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Basketball: For better or worse, my NCAA picks

BREAKING NEWS: Center Fab Melo of Syracuse was ruled academically ineligible Tuesday and will NOT play in the NCAA tournament. Melo averages 7.8 points, 5.8 rebounds and 2.9 blocks. Obviously, that alters the landscape dramatically. If you’re looking for my thoughts on how to fill out your bracket — and I’m still not sure that’s a roadmap to retirement — you will find the changes to my bracket below.

My NCAA bracket, but a few observations first:

— Toughest region: Syracuse, Ohio State, Florida State, Wisconsin, Vanderbilt. The East is a beast.

— Cal: I’m as curious as anyone about whether the Bears can find their game again. They have played one good half over the past four games. If they aren’t overwhelmed by the size and length of USF’s interior defense, I think they can score enough to win this game. Then, while they beat Temple a year ago, the turnaround after traveling to Nashville will be tough for a tired team with no depth.

— Saint Mary’s: I’m intrigued to see how the Gaels fare as a favorite. For so long, they’ve been a great little underdog story. Better than anyone imagined, They’re not surprising anyone anymore.

Here are my picks — use them in your office pool at your own peril:

SOUTH
First Four
Western Kentucky d. Mississippi Valley State
Second Round
Kentucky d. Western Kentucky
Iowa State d. UConn
Wichita State d. VCU
Indiana d. New Mexico State
Colorado d. UNLV
Baylor d. South Dakota State
Notre Dame d. Xavier
Duke d. Lehigh
Third Round
Kentucky d. Iowa State
Indiana d. Wichita State
Baylor d. Colorado
Duke d. Notre Dame
Regional Semifinals
Kentucky d. Indiana
Baylor d. Duke
Regional Final
Kentucky d. Baylor

WEST
First Four
BYU d. Iona
Second Round
Michigan State d. Long Island
St. Louis vs. Memphis
New Mexico d. Long Beach State
Louisville d. Davidson
Murray State d. Colorado State
Marquette d. BYU
Virginia d. Florida
Missouri d. Norfolk State
Third Round
Michigan State d. New Mexico
New Mexico d. Louisville
Marquette d. Murray State
Missouri d. Virginia
Regional Semifinals
Michigan State d. New Mexico
Missouri d. Marquette
Regional Final
Missouri d. Michigan State

EAST
Second Round
Syracuse d. UNC Ashville
Kansas State d. Southern Miss
Vanderbilt d. Harvard
Wisconsin d. Montana
Cincinnati d. Texas
Florida State d, St. Bonaventure
West Virginia d. Gonzaga
Ohio State d. Loyola-Md
Third Round
Syracuse d. Kansas State
Vanderbilt d. Wisconsin
Florida State d. Cincinnati
Ohio State d. West Virginia
Regional Semifinals
Syracuse d. Vanderbilt Vanderbilt d. Syracuse
Florida State d. Ohio State
Regional Final
Syracuse d. Florida State Florida State d. Vanderbilt

MIDWEST
First Four
Lamar d. Vermont
Cal d. South Florida
Second Round
North Carolina d. Lamar
Creighton d. Alabama
Temple d. Cal
Michigan d. Ohio
San Diego State d. North Carolina State
Georgetown d. Belmont
Purdue d. Saint Mary’s
Kansas d. Detroit
Third Round
North Carolina d. Creighton
Michigan d. Temple
San Diego State d. Georgetown
Kansas d. Purdue
Regional Semifinals
North Carolina d. Michigan
Kansas d. San Diego State
Regional Final
Kansas d. North Carolina

FINAL FOUR
National Semifinals
Syracuse d. Kansas Kansas d. Florida State
Missouri d. Kentucky
Championship
Syracuse d. Missouri Missouri d. Kansas

Jeff Faraudo