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The Perfect Bracket? Joe Giglio picks every NCAA tournament game

The perfect 2018 NCAA Bracket

The News and Observer's Joe Giglio breaks down his picks for the perfect NCAA bracket. He tells you what he thinks the big upsets will be, how UNC, Duke and NC State will fare and his thoughts on who wins it all.
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The News and Observer's Joe Giglio breaks down his picks for the perfect NCAA bracket. He tells you what he thinks the big upsets will be, how UNC, Duke and NC State will fare and his thoughts on who wins it all.

The odds of picking a perfect bracket are 1 in 9.2 quintillion. Like Han Solo said, "Never tell me the odds."

It's a new tournament and that means the bracket is free of red ink. Perfection is still achievable, although has not happened since I started the annual tradition in 2005.

Who's going to win it all? Where will the first-round upsets be? How will Duke, North Carolina and N.C. State do? Here's my guess at all 67 games:

First Four

▪ No. 11 Arizona State (20-11) vs. No. 11 Syracuse (20-13): As good as Tyus Battle is, the Orange probably don’t belong in the field. Pick: Arizona State.

▪ No. 11 St. Bonaventure (25-7) vs. No. 11 UCLA (21-11): Senior guards Jaylen Adams and Matt Mobley lead the Bonnies to the main draw. Pick: St. Bonaventure

▪ No. 16 LIU-Brooklyn (18-16) vs. No. 16 Radford (22-12): The Highlanders politely, led by junior Ed Polite, ask the Blackbirds to exit to the premises. Pick: Radford.

▪ No. 16 N.C. Central (19-15) vs. No. 16 Texas Southern (15-19): The Eagles return to Dayton and this time pick up their first Division I NCAA tournament win. Pick: N.C. Central.

South region

First round

No. 1 Virginia (31-2) vs. No. 16 Maryland-Baltimore County (24-10): At least one Maryland school was able to get into the field (hey, oh!, sorry, Terps). The Wahoos make quick work of the America East champions. Pick. Virginia.

▪ No. 8 Creighton (21-11) vs. No. 9 Kansas State (22-11): UNC fans are still mad at Creighton for injuring Kendall Marshall in 2012. Senior guard Marcus Foster gives the anti-Creighton crowd in Charlotte a reason to boo. Pick: Creighton.

▪ No. 5 Kentucky (24-10) vs. No. 12 Davidson (21-11): Guarantee the Wildcats win. Pick: Kentucky.

▪ No. 4 Arizona (27-7) vs. No. 13 Buffalo (26-8): Guarantee the Wildcats win. Pick: Arizona.

▪ No. 6 Miami (22-9) vs. No. 11 Loyola-Chicago (28-5): The Ramblers have scoring balance and play sound defense. The Missouri Valley champs knock off the Hurricanes. Pick: Loyola.

▪ No. 3 Tennessee (25-8) vs. No. 14 Wright State (25-9): More like Wrong State (am I right?). Pick: Tennessee.

▪ No. 7 Nevada (27-7) vs. No. 10 Texas (19-14): Bracket Rule for 2018: Move any team with an N.C. State transfer (or two) into the second round. The Martin twins lead the Wolf Pack (two words, space, capital “P”) past Texas and star freshman Mo Bamba. Pick. Nevada.

▪ No. 2 Cincinnati (30-4) vs. No. 15 Georgia State (24-10): Same rule applies to the Bearcats and former N.C. State forward Kyle Washington. Pick: Cincinnati.

Second round

▪ No. 1 Virginia vs. No. 8 Creighton: Creighton’s an offense-first team but the Bluejays won’t score enough to beat the Wahoos. Pick: Virginia.

▪ No. 5 Kentucky vs. No. 4 Arizona: Kentucky gets zapped by a one-and-done star (Arizona’s Deandre Ayton)? Go figure. Pick: Arizona.

▪ No. 11 Loyola vs. No. 3 Tennessee: Ramble on, Ramblers. The Sweet 16 is calling Porter Moser’s plucky squad. Pick: Loyola.

