SELCTION Sunday is one of my favourite days on the sporting calendar. Yesterday the NCAA announced the field of 68 who will compete for this years college basketball national championship. With an enthralling weekend of conference tournaments setting the scene for plenty of March Madness, here’s a complete analysis of what to expect over the next month as we look ahead to see who will cut down the nets in San Antonio.
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To read my complete ESPN bracket preview click here!
QUICK TAKES FROM SELECTION SUNDAY
LOOKING at the bracket overall there were some clear winners and losers from Sunday’s reveal. Teams like Notre Dame, USC, Oklahoma State and Saint Mary’s were the biggest omissions from this year’s bracket as Syracuse and Florida State were among the surprise teams to scrape through. Despite late-season fades Oklahoma and Arizona State also managed to hold on to a tournament seed. Overall No. 1 seed Virginia headline a tough South conference and the members of the Midwest have their work cut out for them too. On paper, the West is seemingly the easiest region to conquer and also the hardest to predict.
FAVOURITE – #1 Virginia Cavaliers
THEY have to be. The No. 1 team in the country has lost just twice this year, capping off their great season with the regular season and conference title in the ACC. There are some heavy hitters in their section of the bracket, but they are still the guys to beat.
DON’T SLEEP ON – #12 Davidson Wildcats
BEWARE the dreaded 5-12 upset! In the clash of the Wildcats, Kentucky will play A-10 champion Davidson in round one. Lighting it up from downtown recently, Davidson has all the tools to cause an upset in their first match and then potentially clashes with an Arizona team who isn’t amazing defensively.
CAN’T MISS FIRST ROUND MATCHUP – #7 Nevada Wolf Pack vs. #10 Texas Longhorns
WITH Texas head coach Shaka Smart gunning for career win No. 1 in the tournament this match could be very interesting. To get the W they will have to slow down the efficient Wolf Pack offense, and the big man in the middle Mo Bamba should be up to the challenge.
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STORYLINE FROM THE SOUTH – Who will meet the Cavaliers in the Elite 8?
WITH Virginia expected to advance past the likes of Arizona and Kentucky the other half of the field posses a lot of questions. Cincinnati looms as the team to beat, but the likes of Tennessee, Miami and Nevada/Texas shouldn’t be underestimated.
FINAL FOUR BOUND – #1 Virginia Cavaliers
THE only way I don’t see the No. 1 overall seed making it out of their bracket is if they fall to Arizona/Kentucky in the Sweet 16. Otherwise, they should be good enough to dethrone any challengers from the South. Should…
FAVOURITE – #1 Villanova Wildcats
ONE of college basketball’s most complete teams was also my preseason pick to win it all. The Big East champs are looking for another deep run in the tourney after losing less than five or fewer games for the 5th straight season. It’s going to be hard to see the 2016 champions lose early on.
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DON’T SLEEP ON – #6 Florida Gators
WHO exactly are the 2017-18 Florida Gators? Their notable wins against Gonzaga, Kentucky, Texas A&M and Auburn are mixed in with bad losses to Arkansas, Ole Miss and Georgia. Inconsistency doesn’t usually translate to tournament success, but if they can survive the 11th seed then a win over No. 3 Texas Tech (who may have peaked too early) is the Gators for the taking.
CAN’T MISS FIRST ROUND MATCHUP – #8 Virginia Tech Hokies vs. #9 Alabama Crimson Tide
IT was tough not to choose Bama as my sleeper team from the East bracket, given how Colin Sexton goes about his business. The Hokies have had a good year and their defense looms as a real test for Sexton. It’s likely that the winner of this match will fall to the Wildcats in the second round, but that won’t stop this game from being an epic.
STORYLINE FROM THE EAST – Could this be the season Purdue breaks through?
MAKING the tournament for the fourth straight year, Purdue fans are hoping that this year is the one. After being steamrolled by Kansas last year and suffering heartbreaking OT losses prior to that, the Boilermakers enter March Madness near the peak of their powers. If they are at their best the Final Four is well and truly achievable.
FINAL FOUR BOUND – #1 Villanova Wildcats
A place in San Antonio is Nova’s to lose. Should Alabama clash with them in round two then Sexton could single-handedly pull off one of the upsets of the tournament, but I have faith the Wildcats are in for a deep run.
