Indiana’s not in, but there’s still a lot to discuss with this bracket. Let’s go through it!
Favorite: (1) Villanova. The Wildcats are the #1 overall seed in the bracket and the defending champs. That being said, the committee gave them no favors with this region.
Dark Horse: (6) SMU. Tim Jankovich did a great job taking over for Larry Brown this year, and the AAC champion Mustangs have a former Duke player in Semi Ojeleye leading the way.
Bracket buster: (8) Wisconsin. Expect a lot of complaints about the Badgers being underseeded, and they have a tough first-round game against Virginia Tech. But if this team can get hot, they’ll give Villanova a workout in the second round.
Most intriguing first-round matchup: (5) Virginia vs. (12) UNC-Wilmington. My feelings about Tony Bennett are well-known, and Kevin Keatts is a hot head coaching name right now. Here’s your first 5-12 upset special.
Prediction: (1) Villanova over (2) Duke. The Wilscats and Blue Devils are both playing great right now, and we have the potential for a classic Elite 8 matchup in MSG if this region is chalk.
Favorite: (1) UNC. The Tar Heels are a typical Roy Williams team: they play fast, score a lot, and daggummit it will be hard to beat them.
Dark Horse: (4) Butler. Chris Holtmann hasn’t made it past the first weekend as Butler head coach, but this Bulldogs team is seeded higher than it ever was when Brad Stevens was head coach.
Bracket buster: (12) Middle Tennessee State. Kermit Davis’s team beat Michigan State last year and now they get a 5 seed in Minnesota that may have been overseeded.
Most intriguing first-round matchup: (7) Dayton vs. (10) Wichita State. Archie Miller vs. Gregg Marshall. In Indy. HMMMMMMM.
Prediction: (2) Kentucky over (1) UNC. The Wildcats were playing their best ball at the end of the year. Malik Monk is a game changer. Bam Adebayo lives up to his first name. The Cats play fast, and if teams can’t keep up, John Calipari may be on his way to another Final Four that will be vacated in the future.
Favorite: (1) Kansas. They just won their 13th straight conference title. Of course they’re the favorites.
Dark Horse: (7) Michigan. Did you see them these past four days? That offense is humming. If they get revenge for the 2013 Tourney on Louisville in the second round, this could be a magical season for the Wolverines.
Bracket buster: (11) Rhode Island. Creighton hasn’t been the same since Mo Watson went down to injury. Oregon just lost Chris Boucher to a season-ending injury. Could Stan Robinson and URI capitalize in both matchups?
Most intriguing first-round matchup: (4) Purdue vs. (13) Vermont. I grew up in Vermont. I went to school at Indiana University. This matchup is my everything.
Prediction: (2) Louisville over (1) Kansas. Louisville has an experienced point guard in Quentin Snider and a heck of a playmaker in Donovan Mitchell. They were barred from the tournament last year due to a cowardly administrative decision, so I expect them to come out motivated this year.
Favorite: (1) Gonzaga. Oh look. Mark Few has the Zags as a high seed once again. The Zags absolutely deserved it.
Dark Horse: (8) Northwestern. I mean, why not?!?
Bracket buster: (10) VCU. They’ve done it in the past, and Will Wade’s squad still plays a tough defense and will give teams a tough matchup for 40 minutes. Never discount the Rams.
Most intriguing first-round matchup: (6) Maryland vs. (11) Xavier. Maryland is probably too high as a 6. X is probably too low as an 11. The Musketeers haven’t been the same since losing Edmond Sumner to injury, but this team is still dangerous.
Prediction: (2) Arizona over (4) West Virginia. It’s hard to believe Sean Miller still hasn’t made a Final Four in Tucson, but that changes this year.
Semifinals: (1) Villanova over (2) Arizona, (2) Louisville over (2) Kentucky
Finals: (1) Villanova over (2) Louisville
A Louisville-UK Final Four matchup would be extremely fun. Let’s make it happen! Arizona will have somewhat of a home court advantage in Phoenix but Villanova is too good.
Why pick anyone but Villanova, the #1 overall seed, to repeat? I’m sure I’ll change my mind 25 times in the next 3 days but among first impressions, they’re my pick.