By Dan Walk
1 We’ve finally reached almost every sports fans’ favorite time of year: March Madness. While the excitement of filling out your bracket is palpable, be foIrewarned that just as soon as you believe you have the perfect Final Four selected, understand that you might be ripping up your bracket before we even get through Saturday and Sunday’s round of 32. Last year was easy. Everyone knew that Kentucky had the best team in the nation. It wasn’t even close. I’ve never had this much trouble filling out my bracket, because there isn’t a clear-cut favorite. Just look at the possible third-round matchups for every No. 1 seed. Those look to be some compelling 1 vs. 8/9 games.
2 I’m going to do my best at quickly breaking down each region, starting with the Midwest, where No. 1 overall seed Louisville sits. One thing is for sure in my mind: the Cardinals will not win it all. They might not even make it to the Elite Eight. This region feels like one of the weakest of the four, and I believe Duke is and should be the odds-on favorite. The Blue Devils are rested and healthy. You can’t ever count out Tom Izzo and Michigan State, while St. Louis is a mid-major team that has the ability to put together a long tournament run.
3 Switching to the West, is this Gonzaga’s year to win it all? After nearly two decades of being that lovable mid-major that is easy to root for come tournament time, the Bulldogs earned their first ever No. 1 seed. The Zags have lost just twice this season — to Illinois and Butler. On the other half of the bracket is Ohio State, which has beaten the who’s who of the Big 10. Also in the bottom half of the West is New Mexico, which has the nation’s second-best RPI. Not to be forgotten is Wisconsin, another battle-tested team from the Big 10. It appears that Gonzaga will have to get through Big 10 postseason tournament finalists Wisconsin and Ohio State to reach the Final Four.
4 Things really get interesting when we switch over to the South, which I believe includes the weakest top 2 seeds in the tournament. Kansas won an average Big 12, while though it’s hard to explain, Georgetown doesn’t have the “it” factor to put together a lengthy run. Keep an eye on the No. 3 and 4 teams, Florida and Michigan. The Gators have a talented veteran team, while the Wolverines have arguably the best guard tandem in the nation in Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr.
5 The East is the only region that I believe will have the top seeded teams facing off in the Elite Eight. It can be argued that Indiana has been the best team in the nation all year, even with a few struggles down the stretch. Miami, which nearly swept Duke and won the ACC regular and postseason titles, doesn’t believe it’s getting the respective it deserves. Butler has the ability to beat any team and North Carolina State is a very scary No. 8 seed, but I just don’t see any team other than Indiana or Miami winning the East.
6 I may have given away too many of my March Madness bracket decisions, but I still want to challenge you all to join the Tribune’s official NCAA tournament group on ESPN. Head over to espn.com, select the Tournament Challenge and type “Meadville Tribune” to join. You’ll have until Thursday morning to join and get your picks in. Let’s have everyone join this time to who’s the best in/from the Crawford County area. Good luck!
7 College wrestling is growing in popularity but it may not see many fringe fans tune into its Division I tournament because the sport competes for viewership against the first few rounds of March Madness. But there’s sure to be a ton of interest from this area for Edinboro’s wrestlers and for two-time defending champion Penn State. For the Scots, A.J. Schopp and Mitchell Port are each seeded fourth, but it’s likely they’ll have to beat undefeated Ohio State brothers Logan and Hunter Stieber to reach the finals in their respective weight classes. But no bout is more anticipated than a possible 165-pound final between Cornell’s Kyle Dake, a three-time national champion, and PSU’s David Taylor, who was a national champion and runner-up the past two seasons. NCAA and ESPN are so excited about a possible Dake-Taylor final that they will have the championship round begin at 174 pounds, meaning Dake and Taylor are positioned to battle in the main event.
8 As Georges St. Pierre had his hand raised on Saturday after yet another unanimous decision victory, I thought back to my expectations before his fight against Nick Diaz began. I scoffed at the 5-to-1 odds in GSP’s favor, assuming Diaz would provide the Canadian great with his stiffest competition yet. Instead, St. Pierre was in control from start to finish for his eighth straight welterweight title defense — a UFC record. GSP has been one of my favorite fighters since I started to follow the sport four years ago, but his dominance is getting a bit stale. He’s so good that it’s gotten to the point that it’s not as interesting to watch his fights anymore.
9 The dominance of St. Pierre and Anderson Silva is exactly why everyone following the sport wants to see them fight each other. The two champions have won a combined 28 fights in a row. Neither has lost in six years. Whether it’s a great fight between the two or not, one would be guaranteed to lose. A certain invincibility would dissipate for one of them. The thought of either of them losing until they face each other continues to dwindle as their winning streaks grow.
10 Right as I say that, GSP’s next welterweight title defense comes against Johny Hendricks, who is expected to be St. Pierre’s best contender yet. Here I go again, expecting Hendricks to be the next guy who will push Georges to the brink or even upset him. Hendricks has the credentials — two NCAA Division I wrestling championships and an explosive left hand — but until they spend a few minutes in the cage together, it’s hard to tell if Hendricks is truly the guy to dethrone GSP.
The preceding was Walk Talk, which runs in the Tribune's sports section every Tuesday. Assistant news editor Dan Walk can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at email@example.com.