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Columnist predictions for March Madness

What's Going Downey

By Tom Downey
On March 22, 2013

March Madness is here. A few columnists came together and gave a sleeper, bust and champion pick. Of course, these will be printed after the first day of games, so we could all look incredibly foolish, or perhaps brilliant... but probably foolish.

JM Rieger

Sleeper: Saint Louis University (SLU)

The Billikens not only won the Atlantic-10 Conference regular season and tournament titles, but did so in a convincing fashion amidst a tough conference. The only conferences with more tournament teams are the Big East and the Big Ten. SLU lost only three conference games, two of which came in overtime, and racked up five wins against top 25 teams. Experience from one of the nation's top conferences coupled with a top 20 defense will propel SLU to Atlanta.

Bust: Marquette University

Despite its No. 3 seed, the Golden Eagles will land shortly after taking off. Marquette was under .500 on the road this year and four of the team's eight losses came against top 25 RPI teams. Although the Eagles defeated Davidson College in the first round, they will face a feisty Butler University team in the second round that Marquette lost to in November. Marquette is gassed from a brutal schedule and it will show this weekend.

Champion: University of Florida

To some, the Gators struggled down the stretch, going 6-4 in the team's last 10 games. At first glance, Florida does not seem like the type of team poised to make a run to Atlanta this year. However, this is an elite offensive and defensive team, as they are fifth in offensive efficiency and second in defensive efficiency. Florida manhandled top teams like Marquette and the University of Wisconsin and won every game by double digits this year. Depth, athleticism and Billy Donovan's championship experience will make the difference, and the Gators will cut down the nets to earn its third title in the past seven years.

Ross Simon

Sleeper: Creighton University.

The Bluejays are 27-7 on the season with quality wins against Wisconsin, Arizona State University, the University of Akron and the University of California. Creighton did face a tough stretch late in the season, dropping three in a row without star junior forward Doug McDermott, but they enter the tourney on a five game winning streak. The Bluejays are first in the nation in shooting percentage, shooting over 50 percent for the season. I've got the Bluejays knocking off the University of Cincinnati in the first round and sending Duke University home early, before falling to Michigan State University in the Sweet 16.

Bust: Duke University

As well-coached as the Blue Devils are, with Mike Krzyzewski manning the bench, and as talented as Duke is, this is a team I believe will come in underprepared. Duke has had tough tests, knocking off the likes of Ohio State University, the University of Miami and the University of Louisville along the way, but all of those games were played at a neutral site or at home. This Duke team has not been tested in front of a hostile crowd against a capable team and won. Many fans will want to see the Blue Devils fall early...and fall they will. Duke goes down in the round of 32 to Creighton. Duke always seems to have too high of expectations, and this Duke team hasn't shown they can win on the road. Even against lesser teams like the University of Maryland or the University of Virginia, Duke could not take care of business and they will fail again this March.

Champion: University of Louisville

Louisville is one of the best coached teams in the nation with Rick Pitino at the helm. Louisville also has an All-American in senior guard Peyton Siva, one of the best point guards in the nation. Louisville has not lost since their five overtime thriller against the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame and has shown that they can compete with their backs against the wall. Down big against Syracuse University in the Big East tournament championship game, Louisville went on a 27-3 run in the final eight minutes of the game to pull away and win easily. The Cardinals boast an extraordinary frontcourt with junior center Gorgui Dieng leading the way. Dieng has made a major impact for Coach Pitino and the Cardinals. With Siva and Dieng to go along with the likes of junior guard Russ Smith, it's hard to pick against this Louisville squad. 

Joe Gieringer

Bust: The University of Michigan

The Wolverines had a run as number one for a time this year, and have played exceptionally well against out-of-conference opponents. All seven losses have come inside the Big Ten, and five of the seven have been to ranked opponents. But they haven't played a? versatile team like that of number 13 seed South Dakota State University (SDSU). Both teams match up well, but the Jackrabbits are just too dynamic and this opening round game has upset written all over it. Every starter on the floor for SDSU can shoot from behind the arc and senior guard Nate Wolters ranks fourth in the NCAA averaging 27.7 points per game. And, if history repeats itself - and it often does - then Big Blue is in trouble. Last year, the Wolverines were also a four-seed, and guess what happened? They lost to 13-seed Ohio University. Michigan lacks the maturity to make a late game comeback, so if the Jackrabbits jump out in front early, the Maize and Blue's first-round woes will continue.

Sleeper: Virginia Commonwealth University

The Rams stunned the nation with their magical Final Four run just two years ago, and now they're a known quantity. Assuming my above prediction is correct and the J ackrabbits hop past the Wolverines, VCU should have a clear path to the Sweet 16, which is where things get interesting. I still don't know if Shaka Smart's Cinderella program could repeat the feat and beat one-seed Kansas, but with the best "Havoc" defense in the nation and an offense that's ranked eleventh nationally, the Rams' balanced attack led looks better than ever. Don't count VCU out just yet.

Champion: Indiana University

I just can't find a reason not to have the Hoosiers cutting down the netting when all is said and done. Sophomore forward Cody Zeller is unmatched inside and the entire squad looks unbeatable when hitting on all cylinders. Though they suffered a tough loss to Wisconsin in the Big Ten tournament, they're such a complete team that I can't see them having much problem en route to the Final Four. With four separate players scoring over 10 points per game, Indiana is primed to win their sixth National Championship, and their first since 1987.

Tom Downey

Sleeper: Virginia Commonwealth University

Remember that VCU squad that made a miraculous run to the Final Four a few years ago? Well this current squad had a better regular season than the Final Four team. The Fightin' Shaka Smarts led the nation in steals and put up the 11th most points per game. Their "Havoc" defense will cause opposing players and coaches fits on the court and might led to nightmares off. Don't sleep on this squad, as an Elite Eight run or even another Final Four trip is possible.

Bust: Duke University

There is no denying Duke has talent. The problem is Duke relies way too much on the three point shot. If they have a bad night, they aren't going to win. They struggle defensively as well, as Duke is 124th in defensive field goal percentage. No team that is at least a No. 3 seed is worse than 68th. Ouch. They also have a tough draw as they will likely have to face Creighton and Michigan State in the second and third rounds, respectively. They won't get past the bruising Spartans, and I don't even have them getting past the feisty Bluejays.

Champion: University of Louisville

Everyone knows defense wins championships and Louisville averages 10.7 steals per game, good for second in the nation. The Cards have two talented guards, in Siva and Smith. Siva is the heart and soul of the team, but they'll go as far as the inconsistent yet dangerous Smith takes them. I've got my money on coach Rick Pitino being able to get Smith to play to the best of his ability.

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