My Bracket, 2017
By now, most of you have filled in your bracket, and I wish you all luck. Some of you just winged it when filling yours out, and some of you took hours this week researching different teams. I took the third approach, making a serious attempt to watch at least one half of basketball for every possible at-large team that I could and to pray for as few "Middle Tennessee's and Florida Gulf Coast's" to be good enough to ruin it. And then I spent a few hours this week comparing matchups. So now, here is what I have come up with.
EAST REGION ROUND ONE
(1) Villanova over (16) Mount St. Mary's: Duh
(8) Wisconsin over (9) Virginia Tech: It's mostly my bias here, but when you see the second round, you'll understand I'm not totally biased. Outside of that, Virginia Tech doesn't have a guy to stop Ethan Happ, plus Wisconsin has the tournament experience to their advantage while Va Tech is relatively new.
(5) Virginia over (12) UNC-Wilmington: UNC-Wilmington can score, Virginia plays defense. Virginia has the best defense in the country, while being in the ACC. UNC-Wilmington is in the Colonial. UNC-Wilmington hasn't beaten anybody, Virginia has. It's iffy, but defense trumps offense here.
(13) East Tennessee State over (4) Florida: With big man John Egbunu out for Florida, this Buccaneers team of East Tennessee State has even more of a fighting chance. They were third in their conference, but they were in a three-way tie. PG TJ Cromer is the best player in this game, and the Bucs have a few former major conference players.
(6) SMU over (11) USC: Since USC struggled mightily early on, I think the 30-4 American Athletic Conference champions are going to win this game and get revenge. They are 27-1 since starting 3-3, only Gonzaga has the same record in that span, and they haven't played THAT much of a tougher schedule, right?
(14) New Mexico State over (3) Baylor: A top 60 offense and defense, although in a bad conference, is not something to take lightly. Baylor has been struggling lately, and the rebounding of NM State is pretty solid. I've thought Baylor was overrated all season, and this is my big upset of the tournament. There has to be some madness.
(10) Marquette over (7) South Carolina: South Carolina is another team that is struggling into the dance, and while that should not affect a seed, it should affect whether or not you pick them to win. Marquette is one of the best shooting teams in the country, and have seven guys at 8.7 PPG or higher.
(2) Duke over (15) Troy: I didn't even know who Duke was playing until I looked at the bracket, and I look at it a lot. That's all I have to say.
WEST REGION ROUND ONE
(1) Gonzaga over (16) South Dakota State: Apparently this is the best 16 seed in a long time, or at least the best player to be on a 16 seed in Mike Daum. This game will be relatively entertaining, but I can't pick against a one seed until one actually loses.
(8) Northwestern over (9) Vanderbilt: A lot of this is prejudice, mainly because I want teams like Vanderbilt, Wake Forest (lost) and Michigan State to suffer for making the tournament and/or being over seeded due to the number of losses they have. Vandy has five top 25 wins, but three are to Florida which is clearly an anomaly. Also, 15 losses means Vandy wasn't good enough to handle the best schedule in the country.
(5) Notre Dame over (12) Princeton: I don't know enough about Princeton to pick them, but I've heard these teams are similar. If they are indeed similar, I'd assume Notre Dame has the edge due to overall roster talent and experience.
(4) West Virginia over (13) Bucknell: 13 seeds are becoming more and more popular as trendy upset picks, and I already have one. Head-to-head, East Tennessee State is better than Bucknell and West Virginia is better than Florida. Outside of that, Bucknell hasn't faced anything like West Virginia's defense, and I have to assume they will struggle against the aggressive style that they play.
(11) Xavier over (6) Maryland: This Xavier team has been struggling lately, and yet they still lack a bad loss. There is enough here still to defeat an over-seeded Maryland team, and I think the rest of Xavier's roster is better than the rest of Maryland's roster (excluding the star point guards of course). Xavier isn't going far, but they beat Butler in the Big East tournament so they still are capable.
(3) Florida State over (14) Florida Gulf Coast: I think you all are wrong about the Seminoles, and this is also not the same team that was coached by Andy Enfield four years ago. Florida State has two potential lottery picks on their roster along with being one of the deepest teams in the country. I'm not letting the Dunk City hype train take me from Tallahassee.
(7) St. Mary's over (10) VCU: St. Mary's has only one loss to a team not named Gonzaga, UT Arlington, and while that isn't a great loss it shows that St. Mary's takes care of business. The defenses here are the storyline, with VCU's press and St. Mary's second best overall defense on the court together. St. Mary's is under-seeded, while VCU is about right.
