University of Southern Indiana's student publication | USI | student newspaper

The Shield

University of Southern Indiana's student publication | USI | student newspaper

The Shield

University of Southern Indiana's student publication | USI | student newspaper

The Shield

Opinion: My official 2024 March Madness bracket guide

The NCAA March Madness tournament spans from March 19 April 8. (Graphic by Karri Fox)

This is going to be a long one. For those who are new to the March Madness tournament, I’m going to explain a lot. It might sound like math, but I swear it isn’t. Although, if you dig deeper, you will find plenty of math, for those who enjoy advanced analytics and statistics.

Now, if you’re a grizzled veteran of watching March Madness, you can probably skip this section. (I’m sure my editors will love that, telling the audience to read less.)

Here are the basics: There are 64 teams that make the tournament. Four of these teams are in what’s called the First Four. These are teams the National Collegiate Athletics Association Committee didn’t quite believe deserved to make it into the tournament but will have a second chance to make it. There are eight teams in this section that will play each other for four available slots.

It’s simple: you win, you’re in. 

The other 60 teams are divided into four regions: East, West, South and Midwest. Each includes 16 teams, seeded one through 16. The No. 1 seeds are the best, and the No. 16 seeds are the worst. (Although, to make the tournament, a team has to be good, so there are no bad teams here, even if I think they’ll get blown out.)

If a team wins its conference tournament championship, it’s automatically in. However, if a team fails to win this title, it can still get in as a selection committee pick, where an NCAA selection committee picks apart a team’s record, the level of competition it has played and whether or not it was ranked by the Associated Press.

Now that I’ve explained a basic level of how teams are selected, I will dive into how I feel going into the Big Dance. 

This is probably the most wide-open I’ve seen the tournament look in a while. The University of Connecticut and Purdue University look strong, but they aren’t unbeatable. Purdue got upset by Wisconsin in the Big Ten tournament, and UConn had a touch-and-go matchup against St. John’s in the Big East tournament but then comfortably beat a solid Marquette team in the Big East tournament championship game. Very strange. 

We have the brackets. They’re here. I’ve printed 10 of them for good measure — it’s my money, and I want to fill out multiple paper brackets because I’m old school. It’s time to make my picks, which will either age like Fine Chateau or the ice-cold pizza that has been sitting in my fridge for two months.

My rules for picking: 

  • Don’t overthink it. Pick with confidence. 
  • Don’t let one bad pick ruin your next pick. 
  • Make your picks on paper. You can feel the bracket better. 
  • Don’t pick all No. 1 seeds and No. 2 seeds in the Final Four. That never happens. 


Stats Going Into My Matchup Analysis 

Overall Field Goal Percentage: The percentage of shots that a team makes, excluding free throws. 

Free-Throw Percentage: Does a team knock down its free throws at crucial points of a game? Can the players rely on getting to the line late in the game?

Effective Field Goal Percentage: How effectively a team scores, taking into account that three-point field goals are more than two-pointers. 

Offensive Efficiency: The number of points a team scores per 100 possessions. This also shows a team’s pace of play.

Defensive Efficiency: How well a team gets stops and controls the pace of the opponent. 

Rebounds/Game: How many rebounds a team grabs per game. 

Bench Points Percentage: How much production a team’s bench gets. Do they have solid depth? 

Assist-Turnover Ratio: How well a team takes care of the ball and whether the players take risky passes.

Points off of Turnovers: Whether a team makes gambles on defense and likes to run off other teams’ mistakes. This also shows a team’s pace of play.

Total Points/Game: The amount of points a team scores per game.

Opponent Points/Game: The amount of points a team gives up per game.

Fouls/Game: The amount of fouls a team commits per game. Do the players commit bad fouls, or do they play smart defense?

Last 10 Games Win Percentage: How much momentum a team has going into the tournament. I think momentum matters heavily.

Net Ranking: How high a team is ranked by the NCAA.

