It’s entirely possible that, a month before the NCAA Division 1 Men’s Basketball Tournament kicks off, this is the most wide open field I have ever seen. Just check out how irrelevant this one-week old selection committee preview already is…
All of the projected top seeds with the exception of Virginia have sustained losses since this preview. Realistically, until the conference tournaments are over there’s no way to accurately project a national tournament bracket. Try to tell me Michigan State doesn’t lock up a one seed should they win the Big Ten, or that red-hot North Carolina doesn’t jump to a one with an ACC win.
Projecting a bracket is nearly impossible. Instead, here’s a preview of what March might look like, team-by-team.
There is not a question in my mind about the two teams this year most capable of achieving a national title. Michigan State and Villanova. Michigan State has it all, from the Hall of Fame coach, to a ridiculously talented roster. Miles Bridges return after his incredible freshman season made MSU early favorite, and with the addition of F Jaren Jackson Jr., the growth of G Cassius Winston, and the consistent high level play of F Nick Ward make Michigan State my late-season favorite as well. These Spartans don’t shoot a ton of threes, ranking 196th in the country in attempts, however they rank 3rd in the land in three-point percentage, as well as 3rd in FG%. They also rank top-3 in rebounding and 1st in blocks and opponent FG%.
Villanova, despite losses to St. John’s and Providence, continue to play as a dominant force. Led by guards Mikal Bridges and Jalen Brunson, Nova is among the best three point teams in the nation, ranking top-20 in makes, attempts, and percentage. Not exactly a dominant force on defense, Nova exacts it’s form of defense on offense, forcing opponents to chase the game by playing up-tempo and shooting a ton of threes. It’s a big reason why the Wildcats are the number one scoring team in America. This Nova team can absolutely bury opponents, and they make it extremely difficult to get back in the game should you go down early.
One of my favorite teams to make the Final Four, should they avoid being in the same bracket as Villanova or Michigan State, is North Carolina. After getting off to a slow start, junior F Luke Maye has put the team on his back and led a furious Tar Heel charge in the ACC. After a sophomore campaign (and national championship win) where Maye averaged 5.5 PPG, he has grown into an absolute animal, averaging 18.4 points and 10.5 rebounds this season. The Tar Heels are lacking on defense, and they don’t shoot like Nova, but they’ll be a scary opponent for anyone come March.
Wichita State should be a tall task for any tournament team as well. Despite playing in a weaker conference, and having some less-than-quality losses (Notre Dame, SMU, Houston, Temple), this is a team with a ton of seniors in its rotation. Experience plays a factor in making a tournament run, and while the Shockers may not be as full of surprise as they used to be, they’re a team that could still go deep.
If Michigan State is my favorite, then I have to respect the team that beat them in their own house. Michigan is a hot-or-not team. Coach John Beilein typically leads Wolverine teams that live-and-die by the three, and this team is no different, but defense and ball-security are their bread and butter. The Wolverines rank top-5 in turnovers and 11th in opponent PPG. The Achille’s Heel of this team will be free-throw shooting, but it would not surprise me at all to see Michigan make a deep run in the tournament.
The obvious choice for a deep-seed team that can make a run is Providence. Playing in the competitive Big East is a big boost, and they have logged wins this season over two top-five teams in Xavier and Villanova. It’s difficult to find stats or basketball reasons why teams like Providence can go deep, but it’s not called March Madness for nothing, and if I had to pick one team with an 11-seed or lower to win at least two games, Providence would be the one.
The one thing I’m most sure about, is I feel like a drug fiend waiting to get my hands on a tournament bracket. A wide open field may make it difficult to win bracket pools, but it should make for an awesome tournament.
Sidenote: what I wouldn’t give to see Kansas get bounced in the first round. The Big 12 is overrated, and I can’t stand Bracketology putting the Jayhawks as a one-seed over my Spartans.