Well folks, March Madness is officially here. The matchups and bracket were revealed just hours ago, and scores of college basketball fans rushed to their printers to gather their blank canvases and make their picks for yet another yearly office pool. Hold on, though, because before you do that, I would like to give you a primer for sports’ most frantic month. So strap in, grab some popcorn and prepare to criticize the Selection Committee once more, because here we go.
For a complete bracket with all regions and matchups filled in, click this link here: http://www.sbnation.com/college-basketball/2017/3/12/14846772/2017-march-madness-bracket-ncaa-tournament
Now, for each region, I will be looking at the following items and giving my thoughts:
- Team most likely to get to Final Four
- Most overseeded team
- Most underseeded team
- Most likely upset at 5 vs. 12 or lower
- Possible best game of first round
To start, we will look at the East region, headed by the #1 overall seed Villanova.
East Region (#1 seed: Villanova)
- Most likely to reach the Final Four: Villanova
When looking at the bracket, one could see the road for this team as not being the easiest. With the possibility of having to face Wisconsin in the second round and/or a team such as Florida or Virginia in the Sweet 16, there could be a trap game or two in Villanova’s quest for a repeat title. However, I expect the Wildcats to find a way to make their way to Phoenix and be just two wins away from yet another national championship.
- Most overseeded team: South Carolina
While the Gamecocks did have a solid stretch of victories in SEC play in January and early February (9 wins out of 10 games), they only defeated a total of 3 tournament teams this season (Florida, Michigan and Vermont) while falling to Alabama in all 3 meetings with the Crimson Tide, including by 11 in the SEC tournament. They come into the tournament winning just 3 out of their last 9 and also drew an interesting matchup with Marquette in the first round.
- Most underseeded team: Wisconsin
It is safe to say that Wisconsin finished the season on a bit of a sluggish note. They lost five of their final seven Big 10 contests and, despite rolling through the first two games of the conference tournament, couldn’t get it done against Michigan on Sunday, falling 71-56. For their efforts, they end up with the 8 seed here. This despite Northwestern, a team they beat by 28 the day before Selection Sunday, being ranked as an 8 seed as well. Now, the Badgers should not have been a 5 seed or anything of the sort, but a middle of the road placement after being projected as a low 6 or high 7 comes as quite the surprise to Badgers fans.
- Most likely upset: 12 UNC Wilmington over 5 Virginia
The Seahawks of UNC Wilmington come into the tournament with a record of 29-5 and 18 of their last 21. They also averaged 85 points per game during the season, which will help create an interesting matchup against Virginia’s notoriously stingy defense. It may also create the recipe for what could be the Midwest region’s sole true upset.
- Best game of first round: 7 South Carolina vs 10 Marquette
West Region (#1 seed: Gonzaga)
- Most likely to reach the Final Four: Arizona
However, they just may have to wait another year. Not only is Arizona possibly the best overall two seed in the tournament (Kentucky may disagree), Arizona seems to be the more battle-tested team. Having taken care of business against UCLA (3-seed) and Oregon (3-seed) on the way to the Pac-12 title, the Wildcats will be looking forward to the opportunity to play in their home state at the Final Four and possibly avenge their early season loss to Gonzaga.
- Most overseeded team: Florida State
The 3-seed is likely where the Seminoles had to be placed due to the quality of the teams below them in this region, but 3 seems a bit too high. While they did defeat the likes of Duke, Notre Dame and Louisville during the regular season, losses to teams like Pittsburgh and Georgia Tech still jump off of their schedule. However, a runner-up regular season position in one of the toughest conferences in college basketball may have done enough to tip the seeding scale in their favor.
- Most underseeded team: None
- Most likely upset: 13 Bucknell over 4 West Virginia
It was either between this and Notre Dame/Princeton, but I went with Bucknell here. The Bison did a solid job taking care of the ball this year, averaging just 13 turnovers per game. Also, they have a knack for upsets, as Bill Self and Kansas would tell you. This could help them out massively against Bob Huggins’ “Press Virginia” defense, leading to a potential bracket buster for some.
- Best game of first round: 8 Northwestern vs 9 Vanderbilt
Midwest Region (#1 seed: Kansas)
- Most likely to reach Final Four: Kansas
Kansas comes into the tournament as one of the most complete teams in the country, which is exactly why I have them making the Final Four out of this region, beating Oregon in the Elite Eight to get there. With the sting of the TCU conference tournament loss on their minds and a fired up Josh Jackson carrying the Jayhawks through the Midwest bracket alongside senior point guard Frank Mason Jr., the college basketball world may just be hearing more “Rock Chalk Jayhawk” in Phoenix.
- Most overseeded team: None
- Most underseeded team: None
If there is one region in this bracket in which the tournament seems to have gotten it right, this is it. Except, switch Oregon and Louisville. Wait, it’s too late? Oh, okay.
- Most likely upset: 12 Nevada over 5 Iowa State
This is likely to be one of the most popular picks for the seemingly traditional 12 over 5 upset, but Nevada is 28-6 fresh off of winning the Mountain West title and will be playing with a chip on its shoulder against a solid, but still beatable, Iowa State squad.
- Best game of first round: 6 Creighton vs 11 Rhode Island
Best 6 vs 11 game on paper of the tournament, could be the best game of the first couple rounds if potential second-round matchups like Kansas/Michigan state don’t fall through.
South Region (#1 seed: North Carolina)
- Most likely to make the Final Four: Kentucky
John Calipari’s Kentucky Wildcats are scary. Led by first-year scoring machine Malik Monk (20.5 PPG) and his backcourt partner De’Aaron Fox, this is just another in a long line of fantastic teams that have come through Lexington under Coach Cal. The Wildcats battled the Tar Heels back in December in what was the best regular season game this year, a 103-100 slugfest that could not be contained by regulation, where the Wildcats prevailed behind a 47-point explosion by Monk. A similar contest could ensue if these two were to meet with a Final Four trip on the line, and it would be a doozy.
- Most overseeded team: None:
- Most underseeded team: Wichita State
Marked as a likely 8 seed as late as Sunday by ESPN’s Joe Lunardi, the Shockers slipped all the way to the 10 seed in the South, albeit into a quite winnable matchup against Dayton. Wichita is 21-2 since December 10th and 30-4 overall. Their losses? Tournament teams Louisville by 10, Michigan State by 5 and Oklahoma State, along with bubble omission Illinois State (27-6, 33rd in RPI). With that type of a resume, a 10 seed seems too low indeed.
- Most likely upset: 12 Middle Tennessee State over 5 Minnesota
Last season, MTSU scored one of the most shocking upsets in recent memory when they defeated 2 seed Michigan State. This season, not nearly as many will be sleeping on the Blue Raiders. Like Wichita State, Middle Tennessee is on a hot streak, winning 20 of their last 21 games en route to finishing to a 30-4 record and the Conference USA title. In addition, Minnesota lost starting guard and UWM transfer Akeem springs to a season-ending injury against Michigan in the Big 10 tournament, so don’t be shocked to see them fall to the Blue Raiders in round one.
- Best game of first round: 8 Arkansas vs 9 Seton Hall
Have fun filling out those brackets college basketball fans, and let the madness begin!