Upsets. Cinderella. Chalk. Picking a perfect bracket is impossible, it just doesn’t happen. With that said, use this as your guide to win your NCAA Tournament office pool this year and secure those bragging rights until 2019.
Normally the easiest region to navigate through goes to the number one overall seed in the tournament, that is not the case this year. The Villanova Wildcats should make it to the Final Four rather easily after defeating the Purdue Boilermakers in the Elite Eight.
If any team stands in the way of Villanova getting to their second final four in three years, it is the fifth-seeded West Virginia Mountaineers. Sometimes known as “Press Virginia” the lockdown defense of WVU, led by Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Jevon Carter, has the capability to shutdown any player in any offense on any given night.
Potential Cinderella team:
Look out for freshman point guard and potential NBA lottery pick Collin Sexton to lead Alabama on a cinderella run which would include defeating Villanova in the second round as well as an upset over the aforementioned Mountaineers or fourth-seeded Wichita State Shockers in the Sweet Sixteen.
This is actually the region that owns the number one overall seed, the Virginia Cavaliers. This region is also loaded to the point where most experts are calling this the hardest region to win in this year’s tournament. With the SEC-tournament champion Kentucky Wildcats, the PAC-12 champions (and the best player in the country in DeAndre Ayton) Arizona Wildcats, and third-seeded Tennessee Volunteers, whoever advances to the Final Four after winning Atlanta’s regional championship will have done nothing less than earned it.
Losing the ACC Sixth Man of the Year De’Andre Hunter to a broken wrist just days before the tournament will prove to be the death blow to Virginia’s season. The winner of the first weekend matchup between Arizona and Kentucky could very well be in the driver seat to make it to San Antonio.
Potential Cinderella team:
Shaka Smart put his name on the map when he led his 11-seed VCU Rams to the Final Four in 2011 all the way from the First Four. He has the potential to shake up the country once again by leading his tenth-seeded Texas Longhorns. On the bottom half of the regional bracket, they wouldn’t face Virginia, Kentucky, or Arizona until the Elite Eight and they are starting the tournament with their 7-foot big man Mo Bamba 100 percent off of a toe injury.
If there is any region this year where you should feel comfortable in not picking the number one seed to make the Final Four, it’s the West Region out of Los Angeles. The number one seed Xavier Musketeers are extremely vulnerable in a region that consists of the defending national champion North Carolina Tar Heels and the B1G tournament champion Michigan Wolverines. Xavier could see their season end on the first weekend in a potential matchup against the Missouri Tigers.
Missouri enters the tournament as an eight-seed but could very possibly be the most rejuvenated team in the country with the recent return of Michael Porter Jr. Porter Jr. was projected to be the number one overall pick in the upcoming NBA draft before his season was shut down due to a back injury suffered after only three minutes into the Tigers’ season opener on November 10th. In his unexpected return in the SEC tournament against Georgia on March 8th, Porter Jr. finished with 12 points and 8 rebounds in 23 minutes in a performance that left everyone wondering what could have been.
Potential Cinderella Team:
If you choose against going with Missouri in this spot, definitely take a look at the tenth-seeded Providence Friars out of the Big East. Led by Ed Cooley, the Friars managed to take Villanova to overtime in the Big East tournament championship game; a tournament that included Providence upsetting Xavier in the semifinals. If Cooley, one of the best motivating coaches in the game, can get his Friars past UNC in the second round, a Sweet Sixteen matchup against Michigan could be the key to unlocking the Final Four for the first time since 1987.
If there is anyone who doesn’t feel the South Region is the hardest region to win, it’s because they feel that the true “region of death” is the Midwest Region. Featuring the Big 12 champion Kansas Jayhawks, the most talented team in the country Duke Blue Devils, and the Michigan State Spartans, who have every piece necessary on a championship team; the regional champion will have already beaten at least one national championship caliber team before reaching the National Semifinals.
Picking Kansas, Duke or Michigan State to win the regional championship in Omaha is the right move. However, Duke’s poor free throw shooting and Kansas winning their conference tournament WITHOUT their starting big man Udoka Azubuike are two factors to take into consideration.
Potential Cinderella team:
This is not the spot to trust a Cinderella team, the top three seeds in this region are just that good. With that said, this is March and anything is possible. Despite losing 11 of their last 15 games, if Trae Young can get hot as he did at the beginning of the season, he has the capability to lead the tenth-seeded Oklahoma Sooners on a run. Young’s offensive explosiveness is the type that could take his team, that many feel don’t even deserve to be in the tournament, on a memorable run.
FINAL FOUR AND NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP:
Arizona, Villanova, Michigan, and Kansas will be the four teams meeting in San Antonio on March 31st. This would provide Arizona vs Michigan and Villanova vs Kansas as the National Semifinal games.
Enter one of the best big man matchups in the country in DeAndre Ayton vs Udoka Azubuike for the National Championship that Monday night. Ayton is highly regarded as the number one pick in the upcoming NBA draft. Experts have gone as far as to refer to Ayton as a more athletic Shaquille O’Neal.
Despite the national admiration, Ayton’s one man dominance will not be enough to get the job done. The outside shooting from Svi Mykhailiuk and Malik Newman, as well as the senior leadership of the unanimous Big 12 player of the year Devonte’ Graham, will lead the Kansas Jayhawks to their first National Championship since the 2008 overtime thriller against Derrick Rose and Memphis Tigers.
There you have it. Fill out those brackets, enter those pools, use that vacation time at work, and enjoy the madness. In enjoying the tournament and following this guide, just remember what led this writing: picking a perfect bracket is impossible, it just doesn’t happen.
(Photo Credit: J Pat Carter/Getty Images North America)