(2) Arizona over (15) North Dakota: Arizona is my national champion, and I don't see the (whatever North Dakota's mascot is) beating the Pac-12 Champions.
MIDWEST REGION ROUND ONE
(1) Kansas over (16) UC Davis: -_-
(8) Miami over (9) Michigan State: 14 losses for Michigan State, and a really young team spells trouble for Hall of Fame coach Tom Izzo. I was surprised at them getting in, let alone a nine seed, so obviously I can't pick them here. Michigan State has some good Big Ten wins, but not much else, while Miami went 10-8 in the ACC. They also have a better neutral court record, and have more experience.
(5) Iowa State over (12) Nevada: I don't think the Cyclones' run will end here, and while I think this might be one of the more exciting games in the first round, I don't think Nevada will pull off the upset here. The Cyclones are just too hot right now, and with the great four guard lineup that they have out there, it's hard to see the Wolf Pack sticking around.
(4) Purdue over (13) Vermont: Apparently Vermont is the favorite to be an upset special according to Vegas, but I don't see it that way. Purdue is too big for a team with no top 100 wins on the season, led by Caleb Swanigan and Isaac Haas. I just have a hard time seeing a team with nobody taller than 6'8" stopping these guys.
(11) Rhode Island over (6) Creighton: So Creighton did get to the Big East final without Maurice Watson Jr., but they also haven't been the same since that happened. Meanwhile, Rhode Island has become healthier, and went straight through the Atlantic 10 to win the tournament. Rhode Island and Creighton were projected to have similar seasons in November, and now they are matched up with a Creighton star missing.
(3) Oregon over (14) Iona: I'm not picking two 14 seeds, even with Chris Boucher done for the tournament. I don't like Oregon as much anymore, but I can't see them losing this game.
(7) Michigan over (10) Oklahoma State: I usually like teams that win their power-conference tournaments, and with the way Michigan has been shooting lately I have no reason to pick against the Wolverines. Oklahoma State can put up points as well, but they've been in a rut lately while the Wolves tore through Purdue, Minnesota and Wisconsin.
(2) Louisville over (15) Jacksonville State: Do I really have to explain this one?
SOUTH REGIONAL ROUND ONE
(1) North Carolina over (16) Texas Southern: Don't let Texas Southern's record fool you, North Carolina will win.
(9) Seton Hall over (8) Arkansas: I'm favoring the eight seeds a lot this season, mainly because two of the nine seeds shouldn't even be here, but also because this crop doesn't seem as even. This is as much of a tossup as you can get, but I'm going with the experience of Seton Hall here.
(12) Middle Tennessee over (5) Minnesota: I don't understand what the Gophers did to become worthy of a five seed, but I guess. Plus, Middle Tennessee is the best 12 seed in the bracket and one of the best coming into the tournament in years. The Blue Raiders should look to build on last year's success.
(4) Butler over (13) Winthrop: Butler has a ton of wins over better teams, and although Winthrop has had a good season, I'm not picking against Butler. I don't care that they lost to Xavier in the Big East tourney, they still have earned the right to move ahead.
(6) Cincinnati over (11) Kansas State: This game was more questionable when it was Wake Forest, but the overall depth of the Bearcats' roster should push them past the Wildcats. Cincinnati can beat you in a ton of ways, and shouldn't have a problem stopping Bruce Weber's team.
(3) UCLA over (14) Kent State: Well, LaVar Ball, I agree with you on UCLA getting past Kent State, but how much farther?
(10) Wichita State over (7) Dayton: This is another tossup, and I'm going with Dayton here. I like Dayton's overall talent a lot better, and think that this year they will build on the recent success they have had.
(2) Kentucky over (15) Northern Kentucky: Northern Kentucky is a great story, but Kentucky is too talented to let this slip away.
EAST REGION REMAINING GAMES
(1) Villanova over (8) Wisconsin: As much as I hope that I'm wrong about this one, I don't think I will be. The Villanova Wildcats are defending champions and the number one overall seed, and although the Badgers do have experience, these aren't the same players that we had two years ago. Koenig and Hayes were the supporting cast, and the current supporting cast the Badgers have aren't as good as they are.
(5) Virginia over (13) East Tennessee State: The run can only go so far realistically, and that's usually how I approach seeds that are 10+. They get lucky to get an injured and overrated Florida team to start off, but Virginia is the best defensive team in the country and should have an answer for TJ Cromer.
