Consistency is only respectable when paired with quality. And while I’ve been able to join the two when projecting the field of 68, my actual game picks need a lot of improvement. Now, while my 2016 performance of 38 wins and 27 losses (last season’s picks post didn’t run until after the first night of the First Four due to some travel issues) was a two-victory improvement over 2015’s 36-31 mark, I only got half of the Final Four right and my Kansas over Michigan State championship prediction looks ridiculous 12 months later. (But no more so than the headline pick of 2015’s post. Oof.)
But it’s a new year with a new bracket, so it’s time to try again. As usual, I’m attempting to not overthink these and going with my first instinct.
16. New Orleans over 16. Mount St. Mary’s
11. Providence over 11. USC
The mid-major pairing could be one of the rougher games to watch over the next six days, while I’m going with the hot team in the power-conference showdown.
Winners: 1. Villanova; 8. Wisconsin; 5. Virginia; 4. Florida; 6. SMU; 3. Baylor; 10. Marquette; 2. Duke
Even though, both the Cavaliers and Gators will be trendy upset picks this week, I think Virginia’s defense will give UNC Wilmington serious trouble and playing close to home will boost Florida over East Tennessee State. However, playing close to home might not help a South Carolina team that’s struggled of late against Marquette in Greenville.
Villanova over Wisconsin
Florida over Virginia
SMU over Baylor
Duke over Marquette
The middle two games of this group could end up being exhibits of patient efficiency, as Virginia, SMU, and Baylor all rank in KenPom’s bottom 25 in tempo and the top 40 in offensive efficiency and top 30 in defensive efficiency (and Florida can slow things down if necessary). Of course, most media attention would go to the early matchup between the defending national champions and an under-seeded Badger squad along with the Steve Wojciechowski vs. Mike Krzyzewski student/teacher showdown in Greenville.
Villanova over Florida
Duke over SMU
The Wildcats finally get revenge for the 2006 Elite Eight, while the Blue Devils end the Mustangs’ surprising run, which goes a way towards avenging the Selection Committee’s treatment of the American.
Duke over Villanova
The run for a repeat ends for Nova at the hands of another red-hot team.
Winners: 1. Gonzaga; 8. Northwestern; 5. Notre Dame; 4. West Virginia; 6. Maryland; 3. Florida State; 7. Saint Mary’s; 2 Arizona
I’m still chuckling at the notion that this region’s 8-vs.-9 game pairs the final power-conference team to make the field with the at-large with the most losses in history.
Gonzaga over Northwestern
Notre Dame over West Virginia
Florida State over Maryland
Arizona over Saint Mary’s
While I’m not predicting we’ll see a fourth WCC showdown in the regional finals, perhaps we’ll see the Notre Dame-West Virginia Round of 32 game we didn’t get last year (thanks to Stephen F. Austin) and a reunion of former ACC rivals in Orlando.
Gonzaga over Notre Dame
Arizona over Florida State
The Fighting Irish’s quest for a third straight Elite Eight appearance falls short, while the Seminoles might struggle after a long trip west.
Arizona over Gonzaga
Back in December, the Bulldogs beat the Wildcats by seven in Los Angeles, but Allonzo Trier and Parker Jackson-Cartwright didn’t play for Arizona. With both available, Sean Miller’s team should be able to edge Mark Few’s when a first Final Four appearance for both head coaches is on the line.
16. North Carolina Central over 16. UC Davis
The Eagles are far more talented than their seeding would indicate. If they weren’t saddled with a horrible schedule and RPI, they could have been a seed or two higher.
Winners: 1. Kansas; 8. Miami; 5. Iowa State; 4. Purdue; 11. Rhode Island; 3. Oregon; 7. Michigan; 2. Louisville
The Hurricanes’ showdown with Michigan State in the 8-vs.-9 game could be a struggle to watch, while Nevada will have a shot to knock off Iowa State if its offense is more consistent than it was at times during the Mountain West final. Look for Rhode Island to build on its Atlantic 10 title by winning a game in the big tournament.
Michigan’s game in Indianapolis against Oklahoma State matches KenPom’s No. 5 and No. 1 teams in offensive efficiency, so it’s the first-round matchup I’m most looking forward to.
Kansas over Miami
Purdue over Iowa State
Oregon over Rhode Island
Louisville over Michigan
The Cyclone-Boilermaker matchup could be one of the more fascinating ones of the second round, particularly if Iowa State can limit the minutes of Purdue’s bigs. Meanwhile, Michigan’s offense might meet its match in Louisville’s stifling defense.
Kansas over Purdue
Louisville over Oregon
The Ducks would have been a real Final Four threat with Chris Boucher on the court, but his knee injury means the top two seeds will enjoy a clearer path.
Kansas over Louisville
Even though the Jayhawks lost their last game at Sprint Center (to TCU no less), they’re still 3-1 there this season. Were this game scheduled for anywhere else, though.
11. Kansas State over No. 11 Wake Forest
As usual, I attempt to pick teams that I don’t project into my final bracket to win at least one game in the real thing. Yes, Tulsa was an exception last year, but that was an exceptional circumstance. (What was that Committee thinking?)
Winners: 1. North Carolina; 8. Arkansas; 12. Middle Tennessee; 4. Butler; 6. Cincinnati; 3. UCLA; 10. Wichita State; 2. Kentucky
Minnesota should have the crowd behind it in Milwaukee, but the Blue Raiders won’t be intimidated after last season’s bracket-busting win over Michigan State. Similarly, Wichita State might have to play against an Indianapolis crowd that will feature both Dayton and Kentucky fans wanting to see the Shockers eliminated early.
North Carolina over Arkansas
Middle Tennessee over Butler
UCLA over Cincinnati
Wichita State over Kentucky
This round features the two biggest risks I’m making here, but I think the Shockers can really challenge the Wildcats on both ends of the floor and the Blue Raiders can stun an inconsistent Bulldog squad.
North Carolina over Middle Tennessee
UCLA over Wichita State
The Tar Heels end the Blue Raiders’ run, while the Bruins outscore the Shockers.
North Carolina over UCLA
A game between KenPom’s No. 3 and No. 4 offenses should be a classic, but the Bruins’ defense might just let them down here.
West 2. Arizona over East 2. Duke
South 1. North Carolina over Midwest 1. Kansas
Arizona over North Carolina
OK, maybe this is a bigger risk, but I’m going to take a Pac-12 team playing in its home state to claim the title in the first Western Final Four since 1995.