Will Kessinger’s Official NCAA March Madness Bracket, predicting the matchups and events throughout the 2024 NCAA Men’s Basketball National Tournament. (Template courtesy of The National Collegiate Athletics Association)

The East

University of Connecticut (1) vs. Stetson University (16)
UConn is the reigning champion of March Madness and kept most of its core players around. As I stated earlier, they’ve been solid this season, and I think Stetson is just here to smell the roses. UConn beats Stetson by a lot and moves into the second round. 

Florida Atlantic University (8) vs. Northwestern University (9)
This will be an electric matchup. Florida Atlantic University was a great story last year, as they made it to the Final Four, losing to a tough San Diego State team that eventually lost to UConn. They are back this year, and despite not winning the American Athletic Conference Regular season or tournament title, they were still highly ranked and won the most games in their conference with a tough schedule. 

Northwestern was on a solid run before losing senior guard Ty Berry to a knee injury, which certainly is a huge loss. Before Berry’s injury, the team beat Purdue, Michigan State and the Big Ten tournament winner, Illinois. Despite all the problems Northwestern faced, the team was formidable for most of the season and had solid depth at the guard spot to fill Berry’s production. 

I’m going to pick FAU here mainly because of their experience in the tournament last year, but I could see this one being a coin flip. 

San Diego State University (5) vs. University of Alabama at Birmingham (12).
Despite this seeming like a pretty normal first-round matchup on paper, San Diego State leads University of Alabama at Birmingham in net ranking and opponent efficiency, and UAB didn’t look that impressive in the regular season. San Diego State is also a very solid defensive team, having a top-10 defensive efficiency ranking. However, in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament, UAB got red-hot and ended up winning the conference tournament championship. Some of the advanced stats like UAB have a better assist-turnover ratio, a better overall scoring efficiency and better depth, as they lead San Diego in bench points percentage. My gut is mixed here, as I slightly lean toward teams with more momentum, but San Diego State seems like a team that has at least one tournament win in them. I hate this pick, but I’m going to make it. 

Auburn University (4) vs. Yale University (13)
For me, this matchup screams “Auburn, War Eagle Baby!” Auburn won the Southeastern Conference and looks to be in good form. Also, Auburn beats up on bad teams, and Yale is only here because it won the Ivy League Tournament, which is known for intelligence, but in terms of championship-level basketball talent. I’ll be nice and say they’re going to be smelling the roses with Stetson. However, Auburn has struggled against good teams, going 2-7 against top 30 opponents, so note that for later.

Also, Auburn is coached by Bruce Pearl, who, back in the ‘90s, coached at the University of Southern Indiana, so I have a slight bias here.

Brigham Young University (6) vs. Duquesne University (11)
Brigham Young University is a tough draw for No. 11 Duquesne, as they lead them in almost every statistical category. Duquesne has momentum, as they won the Atlantic 10, but that conference is not very good. BYU should comfortably win this matchup.

University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (3) vs. Morehead State University (14)
Illinois is kind of a one-dimensional team, as it averages 85.2 points per game but gives up 73.6 PPG to opponents, which leads to them getting behind early, but they do not go away easily, as seen in the Big Ten tournament, which they won. Morehead State, which won the Ohio Valley Conference, is an excellent defensive team but is also a slow-tempo team. They got a bad draw here, so I’m going to pick Illinois.

Washington State University (7) vs. Drake University (10)
This is an interesting matchup, as Washington State has some impressive wins, notably beating Arizona twice, which is certainly hard to accomplish. They have a solid defense and only give up 66.9 points per contest, but offensively, they lag behind Drake. Drake shoots 48% from the field, which is solid, and gets 16.74 points off turnovers, as they like to run and gun quite a bit. Drake also has some impressive wins, beating Indiana State twice, Nevada and Bradley. This will be a fun matchup to watch. I’m going to pick Drake in a slight upset, as Drake is actually favored by a single point in the matchup analysis

Iowa State University (2) vs. South Dakota State University (15)
Iowa State is basically the opposite of Illinois, as its defense is lockdown, and it only gives up 61.3 PPG to opponents. They recently beat Houston in the Big 12 tournament, who are one of few teams to win 30 games this season. This is probably going to be an ugly game where both teams go on scoring droughts, which means I’ll probably doze off while watching this matchup. Also, South Dakota State is one of those teams that always makes it into the tournament but makes zero noise. Iowa State to the second round, for the time being.


