Story by Trey Martin
For a plethora of sports fans around the country, the NCAA Basketball Tournament is the best time of year. On Sunday night, the field of 68 teams were announced and the madness will begin on Tuesday night. Here is a look at what to expect from this year’s tournament.The tournament is wide open this season, with each region have a lot of possibilities for upsets. This year college basketball did not see a single dominant team throughout the year, such as the Kentucky Wildcats in 2014-15. With all the possibilities in every matchup, the world will have to wait another year for the evasive perfect bracket.
The East region of the bracket features the number one overall seed Villanova Wildcats, who are the defending national champions. The Wildcats return a majority of their lineup from last year’s team and have been the most impressive team all season, with players such as Josh Hart and Kris Jenkins leading the way. The two-seed in the region are the Duke Blue Devils, who are fresh off an ACC Tournament title. Duke struggled at the beginning of the season and found themselves plagued by injuries, but have hit their stride in the past month. Jayson Tatum has been huge, and Luke Kennard has stepped up his play to make the Blue Devils offense a serious threat. The region could also include a number of upsets. UNC-Wilmington has a high powered offense that will be tested against the stout defense of Virginia, but the Skyhawks could pull the upset. The winner of the Providence/Southern California play in game could also have the upper hand on SMU, and Marquette should be the favorite against a South Carolina team that has struggled down the stretch. I expect this region to come down to Duke and Villanova in the Elite Eight, with Duke earning their second Final Four trip in three years.
In the Midwest region, no. 1 seed Kansas looks to be the favorite, but the Jayhawks have a history of stumbling in March. This portion of the bracket features very dangerous teams in Louisville and Oregon. Oregon was on track to be a number one seed until a loss in the PAC-12 Tournament final and the season ending injury to leading scorer Chris Boucher. The most intriguing opening matchup comes in this region, where the red hot Big Ten Champions Michigan takes on Oklahoma State. The most likely upset of this bracket comes in the game between Purdue and Vermont. Vermont, the 13-seed, comes into the tournament having won 21 straight games and will give the Big Ten regular season champions a run for their money. A matchup between Oregon and Louisville in the Sweet 16 would be primetime television, and the winner of that game should win the region. I expect the Oregon Ducks to make it to the Final Four out of the Midwest.
If you want offense, look no further than the South region. North Carolina, Kentucky, and UCLA can all score at will, and the bracket features intriguing teams such as Wichita State, Cincinnati, and Butler. This region includes the most interesting play-in game between Wake Forest and Kansas State, both teams that could win a few games once they make it through Dayton. The scariest team that basketball fans have not paid attention to, Middle Tennessee State, is a 12-seed, who are notorious for knocking off five seeds on a regular basis. This Middle Tennessee team returns a majority of players who helped the team pull of a historical upset over Michigan State in last years tournament. This bracket will be the most interesting and the most fun to watch, because every team seeded one through twelve has the possibility of making a run. I like North Carolina, as they will have revenge on their minds from last seasons loss in the national title game on a buzzer beater, but they have shown weaknesses when playing against top teams. The Sweet Sixteen will most likely feature a rematch between UCLA and Kentucky (UCLA went on the road and won the previous matchup 97-92 in December.) Kentucky also beat North Carolina this season on a neutral floor, but I think the Tar Heels play better ball in the clutch and will earn a second straight trip to the Final Four.
Gonzaga headlines the West region behind a 32-1 record, but this does not fool any college basketball fan, as the Bulldogs consistently disappoint in the Big Dance, such as when they lost in the Round of 32 as a one-seed in 2013. The battle of the brains will have everyone’s attention, as Vanderbilt takes on Northwestern, who are making their first tournament appearance ever. A familiar fan favorite is back, as Florida Gulf Coast (a.k.a. Dunk City) will take on Florida State. FSU has been inconsistent in conference play, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see FGCU make another cinderella run. My favorite out of this bracket are the Arizona Wildcats, who are fresh off a PAC-12 tournament title, defeating UCLA and Oregon on back-to-back nights. With such a weak number one seed in the bracket, the Wildcats look like the clear favorite in the West region, and are hot and ready to make a Final Four run.
This year’s Final Four will be held at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona. While each team comes with high powered offenses and stout defenses, it will come down to depth. North Carolina and Duke are the two of the most talented teams in the country when it comes to recruiting, and the idea of renewing one of American sports’ greatest rivalries in the national title game with each propel them to wins in their opening match ups. While each game played between the two this season has been close, Duke was able to win two out of three, coming from behind in each of their wins and one coming on a neutral floor. After a series of injuries and suspensions during the first half of the season, Duke is finally peaking, and at the right time too. Tatum, Kennard, Allen, and Giles will help Duke win their second national in three years and claim the ultimate bragging rights over the rival Tar Heels.
This tournament has a possibility to be one of the most entertaining ever, as there is a huge clump of teams in the middle of the pack that could go either way and the possibility for a lot of upsets and cinderella runs. If you like sports, take a seat and don’t move from Thursday through Sunday for the next two weeks, because these games will certainly be entertaining.