This year’s tournament is likely to be characterized by two things: early upsets by high seeds and dominant runs by major programs. The teams seeded 1-3 seem unstoppable this season without much strength on the 4, 5, and 6 lines; however, the mid majors stashed at the 11 and 12 seeds are talented and tough with little pressure and a lot of glory to play for. Keep your eyes and ears open for teams such as Middle Tennessee, Road Island, and UNC Wilmington making runs toward the Sweet Sixteen and beyond.
With Villanova shedding its curse and winning the National Title a season ago, the Braintrust has prepped itself for similar type runs from teams with similar historical failure; therefore, keep your attention on Kansas, Gonzaga, and Virginia who seem to lose at the oddest and most inopportune times throughout the seasons. Villanova also makes its home in the East region, so we might as well get started on all the information you need to know.
What the Selection Committee Got Wrong
It’s also possible to split hairs and criticize the work of the NCAA Tournament Committee and people will occasionally tell you its unnecessary and the cost of time isn’t worth the satisfaction of people agreeing with you in comment sections, BUT those people are entirely wrong.
First, you’ll notice Wisconsin is in the East Region as a #8 seed. The Badgers finished the season at 25-9 including a run to the Big Ten Championship Game against Michigan. Wisconsin finished #2 over the course of the season in the Big Ten; however, the Badgers are the fifth highest seed from the conference in the tournament where Purdue, Minnesota, Maryland, and Michigan all were seeded higher. Northwestern also attained the standing of 8 seed while Michigan State was given a #9 seed for its 19-14 season. Wisconsin is incredibly under-seeded (should’ve hovered between the 5-6 line where Minnesota ended up) and this might be Villanova’s loss as the Badgers look like the likely opponent for the Wildcats in the second round. Wisconsin is physical and talented and a terrible match-up for the fast-paced and guard-heavy #1 seed.
Also, Duke being on the #2 line compared to North Carolina OR Gonzaga makes little sense; after all, the Blue Devils beat North Carolina twice (and won the ACC Tournament) while racking up the most Top 50 wins in the country and finishing only a single loss behind North Carolina on the season. Gonzaga defeated a hobbled Arizona team and St. Mary’s twice. We’ve seen it play out with the Zags and Wichita State at the one line and it is never worthwhile for either the mid majors OR the tournament with those teams losing in the second round to 8 seeds both seasons.
Finally, I would have liked to see UNC Wilmington put in the same half of the bracket as Duke. UNC-W did not deserve a seed low enough to play Duke in the first round, but having a possible Sweet Sixteen game between the two would have made a great storyline, but even we admit this is nitpicky since the Seahawks are not likely to advance to the second weekend even at an 11 seed.
What the Selection Committee Got Right
Putting USC in the field was the proper call over a 14 loss Syracuse team which lost all but two game played outside of the Carrier Dome. The Orange were almost given the ACC-benefit-of-the-doubt which they received last season and ran to the Final Four, but history doesn’t mandate repetition and Syracuse’s resume simply was not good enough to demand entry.
Also, Florida getting a #4 is also proper. The Gators slumped at season’s end and many knocked them to the 5 or even the 6 line, but the teams below them are simply not worthy of being lifted to the 4 line over Florida. The Gators have immense talent and should be a Sweet Sixteen team over flailing Virginia OR UNC-Wilington in the second round.
The Favorite -#2 Duke Blue Devils
Duke’s incredible run through the ACC Tournament is nothing to sneeze at and the Dukies are looking like a potential National Champion at the proper time. As stated above, the Blue Devils could have been a a #1 seed (in my Barack-o-tology or whatever, Duke was the #3 overall team in the field behind Villanova and Kansas). Luke Kennard, Greyson Allen, and Jayson Tatumn are not only the nation’s best trio of players on any given team (with apologies to UCLA), but all can create for teammates as Tatum has become an very capable and willing passer over the past few weeks. If Harry Giles, Amile Jefferson, Frank Jackson, and Matt Jones produce as the capable role players they are alongside the trio of wing players then Duke is formidable as the nation’s preseason #1 team.
The Dark Horse – #6 Southern Methodist Mustangs
SMU is fresh off an American Conference Championship which apparently means just as little as their 29-4 record to the tournament committee. The Stangs were placed below such upstarts as Virginia, Purdue, Butler, Baylor, and Florida who won a combined 1 game in their respective conference tournaments. SMU has six players who play large minutes and any injuries or foul trouble will severely hamper advancement, but those talented players match SMU against any of the teams in the region outside of Duke.