The West 

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (1) vs. Howard University/Wagner College (16)
Regardless of who gets in, Howard or Wagner, the University of North Carolina is going to beat down either team. They’re a great two-way team and will likely rest its starters midway through the second half of this matchup. I’ll be in shock if North Carolina drops this one.

Mississippi State University (8) vs. Michigan State University (9)
The stats say this game is dead even, PPG, net ranking, overall efficiency and opponent PPG. This is a classic 50-50 game. Along with this, Michigan State has been pretty underwhelming this year, as they haven’t beaten a ton of highly-ranked teams. The team, in essence, has been a collection of zombies for most of the year, having their defense and grit bail them out. However, I’m smart enough not to bet against Tom Izzo when he’s an underdog. Under Izzo, Michigan State is 15-14 as the underdog, and March is where Izzo is at his best. I’m going with the zombie Michigan State team.

Saint Mary’s College (5) vs. Grand Canyon University (12)
Saint Mary’s is one of the best defensive teams in the country, as it leads the nation in the fewest total points allowed, shots given up and opponent FG%. However, Grand Canyon University is a solid two-way team, scoring 80.5 PPG and giving up 66.3 O-PPG. One big number that some might not look at is free-throw attempts per game. They get to the line 25.2 times per game and make 75% of them, which is excellent in the college game. Getting to the line is a great way to control pace. I’m taking GCU to upset Saint Mary’s. I love this pick.

University of Alabama (4) vs. College of Charleston (13)
We might as well rename this to the March Madness All-Star game, as both teams love to run and gun and shoot a ton of three-pointers, and both teams attempt more than 30 per game. Alabama scores 90.8 PPG and gives up 81.1 to opponents. On the other hand, Charleston scores 80.5 and gives up 72.5. One major storyline for Charleston is that they’ve won 12 straight games, having last lost on February 3rd, so to say they’re scorching is an understatement. Also, I don’t trust Alabama’s guard play, which has been a flaw throughout the last couple of seasons. I’m taking Charleston as another upset. I think it’s a foolish pick, but I’m making it confidently.

Clemson University (6) vs. University of New Mexico (11)
A lot of early action picks have New Mexico upsetting Clemson. They’re an excellent two-way team and play with a quick pace. However, I’m not buying it, Clemson has a strong front line, and it gets solid production from their wings. They also shoot 79% from the charity stripe, which is ninth best in the country. Also, the Mountain West Conference doesn’t do particularly well against other conferences, at least this year. I’m taking Clemson, fading the public.

Baylor University (3) vs. Colgate University (14)
Don’t overthink this one. Colgate is the poster child for showing up to the Big Dance and getting roadhoused. They’ve made the tournament in four straight years, their record in the last four 0-4. For the record, I don’t think Baylor is that good this year. They’re O.K. against highly-ranked teams, and they rely on the three-point shot a lot. With that being said, I’m not getting caught picking against them, especially playing Colgate.

University of Dayton (7) vs. University of Nevada (10)
This is kind of a battle of two underwhelming teams. Both score under 80 PPG but also give up over 65 PPG to opponents. They’re almost tied in most statistical categories, including overall efficiency, assist-turnover ratio and Field goal percentage. However, DaRon Holmes II, junior forward, is an excellent player who averages 20.4 PPG and 8.4 rebounds per game and will show up when the lights are the brightest. Once again, I don’t trust the Mountain West Conference, so I’m picking Dayton.

University of Arizona (2) vs. Long Beach State University (15) This is pretty much a clean sweep for Arizona, as they lead every statistical category I’m tracking. The matchup analysis score favors Arizona by over 30 points, the highest of all of the matchups so far. However, I will note one interesting storyline of Long Beach State: They decided to part ways with their current head coach, Dan Monson, before he led the team through the Big West tournament and qualified for the tournament. He is quite literally fighting for his job, so perhaps one might take that into account when picking this game, but I don’t think the No. 15 seed will upset a second seed this year, so I’m going with Arizona. 


