Asmussen | For my bracket, Big Blue Nation leads the way

Asmussen | For my bracket, Big Blue Nation leads the way

I just looked back at my 2018 NCAA tournament picks. Big mistake.

In the middle of the page, where it read "Champion," I had foolishly penciled in "Michigan State."

Oops.

As you might remember, the Spartans didn't make it out of the first weekend. Despite playing in nearby Detroit, they lost in the second round to Jim Boeheim and his pesky Syracuse zone.

It gets worse. I was there at Little Caesars Arena. Watching another bracket blown to smithereens. Insult meet injury.

Time to rethink my selection strategy. Time to lead with my brain instead of my heart. Well, almost.

The smart play this year would be to go with Duke. But nobody would describe me as smart.

And what fun is to pick the favorite? The team full of lottery picks?

Actually, no fun at all.

The Blue Devils will probably cut down the nets at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis the night of April 8. But I won't be in their corner.

Rooting for Duke is like rooting for "Darth Vader" or "Ivan Drago." It's just wrong.

The team with the best players should win. Every year.

Thankfully, college basketball doesn't always work that way. There are upsets. And Cinderellas. And bracket busters.

That's why we watch. We will tune in to see the shockers and the buzzer-beaters, hoping for the next Keith Smart or Lorenzo Charles.

Sorry, Big Ten

Last year, I had enough faith in the conference to put three teams in my Final Four. Fool me once, let's try another tactic.

Retiring Jim Delany, a former North Carolina basketball player, must be happy with eight teams in the field. The most for any league. Excellent work.

They drew difficult paths to the Final Four. Michigan State, the Big Ten's best bet, will have to knock off No. 1 Duke. Gonzaga stands in Michigan's way. Purdue is in the same regional as Virginia and Tennessee.

The Spartans are coming off a win in the Big Ten title game against Michigan. They have Cassius Winston, the league's MVP. Stay healthy and catch a break or two and the Spartans have a chance to make a deep run. But don't count on it.

The rest of the Big Ten will be out early. If Minnesota, Wisconsin, Maryland, Iowa and Ohio State make it to the second weekend, they have overachieved. I'm not a believer this time.

And the winner is ...

Kentucky. Like Duke, the Wildcats have a bunch of future NBA lottery picks on the roster.

And like Duke, it's an endless cycle for Kentucky.

In his 10th season in Lexington, John Calipari has been to four Final Fours, with one title. Time for another.

Calipari was on ESPN before the tournament pairings were announced and he said all the right things. He talked about his team pulling together. He said they still have to grow.

That's Calipari code for "Better look out."

The Wildcats are the No. 2 seed in the Midwest. They open against the Wildcats (Abilene Christian) today in Jacksonville, Fla.

Next, Kentucky plays the winner of Wofford-Seton Hall in the second round and likely will see Houston in the Sweet 16. Win and win.

To get to the Final Four, P.J. Washington, Tyler Herro and pals will have to beat North Carolina or Kansas.

Washington, by the way, was wearing a walking boot earlier this week, but reportedly as a precaution. The Wildcats need him on the court to make the long run.

To reach the title game, Kentucky will have to solve Tennessee in the national semifinal.

The Vols took two out of three against the Wildcats this season, including a four-point win in the SEC tournament. Calipari will have his guys ready in Minneapolis. Kentucky by 10.

No matter who wins the title game between Kenutcky and Gonzaga, someone with N-G ties will be happy. Two of our recent basketball beat writers, Brett Dawson (Kentucky) and Paul Klee (Gonzaga) attended the schools. Here's hoping Brett gains bragging rights. No offense, Paul.

Bob Asmussen can be reached at 217-351-5233 or by email at asmussen@news-gazette.com.

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