March Madness has now officially begun, as the Tournament Committee has finally announced the full 68-team bracket for the upcoming 2017 Division One basketball championship. Here are my initial thoughts on this year’s competition:
Of the four teams named as #1 seeds—number one overall Villanova, Kansas, North Carolina, and Gonzaga– I think the Jayhawks have the easiest road to the Final Four. Led by Frank Jackson, they really picked it up as the season came to a close, their conference tournament loss to TCU notwithstanding, and the top seeds in their region, Louisville and the Chris Boucher-less Oregon, don’t really strike me as very intimidating. I think that the top seed with the hardest path is probably North Carolina, because the number two seed in their region, Kentucky, is a team that was probably in competition for a top spot, and a lot of the mid-range teams—UCLA, Cincinnati, and Wichita State—have the physicality to knock the Tar Heels off their game.
In terms of at-large teams, the fabled “Last Teams In” went to Providence, USC, Kansas State, Wake Forest, and Xavier. Of those teams, I feel like the Wildcats were the most deserving and the Musketeers the least. Cal and Syracuse were perhaps the most notable teams to miss out. In my home state of Illinois, there were some mixed feelings over bids. Northwestern finally got the monkey off their back, earning an eight seed in their first tournament appearance ever, while Illinois State missed out, despite a strong resume that saw them win the regular season title in the Missouri Valley Conference.
Now, time for the good stuff: the actual games themselves. In the East region, I can’t wait to watch the two Texas schools, Baylor and SMU, fight it out to see who gets to square off against Duke. The winner of that game will, I think, determine the Final Four participant, and I see the Dukies pulling it out. In the Midwest, I believe Kansas will have a fairly smooth road to the Final Four, but I think that double-digit seeds Oklahoma State and Rhode Island have the ability to make some trouble for the big boys in that region, so watch out for them. In the South, I think that Middle Tennessee State and Wichita State were criminally under-seeded, and they have a shot to pull off some big upsets, but in the end, I feel that the top three teams will all have a fairly easy time of it here, and that Kentucky will be the one to prevail there. In the west, I see two ACC teams, Notre Dame and Vanderbilt, as potential troublemakers for top seed Gonzaga, but the team that will eventually topple the Bulldogs will be the Wildcats of Arizona, which will give the Final Four 3-number two seeds. In the championship, I think it’ll be match-up of Kansas and Duke, with Jayson Tatum overcoming Frank Jackson to lead the Blue Devils to their 6th national title.
These are just my initial thoughts about the bracket immediately after it was released. Check out my full preview of the tournament on Tuesday!