Tommy Hicks: Four surprises in my bracket

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Well, you can’t say you weren’t warned. Anyone who took note of my selections in the NCAA Tournament bracket office pool and used that as a guide, can now sit back and watch the Final Four and not worry about which team is going to win.

In fact, you can turn all your efforts toward pulling for Auburn to win the national championship for the state of Alabama and the SEC; unless, of course, your allegiance to Alabama, as you see it and live it, will not allow you to pull for Auburn. Then I guess you pull for another team or simply do some chores around the house.

When I announced my picks I actually felt pretty confident with most of them, recognizing my past (un)success in such endeavors and the tradition there always seems to be a surprise team or two that reaches the Final Four.

In my case, there are four surprises.

Yep. I didn’t pick a single Final Four team correctly. In review, I suggested it would be Duke, Michigan, Tennessee and North Carolina in the Final Four, with Duke beating Michigan and Tennessee beating North Carolina in the semifinals. I had suggested Duke would emerge as the winner of Tennessee in the national title game.

Like me, all those teams will be watching the Final Four on TV.

And yet, I’m OK with it. Having watched Auburn’s play during the tournament it’s hard not to pull for the Tigers. Hopefully this won’t jinx them, but I hope the Tigers win it all. They have played well of late. Even when they have a bad half or a couple of bad moments, they have found a way to win, and keep winning.

Auburn and its superfan, Charles Barkley, has made it fun to watch the tournament and gauge the team’s success. And no other Final Four team — Auburn plays Virginia in the semifinals while Texas Tech takes on Michigan State — had to negotiate the basketball blue blood gauntlet the Tigers faced to reach this point, having claimed back-to-back-to-back wins over Kansas, North Carolina and Kentucky to earn its chance to play in the Final Four.

Virginia, which almost lost its first-round game for the second year in a row (last year becoming the first No. 1 seed to lose to a No. 16 seed in tournament history), is a No. 1 seed. North Carolina was a No. 1 seed, with Kentucky a No. 2 seed and Kansas seeded No. 4, just ahead of No. 5 Auburn.

It’s hard not to pull for Auburn at this point. Maybe Texas Tech. Both teams are making their first-ever appearances in the Final Four. It would be pretty cool if both could win their semifinal matchups and face each other for the national championship. Virginia and Michigan State will not be easy opponents and many folks are picking those two teams, not the Final Four newcomers, to advance to the title game.

Both Auburn and Texas Tech have had their doubters along the way, so it’s unlikely the players and coaches on those teams are putting any stock into what the “experts” say; the so-called experts didn’t have them advancing this far.

Runs like the one Auburn and Texas Tech are on right now are cases in point as to why March Madness attracts so much interest and holds such appeal. And pulling for Auburn right now is made easier when one considers the loss of sophomore power forward Chuma Okeke to an ACL injury against Kentucky; you’d like to see the Auburn team be able to celebrate a national championship it could share with Okeke, a player who, especially in the Kentucky game, played such a huge role in getting the Tigers to this point.

Regardless of the outcome, Saturday’s semifinals should provide two well-played games, as should be the case for Monday’s title game, no matter the matchup. But personally, it will hold grater interest and attraction if Auburn is playing for the crown. The Tigers’ season has already provided a heck of a story, no matter what happens from here. Still …

And I won’t be sweating out the Final Four as it relates to my bracket. In that respect, I have nothing to lose … because I have nothing to win.

And three days after the title game, the Masters starts. It doesn’t get a lot better than this.