And then there were sixteen. The first weekend of march madness did not disappoint. We can expect more thrillers in the second weekend, as the next round of the NCAA Basketball Tournament tips off this Thursday.
The exciting weekend was highlighted by the number one overall seed Villanova being upset by Wisconsin. Wisconsin played with a chip on their shoulder after receiving a lower seed than expected. The 2nd seed in the East, the Duke Blue Devils, were upended by the 7th seeded South Carolina Gamecocks. Coach Chris Mack led 11 seed Xavier into the Sweet Sixteen after upsets over Maryland and Florida State.
With the first and second seeds out of the picture, the question remains who will come out on top of the East region? Which teams from the other regions will make it to the Final Four? Which teams are most vulnerable to an upset, and which teams have the easiest route to the Final Four?
Duke and Villanova are out, making 3rd seeded Baylor the highest ranked team in this region. Expect big man Johnathan Motley to perform well as Baylor handles South Carolina. The Florida and Wisconsin game in the top half of the East region should be a battle. Wisconsin is coming into the game with a lot of momentum after beating Villanova, while Florida shut down 5th seeded Virginia to a tournament-low 39 points. Led by senior guard Bronson Koenig, Wisconsin will slip by Florida in a nail biter. Something about the Wisconsin Badgers and March go well together. I’d bet on Wisconsin making it on out of the East region.
The top seeded Kansas Jayhawks are still the favorite in this region, but watch out for Michigan. The Wolverines beat Purdue and Wisconsin to win the Big Ten Championship and won two games this tournament over formidable teams in Oklahoma State and Louisville. Oregon should have lost in the round of 32, but Rhode Island blew a four-point lead in the last two minutes. Expect Michigan to continue their run as they take down Dillon Brooks and Oregon in a high scoring affair. Led by Wooden award nominee Frank Mason III, Kansas will take care of Caleb Swanigan and Purdue. Then, Kansas will dash Michigan’s Cinderella run when they take down the Wolverines in the Elite Eight.
Beware of Butler. The Bulldogs from Indiana have a history of carrying out Cinderella runs. This talented team had also beaten top ranked Villanova twice this year. However, Butler is a hit-or-miss team. Kennedy Meeks and UNC’s high powered offense will be too much for the Bulldogs in the Sweet Sixteen. Expect UCLA to keep on rolling and beat a Kentucky team that narrowly escaped Wichita State. For North Carolina, UCLA’s high powered offense will be too much to handle. Lonzo Ball will lead his UCLA squad to the final four.
The West was the weakest region when the bracket was announced, and still is. I am yet to be convinced that Gonzaga is as spectacular as they are made out to be given their weak conference. Gonzaga nearly lost to Northwestern in the round of 32, and West Virginia will be the toughest defense that Gonzaga will have faced all year. I predict West Virginia’s full court press will kill Gonzaga’s championship aspirations. Maryland has been mediocre all year, and Florida State didn’t deserve a three seed, so I am not impressed with Xavier’s two tournament wins. Allonzo Trier and Arizona will easily take out the last double digit seed in the tournament. Arizona will continue to roll when they beat West Virginia in the Elite Eight.
That leaves us with Wisconsin, Kansas, UNC, and Arizona in the final four. I wouldn’t take my word, because I did pick Duke to win the tournament. From how I saw teams play during the first weekend along with each team’s regular season and tournament history, those teams are in the best position to make it out of their respective regions. By Monday, we will know if I should ever predict a March Madness game again, as the Final Four will be set in stone by then.