The South

University of Houston (1) vs. Longwood University (16)
A lot of sharps think this game will be a complete blowout, and they’re probably right, but I don’t think it’s a sure thing. Houston has the No. 1 defense in the country, only allowing 57.0 PPG to the opposition. However, the offense, for a No. 1 seed, is not very good. Longwood is one of the better rebounding teams, as they get 38.97 per contest, so they’ll have plenty of second chances. Also, they have a solid bench contribution at 36%. If you’re thinking about betting on this game (assuming you’re over the age of 21), take Longwood to cover +23.5, because I think Houston is a bit over-valued. But I don’t have enough of a gut to take Longwood to upset them.

University of Nebraska–Lincoln (8) vs. Texas A&M University (9)
Despite this being an eight vs. nine matchup, I think this one is a lock for Nebraska. This is a good value pick, as I think they should’ve been a higher seed. They beat Purdue to end their undefeated season, holding star-senior center Zach Edey to 15 points. Nebraska has also gone 4-7 against highly ranked teams and 5-3 against mid-tier ranked teams, which isn’t too bad for an eighth seed. Nebraska also shoots 35% from three, so if they get going, this game could be in trouble for A&M. 

University of Wisconsin–Madison (5) vs. James Madison University (12)
James Madison University is very quickly becoming one of the better athletic programs, and the fact that they’re only a 12th seed is kind of insulting. They won 31 games this year, which is impressive, and they beat Michigan State on the road in an epic season opener. They’re an excellent two-way team who have momentum and talent. Wisconsin also has momentum after having a pedestrian conference season at 11-9. However, they had a deep run in the Big Ten tournament, losing to Illinois in the Championship game. With that being said, my matchup analysis is favoring JMU by an 18-point margin, so I’m going with James Madison.

Duke University (4) vs. University of Vermont (13)
My Duke hatred is begging me to take Vermont in this one, especially with the emergence of sophomore center Kyle Filipowski taking the mantle from former Duke star, Grayson Allen, who tripped and kicked his way into the NBA. Vermont is an excellent defensive team, allowing 63 PPG to the opposition, while Duke is slightly worse at 67.3 OPPG. However, I’m not giving into my bias. Duke should win this matchup, but I’ll have a hearty laugh at their expense if they lose.

Texas Tech University (6) vs. North Carolina State University (11)
I love this matchup because Texas Tech has a lot of good wins against Texas, Kansas, Oklahoma and BYU. However, they have been hammered by Houston, Villanova, Central Florida and Texas. They don’t commit a ton of fouls, but teams find a way to score against them, as they allow almost 70 per contest, so I think their defense is a bit overrated. On the other hand, NC State doesn’t have a ton of good wins in the regular season, but they took down Duke and UNC to win the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament. They play teams tough and are currently on a great run, and I value that heavily, so I’m taking NC State in an upset.

University of Kentucky (3) vs. Oakland University (14)
Kentucky’s offense has been electric, as they score 89.7 PPG, but defensively, the team is atrocious, giving up 78.9 to opponents. They play fast and shoot the three ball well at 41%. Oakland is in the Horizon League, which is composed of two bad teams, Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis and Detroit Mercy, and a bunch of bad to good teams. It’s a competitive league, but I don’t think they have a chance in the slightest. Kentucky is going to run them off the court. 

University of Florida (7) vs. Colorado/Boise State University (10)
This matchup is why I wish the First Four played on Monday, right after Selection Sunday, because this game has me in a pickle. If Boise State gets in, I’m taking Florida, as Boise State didn’t particularly impress me, much like the rest of the Mountain West. However, Florida doesn’t play any defense, as they give up almost 80 PPG, and score 85 PPG. They’re one-dimensional. While Colorado, on the other hand, played well in a tough Pac-12 Conference, and played significantly better defense, only allowing 71.2 PPG to opponents. So, here’s my pick: Florida if they play Boise State, and Colorado if the Buffaloes make the dance.

