Tommy Hicks: Not too many surprises, but this is how I call it

Let the madness begin. And it always begins with the madness called Filling Out The Bracket. Whether it’s among a group of friends or with co-workers, or maybe you get online and match your bracket skills against others across the country and around the world, the NCAA basketball tournament is one of the most popular sporting events ever.

And a lot of the success is owed to the fact even casual fans, those who have seen less than two games all season, maybe none, want to join in on the fun of filling out their brackets and taking a chance on selecting the overall champion. Or maybe you just like to be part of an office pool where co-workers draw the names of teams out of a hat and those are their respective teams to pull for during March Madness.

Whatever the style, it can be a lot of fun, especially during the first week of play when there are so many games and so many Cinderella teams out there looking to get to the ball, known as the Final Four.

So grab your bracket and let’s play along. The tournament officially started with play-in games earlier in the week but hits full stride Thursday. Who ya got winning? What upsets are you picking?

Here is one man’s bracket. Use it for comparison or for the entertainment value it could bring. One year I attempted this and lost both teams I had playing for the national championship in the first week. That’s call bracket death.

But I ain’t scared. As such, here you have my bracket, from Thursday until the national title game: And (spoiler alert) the team I have winning the whole shootin’ match is not going to be a surprise.

Let’s start in the East. Here are your first-round winners (and yes, I have Alabama winning its first-round game): Villanova, Alabama, West Virginia, Wichita State, Florida, Texas Tech, Arkansas and Purdue are the initial winners here. Not really any upsets to speak of. I then have Villanova beating Alabama, West Virginia beating Wichita State, Florida beating Texas Tech and Arkansas upsetting Purdue. I then have West Virginia upsetting Villanova and Arkansas beating Florida, with West Virginia heading to the Final Four.

In the Midwest, it’s Kansas, N.C. State, New Mexico State, Auburn, TCU, Michigan State, Rhode Island and Duke winning in the first round. That’s a New Mexico State upset of Clemson, which helps Auburn in that Auburn doesn’t have to play Clemson in the second round. As such, Kansas beats N.C. State, Auburn beats New Mexico State, Michigan State beats TCU and Duke beats Rhode Island. Let’s give Kansas the win over Auburn and Michigan State the win over Duke with Michigan State upsetting Kansas and reaching the Final Four.

Having fun yet? There’s more to come.

In the South, No. 1 overall seed Virginia is a selection as a first-round winner, along with Creighton, Kentucky, Arizona, Miami, Tennessee, Texas and Cincinnati. From there, Virginia beats Creighton, Arizona tops Kentucky, Miami defeats Tennessee and Cincy betters Texas. There’s a couple of shaky picks in there but hey, let’s take a chance. Virginia beats Arizona in a barn-burner of a game and Cincy topples Miami, with Virginia heading to the Final Four after beating Cincy.

In the West Region, Xavier, Florida State, Ohio State, Gonzaga, San Diego State, Michigan, Providence and North Carolina are the first-round choices, with San Diego State and Providence being upset picks based on their seedings. Xavier then tops FSU, Gonzaga beats Ohio State, Michigan tops San Diego State and North Carolina beats Providence. Gonzaga beats Xavier and Michigan brings down North Carolina in the regional semifinals with Michigan heading to the Final Four.

My Final Four has Virginia playing Michigan and Michigan State playing West Virginia. That’s quite the Final Four scenario. In the national semifinals, I see Virginia taking down Michigan, which I have making a strong run in the tournament as a No. 3 seed. In the other semifinal I have Michigan State beating West Virginia, thus setting up Virginia against Michigan State in the title game, though a Virginia vs. West Virginia final has a lot to offer in terms of rivalry potential.

In the end, after all these games and all the possibilities, I’ll go with the No. 1 overall seed, Virginia, cutting down the nets after winning the national championship.

OK, so it’s not exciting, but it works for me.

Tommy Hicks, a Phenix City native, has covered sports in Alabama for more than 40 years. Contact him at  

thixx25@gmail.com.