2017 March Madness predictions
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The NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament is upon us once again and that means millions of people around the world will be filling out brackets all week, thinking they know what they’re doing. This tournament is one of the best things the sports world has got because of the insane parody to go along with the endless storylines that you’ll hear about for the next three weeks. Each year you have the mid-major that sneaks into the tourney with an unbelievable background story that you don’t hear about until they upset a high seed early. The one that I most notably recall is the RJ Hunter story with his dad, who was his coach at Georgia State back in 2015. His dad broke his foot during their week of prep for the tournament and coached sitting down until his son hit the game winner against three seeded Baylor and he fell off his stool in excitement. Those are moments why sports fans are so attracted to this tournament.
Looking now at this year’s field, it seems to be the most wide open that it’s ever been. The overall number one seed is Villanova but they won it last year and in this day in age, going back to back is near impossible. So let’s dig into some of my predictions for this year’s bracket.
Locks: One team I see having no problem in their region is North Carolina. They were last year’s runner ups and I believe they’ll have a big chip on their shoulder coming into the week, especially being led by a dynamic point guard in Joel Berry. Looking at their road, I see Middle Tennessee State shocking people and moving into the Sweet 16 to play North Carolina, which the Tar Heels would love very much. In the Elite 8, North Carolina could play either Kentucky or UCLA and both teams are offensive machines, but lack experience in the postseason so that’s why I have North Carolina taking either of those teams down. Another lock in the bracket is Baylor being upset as the three seed for a third year in a row. In 2015 and 2016, Baylor was knocked out in the first round by 14 seeds and I could see a similar situation playing itself out again. I don’t know if their opponent New Mexico State can handle Baylor’s size, but even if they escape I’d have them losing to SMU in the next round. Baylor has struggled down the stretch and coming into this tournament carrying no momentum can be tough.
Sleeper Teams: I mentioned them earlier, but here it goes again. Middle Tennessee State will make it to the Sweet 16 as a 12 seed. Now, I expect a lot of people to take MTSU over Minnesota in the first round as their upset pick but I’m going to go a step further and take them to make it to the second weekend. This team can shoot lights out from three, and are led by returning players that were able to knock off a dominant Michigan State team from last year. MTSU will beat Minnesota and then Butler to eventually lose to North Carolina. One other team I could see make a run is Dayton. Led by four senior starters, Dayton could be scratching on the door of a possible Final Four run if they get hot. I like them in a great matchup over Wichita State in the first game but I like them even more in that second game against a young Kentucky team. Kentucky has more talent but Dayton has won tourney games with this group and could be a lot for an inexperienced Kentucky team to handle. I see their run ending to UCLA because of the serious offensive threat they pose but if they were to beat them then North Carolina could be the lone team standing in their way of a Final Four bid.
Biggest Busts: The Purdue Boilermakers will get bounced in the first round by a low seeded mid-major for the second straight year. They are up against a Vermont team that went undefeated in conference and won’t be an easy matchup with their All-Conference point guard. This is a trend that has plagued Purdue for years and it’s disappointing considering they have been a constant powerhouse in the country. Their last Final Four was back in 1980 and haven’t reached the Elite 8 since 2000. One of the reasons I don’t like Purdue is their reliance on their two big men. Isaac Haas and Caleb Swanigan are outstanding post players but to win in this tournament you need great guard play. Not to say Purdue doesn’t have good guards, but they aren’t great enough to pick up the slack if those big men are off their game. Another team who I don’t see getting out of the first weekend is West Virginia. They go by “Press Virginia” because of their ability to trap teams on defense and get points off turnovers. They’ll be playing a team in Bucknell who doesn’t turn the ball over and with a week of prep, I see them having no problems. West Virginia was beat last year by 12th seeded, Stephen F. Austin and will be beaten by a double digit seed yet again.
Final Four Picks: I’ll be going with some easy picks in Duke, Gonzaga, Kansas and North Carolina with Duke taking down North Carolina in the championship. All of which are one seeds for the exception of Duke but they are a two seed, so really no difference. I see some teams making runs to the Elite 8 such as Michigan and Dayton, but neither knocking off the one seeds. A trendy pick will be Duke, based off the way they played late in the season, so I’ll be hopping on that bandwagon as well. I love how many scorers Duke has with their defense down low. I expect a lot of people will write Gonzaga off just because they don’t think they’ve played anyone and that’s wrong. The Zags have wins over Florida and Arizona and dominated the best team in their conference, St. Mary’s, three times. I have Gonzaga facing Arizona in the Elite 8 and beating them for a second time this season. Lastly, I have Kansas in because their road is a little overrated. The Midwest region will be crazy but their road will be teams such as; UC Davis, Miami, Iowa State and Michigan. I don’t see them having much problems so I expect them to coast through to the Final Four.
This is one of the best times of the year and that’s why I consider it the Christmas of the sports world. 64 highly anticipated games over the next three weeks and it should be another wild ride. Best of luck to everyone who has their team in the tournament and to the ones who’s bracket will be busted after the first game on Thursday.