(6) SMU over (14) New Mexico State: My "chaos" bracket doesn't really get too chaotic, as the American Athletic champs should be able to run this team off the floor. The way Baylor plays allows lesser teams to stay in the game which is why the Aggies can take advantage, but SMU is too well coached and too talented. They are also the hottest team in the country.
(2) Duke over (10) Marquette: The master vs. the apprentice, Coach K of Duke vs. Coach W of Marquette. Marquette has a good offense, but their defense isn't there yet in terms of being able to stop Duke's playmakers. This game could reach the 90's as far as points, but Duke should be able to win.
(1) Villanova over (5) Virginia: When Virginia almost won at Villanova in February, it seemed as though these teams were pretty equal. Villanova had one of its' worst games of the season, and while Virginia's defense is a big part of that, if Villanova plays any better it won't be as close. I like Villanova here pretty easily.
(2) Duke over (6) SMU: It seems like Duke is walking through the past somewhat in these games, first with Coach W and now with Semi Ojeleye. I'm not surprised Ojeleye left Duke especially with how much former five-star Chase Jeter plays (barely any time), and now he has a chance to prove he is better than some of these other guys. While he may indeed do that, SMU doesn't have the depth to slow Duke down.
(1) Villanova over (2) Duke: A lot of people really like Duke to win it all, and in a matchup of the past two National Champions for a spot to the Final Four, this game may be the most intriguing of them all. Duke may have more firepower than Villanova, but what I like about the Wildcats is their consistency throughout the season, only losing by a combined 18 points in their three losses. In fact, they are so consistent, they lost by the exact same amount, eight points, in both of their losses to Butler. Consistency. But with all random facts aside, Duke has the talent, but Villanova has the heart.
WEST REGION REMAINING GAMES
(1) Gonzaga over (8) Northwestern: This season was all fun for Northwestern, and finally all of the power conference teams have made the tournament, but this run isn't going to the promised land. Gonzaga is 32-1 and a one seed for a reason, and they've actually played almost as tough of a schedule as Northwestern. Plus, Gonzaga has pro prospects, and nobody on the Wildcats will be able to match up with the size of the Bulldogs.
(5) Notre Dame over (4) West Virginia: My opinion on West Virginia is that they can beat anybody, but lose to anybody as well. Their style of play doesn't work as well against teams that value ball-control like Notre Dame, teams that have a lot of veteran leadership. The luck of the Fighting Irish won't run out on the week of St. Patrick's Day.
(3) Florida State over (11) Xavier: Xavier can beat an inexperienced, over-seeded Maryland team without a star guard available. But they can't beat a deep, athletic, and supremely talented Florida State team that finished second in the ACC regular season. G Trevon Bluiett will have to have the game of his life for the Musketeers to have a chance, but the overall talent on the Noles will push past this depleted Xavier team.
(2) Arizona over (7) St. Mary's: St. Mary's and Arizona have the same number of losses, and although they are all to teams that are at least in the NIT (and half of the combined losses are to Gonzaga), St. Mary's hasn't beaten the teams Arizona has. Arizona is the most talented team they have faced to this point, and they can play fast and slow, big or small.
(1) Gonzaga over (5) Notre Dame: Every team that makes it this far is pretty good, but Notre Dame is a bad matchup with the Zags. Look for Gonzaga to walk over this team with ease.
(2) Arizona over (3) Florida State: Arizona, albeit a somewhat young team, has a nice mix of veteran talent in with the freshmen and sophomores and that will help them with this stretch. These teams are two of the most under-the-radar contenders in the field, but Arizona has the better overall talent the Florida State. They have the intangibles as well, with the better coach and it being out west.
(2) Arizona over (1) Gonzaga: I wouldn't really call this an upset here, and with Allonzo Trier available Arizona should be able to get past Gonzaga this time. Gonzaga would have a pretty good record in a power conference due to the talent they have, but Arizona is filled with higher level talent. This team can play a number of different styles and beat you in any of them, and they have a feel of a complete team.
MIDWEST REGION REMAINING GAMES
(1) Kansas over (8) Miami: I almost felt like doing this "-_-" again, but Miami isn't that bad to deserve that. The Hurricanes have some good pieces, but none are as good as any of the top three on Kansas, and add Bill Self to the mix and you get a "Rock, Chalk, Jayhawk".
(5) Iowa State over (4) Purdue: In a classic game of big vs. small, I'm going with the small ball here. I usually like to go with the hotter teams in the country, and Iowa State is definitely among them while Purdue is reeling. The Cyclones don't have a way of stopping Caleb Swanigan and Isaac Haas, but those guys can't guard the perimeter either, and the trends are going towards perimeter basketball.