FAVOURITE – #2 North Carolina Tar Heels
WHEN it comes to ranking No. 1 seeds there is no doubt that Xavier finishes fourth. The reigning NCAA champions though? They are a tough team and despite their lack of superstars, Luke Maye and the Tar Heels are in the box seat to claim the West.
DON’T SLEEP ON – #3 Michigan Wolverines
OK, calling a three seed a sleeper might be a stretch but the Wolverines aren’t getting the credit they deserve. After claiming their second consecutive Big Ten conference championship Michigan is set up for a deep run in this year’s tourney. There is a real chance that we could see the Wolverines in San Antonio three short weeks from now.
CAN’T MISS FIRST ROUND MATCHUP – #5 Ohio State Buckeyes vs. #12 South Dakota State Jackrabbits
FOR the third straight season the Jackrabbits make the tournament trying to chalk up their first ever win in the NCAA big dance. Their opponents are the shaky Buckeyes, who rose to fame in the middle of the year but aren’t playing great right now. With scoring machine Mike Daum (who?) leading the charge, Ohio State’s tournament stay could be short-lived and a SDST win would set up a rematch with Gonzaga, the team they lost to a season ago in the tourney.
STORYLINE FROM THE WEST – What will Michael Porter Jr do?
A coin flip match in the first round for Missouri could see them booted. However. First year phenom Michael Porter Jr, who has been sidelined for most of the year with a back injury, is good enough to change their fortunes on the back of his own play. If he starts to fire, we could see the Tigers go on a tear.
FINAL FOUR BOUND – #4 Gonzaga Bulldogs
EXPECT madness to ensue in this region and honestly, it’s anyone’s guess as to who emerges. Yes, the No. 2 Tar Heels are the favourites, Michigan is perhaps the most dangerous three seed in the whole tournament and I haven’t even mentioned Xavier, the region’s top-seeded squad. So naturally in the wild, wide open West I’m siding with the Gonzaga Bulldogs returning to the Final Four.
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FAVOURITE – #2 Duke Blue Devils
NO disrespect to Kansas, I just don’t believe in them as true contenders. Duke may be young and full of players on the verge of NBA stardom and experience is a key trait for teams with championship aspirations. This team is so damn scary when they are clicking though.
DON’T SLEEP ON – #9 NC State Wolfpack
NC State turned their bad start around with some quality play in the ACC, which included a handful of big wins. Seton Hall is tough, but their real test lies in the second round against the No. 1 seeded Jayhawks. Not only am I predicting the Wolfpack to beat the Pirates, I think they can take down Kansas too.
CAN’T MISS FIRST ROUND MATCHUP – #5 Clemson Tigers vs. #12 New Mexico State Aggies
THE WAC champions are once again hampered by playing in a miserable conference, thus they were rewarded with a 12 seed for their 28-5 season. Clemson has been duking it out in the tough ACC all season, so both teams meet with a real chance of toppling Auburn in the next round should they advance. Don’t miss this one.
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STORYLINE FROM THE MIDWEST – How far can Trae Young take the Sooners?
IT’S still a bit of a surprise that the Sooners are in the tournament after going 4-10 since mid-January. Still, they are here, and by they I mean Trae Young, the freshman sensation that leads the nation in scoring and assists. For all the good he can do offensively, they face a tough match against Rhode Island and then Duke following that. I don’t think Oklahoma will make round two, but if they do that’s where their season will end.
FINAL FOUR BOUND – #3 Michigan State Spartans
A mouthwatering potential Sweet 16 game between Duke and Michigan State could very well be the match of the tournament. I have faith that whoever wins that game will advance to the Final Four out of the Midwest bracket. This could be the Spartans year.
THE FINAL FOUR
#1 Virginia Cavaliers vs. #4 Gonzaga Bulldogs
#1 Villanova Wildcats vs. #3 Michigan State Spartans
AND then there were four. Of my picks I am super confident in Villanova and seeing them go up against Michigan State for a spot in the title game will be epic. Gonzaga vs. Virginia shapes as a bloodbath too, with the Bulldogs eager to avenge for last year and the Cavs keen to prove they are the nations best team.
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I have the Cavaliers and the Spartans fighting it out in the national championship game. A defensive juggernaut in UVA against a well rounded MSU team littered with future NBA players gives us a great recipe for a championship game to remember. When it’s all said and done I have Michigan State emerging as national champs, winning the schools first title since 2000.
To read my complete ESPN bracket preview click here!
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