Barack Obama and I share three Final Four teams: Louisville, Pitt and Memphis. He, conservatively, has UNC in the South. I have Syracuse. (He has Cuse getting to the regional final, though.)
His bracket will be revealed on ESPN at noon today, but I actually found the complete versions of his East and South brackets, and so I led today's SN column with an analysis of his early-round picks, in addition to his conventional Final Four.
The upshot: Very pragmatic, as expected. Few upsets. A blind spot for Illinois (obviously) and perhaps a little over-enthusiasm for Florida State (politically smart, given the state's value in the 2012 election?)
Notably, he picked VCU over UCLA. Most folks are riding VCU as an upset pick. I have gone over, ad nauseum, my issues here. I am picking UCLA. I actually feel OK about it.
Make no mistake: I feel BAD that VCU won't move on. I feel BAD that I couldn't pick them to the Elite Eight, as I wanted to. But I don't think my pick will be wrong. (Ack! Jinx!)
I also don't feel bad about picking Syracuse to upend UNC in the South:
First of all, I think UNC -- even if they win the region -- won't beat Pitt. So my exposure is limited. Second, I think that Ty Lawson's status is iffy enough -- and UNC is affected enough by his iffy status -- that it's no lock to pick them.
At full strength, UNC would be tough to beat. The fact is: They won't be at full strength. And if they play Syracuse? Good luck to Lawson keeping up with Jonny Flynn, who has emerged as the most dynamic PG in the country -- even more dynamic than Lawson.
No, the only pick I feel weird about -- the one that could derail my bracket most -- is Duke. I have Duke losing to Texas in the 2nd round.
There are a few problems with this: (1) The game is in Greensboro. (2) Duke this year is better -- a lot better -- than the previous two years' chokers. (3) Texas isn't that good. (4) Greg Paulus doesn't really play much anymore.
And No. 4 is the crux of it: I am blinded by my loathing of Duke and my schadenfreude to see them lose early, yet again. Greg Paulus kind of typifies that -- he may be the least likeable Duke player of all time, which is saying something.
But Paulus isn't really playing anymore. In fact, he has been benched into oblivion. And, did you notice, Duke got a lot better once Paulus stopped getting starter's minutes.
Here is an unknown: When it comes down to crunch time, will Coach K -- no great Xs and Os tactician -- give Paulus important minutes because Coach K has a blind spot for his seniors and for his gritty favorites?
(See the '99 title game, when he put the ball in Trajan Langdon's hands; he promptly bungled what would have been the game-winning play. Oh, and Coach K sat freshman Corey Maggette for extended minutes, even though Maggette was the only player on the Duke roster able to dominate UConn, as he proved in the game's opening minutes. This decision-making formed the basis of my argument that Coach K is not a great game coach. Calhoun schooled him.)
So here it is: If Coach K cares more about winning than his leadership, he will keep Paulus out of the game -- and Duke will win. If Coach K cares more about leadership than winning, he will play Paulus out of some irrational loyalty -- and Duke will lose.
I am betting on the latter.
But if Coach K uses the former strategy and he destroys a little piece of his soul in the process -- doing whatever he needs to get the win (particularly given the pressure he and the program are under after the last two season-ending debacles) -- it's a win for Duke-haters, even if Duke wins.
Complete SN column here. More later.