(3) Oregon over (11) Rhode Island: I've been really tempted for a the entire three day span between Selection Sunday and now to pick Rhode Island to get past Oregon without Chris Boucher, but Oregon is more than one player. They were close to beating Arizona in the Pac-12 title without him, and although Rhode Island is another one of those "hot" teams, I believe Oregon would be a real Final Four threat with him, so without him Sweet 16 sounds right.
(7) Michigan over (2) Louisville: 'Tis the bracket of teams on a roll, where Michigan will continue its' red-hot play into the Sweet 16. Louisville is a very sound defensive squad, but so is Wisconsin and the Wolverines lit them up in the Big Ten championship. I also peg Louisville as overrated.
(1) Kansas over (5) Iowa State: A pretty early within conference matchup, as Big 12 faces Big 12. Iowa State got lucky, and actually started their season, with that win in Allen Fieldhouse, but the Jayhawks definitely remember that and won't take the Cyclones lightly this time around. I wouldn't expect it close, and Kansas will try to run away with it to prevent that game from happening again.
(7) Michigan over (3) Oregon: Everybody has to have an unusual seed make the Elite Eight, and this year it is Michigan. They are also my only Big Ten team making it past the Round of 32. This is where I draw the line in the sand for the Chris Boucher injury, and without his defense it will cause problems against a Michigan team that can score.
(1) Kansas over (7) Michigan: And this is where the luck runs out for Michigan. No offense to both Louisville and Oregon, but neither of them are as good and complete of a team as Kansas at the moment, and Frank Mason is a Wooden candidate for a reason. Plus, Michigan and Iowa State are somewhat similar, and Kansas knows at this point how to slow down that kind of attack.
SOUTH REGIONAL FINAL GAMES
(1) North Carolina over (9) Seton Hall: Seton Hall has three really good players on their roster, which is the main reason I picked them over Arkansas. North Carolina has 10 really good players though, and their players are better. North Carolina has struggled at times with focusing on the goal in front of them, but they are one of the most complete teams in college basketball and won't let a team like this stop them.
(4) Butler over (12) Middle Tennessee: It's unfortunate for a Cinderella like Middle Tennessee to have an ex-Cinderella-now-powerhouse team like Butler in the second round. While the players on the team haven't been Cinderellas before, the fanbase and coaching staff surely remember and won't let these players take time off for a sleeper like this. Plus, Butler has the best resume and they are a real contender.
(3) UCLA over (6) Cincinnati: Cincinnati hasn't played a team like UCLA on the offensive side of the ball, where everybody has to defend everybody because all eight rotation pieces on the Bruins can score. The Bearcats have had a nice season, but UCLA is too talented for them.
(2) Kentucky over (10) Wichita State: A lot of people think the Shockers will continue to be shocking this season, but they don't have Fred VanVleet or Ron Baker anymore, and I just don't see them getting past a talented team like Kentucky. They didn't have a strong schedule, which is why they are 30-4, and Kentucky is one of the five most talented teams in the country. I just don't see it.
(4) Butler over (1) North Carolina: Despite what I said about North Carolina being one of the most complete teams in basketball, they are also inconsistent and have the most losses of a one-seed ever. Butler, meanwhile, has the most top 25 RPI wins of any team and has the know-how to slow down a team like UNC. Plus, one seeds lose at some point usually, right?
(2) Kentucky over (3) UCLA: I like Kentucky here, and part of it is the revenge factor and getting back at UCLA for beating them in Rupp. But look at this game for a real chance of G Malik Monk and/or De'Aaron Fox going off because of all the Lonzo Ball talk. They are five star guards too, who are lottery capable, and want to make sure they are heard. I'm predicting it happens here.
(4) Butler over (2) Kentucky: I don't entirely understand why I'm picking Butler here outside of the resume, but it's just a gut feeling I have with Butler. Sometimes in picking a bracket, you should go with guts over facts.
Villanova, Arizona, Kansas, Butler
Arizona def. Kansas
I believe that Arizona is the best team in the country, for a number of reasons. To start, they have all of the attributes needed to play the game of basketball. They have size, speed, scoring, rebounding, defense, coaching, lottery picks, as well as the resume and veteran leadership. I also believe most of these quality teams (like North Carolina, Kentucky, Duke, Villanova, etc.) are overrated, and Arizona is one that I think is not. I'm also picking Arizona because I have a gut feeling for them, and they are also a smart selection if you want to win since a lot of people won't be picking them. Here is a link to cbssports.com to look at teams' resumes and rosters, and this link will take you directly to Arizona's.