Rick Snider: Louisville is the pick in the NCAA tournament

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Louisville will win the NCAA tournament.

Mark it down in big cardinal red on your bracket. Coach Rick Pitino will win a title for the western side of the state to match his 1996 crown in Lexington, Ky., with the Wildcats.

Georgetown, Ohio State and Indiana also will make the Final Four. Your bracket should have a pair of No. 1s and 2s. It may be a dance filled with Cinderellas, but none of them will wear the crown.

Oh, you really want former coach Jim Larranaga to pull off another "Hoosiers" run with Miami like he did in 1996 at George Mason. Larranaga even gets a chance to do it on the same court -- Verizon Center. The only problem is Indiana is the better team in the East Region -- good enough to meet Louisville in the championship game but not great enough to outshoot the Cardinals.

Georgetown seems tantalizingly close to winning its first crown since 1984. The Hoyas get two easy games (don't waste your breath making a case for Florida Gulf Coast) before facing a real Florida team. Beating Kansas in the South Region is probably a reach, but maybe Georgetown can slow the game enough for the upset. The Hoyas are just a player away from a championship.

Ohio State gets a break in the West Region with Gonzaga as the top seed. Seriously, nobody believes Gonzaga's worthy of a No. 1 seed after playing a schedule of marshmallows. This is March Madness, in which winning six games requires steel that can't be forged on the road.

North Carolina is the sexy dark horse, though who knows why? The Tar Heels will exit in the second round to Kansas. UNC is a solid team, but there are plenty of solid teams in the tournament.

Virginia Commonwealth is also getting some love from network bracketologists (sounds like a PC term for bartender) who think the Rams can make a long run. Secretly, they just like saying coach Shaka Smart's name. VCU only will reach the Sweet 16, which is still amazing for a small school.

Duke is another network darling -- nothing new there -- that's overrated. Seriously, Maryland took down Duke twice lately only to lose the next game. The Blue Devils always get a higher seed than they deserve, but news flash to the selection committee: Duke has only one title in the past 11 years. So does Maryland, and it's in the NIT instead. The Terps definitely could win that tournament, though.

Want a smart first-round upset? No. 11 Minnesota over No. 6 UCLA is a cinch. Wait, Minnesota is a three-point favorite as the lower seed? Well, it still looks like a sharp win in your bracket.

For all the talk of a wide-open tournament, there won't be one newcomer come the Sweet 16. The big names will dominate the tournament, and chalk players will dominate office pools.

Anyone picking team mascots isn't winning the pool this year unless that person loves Cardinals.

Examiner columnist Rick Snider has covered local sports since 1978. Read more on Twitter @Snide_Remarks or email rsnider@washingtonexaminer.com.

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