Marquette University (2) vs. Western Kentucky University (15)
This one has “upset” written all over it, especially if Marquette’s senior guard Tyler Kolek is ruled out, as he’s missed his last five games. Western Kentucky likes to play fast, as they push 75 possessions per 40 minutes, which is a lot, to say the least. However, I think Marquette has a bit more experience, and after last year’s disappointing loss to Michigan State, they have something to prove this year. I’m taking Marquette, but not by much.


The Midwest 

Purdue University (1) vs. Grambling/Montana State University (16)
As much as I would love a repeat of last year because I made so many memes and snarky comments at the expense of my Purdue friends, I don’t think they can lose to a 16th seed in back-to-back years. They don’t look nearly as dominant this season, despite Purdue center Zach Edey averaging 20 points and 10 rebounds per contest. They’re a solid two-way team, scoring 83.8 points per contest and giving up less than 70 to the other teams, and they’re very efficient, shooting nearly 49% from the field. I’m here for all the Purdue slander, but they, at minimum, will be in the second round.

Utah State University (8) vs. Texas Christian University (9)
I’m going to go against my better judgment here and side with the Mountain West on this one. Both teams are about even in almost all the statistical categories, but Utah State has been on a better run of form recently, and Texas Christian University has a lot of close losses, which shows that they aren’t super lucky. In March, you need some luck to get far, so I’m taking Utah State.

Gonzaga University (5) vs. McNeese State University (12) It feels like everybody is taking McNeese to upset Gonzaga, and the matchup analysis would show that as a smart pick. However, Gonzaga is a tournament team. They simply win in March. Also, McNeese only has two players taller than 6 ‘6,” they shoot under 70 % from the line and haven’t played a ton of good teams, so their 30 wins come with a massive asterisk. I’m taking Gonzaga based on pedigree and experience.

University of Kansas (4) vs. Samford University (13)
I don’t love Kansas. I think they’re overrated, and I feel like this team isn’t as strong or deep as in past years. They don’t light up the scoreboard and have quite a few injuries, but depth matters, and they don’t have that. Samford, on the other hand, averages 86 points per contest, shoots almost 40% from deep, and has a very deep bench, getting almost 40% of their points from the reserves. I’m taking Samford in a shocking upset over Kansas.

University of South Carolina (6) vs. University of Oregon (11)
Another coin-flip game. Both teams played in solid conferences, Both teams are about even on defense, but Oregon has a much better offense and has a significantly better March Madness experience. Oregon will upset South Carolina, despite my love for the Palm Tree State.

Creighton University (3) vs. University of Akron (14)
Creighton has been solid this year in hopes of improving from a shocking loss to San Diego State in last year’s tournament. They look solid on both sides of the ball. They also shoot 78% from the line, which is an excellent percentage. For Akron, I’m not buying stock in them. I think the Mid-American Conference is a solid conference, but when it comes time for the tournament recently, they haven’t shown up, and Creighton has experience from last year to build off of. Creighton should come out of this one pretty safely.

University of Texas (7) vs. Colorado State/Virginia (10)
I’m probably going to regret making this pick, but I cannot stomach watching Virginia. They average 63 points per contest and play an ugly, grindy game of basketball, so I’m assuming that this is Texas vs. Colorado State. Now, Colorado State looks interesting, as they placed seventh in the Mountain West but had a very tough strength of schedule, and they have almost identical stats when compared to Texas. Texas is quite over-valued here, ranked 30th in the NCAA, so I’m taking Colorado State in a slight upset.

University of Tennessee (2) vs. Saint Peter’s University (15)
Firstly, I would like to thank Saint Peter’s for their work two years ago, having beat Purdue in the Sweet Sixteen. This deed gave me and my non-Purdue friends almost unlimited opportunities to slander Purdue and I am eternally grateful for their work. However, they’re simply too overmatched here to upset a top-two seed in the round of 64 in back-to-back March Madness tournaments, so I’m taking Tennessee here. 


