NCAA bracket projections are always a fun guessing game. It's hard (probably impossible) to get it 100 percent correct. With the NCAA Division I Tournament kicking off this weekend, it's a chance to take a final stab at who might triumph in December down in Cary, N.C.
Let me take you through my picks, and so you can go ahead and know what not to do. Each corner of the bracket I'll refer to by the top seed.
The defending champions have two seeded ACC foes (plus a couple of other programs) standing between them and a return to Cary, NC, where the Seminoles lost in the title game back in 2013.
Florida State seems like the favorite here. Clemson has the tough, disciplined defending needed to keep the Seminoles off the scoreboard in a potential quarterfinal matchup. But the Tigers were outclassed in the ACC semifinals against Virginia, a dent to their confidence ahead of the tournament. North Carolina could stake a claim, although a lot of that could come down to the health of Alexa Newfield, who has been their most consistent offensive contributor this season.
A rematch of 2014's NCAA quarterfinal is possible, and potentially the most likely outcome of the Cardinal's quarter of the bracket. Stanford's success comes as no surprise, given both the program's history and the talented freshman class that has contributed so much this season. Perhaps that could end up being the team's undoing, if the scale of the moment ended up having an impact at critical junctures of a knockout game. My guess? Don't bet on it.
No section of the bracket is more wide open than Penn State's. Three teams immediately jump off the page in having the potential to make a run to Cary: the Nittany Lions, Virginia Tech and West Virginia.
California and Arielle Ship represent something of a dark horse here, if that is possible for a seeded team. The East Coast teams aren't going to be as familiar with the Bears, and it's something they could certainly use to their advantage. West Virginia is the pick here, thanks to that tremendous spine featuring Kadeisha Buchanan.
Difficult to see past the Cavaliers here. Rutgers has put together a fantastic season and could certainly top Virginia at Klockner. Aside from the ACC tournament, the only league clash that UVA didn't win prior to the tournament was a 2-1 home loss against Notre Dame. The Irish will certainly be looking to that if they can make it that far and setup that rematch.
The experience of Makenzy Doniak and Emily Sonnett, complimented by UVA's deep and talented roster, should do the job.
The third time should do it for Virginia, which finally gets over the hump and captures a national title in a rematch of last year's title bout.