Bracket Breakdown for Monday, March 13, 2017
Editor's Note: Unavoidably, this may be the last College Basketball Daily post until Thursday morning, at which point Fearless Rick may have managed to extricate himself from up to 18 inches of snow (therein lies the danger of opening one's camp too early). Our intrepid publisher made it through a windstorm that crippled Rochester NY, leaving more than 120,000 homes without power last week, and for surviving that in a camper on a windswept plain, he managed only to get cut off in eight seconds by AM radio talk show host Bob Lonsberry on WHAM, Monday morning. In any case, the snow storm is expected to be not quite as severe as the windstorm, but travel will likely be impossible Tuesday and Wednesday. Good luck with your brackets. We'll be listening, and tracking the four play-in games.
Let's break down some brackets, shall we?
Link to ESPN's 2017 NCAA Tournament Bracket (opens new window)
East: #1 seed, Villanova Wildcats. The reigning champs are in good company in their home region, their first game a meeting with the winner of the Mount St. Mary's-New Orleans play-in game. Villanova will be making it's initial tournament appearance of the season on Thursday night in Buffalo, which, as noted above, might include a bit of a travel issue. Note to Wildcats and their fans: leave Philly NOW! It's about six hours to Buffalo and you won't make the drive on Tuesday or Wednesday.
Other notables in Villanova's portion of the East bracket are Florida, Virginia, and Wisconsin, though none of these teams have been playing particularly well. Look out for #13 seed East Tennessee State. The 27-7 Buccaneers won the Southerrn conference tournament and are upset-minded.
Villanova should cruise through their bracket into the Sweet Sixteen, and play for the regional title that weekend, potentially against Duke, the #2 seed. The Blue Devils won the ACC tournament, and, as usual, are ready to rock. They face Troy in their opener, and will likely have to deal with South Carolina, then Baylor or SMU. The 30-4 Mustangs have won 16 straight and knocked off Cincinnati to capture the American Athletic conference tourney title. They get the winner of the Providence-USC play-in game to start and could be a real tournament sleeper. Overall, the #6 line - SMU, Creighton, Cincinnati, Maryland - looks pretty formidable, but this is set up for a Villanova-Duke meeting in the Big Apple, with the winner advancing to the Final Four. There's a real chance that it could happen, but #1 meeting #2 in a region is not all that probable. Odds are that the Blue Devils get knocked off somewhere before meeting the Wildcats.
Midwest: #1 seed: Kansas Jayhawks. Kansas skipped the Big 12 tournament by losing in their opener, 85-82, to TCU. It should be readily apparent that despite getting six teams from the Big 12 into the tournament, the Horned Frogs and their 6-12 conference record are not among them. Is this a black eye for the Jayhawks? Probably, but it won't be noticeable until the regional semi-final, when they'll likely meet either Iowa State or Purdue. In the unlikely event that they get past one of those, Michigan, Louisville (#2 seed), Oregon or #6 seed Creighton await in the regional final. The Jayhawks are a liability to the tournament and will get an early boot. Reaching the Final Four is like their Big 12 counterpart in football, Oklahoma, playing for the national championship. It's just ont going to happen. Iowa State already beat them, 92-89, in Kansas and the Cyclones are probably drooling for another shot at their conference nemesis. Also, this just in: KU head coach Bill Self is a jerk. Enough. The Midwest is loaded and Kansas won't survive. Iowa State may be the team to beat here.
South: #1 seed: North Carolina Tar Heels. There's something about North Carolina and this tournament that brings back fond memories. Ah, yes, Sam Perkins and Michael Jordan. That has to be it, or, maybe, Dean Smith smoking outside the locker room at halftime. In any case, the Tar Heels are a #1 seed, despite losing to Duke in the ACC final, 93-83. But, that's all right, because Carolina beat Duke, 90-83, a week prior, wrapping up the ACC regular season title, which is probably a more deserving honor. Besides, the only way the Heels would play the Devils again would be in the NCAA final, and that would make any bracketologist blush at the mere notion of picking ACC chalk all the way through.
After dispatching with Texas Southern in their opener Friday afternoon (Greenville, SC), the Heels will kick it against either #8 Arkansas or #9 Seton Hall. Both are good teams, but unlikely to spring an upset. Take the Pirates in their opener, because, well, everybody likes Pirates, right?
The one hiccup in the South may come from little Middle Tennessee State, a 30-4 squad that stormed through Conference USA with a 17-1 mark, won the conference tourney without breaking a sweat (83-72 over Marshall in the final) and can play with any team in the country. If proof is needed, try their 77-62 win over Ole Miss or, better yet, the 71-48 beat down they put on Vanderbilt. Both of those games were way back in late November, early December, so, the Blue Raiders may be even better now. They're the #12 seed and face #5 Minnesota Thursday afternoon in Milwaukee. Nothing like your home boys getting crushed by some unknowns from the South.
On the other side of the South bracket are two powerhouse programs, UCLA and Kentucky, making this region possibly the toughest in the tourney, with the Midwest next. The #2 Wildcats and #3 Bruins should both reach the regional semi-final, the winner (hint: UCLA) taking on the Tar Heels. (Hint: UCLA). The Pac-12 sent just four teams to the tournament. Arizona, UCLA, Oregon and USC. Since the Ducks have come up lame and USC isn't very good, that leaves the doors wide open for AZ and UCLA. See below for Arizona's road to the Final Four.
West #1 seed: Gonzaga Bulldogs At 31-1, the Zags have the best record in the nation, but they hail from a notoriously-weak West Coast Conference. Only they and St. Mary's made the tournament, which is about all one needs to know about Gonzaga other than their head coach, Mark Few, is one of the best in the nation. He's repeatedly taken this team deep into the tournament and this may be one of the best Gonzaga teams ever.
Despite the high praise for the coach and the program, Gonzaga faces a myriad of obstacles. In their side of the bracket are #8 Northwestern, #5 Notre Dame (vs. #12 Princeton), and #4 West Virginia. Any one of those four teams could upend the Zags. If Gonzaga makes it through to the regional final, their likely opponent is Arizona, who has no competition to speak of in their side of the bracket. #6 Marquette, #11 Xavier, #3 Florida State, and #10 VCU aren't nearly the caliber of the Wildcats, who quietly went 30-4, won the PAC-12 tournament by defeating both UCLA in the semis and Oregon in the final. If there is a rock-solid pick to reach any regional final and probably the Final Four, it's Arizona.
In case anybody wants to go out on a limb and predict the Final Four and the ultimate champion, College Basketball Daily will do so. After all, what other publication has a guy who goes by the name Fearless Rick as editor and publisher? Um, none.
So, it's Villanova from the East, Iowa State from the Midwest, UCLA from the South, and Arizona from the West.
East plays West and Midwest plays South. Let's take Arizona over Villanova and Iowa State over UCLA, with Arizona beating the Cyclones, 87-78, in the championship.
Good luck and enjoy.
As usual, College Basketball Daily will provide somewhat untimely and incomplete coverage of almost the entire tournament, including our non-exclusive conference scoreboard. For those interested, here are the number of teams from each conference (showing only those with two or more teams invited):
Big East 7
Big Ten 7
Big 12 6
Atlantic 10 3
American Athletic 2
West Coast 2