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Peculiar Picks For A Mad March

This week is all about March Madness, and we start with the men’s bracket. Gonzaga looks to be a clear favorite, with the highest rating in our model, though we do see potential for a little first-round chaos in the West. (Particularly given the volatility surrounding defending champs Virginia.) The other three regions hold slightly better chances for an upset. Despite being the weakest 2-seed according to our model, Alabama may take advantage of Michigan’s injury woes to advance. Illinois is going into the tournament as the hottest team in the nation but could face tough tests in Loyola of Chicago and Houston. And while we agree we shouldn’t undervalue Baylor, which has been poised for the Final Four all year, things could get weird in the South. While we think that mostly means Ohio State could make it through, it also kinda means Colgate could, too. Why not?

Over on the women’s side, this year should offer the best chance for some relative underdogs — i.e., 2-seeds — to make it into the Final Four. Maryland has been absolutely on fire offensively, and there is a bevy of quality SEC teams like Georgia and Arkansas (to say nothing of top-ranked South Carolina) ready to take advantage of any opponent’s missteps. But when it comes down to it, it’s very hard for us to pick against Paige Bueckers and UConn. It doesn’t matter that head coach Geno Auriemma will miss the first two games due to a COVID-19 quarantine. The Huskies seem likely to be on their way to a clash with fellow No. 1 Stanford in the final. But any wackiness that sends the bracket off-script is only a good thing. The women’s tournament has a great cast of heroes and villains, but it could use a few Cinderellas.  

Finally, in the Rabbit Hole, Neil looks at the legacy of Drew Brees, who retired to very little fanfare as the men’s NCAA Tournament bracket was being announced on Sunday. Many of his stats put Brees in a class of his own, but his uneven record in the postseason has likely diminished his chances to be in the conversation for Greatest Quarterback Ever. Instead, he’s sort of the “And Peggy” of the rivalry between Peyton Manning and Tom Brady that defined their era. Which only makes him a transformatively great player who elevated the Saints franchise and helped pave the way for the pass-happy offense we see today. 

What we’re looking at this week: 

Sarah Shachat is Hot Takedown’s producer.

Sara Ziegler is the former sports editor at FiveThirtyEight.

Neil Paine was the acting sports editor at FiveThirtyEight.

Geoff Foster is the former sports editor of FiveThirtyEight.