The first weekend of the men’s NCAA tournament is officially in the books, and there’s a pretty good chance that your bracket is already in shambles. The first four days of the tournament didn’t bring a critical mass of upsets, but shockers like Fairleigh Dickinson’s win over Purdue, Princeton’s run to the Sweet 16 and Arkansas’s takedown of defending champion Kansas set up a round few would have predicted.
After seeing the first weekend, who is the current favorite to cut down the nets? Here’s Sports Illustrated’s second-chance bracket picks.
- No. 1 Alabama defeats No. 5 San Diego State
- No. 6 Creighton defeats No. 15 Princeton
- No. 1 Alabama defeats No. 6 Creighton
The South Region has played out as well for No. 1 seed Alabama as the Tide could have possibly hoped, with No. 2 Arizona, No. 3 Baylor and No. 4 Virginia all knocked out before they could get a crack at the Crimson Tide. San Diego State is one of the nation’s stingiest defenses and will try to keep the score down in its Sweet 16 showdown with the Tide, but I’m just not sure the Aztecs have enough firepower to take down the No. 1 overall seed.
Meanwhile, Princeton, which has won the rebounding battle in each of its two NCAA tournament wins, will again try to control tempo against a talented Creighton team. The Tigers’ Cinderella run may be coming to an end, though, as the Bluejays have better guards than Arizona or Missouri did, and Ryan Kalkbrenner is quite the deterrent around the rim defensively. The big question: Can Creighton, a top-10 team in the preseason, keep up with Alabama? Creighton doesn’t have nearly the depth the Tide does, but its starting unit matches up fairly well. Wing Arthur Kaluma likely will draw the assignment of Alabama star freshman Brandon Miller, and, if he can neutralize the Tide’s leading scorer, Creighton could pull off the upset.
- No. 1 Houston defeats No. 5 Miami
- No. 2 Texas defeats No. 3 Xavier
- No. 2 Texas defeats No. 1 Houston
Houston’s first 60 minutes at the NCAA tournament weren’t overly pretty, as it struggled to get past No. 16 Northern Kentucky before trailing at the half against Auburn. But the Cougars really turned it on in the second half, outscoring Auburn by 27 points to win comfortably despite guard Jamal Shead and Marcus Sasser dealing with foul trouble. It’d be foolish to count out Miami, one of the toughest teams in the field fresh off dominating a much bigger Indiana team on the glass, but Houston has enough firepower to keep up with Miami’s guards and should hang in better on the boards.
Meanwhile, Texas showed off its experience weathering the storm against Penn State after the Nittany Lions took the lead late in the second half. The Longhorns are one of the most complete teams in the field, and the emergence of Dylan Disu as a weapon on the interior has made them even more difficult to guard. Rodney Terry’s Longhorns should continue past Xavier and into an in-state showdown with Houston. It won’t be easy, but if Texas can match Houston’s physicality, it has the playmakers to win this game and get to the Final Four for just the second time since the 1940s.
- No. 4 UConn defeats No. 8 Arkansas
- No. 3 Gonzaga defeats No. 2 UCLA
- No. 4 UConn defeats No. 3 Gonzaga
UConn has found its second gear, looking more and more like the team that dominated the nonconference earlier this season after a pair of impressive performances during the first weekend in Albany. The Huskies are heavily reliant on the three and become vulnerable when shots don’t fall, but they are still capable of beating high-level teams thanks to the presence of Adama Sanogo and Donovan Clingan down low. Arkansas is loaded with talent and has multiple players capable of making tough shots, but it will take a monster defensive effort to slow down the Huskies.
The other Sweet 16 matchup out West is a familiar one in NCAA tournament lore. Gonzaga and UCLA meet in a rematch of two historic games, including the 2021 Final Four matchup won on Jalen Suggs’s buzzer-beating three. Both teams still have familiar faces from that one: Gonzaga is still built around Drew Timme, while Tyger Campbell and Jaime Jaquez Jr. are still the nucleus of this UCLA team. In the end, UCLA just may not have the firepower to keep up with Gonzaga’s offense with Jaylen Clark sidelined. Gonzaga vs. UConn would be all kinds of fun, but it seems foolish to bet against the Huskies right now. When UConn’s at its best, there are very few teams nationally that can beat it.
- No. 9 Florida Atlantic defeats No. 4 Tennessee
- No. 3 Kansas State defeats No. 7 Michigan State
- No. 3 Kansas State defeats No. 9 Florida Atlantic
The East’s bracket was blown to pieces in the first weekend. Between Purdue’s shocking defeat to FDU, Marquette’s early exit against Michigan State and losses by trendy picks like Duke, Kentucky and Memphis, we’re left with a surprising four teams headed to Madison Square Garden.
Florida Atlantic is for real. The Owls have 33 wins on the season and elite guards. Tennessee’s physicality may be a problem, but the Vols are vulnerable to off nights when they struggle from deep. It shouldn’t surprise anyone if FAU pulls off the upset and advances to the Elite Eight.
Meanwhile, Tom Izzo’s Michigan State will be a trendy pick to continue its run, but the Spartans will have their hands full with Kansas State’s Markquis Nowell and Keyontae Johnson. When Nowell is as good as he was against Kentucky, it’s hard to imagine anyone in this region beating the Wildcats.
- No. 1 Alabama defeats No. 3 Kansas State
- No. 2 Texas defeats No. 4 UConn
Kansas State’s remarkable run in Jerome Tang’s first season will come to an end against an Alabama team that has looked a cut above the rest so far. In the second game, a Texas-vs.-UConn matchup could be one of the most exciting of the tournament, and Texas seems like a better bet given that it is less reliant on jump-shooting to win games.
That would set up a matchup between Alabama and Texas for the title. And while Rodney Terry leading Texas to a championship as interim coach would be an amazing story, Alabama is just too good. The Crimson Tide have so many ways to beat opponents, and Jahvon Quinerly’s recent resurgence makes Alabama even more dangerous than it already looked. I’m sticking with my original pick: Alabama will be cutting down the nets in Houston.