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Can anyone knock off Kentucky in the NCAA tournament?

Kentucky forward Willie Cauley-Stein holds the trophy after the NCAA college basketball Southeastern Conference tournament championship game against Arkansas, Sunday, March 15, 2015, in Nashville, Tenn. Kentucky won 78-63.
Kentucky forward Willie Cauley-Stein holds the trophy after the NCAA college basketball Southeastern Conference tournament championship game against Arkansas, Sunday, March 15, 2015, in Nashville, Tenn. Kentucky won 78-63. AP

I’ve done some brave stuff in my life. There was a tough kid at my Catholic elementary school, and he and another guy were picking on a friend. The tough kid was short. So I said, “No fair, it’s 11/2 against one.” The tough kid walked up and said, “You calling me a half!”

That was brave. It also was stupid. Picking against Kentucky in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament probably is, too.

Every year I pick the winner of every tournament game (except the warm-up first-round games). Some years I’m prescient. Some years I’m pathetic.

MIDWEST

First-round winners are Kentucky, Cincinnati, Buffalo, Maryland, Texas, Notre Dame, Wichita State and Kansas.

Kentucky’s John Calipari is the most underrated coach in the sport. Many fans consider him nothing more than a recruiter. He can coach, he can lead and he can convince big-time players with big-time egos to play as one.

The Terps will beat Bobby Hurley’s Bulls, Notre Dame beats Texas and Gregg Marshall’s Shockers shock Kansas.

Kentucky beats Maryland by 17. Jerian Grant makes the game his late, and the Fighting Irish win by 3 in overtime.

Kentucky beats the Fighting Irish by 9 to advance to the Final Four.

WEST

First-round winners are Wisconsin, Oregon, Wofford, North Carolina, Xavier, Baylor, Virginia Commonwealth and Arizona.

We think of the Badgers as slow and plodding. We do this because they are slow and plodding. They’re also very good. They beat Oregon.

The North Carolina-Wofford game is interesting. In Mike Young, Wofford might have the better coach. But the Tar Heels have the better team. They win, as do Baylor and Arizona.

The Badgers beat the Tar Heels in a tough, knock each other around game, and Arizona outscores Baylor.

Arizona is trending, which means everybody has decided to like the Wildcats at the same time. I’ll go with the Badgers. Wisconsin advances to the Final Four.

EAST

First-round winners are Villanova, N.C. State, Northern Iowa, Louisville, Providence, Oklahoma, Michigan State and Virginia.

Second-round winners are Villanova, Louisville, Oklahoma and Virginia.

Villanova easily beats Louisville and, in a game tied with 90 seconds to play, Virginia beats Oklahoma.

Many commentators have decided depleted Virginia had a nice season but lacks the talent to go deep. I disagree. Tony Bennett’s team plays smart, cohesive defense, and the only way to prepare for it is to play against it. Virginia upsets Villanova.

The ACC has a team in the Final Four.

SOUTH

First-round winners are Duke, San Diego State, Utah, Georgetown, SMU, Iowa State, Davidson – of course Davidson – and Gonzaga.

The Aztecs can play. But Duke plays better. Since North Carolina will not play in Charlotte, the Blue Devils get home court advantage.

Utah destroys Georgetown. Iowa State beats Larry Brown’s Mustangs and, no, Brown isn’t leaving after the season. In the battle of celebrity mid-majors, Gonzaga beats Davidson.

Duke handles talented Utah. I like the Blue Devils. The coming together of a great coach and great young talent is intriguing. Gonzaga wins, too. The Bulldogs are especially good this season.

The Blue Devils rally late and beat Gonzaga by 3 to advance to the Final Four.

FINAL FOUR

The Badgers lead Kentucky by 2 at the half. Oh, yeah! Kentucky wins by 11.

The Blue Devils have a better chance to beat Kentucky than Virginia does. So, Duke by 4.

I believe Calipari would like to have lost as the season wound down, but couldn’t find a team or coach to which he was willing to lose.

Why start now? You calling me a half? No, Kentucky, I’m not. Kentucky 94, Duke 89.

Sorensen: 704-358-5129; tsorensen@charlotteobserver.com; Twitter: @tomsorensen

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