can do better than Alabama for 40 minutes.” While I still agree with that last sentiment, I fully did not understand how well-schooled San Diego State is on how to play winning basketball by coach Brian Dutcher. Alabama is going to win this game because it can score and defend at a higher level, but this will be much closer. The Aztecs will make the Crimson Tide work for it well into the second half.
— Prediction: Alabama 76, San Diego State 66
No. 6 Creighton vs. No. 15 Princeton
Friday, 6 p.m., Louisville
Line: Creighton by 10.
Original pick: Creighton over Arizona.
New pick: First, we have to start by tipping our cap to Princeton, the heroes of the Ivy League and low-major teams across the country. I assumed that the Cinderella magic would wear off in round two against Missouri, but the Tigers only doubled down on the fact they are an excellent team that belongs in the hunt for a Final Four. That said, I can’t take them over Creighton, which survived North Carolina State’s tough guards and then humbled Baylor. I liked Creighton over Arizona because of its ability to beat you offensively from all five spots, and that belief was buttressed only more over the weekend.
— Prediction: Creighton 73, Princeton 65
No. 4 Tennessee vs. No. 9 Florida Atlantic
Thursday, 6 p.m., New York City
Line: Tennessee by 5.
Original pick: Duke over Purdue.
New pick: I really whiffed on this region, there’s no denying it. I didn’t expect this Tennessee team which had been limping to the finish line to be the squad to break through for Rick Barnes, but here we are. That’s the tournament. Florida Atlantic is a nice story, but the Owls caught a big break with the late injury to Kendric Davis in their Memphis escape and barely edged No. 16 seed Cinderella Fairleigh Dickinson on Sunday. As long as the refs let the Vols play physical, they are going to the Elite Eight.
— Prediction: Tennessee 67, Florida Atlantic 59
No. 3 Kansas State vs. No. 7 Michigan State
Thursday, 3:30 p.m., New York City
Line: Michigan State by 2.
Original pick: Marquette over Kentucky.
New pick: I must have momentarily lost my mind when I picked Montana State over Kansas State in round one. I clearly forgot the power of having a clutch lead guard in March, and the Wildcats’ Markquis Nowell was simply breathtaking throughout the opening weekend. Tom Izzo now has three days to prepare the Spartans for Nowell, and the good news for him is that Michigan State has a heady, mentally tough group in the backcourt. Kansas State first-year head coach Jerome Tang just sent John Calipari home early, but outmaneuvering Izzo in March once he’s got a full head of steam? Not happening.
— Prediction: Michigan State 64, Kansas State 63
Elite Eight picks and predictions
No. 3 Gonzaga vs. No. 4 UConn
Saturday, March 25, Las Vegas
Original pick: UConn over UCLA.
New pick: The Huskies will draw a different Elite Eight opponent — one that could test them more. Gonzaga will attempt to play faster than UConn wants and certainly has more offensive firepower than the Bruins. But the Huskies have the talent and size inside to deal with Timme with Adama Sanogo and Donovan Clingan, plus the better selection of perimeter players. Mark Few has a lot more experience than Danny Hurley on the big stage, so expect a close one. I’ll stick with UConn to the Final Four.
— Prediction: UConn 75, Gonzaga 70
No. 1 Houston vs. No. 2 Texas
Sunday, March 26, Kansas City
Original pick: Houston 59, Texas 54
New pick: In my original pick, I wrote, “Houston’s program has been knocking on the door and feels like it’s been building toward this moment. That it comes against Bevo makes it even richer.” Indeed, there’s just something about this Houston team that feels like it will rise above just about any challenge. The Cougars got thrown a curveball with a second-round road game against Auburn in Birmingham and blew past the Tigers in the second half after trailing by double digits. Kelvin Sampson has put together a great roster that plays well together, and that will be just enough to hold off old Southwest Conference rival Texas. I don’t see any reason to change the score prediction. This one’s going to be a grind.
— Prediction: Houston 59, Texas 54
No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 6 Creighton
Sunday, March 26, Louisville
Original pick: Alabama 72, Creighton 67.
New pick: In my original pick, I wrote, “Alabama’s swarming athleticism will help numb the nerves” that the Crimson Tide will be feeling while playing for the school’s first Final Four with the nation rooting against them. I still believe the Crimson Tide will be able to overwhelm Creighton’s guards and make it tough with their size inside to get the ball into Bluejay big man Ryan Kalkbrenner. No reason to change this pick or the score.
— Prediction: Alabama 72, Creighton 67
No. 4 Tennessee vs. No. 7 Michigan State
Saturday, March 25, New York City
Original pick: Marquette over Duke.
New pick: Neither of these teams has a star player that is going to pick up All-America selections or national awards. These are teams to the extreme. Tennessee enters the Sweet 16 with the best defense in the country according to Ken Pomeroy’s efficiency ratings, which is by far the best statistical group in this game. The Volunteers will beat Izzo at his own game, proving their toughness in Madison Square Garden to make the school’s first Final Four.
— Tennessee 61, Michigan State 57
Final Four picks and predictions
No. 1 Houston vs. No. 4 UConn
Saturday, April 1, Houston
Original pick: Houston 65, UConn 60.
New pick: In my original pick, I wrote of the Cougars, “nothing — not even a hot UConn team that has all the pieces — will keep them from hosting Monday night’s final.” I like the Huskies even more than I did a week ago, and if any other team but Houston comes out of the Midwest, I’d take UConn in a heartbeat. But it’s going to be Houston, and I’m sticking with my gut and the original score.
— Prediction: Houston 65, UConn 60
No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Tennessee
Saturday, April 1, Houston
Original pick: Alabama over Marquette.
Pick: Well, well, well. Nothing like a football rivalry (if you can really call it that, given Alabama’s recent dominance) spilling over to basketball’s grandest stage. Both schools will be making their First Final Four appearance, and they’ll hardly be able to enjoy it for fear that the journey will end at the hands of the despised other. These squads know each other well; there will not be any secrets or surprises, just a flat-out border war that will be won by the team with more offensive weapons. Nice run, though, Rocky Top.
— Prediction: Alabama 68, Tennessee 61
National championship pick and prediction
No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 1 Houston
Monday, April 3, Houston
Original pick: Alabama 69, Houston 63
Pick: In my original pick, I wrote, “Back in December when Alabama was just a good basketball team nobody knew much about, the Crimson Tide overcame a 15-point deficit to beat No. 1 Houston in its home arena. In the rematch, the hometown Cougars will have the whole country behind them. Yet, so far, Alabama has thrived in the role of villain, and the Crimson Tide will be happy to go down as one of the most loathsome champions in college basketball history.” Did I see anything this weekend to push the original score seven points in Houston’s favor? Nope. But I do expect Alabama’s win to be closer. These are the country’s two finest teams, and it’s rightfully going to come down to which can make a big shot in the final minute.
— Prediction: Alabama 68, Houston 66