No one ever knows how March Madness will turn out. The odds of picking all the games correctly are astronomical. It takes talent to get to the Sweet 16, but after that, it is all about matchups and luck, really. In our lifetime, we’ve seen mediocre teams win it all—looking at you, 1983 N.C. State, 1985 Villanova, and 2014 Connecticut, especially—and we’ve seen powerhouse teams fall short as well.
There is little rhyme or reason to who wins it all, although more-advanced statistical analysis has given us a better idea of how to narrow it down to a few teams with the best chances.
Nonetheless, we feel compelled to provide our best guesses. Here they are … enjoy.
[We are only picking the levels of achievement here, not each individual game. You can figure that out on your own, perhaps.]
Which teams advance to the Sweet 16?
This isn’t the easiest part, but then again, it might be.
East Region: This is an ACC/B1G region, as No. 1-seed Duke, No. 2 Michigan State, No. 4 Virginia Tech, and No. 6 Maryland will advance to the second weekend of action. The first three might be obvious choices, since those teams are seeded to advance. We like Maryland’s raw talent, even though it is a very young team. Talent should get the Terps to the Sweet 16, although next season is the year to fear that turtle.
South Region: This is another region where the numbers are not going to lie. No. 1 Virginia, No. 2 Tennessee, and No. 3 Purdue should advance to the Sweet 16, but those teams will be join by No. 12 Oregon, after the Ducks pull off upsets against No. 5 Wisconsin in the first round and No. 4 Kansas State in the second round. Oregon has won eight straight, and seven of those games were won in regulation time because the Ducks only gave up 51.3 points per contest. That is some serious defense.
West Region: This a region a lot of experts view as soft, which means upsets are going to happen. Look for No. 1 Gonzaga, No. 4 Florida State, No. 6 Buffalo, and No. 7 Nevada to advance. The Bulldogs will be tested in the second round against Syracuse’s zone defense, but Gonzaga should prevail since it has the most efficient offense in the nation. Since Christmas, Buffalo has lost just twice by a total of six points, and the Wolfpack reached the Sweet 16 last year before losing a heartbreaker to Loyola Chicago. Nevada has been playing … uninspired … basketball this year, but this team is ready to roll now.
Midwest Region: Why doesn’t the NCAA just call this a “North” region and keep it simple? Anyway, look for No. 1 North Carolina, No. 2 Kentucky, No. 3. Houston, and No. 5 Auburn to stay alive in the Big Dance, all teams from the South. Don’t fall for No. 7 Wofford advancing past the second round, and remember this Kansas team does not have the same roster it started the season with as the preseason No. 1 squad. The Tigers are on a roll, too, and momentum counts for something when you throw in the confidence of an SEC Tournament championship.
Overall, we’re going with 11 of the projected 16 teams to make the Sweet 16. There almost always are upsets. The challenge is just picking which games produce them each round/year.
Elite 8 participants
East: Michigan State and Virginia Tech. The Terps’ youth will only get them so far against the Spartans’ experience. Meanwhile, the Hokies beat the Blue Devils this season in their only matchup. Yes, it was in Blacksburg, and no, Zion didn’t play. That will not matter to Virginia Tech. They will have confidence, and Duke has come up short in situations like this frequently enough in the past (2002, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2011). The Blue Devils are due for another missed op.
South: Virginia and Purdue. The Cavaliers will overcome the Ducks’ defense, because they’re well coached and more talented. Meanwhile, the Boilermakers shared the regular-season title of the best conference in the country this year. That’s good enough for us.
West: Gonzaga and Nevada. You’re going to have to play good defense to down the Bulldogs, and the Seminoles play good defense. But there’s something about this Gonzaga offense that is next to impossible to shut down. Ask Duke. As for the Wolfpack, we think the motivation from last year’s “failure” will be enough to get Nevada to the Elite 8.
Midwest: North Carolina and Houston. The Tar Heels will end the Tigers’ streak, and the Cougars will take down the Wildcats, a team we are not overly impressed with even if the numbers like them a lot. A very distinct “South” feel to this Midwest bracket, for sure. You wonder sometimes if the selection committee is directionally challenged.
Michigan State takes down Virginia Tech, which will have spent its energy focusing on Duke. Plus, Spartans Head Coach Tom Izzo is 20-6 in NCAA Tournament turnaround games. Think about that for a moment.
Purdue will beat Virginia is a close game that does not quite validate the Cavaliers but at least leaves them with their heads held high. It is just hard to pick Virginia to make the Final Four—until they actually do make the Final Four.
Gonzaga emerges in the West as the true regional champ after defeating Nevada in a high-scoring game that could reach the 90s. Head Coach Mark Few has tasted the Final Four, and his players want to taste it again.
Houston will shock the Tar Heels, because in the end, so much of the Tar Heels resume is built on a home win over Gonzaga and two wins over Zion-less Duke. UNC just does not have it what it takes this year, even though getting a No. 1 seed and reaching the Elite 8 is impressive enough (even for a coach/program that everyone knows cheats).
Look for Gonzaga and Houston to reach the title game in a major blow to the Power 5 conferences and the NCAA Selection Committee’s clear bias towards the ACC and the SEC. The Bulldogs will make up for the near-miss experience in 2017, while the Cougars will remain winless in title games, dating back to those consecutive losses in 1983 and 1984.
Now, let’s see how wrong we are … see you next week for some laughs.