Game Most Likely To Bust Your Bracket – #8 Wisconsin vs #1 Villanova, Round 2
The Badgers finished second in the Big Ten this season and, despite the conference being down, this means they are capable of winning games in tough environments with high-intensity and NCAA Tournament feel. The Badgers might have fallen to Michigan in the finals of the Big Ten Tournament, but Wisconsin finished the regular season on a high note and showed its suffocating defense and aptitude for winning over tournament team and #8 seed Northwestern in the semi-finals of the aforementioned tournament. Villanova and those high on the Wildcats to repeat in 2017 must be weary of the Badgers.
Double Digit Seed Capable of Making the SWEET SIXTEEN – #12 UNC Wilmington
The Seahawks played Duke very tough last season despite the referees continuously calling phantom fouls on UNC-W, which is normally not a surprise for superstar programs, but the 33 fouls on the Seahawks trumped all other mockeries of officiating for teams against the Blue Devils in 2016. Playing a physical and methodical Virginia team might be a tough match-up for UNC-W, but it should lead to less foul calls on the Hawks which should give more opportunities for its high-scoring and aggressive team to trump the patience of UVA. Florida is a great team for UNC-W to play in Round 2 as the Gators will keep the game fast-paced and the opportunistic and turn-over hungry defense to make plays.
Second Round Games:
#1 Villanova OVER #8 Wisconsin
The under-seeded Badgers bounce Va-Tech on the backs of clutch Bronson Koenig, trusty Nigel Hayes, and talented Ethan Happ while Villanova easily downs the #16 seed. Wisconsin is a horrible team for Villanova to have to play in round 2, but the Wildcats will make enough threes to keep the Badgers defense from suffocating them out of the gym and Villanova advances to the Elite Eight.
#4 Florida OVER #12 UNC Wilimington
The Seahawks nearly toppled Duke last season as a 13 seed AND follow up with more success against the ACC this season by downing Tony Bennett and Virginia in the first round as the Hoo’s simply cannot remember how to score late in the season. Florida out runs East Tennessee State a with a potpourri of solid wing players and three-pointers. This leads to a high-scoring and high-octane track meet where Florida simply has too much talent and earns another weekend in the tournament to play #1 seeded Villanova keeping the top half’s Sweet Sixteen game as a chalk in the East.
#6 Southern Methodist OVER #3 Baylor
A great game played in Tulsa which the Braintrust nailed (but as a 4-5 game in our Barack-O-tology) holds to chalk in the bottom of the region. Baylor’s inside game is strong, but the Bears can never seem to put everything together in March and Scott Drew one again fails to see the second weekend in a minor upset.
#2 Duke OVER #7 South Carolina
A Marquette team which snaked into the tournament is kept away from the Second Round by a talented and under-hyped Gamecocks team which will give Duke all it can handle in round 2 until the Blue Devils get hot midway through the second half and South Carolina simply cannot keep pace with the high-scoring Dukies.
Sweet Sixteen Games:
#1 Villanova OVER #4 Florida
Too much scoring and experience on Villanova as the Wildcats are able to secure another Elite Eight bid. Kris Jenkins and Josh Hart outplay Florida’s wingers and score over 40 combined in order to out-pace a Florida team capable of getting into the high-80’s.
#2 Duke OVER #6 Southern Methodist
The Mustangs benefit from the time off after the two weekend games, but its six studs are simply not as good as those in blue. The Devils sink SMU thanks to talent able to score points on the vaunted Mustang defense. A storyline for this game is American Conference POY and SMU forward Semi Ojeleye attended and transferred from Duke after the school simply did not feel like home for him. The Mustangs have certainly welcomed his 20 points per and talent, but Ojeleye and company cannot stack up with Kennard, Allen, Tatum, Giles, and Jackson.
ELITE EIGHT Game:
#2 Duke OVER #1 Villanova
The Blue Devils are able to defend Villanova on the perimeter in a game promising to be a showcase as both these teams are extremely capable of hoisting a banner to the rafters as National Champions. The over/under should be hovering around 170 as both these teams shoot and run efficiently, but Duke’s length and athleticism should be problematic inside the paint for a Villanova program consistently lacking in the frontcourt department. Kennard is the most consistent shooter in the nation and Greyson Allen has become a threat as a bench-scorer for Duke who has embraced a revamped lineup and rotation late in the season en route to the ACC Tournament title. This game just may end as the best in the tournament.