Okay so you’ve had some time to digest everything. You have probably gone through a couple drafts, had to scribble out some picks or even trash a bracket completely and start from scratch. I can hear the paper crumbling as we speak.
Relax, Nation. We got you covered. We will be providing you a crash course on finding the right path, whether it be winning a pool or just for bragging rights, or both! We will provide you with four different opinions on the four regions on teams to look out for — the favorites, the sleepers and where Cinderella is residing, the bracket-busters if you will.
Now typically, the ‘favorites’ are among the top three or four seeds in a region. A ‘sleeper’ can be anywhere between 5-8 depending on the caliber of the team. And ‘Cinderella’ clubs can be anything from 7-seeds and lower. But we’ve opened the book to many possibilities and allow our contingent here to do the judging.
For this experiment, here is who will be calling the shots:
- EAST REGION – Paul Rochon
- MIDWEST REGION – Ryan Griffin
- SOUTH REGION – Alex Muller (yours truly)
- WEST REGION – Daniel Dylan Bair
Let the breakdown begin!
The East Region features a lot of firepower, headlined by No. 1 overall seed and defending champion Villanova, and a red-hot, resurgent Duke team. Mr. Rochon gives his synopsis of the East:
- FAVORITE: (1) Villanova – Who else? The Wildcats are the first defending champion to earn the top overall seed since Florida in 2007 and they’ve earned it. With most of last year’s standout team returning, Villanova appears poised for a repeat run and has dominated the regular season to prove it.
- SLEEPER: (6) So. Methodist – Larry Brown may have left but the Mustangs just keep on running. Ultra-efficient and underseeded, SMU is not a team many want to see early on. Their obliteration of a somewhat soft schedule has them riding high, but the competition is about to take a big step up in intensity.
- CINDERELLA: (8)Wisconsin – An elite defensive team that often struggles to shoot from everywhere on the floor. An experienced team that’s been there before, the Badgers can beat anybody IF the shots are falling. Ethan Happ will dominate the paint but if Wisconsin’s experienced guards start raining threes, bye-bye Villanova.
- PREDICTION: (2) Duke – The preseason No. 1 has seen more than its share of well documented ups and downs this year but Duke is still the incredibly talented and motivated team we expected them to be. Led by emotional and oft-controversial star Grayson Allen and freak freshman Jayson Tatum, the Blue Devils are about to return to a familiar stage in the Final Four. They may have been denied a number one seed but they won’t be denied on the court.
The No. 1 seed Kansas Jayhawks own this bracket again. But they haven’t fared well being on the top line in recent years. Will they change that narrative? Let’s see what Ryan Griffin thinks:
- FAVORITE: (1) Kansas – Obviously Kansas. They have easily the most talented team and have been the most impressive team from the region all season, hence why they’re a No. 1 seed in the Tournament.
- SLEEPER: (9) Michigan State – I’m trying not to be a homer but it’s not working. At some point Michigan State’s talent has to catch up with them, and no coach is more apt to make that happen this time of year than Tom Izzo. The path isn’t all that difficult for MSU to manage, especially given their success against Kansas in recent years.
- CINDERELLA: (11) Rhode Island – The Rams are playing their best basketball, winners of eight straight games. They’re 3-1 against top 25 teams this year and hold opponents to under 65 points a game. Don’t be surprised if the Rams are dancing passed the first weekend.
- PREDICTION: (3) Oregon – Despite the big loss of Chris Boucher, the Ducks are still loaded. Kavell Bigby-Williams filled in admirably for Boucher, and the Ducks still have the leadership of Dillon Brooks, Jordan Bell, and Tyler Dorsey who had an amazing Pac-12 Tournament run. The path breaks down nicely for Oregon and maybe in a tougher region they don’t fare as well, but this team as currently constructed is still plenty good enough to make the Final Four
Two premier bluebloods in the sport headline this region in top-seed North Carolina and 2-seed Kentucky. Are we primed for a colossal Elite 8 showdown?
- FAVORITE: (1) North Carolina – We know the Tar Heels will be out for blood despite having a big target of being a 1-seed on their backs. UNC came so close to taking home their third national title in 12 years, if not for Kris Jenkins’ game-winning, buzzer-beating, title-clinching shot a year ago. Roy Williams’ team is flooded with talent and experience, a recipe for success in March.
- SLEEPER: (6) Cincinnati – Easily one of the more quieter teams all season long, the Bearcats finished with just four blemishes on the season. They’re two wins shy of tying a program-best 31 wins in a season, set back in 2001-02 during their old Conf-USA days with ‘Huggy Bear’ on the sidelines. This is one of the stingiest teams in the nation, top 10 in points allowed per game (60.8). But should they get by in Round 1 of the Tournament, they will have potential meetings with high-octane offenses like UCLA and Kentucky in later rounds.
- CINDERELLA: (10) Wichita State – Hard to imagine the Shockers in this boat but the Committee didn’t think too highly of their resume this year. Wichita could very well be the trendy pick to do some damage in the south. A mid-major that can play with the best of them, they too present a stout defense that can surely give offenses like Kentucky a problem.
- PREDICTION: (3) UCLA – Easily the nation’s most prolific and efficient offense by a wide margin, the Bruins are back in the national spotlight. It’s their best season since making consecutive Final Four appearances in 2007 and ’08. Freshman phenom point guard Lonzo Ball gets all the love but this team is deep, six guys on the year are averaging double-figures in points. Plus they share the basketball better than any team in the country, and are not shy on the glass either. Take the Fighting Alford’s in this Tournament.
Just how wild is the west going to be? How will the west be won? Dylan Bair gives his west coast bias and who should be representing this region in the Final Four:
- FAVORITE: (2) Arizona – Bear down for Sean Miller and his 30-win Wildcats. ‘Zona have a roster full of talent that includes sophomore Allonzo Trier and a bevy of high-profile freshmen led by Lauri Markkanen. Arizona will be looking to ride the momentum of their tournament win in the conference of champions. They must be the favorite to upend No. 1 seed Gonzaga.
- SLEEPER: (5) Notre Dame – Mike Brey has made an Elite Eight machine out of the Fighting Irish program. ND pulled a relatively easy side of the bracket in the West and their offensive efficiency and mismatch creator Bonzie Colson will cause havoc across the region. Notre Dame made two straight Elite Eights and it could easily be a third.
- CINDERELLA: (14) Florida Gulf Coast – Dunk City is back! FGCU is back in the tournament for a second consecutive season. Many fans remember their incredible Sweet 16 run as a 15-seed back in the 2013 NCAA Tournament. They again seem poised to bust many brackets with a first round match-up in Orlando against (3) Florida State. Look for FGCU to become a tournament darling again.
- PREDICTION: (2) Arizona – The ‘Cats will breeze through the West and face a Notre Dame team that was able to finish second in the ACC Tournament and gave Duke all they could handle. Better defense and multiple viable scoring options will have the Wildcats reaching their first Final Four since 2001.