▪ No. 7 Nevada vs. No. 2 Cincinnati: A Wolfpack reunion with the Martins and Washington, who were all on N.C. State’s 2015 Sweet 16 team. Injuries have slowed the Wolf Pack (two words, space, capital “P”) otherwise the Bearcats would have been in trouble. Pick: Cincinnati.

Regional semifinals

▪ No. 1 Virginia vs. No. 4 Arizona: Virginia’s going to double Ayton every time he touches the ball and force Arizona’s guards to beat them. (Spoiler: Arizona’s guards can’t). Pick: Virginia.

▪ No. 11 Loyola vs. No. 2 Cincinnati: Enjoyed it, Ramblers, it has been real but it’s time to go. You don’t have to go home but you can’t stay here. Pick: Cincinnati.

Regional final

▪ No. 1 Virginia vs. No. 2 Cincinnati: Ken Pomeroy’s No. 1 adjusted defense vs. the No. 2 adjusted defense. You don’t beat Tony Bennett at his own game. The Wahoos return to the Final Four for the first time since 1984. Pick: Virginia.

West region

First round

▪ No. 1 Xavier (28-5) vs. No. 16 N.C. Central: It has been a good year for teams with the nickname Eagles, but a better one for these Musketeers. Pick: Xavier.

▪ No. 8 Missouri (20-12) vs. No. 9 Florida State (20-11): The Seminoles are not very good away from home. That’s a losing March formula. Pick: Missouri.

▪ No. 5 Ohio State (24-8) vs. No. 12 South Dakota State (28-6): When in doubt, go with the nickname: Jackrabbits > Buckeyes. Pick: South Dakota State.

▪ No. 4 Gonzaga (30-4) vs. No. 13 UNC-Greensboro (27-7): There are bigger things ahead for Wes Miller. The Spartans will put a scare into the Zags. Pick: Gonzaga.

▪ No. 6 Houston (26-7) vs. No. 11 San Diego State (22-10): Caulton Tudor’s No. 1 Bracket Rule: It’s the coach, stupid. Houston’s Kelvin Sampson has always been a good coach. The Cougars dispatch the Aztecs. Pick: Houston.

▪ No. 3 Michigan (28-7) vs. No. 14 Montana (26-7): Michigan mountain man Mo Wagner is too much for the Griz to tame. Pick: Michigan.

▪ No. 7 Texas A&M (20-12) vs. No. 10 Providence (21-13): The Friars are back in North Carolina. They won their first-round game in Raleigh in 2016 and will pick one up in Charlotte. Pick: Providence.

▪ No. 2 UNC (25-10) vs. No. 15 Lipscomb (23-9): Win scomb, lose scomb, Lipscomb. Pick: UNC.

Second round

▪ No. 1 Xavier vs. No. 8 Missouri: The Musketeers leave Mizzou with only questions. What if Michael Porter had been healthy the whole season? Pick: Xavier.

▪ No. 12 South Dakota State vs. No. 4 Gonzaga: The Zags aren’t the same team that lost in last year’s title game but they’re better than the Jackrabbits. Pick: Gonzaga.

▪ No. 6 Houston vs. No. 3 Michigan: (John) Beilein makes another bee line for the Sweet 16. Pick: Michigan.

▪ No. 10 Providence vs. No. 2 UNC: This is traditionally the round that gives Roy Williams the most trouble but the Charlotte home-cooking helps. Pick: UNC.

Regional semifinals

▪ No. 1 Xavier vs. No. 4 Gonzaga: Gonzaga’s big breakthrough came with a win over Xavier last year in the Final Eight. The Musketeers return the favor to move into the Final Eight for the fourth time since 2004. Pick: Xavier.

▪ No. 3 Michigan vs. No. 2 UNC: Wagner will be a problem for UNC but Michigan’s guards aren’t good enough. UNC seniors Theo Pinson and Joel Berry add a fourth Sweet 16 trip to their resumes. Pick: UNC

Regional final

▪ No. 1 Xavier vs. No. 2 UNC: Xavier has always had good, tough guards but has usually been one big man short of a Final Four team. Kerem Kanter, a grad transfer from Wisconsin-Green Bay, has given them a steady option in the middle. Senior guards Trevon Bluiett and J.P. Macura give them the firepower to knock the Tar Heels out a round short of a third straight Final Four trip. Pick: Xavier.

