Some things to watch for in this year’s tourney, and yeah I am using the old region names:

South Region (Atlanta)

This is the toughest region in the brackets. People have projected a Duke/Carolina regional final, but what about the possibility of a 2nd Crosstown Shootout between Cincy and Xavier? Actually Carolina is underrated as a 6 seed. Even with 10 losses, they only lost once by double digits. But they might have trouble with Air Force in the 1st round. Especially because it’s in the Falcons back yard and at altitude. The Sean May/Nick Welch match-up will be key. Welch will need to have a big night offensively for Air Force to have a chance. Could a Princeton win over Texas send John Thompson III into the lead for the recently vacated Georgetown coaching position? Princeton gave the Horns fits last year in a regular season game in Austin. First round upset pick: None in this region.

West Region (Phoenix)

A wide-open region given that UConn is not totally healthy and Stanford is the weakest #1 seed on the board. Stanford’s road is a breeze to the elite 8, but who will they play there? Nobody has given NC State any respect all year. Despite the fact they were 2nd in the ACC, most folks view a potential UConn/NC St. sweet 16 game as a walkover for the Huskies. The Pack is emotionally focused, has great balance, and shoots lights out from the free throw line. Plus they have the ghost of Jimmy V on the sidelines. First round upset pick: UTEP over Maryland. Also watch for BYU over Syracuse.

East Region (East Rutherford)

I can’t see anyone lower than the top three seeds (St. Joe’s, Oklahoma State, and Pittsburgh) getting to San Antonio. Of course nobody is picking the Hawks to get anywhere close to the Final Four. I think they’ll get to the Elite 8 before having trouble with Oklahoma State. The Hawks’ success is probably not going to depend on what Nelson and West do, but how the role players like Carroll, Stachitas, and Barley shoot the ball. First round upset pick: South Carolina over Memphis.

Midwest Region (St. Louis)

For whatever reason I am not too excited about Kentucky. Maybe I saw them play too much early in the year to believe that they’re in the midst of a revival that makes them unbeatable. I am expecting the Georgia Tech/Gonzaga sweet 16 game to determine who goes to the Final Four. First round upset pick: Pacific over Providence.

I am going with Duke over Oklahoma State in the championship.

Finally, a sure-fire lock prediction for this year’s tourney is that in at least one game, the officials’ repeated use of the monitor will detract from the enjoyment of the game. I know we need to get all the calls right because these games are sooooooo important. But just think, if we had this monitor rule long ago, how would the Christian Laettner moment have turned out? There would have been the celebration after the shot, but then everybody would have had to clear the court while the officials look at replays from several different angles for 5-10 minutes before determining that indeed the shot was good and Duke wins. And then there would have been another celebration. The spontaneity of the buzzer beater will never be the same.