March Madness has now officially begun, as the Tournament Committee has finally announced the full 68-team bracket for the upcoming 2018 Division One basketball championship. Here is my Instant Reaction to this year’s bracket:
The top four seeds in the bracket this year are Virginia, Villanova, Kansas, and Xavier, with the Cavaliers earning the distinction of being the top seed this year. Out of all of those teams, I think that Jay Wright’s team have the easiest path to the Final Four. The team with the best shot of toppling them in their quadrant is probably Purdue; that being said, the Boilermakers haven’t really played, and beaten, a team on the Wildcats’ level this season, and I don’t think anyone can match up to Jalen Brunson. The other top-ranked teams in that quadrant, Texas Tech and Florida, simply don’t seem to have enough depth to be able to hang with the top team—the Gators are even at large risk for upset. Meanwhile, I think that Tony Bennett’s team were given a really tough draw, especially for a number one overall seed—they lucked into a quadrant where the team that arguably has the most on-paper talent, Kentucky, is the 5 seed. They also have a chance to face Cincinnati, a team that plays a very similar defensive style to them, or Arizona, which has caught fire behind their star forward, Deandre Ayton.
In terms of at-large teams, the fabled “Last Teams In” went to Arizona State, Syracuse, UCLA, and Saint Bonaventure. Personally, I feel that all of those teams probably deserved to be in the tournament, though if I had to pick a team that didn’t deserve it, it’d be the Orange. Oklahoma, too, deserved some consideration as a team to be left out. The most notable teams to miss out were Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s, with the Bonzie Colson-led Fighting Irish being identified as the first team out. I feel they should have been in for Syracuse. Some other big-time misses included Baylor, Southern Cal, and Middle Tennessee State.
Now, time for the nitty gritty: the actual match-ups. In the South region, I can’t wait for the possible second round match-up between Arizona and Kentucky. That might be the best game before the Final Four, and will determine one half of the game that will determine the winner of that region. Despite the level of difficulty that I mentioned previously, I ultimately think that Virginia is too good of a team to not make it through. In the East, I believe Villanova will have a fairly smooth road to the Final Four, but I think that the victor of the game between Texas Tech and the double-digit team that prevails between St. Bonaventure and UCLA could make some noise, so watch out for them. In the Midwest, I think that it’s fairly inevitable that the top two teams, Kansas and Duke, are on a collision course, with only Michigan State having the talent to topple the blue-bloods. In that game, I think that the Dukies will be the ones to pull out a win. In the west, I see Xavier losing early to a dark-horse Missouri team, leaving the quadrant open to whoever happens to find their top gear the soonest. Going into the tournament, Michigan seems to be the team that has the best rhythm of consistency, so I think they’ll be the ones to make the Final Four from that region. In the championship, I think it’ll be showdown between the two “V’s,” Virginia and Villanova, with the Cavaliers’ suffocating defense limiting ‘Nova’s shooters just enough to win their first championship in school history.