East region

First round

▪ No. 1 Villanova (30-4) vs. No. 16 Radford: Good news for Radford: Villanova’s first-round margin of victory as a No. 1 seed has gone down from 41 to 30 to 20 points in the past three years. Bad news for Radford: that’s still a 10-point loss. Pick: Villanova.

▪ No. 8 Virginia Tech (21-11) vs. No. 9 Alabama (19-15): Alabama’s a mystery. The Crimson Tide ended the regular-season with five straight losses and then beat Texas A&M and Auburn in the SEC tournament. Pick: Virginia Tech.

▪ No. 5 West Virginia (24-10) vs. No. 12 Murray State (26-5): Want to pick the Racers just to see Temetrius Morant’s name on the CBS scroll. Alas, it’s Daxter Miles and Jevon Carter’s world. Pick: West Virginia.

▪ No. 4 Wichita State (25-7) vs. No. 13 Marshall (24-10): Find somebody to love you the way Marshall loves the 3-point shot. If only the Herd had the defense to match. Pick: Wichita State.

▪ No. 6 Florida (20-12) vs. No. 11 St. Bonaventure: The Gators have stumbled down the stretch but they still have the guard-power to handle the Bonnies. Pick: Florida.

▪ No. 3 Texas Tech (24-9) vs. No. 14 Stephen F. Austin (28-6): Injuries cost the Red Raiders the regular-season Big 12 title. A little rest should help guard Keenan Evans. Pick: Texas Tech.

▪ No. 7 Arkansas (23-11) vs. No. 10 Butler (20-13): Woo pig sooie. Senior guards (Jaylen Barford, Daryl Macon) lead the Razorbacks to a win. Pick: Arkansas.

▪ No. 2 Purdue (28-6) vs. No. 15 Cal State-Fullerton (20-11): The Titans last NCAA appearance (in 2008) was also a loss to a Big Ten team (Wisconsin). Pick: Purdue.

Second round

▪ No. 1 Villanova vs. No. 8 Virginia Tech: Buzz Williams gets to relive a little Big East glory days with the Wildcats. Villanova lost in this round last year and in 2015 but avoids the same fate here. Pick: Villanova.

▪ No. 5 West Virginia vs. No. 4 Wichita State: The season started with such promise for the Shockers but they’re left in the dust by “Press Virginia.” Pick: West Virginia.

▪ No. 6 Florida vs. No. 3 Texas Tech: The Gators made a surprise run to the Final Eight last year. Don’t pick a team a year late. Pick: Texas Tech.

▪ No. 7 Arkansas vs. No. 2 Purdue: Woe pig sooie. The Razorbacks have no counter for Purdue big man Isaac Haas. Pick: Purdue.

Regional semifinals

▪ No. 1 Villanova vs. No. 5 West Virginia: It’s like an alternate Big East tournament for Villanova with a Sweet 16 date with former conference foe West Virginia. The Mountaineers press works better against teams without great guards. Pick: Villanova.

▪ No. 3 Texas Tech vs. No. 2 Purdue: It’s a shame the Red Raiders couldn’t stay healthy. They had something going in January and February. Pick: Purdue.

Regional final

▪ No. 1 Villanova vs. No. 2 Purdue: Matt Painter has been a relative disappointment in the postseason but this is his best team. Haas, Carsen Edwards and Vincent Edwards lead the Boilers to the Final Four for the first time since 1980. Pick: Purdue.

Midwest region

First round

▪ No. 1 Kansas (27-7) vs. No. 16 Penn (24-8): Steve Donahue is a heck of an Ivy League coach. The Quakers aren’t going to become the first No. 16 seed to beat a No. 1, though. Pick: Kansas.

▪ No. 8 Seton Hall (21-11) vs. No. 9 N.C. State (21-11): The Wolfpack atones for its ACC tournament bust with a nailbiter over a tough Seton Hall team. Pick: N.C. State.

▪ No. 5 Clemson (23-9) vs. No. 12 New Mexico State (28-5): Guards matter in March. Clemson has three good ones. They take care of the Aggies, who are making their seventh NCAA trip in nine years. Pick: Clemson.

