By Joseph Santoliquito
PHILADELPHIA (CBS)—Now comes the hard part. Filling out that bracket sheet and selecting the magic “Cinderella” this year. What makes this NCAA Tournament so interesting is that there are no world-beaters in the 68-team field.
What will no doubt intrigue the Philadelphia basketball community is the potential third-round matchup between Villanova (28-4 overall), a No. 2 seed in the East Regional, meeting No. 10 St. Joe’s (24-9), making its first NCAA Tournament appearance in six years.
That’s if both teams win.
The Wildcats and St. Joe’s are capable of that dream Holy War match. The Wildcats will be facing a No. 15 Milwaukee (21-13) on Thursday in Buffalo, N.Y., followed by St. Joe’s against No. 7 UConn (26-8), also on Thursday in Buffalo.
The likelihood of Villanova or St. Joe’s going any further than that begins to diminish from there. Villanova has been exceptional at times, but the Seton Hall loss still holds a sour taste. The Wildcats certainly good enough to go deep, but the Hawks are very capable of upsetting them, if they meet in the third round.
Of the No. 1 seeds, Florida (South), Arizona (West), Virginia (East) and Wichita State (Midwest), Virginia may appear to be the shakiest of the quartet, but the Cavaliers, who are 3-3 against top-25 AP teams and 2-1 against top-10, including defeating Duke in the ACC Championship.
Our Final Four: Florida (South), Arizona (West), Michigan State (East) and Louisville (Midwest).
In the South Region, watch for No. 12 Stephen F. Austin (31-2) against No. 5 VCU (26-8). The Lumberjacks don’t turn the ball over. Another team that’s watch worthy in this bracket is No. 10 New Mexico (27-6), which features 7-1 Alex Kirk and 6-9 Cameron Bairstow.
In the East, No. 3 Iowa State (36-7) could come out of the region. But the Cyclones would have to get by Michigan State. That may not happen.
In the West, No. 2 Wisconsin (26-7), coached by Chester High grad Bo Ryan, is good enough to reach the Elite Eight, where they could possibly meet one of the best defensive teams in the nation, No. 1 seed Arizona, and another Chester High grad, super freshman Rondae Hollis-Jefferson.
In the Midwest, No. 1 Wichita State (34-0) has had an amazing season. And a good nucleus of the Shocker team that reached the Final Four last year returns. But this is where the Shockers could tumble. They lost to eventual national champion Louisville last year, and could possibly meet the same demise this season. No team has been hotter than Louisville.
National Champion Prediction: Michigan State