1Merry Christmas Everyone! For those who love sports, especially college basketball, this really is the most wonderful time of the year. The 2017 NCAA Tournament truly begins today as 64 teams try to capture the title of “National Champion” and avoid falling victim to March Madness. I’ll be recapping the biggest stories throughout the bracket season and have a more thorough preview of the Final Four, but here is an overview of what I think will happen these next couple weeks. This includes who I think emerges from each bracket, the best potential (not actual) upset in each region, and the best games you could see in each quadrant.
East Region (New York, NY)
With defending champion Villanova as the #1 seed, and ACC Champion Duke as the #2, it’s no surprise many people will pick chalk in this region. However, a couple of surprises could loom at Madison Square Garden.
Best Potential Upset: #6 Southern Methodist over #2 Duke (Sweet Sixteen)
If you’re looking for the best chance at a Cinderella story out of the East, look no further than the Mustangs of SMU. With 30 wins, including 12 in a row, it’s not too hard to see Southern Methodist reaching the Sweet Sixteen, especially with a lackluster Baylor team waiting in the Round of 32. However, as much as this pains me to say, Duke is one of the hottest teams on any side bracket and have what is potentially the most underrated NBA prospect in Jayson Tatum. Don’t expect this to happen, but it is the month of Madness.
Best Game to Watch: #1 Villanova vs. #2 Duke (Elite Eight)
Sure, I think SMU has the best chance to pull an upset in this region but, simply put, they won’t. The ACC Champion Blue Devils are finally starting to live up to their preseason hype and the combination of Tatum, Luke Kennard, and the Tripping Sensation is very potent. Meanwhile, the number one overall seed has one of the best players in the country in Josh Hart and bring back a bunch of the team that cut down the nets last year. Jay Wright has his squad ranking top-5 in a number of offensive categories while Coach K’s team is just hot right now.
East Region Winner: Villanova
The Wildcats are the defending champs and the top overall seed for a reason. They just won a tournament in Madison Square Garden and they’ll be cutting down more nylon in Manhattan in nine days.
South Region (Memphis, TN)
I’ve got a problem with this portion of the bracket. North Carolina shouldn’t get the top seed here cause they didn’t win their conference (I’ll argue about that in a later post), but you have to get the best team in that “region” to drive ticket sales and attendance so we’ll deal with it.
Best Potential Upset: #7 Dayton over #10 Wichita State (First Round)
Yes, you read that right. I’m saying a higher-seeded team winning is an upset. Why? Cause the Shockers were SEVERELY under-seeded by the selection committee. Wichita State is 30-4, ranked 19th in the country, and pretty much rolled through their league (Missouri Valley), while Dayton limped to the finish in a not-so-impressive Atlantic 10. I love everything about the Shockers and, if they didn’t have to face Kentucky in the next round, I could see them going to the Elite Eight.
Best Game to Watch: #2 Kentucky vs. #3 UCLA (Sweet Sixteen)
These two teams met in Lexington back in December with the Bruins ending Kentucky’s long home-game winning streak. This matchup also features some of the best freshmen in the nation in Malik Monk (UK) and Lonzo Ball (UCLA). When you factor in the veteran Bryce Alford for UCLA and the coaching “prowess” of John Calipari, this makes for a fun day of basketball in Memphis on March 24.
South Region Winner: UCLA
Again, the seeding of this region bothers me. To the point where I’m still struggling to see UNC actually making the Elite Eight (Minnesota is gooooooood). So, the winner of the aforementioned Wildcats-Bruins game will win this part of the bracket. I just like UCLA a little bit better than Kentucky.
West Region (San Jose, CA)
Yes, Gonzaga is the #1 seed in this portion of the bracket. Yes, they were the top-ranked team in the country for a while. But, make no mistake, this is the toughest region for a #1 seed. The Hollywood story of Northwestern has a great chance to keep going, even against the top seed. Plus, with teams like Arizona, Florida State, Notre Dame, and West Virginia, the Zags have ZERO chance of making it to Phoenix.
Best Potential Upset: #6 Maryland over #3 Florida State (Round of 32)
It’s not a sexy pick, or a sexy game, but Maryland has stumbled down the stretch in the Big 10 while FSU has battled admirably in a stacked ACC. Melo Trimble is one of the most exciting point guards in the country for Maryland. However, this may be the best Seminoles team ever with Dwayne Bacon, Michael Ojo, and Jonathan Isaac. The second round isn’t that exciting unless a true Cinderella emerges so this has a great chance of being the top battle over the weekend.
Best Game to Watch: #7 St. Mary’s vs. #10 VCU (First Round)
I have to admit, this was my second hardest decision in the Opening Round. I love Jock Landale and Joe Rahon at St. Mary’s. But, the “sniper” that has become VCU in March is too hard to overlook. The Rams can continue their HAVOC on the court and they’ll have to do it against another “Mid-Major” with a chip. These 7/10 matchups are always fun; expect more of the same here.
West Region Winner: Florida State
Mentioned it at the top, this part of the bracket is wide open. While I love the possibility of Gonzaga getting to their first Final Four, they won’t reach the Elite Eight. The Seminoles are a great team in a better league and I’m not that confident in anyone else. FSU will battle Villanova in the Final Four, after beating ACC foe Notre Dame in San Jose.
Midwest Region (Kansas City, MO) – A.K.A. Toughest Bracket
Oh man, this region is STACKED. This bracket has the potential for all hell to break loose. You’ve got many people’s pick as champion, Kansas, a great Louisville team, a red-hot Michigan squad, and the toughest 8/9 game to pick.
Best Potential Upset: #11 Rhode Island over #6 Creighton
Of all the “potential” upsets I’ve listed, this is the only one I’m actually picking in my bracket. Rhody is finally healthy and actually living up to expectations while the Blue Jays just aren’t the same without Maurice Watson. The Rams are a great defensive team and it shows with three wins over top-25 squads. You can pick Oregon to fall early, especially without forward Chris Boucher, but it’s hard for me to see a 14-seed winning this year.
Best Game to Watch: #7 Michigan vs. #2 Louisville (Round of 32)
When contrasting styles meet, it’s always fun to watch. Michigan is one of the hottest teams in the tourney, with one of the best stories. They love to slow it down in the half-court while Louisville is built on defense leading to offense. The battle between Derrick Walton, Jr. and Donovan Mitchell will be fun while secondary pieces like Zak Irvin (UM) and Deng Adel (UL) add to the excitement. Rick Pitino is one of the more tournament-savvy coaches and John Bielein has found a way to turn around what could have been a disappointing season.
Midwest Region Winner: Kansas
This one pains me because I absolutely love Louisville. What makes the decision easier is that the Jayhawks are the best team in the country. Frank Mason III has been around forever and that experience is invaluable. Pair him with Big 12 Freshman of the Year, Josh Jackson, who was suspended for their loss to TCU in the conference tourney, and they are dangerous.
Final Four (Phoenix, AZ) Predictions
Villanova over Florida State
Kansas over UCLA
National Champion: Kansas over Villanova, 71-67 (threw in the score for good measure)
Now that it’s out there, check out my full bracket and tell me why I’m wrong!