▪ No. 4 Auburn (25-7) vs. No. 13 Charleston (26-7): Another SEC team trending in the wrong direction. The Tigers have lost four of six. The Cougars, with guards Grant Riller and Joe Chealey, pull off the upset. Pick: Charleston.

▪ No. 6 TCU (21-11) vs. No. 11 Arizona State: Pitt’s a mess but former Panthers coach Jamie Dixon is doing just fine with the Horned Frogs. Pick: TCU.

▪ No. 3 Michigan State (29-4) vs. No. 14 Bucknell (25-9): Remember two years ago when the Spartans were stunned in the first round? That’s not happening here (fingers crossed; right, Sparty?). Pick: Michigan State

▪ No. 7 Rhode Island (25-7) vs. No. 10 Oklahoma (18-13): Everyone wants to see Oklahoma guard Trae Young against Duke. Bracket Rule No. 4: If it was that easy, everyone would get it right. Pick: Rhode Island.

▪ No. 2 Duke (26-7) vs. No. 15 Iona (20-13): Ken Pomeroy’s computer rankings have this as a 19-point Duke win. Sounds about right. Pick: Duke.

Second round

▪ No. 1 Kansas vs. No. 9 N.C. State: Not many people will give N.C. State a chance in a semi-road game against the Jayhawks in Wichita. But like wins over Arizona, Duke and at UNC this season, this is a “Law of the Wolfpack” kind of game. When you expect the least, you get the most. Pick: N.C. State.

▪ No. 5 Clemson vs. No. 13 Charleston: Just two teams from South Carolina chilling out in San Diego. Senior guard Gabe DeVoe pushes the Tigers into the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1997 and only fourth time in school history. Pick: Clemson.

▪ No. 6 TCU vs. No. 3 Michigan State: Dixon’s Horned Frogs have pretty much alternated wins and losses since Big 12 play began. After an opening-round win, it’s time for TCU to part. Pick: Michigan State.

▪ No. 7 Rhode Island vs. No. 2 Duke: The Rams nearly beat Oregon last year in this round. Behind seniors Jared Terrell, EC Matthews and Stanford Robinson, Danny Hurley’s team gets the job done this time. Let the preseason hype begin for Duke’s next can’t-miss recruiting class. Pick: Rhode Island.

Regional semifinals

▪ No. 9 N.C. State vs. No. 5 Clemson: After shocking Kansas, just about the dumbest team the Wolfpack could lose to is another ACC team. This is what happened in 2015 after N.C. State knocked out Villanova. Pick: Clemson.

▪ No. 3 Michigan State vs. No. 7 Rhode Island: Michigan State does what Duke can’t and exploit Rhode Island’s interior defense. Jaren Jackson and Miles Bridges carry the Spartans into the regional final. Pick: Michigan State.

Regional final

▪ No. 5 Clemson vs. No. 3 Michigan State: Bracket luck is a real thing. The bracket opened up for the Spartans in 2015 and does again. They make the Final Four without having to beat the No. 1 seed. Pick: Michigan State.

Final Four

National semifinals

▪ No. 1 Virginia vs. No. 1 Xavier: Previous Virginia teams have failed on the offensive end. Guards Devon Hall, Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome are different. They are all shot-makers. Forwards Isaiah Wilkins and Jack Salt know their roles and De’Andre Hunter and Nigel Johnson can add points off the bench. The Hoos reach the national title game for the first time in school history. Pick: Virginia.

▪ No. 2 Purdue vs. No. 3 Michigan State: Maybe that week off between the Big Ten and NCAA tournament wasn’t such a bad idea after all? The Spartans have the size to match up with the Boilers and Tom Izzo gets a “been there, done that” edge in this one. Spartans won the only regular-season meeting and get this one, too. Pick: Michigan State.

National championship

No. 1 Virginia vs. No. 3 Michigan State: Whatever mojo Michigan State lacks against Duke and Carolina, it has in spades against Virginia. The Spartans have knocked out Bennett’s best teams before (in 2014 and again in 2015) and complete the hat trick in San Antonio. Eighteen years after his first national title, Izzo adds a second.

Pick: Michigan State, 71-64.

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