The rest of the bracket

For the rest of the bracket, I’m going to speedrun through, as I’ve already looked into each team, but I’ll explain my thinking for any big upsets and, of course, for the Final Four.


Second Round 

UConn (1) over Florida Atlantic(8)

Auburn (4) over San Diego State (5)

BYU (6) over Illinois (3): I believe that BYU will rise to the occasion, having beat Kansas, San Diego State, Iowa State and Baylor during the regular season. In addition to this, the advanced numbers look more kindly on the Cougars, as opposed to Illinois, and BYU has better overall depth, which I value more and more as the tournament progresses. 

Drake (10) over Iowa State (2): Like BYU, Drake has some solid wins, having beat Indiana State twice, Nevada and Bradley, and the analytics have this matchup at a dead even split at 62.9. I’m taking Drake for the storyline potential. 

North Carolina (1) over Michigan State (9)

Grand Canyon (12) over Charleston (13) 

Clemson (6) over Baylor (3): I think Clemson’s solid starting lineup will ball out in this game, and Baylor falls behind and has to rely on the three ball to make a comeback and falls short. 

Arizona (2) over Dayton (7) 

Houston (1) over Nebraska (8) 

James Madison (12) over Duke (4): I think James Madison will ride the wave and beat Duke in shocking fashion, as Duke struggles to keep up with JMU’s energy. 

Kentucky (3) over NC State (11)

Marquette (2) over Colorado State (10) 

Purdue (1) over Utah State (8)

Gonzaga (5) over Samford (13)

Creighton (3) over Oregon (11) 

Tennessee (2) over Colorado State (10)


Sweet 16

Auburn (4) over UConn (1): I think Bruce Pearl will make some unorthodox decisions, is able to reign in the beast that is UConn, and give Auburn a wide-open path going forward through the rest of the tournament. 

BYU (6) over Drake (10)

Grand Canyon (12) over North Carolina (1): In this matchup, Grand Canyon’s excellent run will be extended, as they will beat North Carolina in an overtime thriller where the last possession decides the winner. 

Arizona (2) over Clemson (6)

JMU (12) over Houston (1): I think JMU’s offense will overwhelm Houston, who struggles to get going offensively and will trail for most of the game, eventually coming back to tie it but losing in shocking fashion. 

Kentucky (3) over Marquette (2): A slight upset, but I think Kentucky’s offense is too much for Marquette and will beat them in a high-scoring shoot-out of a matchup.

Gonzaga (5) over Purdue (1): Gonzaga’s experience in March gives them the edge over Purdue, and I want to see Purdue get somewhat far in this tournament, to get their hopes up, just to have them ripped away by the Bulldogs. The final No. 1 seed is out of the tournament.

Tennessee (2) over Creighton (3) 


Elite Eight

Auburn (4) over BYU (6) 

Arizona (2) over GCU (12)

Kentucky (3) over JMU (12)

Gonzaga (5) over Tennessee (5): Gonzaga will reach the Final Four in a dominant win over Tennessee as the Bulldogs’ momentum reaches its peak.


Final Four

Arizona (2) over Auburn (4): Senior guard Caleb Love will hit a game-winning three-pointer to send Arizona to the National Championship Game. Auburn Alum, Charles Barkley will look like he’s seen a ghost on the post-game show as TBS host Ernie Johnson and analyst Kenny “The Jet” Smith dance on top of him, creating the X (formerly known as Twitter) meme of the year. 

Gonzaga (5) over Kentucky (3): In this game, Gonzaga will slow down the pace, driving Kentucky and coach Calipari up a wall as they take down the Wildcats in a low-scoring affair.


National Championship Game

Arizona (2) tops Gonzaga (5): Gonzaga will come out the gate with energy and momentum that has fueled its run so far. However, in the second half, they let off the gas a bit and give up the lead to Arizona late in the second half, as Arizona is crowned champions of March this year.