The first round of the 2017 Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament is set for Thursday. Below, some of our Chronicle Sports editors, staff writers and contributors have made their predictions for March Madness.
Max Molski, Sports Editor:
I’m sure there is a High School Musical song that reflects my love for Wildcats in this year’s tournament. Three of my Final Four teams share them as a mascot. My first team with said mascot is Villanova, who I have beating Duke in the Elite 8. I think that Naismith Trophy semifinalist Josh Hart will solidify his place as one of the best players in the country as he brings his team back to another Final Four. In the West region, I think the Arizona Wildcats will top Gonzaga for a spot in Phoenix. With six players averaging more than nine points per game, Sean Miller’s squad could run through its region like sweat runs through his dress shirts. I then have the Kentucky Wildcats making it out of the South. While North Carolina has more championship experience and UCLA has the No. 2 prospect for the upcoming NBA Draft, Kentucky might have the most talent of any team on its side of the bracket. Malik Monk, De’Aaron Fox and Isaiah Briscoe could catch fire and lift the squad to the Final Four.
In the end, I have Louisville coming out on top. The Cardinals have lost to many ranked tournament teams throughout the season, but many of those games were on the opponent’s home floor. Yet, they have wins against several tournament teams, including Kentucky, a matchup I foresee for the Final Four. The University of Louisville missed out on last year’s tournament with a self-imposed postseason ban. In 2017, I have head coach Rick Pitino, sophomore guard Donovan Mitchell and the Louisville Cardinals winning the team’s second championship in five seasons.
Logan Reardon, Staff Writer:
In March, it comes down to coaching, guard play and upperclassmen leadership. In the East, Duke tops defending champion Villanova, mainly due to them being hot at the right time. In line with my formula, Coach Mike Krzyzewski has been there to the Final Four more than any other active coach, and Grayson Allen and Luke Kennard are firing on all cylinders. Look for freshman Jayson Tatum to emerge as a star in this tournament.
In the Midwest, Kansas prevails over Oregon. The Jayhawks’ experienced backcourt of Frank Mason III and Devonte’ Graham, along with stud freshman Josh Jackson, pushes them over the top.
Out West, I have Arizona over Notre Dame. Sophomore guard Allonzo Trier returned mid-season for the Wildcats and will give them the boost against a battle-tested Irish squad. Lastly, in the South, UCLA will beat North Carolina thanks to star freshman point guard Lonzo Ball and senior sharp-shooter Bryce Alford.
In the title game, Kansas defeats Duke in a tight matchup of powerhouse programs. Mason III will not be denied the chance to bring the national title back to Lawrence, Kansas.
Ryan Chichester, Staff Writer:
Man, I want to put my Irish in the Final Four so badly. They were criminally under-seeded. You know it, I know it and they know it, so they’ll be playing angry, and will beat Gonzaga in the Sweet 16. The only problem is, this is the finally the year for Arizona to make it to Phoenix. Sean Miller and his sweat-soaked dress shirt finally have the pieces to make a run at the title, and will edge the Irish in Notre Dame’s third straight Elite Eight appearance.
Duke is the hot team right now, but they have been up and down all year, and their youth and inexperience scare me in close games. They sometimes fall into poor shot selection down the stretch which will cripple a tournament run. The more experienced Villanova Wildcats will down the Blue Devils in the Elite Eight before being bounced by the other Wildcats in front of basically a home crowd in Phoenix.
On the other side, I smell big upsets in both regions. Like Notre Dame, Wichita State will be playing angry after receiving a ridiculous No. 10 seed, and will down Kentucky in the second round. Meanwhile, Miami takes out Kansas in the second round as well, opening the door for North Carolina and Oregon to reach the Final Four. Oregon lost Chris Boucher, but have plenty of weapons in its arsenal. The Tar Heels are simply the best team in the country, and will edge Arizona in the championship game and bring home their first title since 2009. UCLA could give them problems in the Elite Eight, but they Bruins better learn how to play effective defense in a hurry if they are to survive that matchup.
Conor Roche, Staff Writer:
My Final Four doesn’t contain a surprise team in it, with Duke, Arizona, North Carolina and Louisville making it to Phoenix.
Duke might be coming off the most impressive run in the history of college basketball, beating three top-35 KemPom teams in as many days. Villanova is the top seed in Duke’s region and is the defending champion, but the star power of Luke Kennard, Jayson Tatum and Grayson Allen (who will somehow find a way to anger even more people by the end of the tournament) will be too much for the Wildcats.
Arizona is also coming off a conference championship run in which it defeated top teams UCLA and Oregon in back-to-back days. They also get a good tournament draw, with Florida State being its likely Sweet Sixteen opponent. Like Ryan, I have the under-seeded Fighting Irish making it to the Elite Eight, but losing to one of the most complete teams in the country.
Like Arizona, Louisville has a favorable road leading up to the Elite Eight with its probable Sweet Sixteen opponent, Oregon, losing one of its best players, Chris Boucher, for the remainder of the year. Oregon has also won just two games this season against the RPI top-50. Kansas should make it to the Elite Eight because I believe Nevada and Vermont will upset Iowa State and Purdue, respectively. Bill Self has been know to collapse come March, and I expect him to do the same again this year.
North Carolina probably has the easiest road to the Elite Eight out of all the No. 1 seeds. Kentucky will likely get to the Elite Eight as well, setting up a rematch to the 103-100 thriller earlier this season in which the Wildcats won. I believe the the Tar Heels’ experience will end up leading them to victory and berth in the Final Four.
I believe the Arizona will beat Duke and North Carolina will defeat Louisville in the Final Four with North Carolina coming out as eventual champions. North Carolina has a chip on its shoulder after how last season ended, and Roy Williams may have his best team since his last championship team in 2009.
Justin Cait, Associate Sports Editor:
Okay, first things first, I know pretty much nothing more than Lonzo Ball’s presence, in regards to the NCAA College Basketball Tournament. I’ve heard of some other names; Josh Jackson, Malik Monk, Markelle Fultz to name… well, kind of all of them. So, I picked the $1 billion bracket this year the same way I do each year — gut instincts and pure, innate sport analysis. Really, the upsets are all anyone without vast knowledge in the game cares about, so here are your insider picks for March Madness upsets. My two major upsets include No. 8 Wisconsin and No. 6 SMU making it to the Elite Eight, with SMU ultimately earning a Final Four berth. The big Cinderella story this tournament will be No. 13 Nevada. When reading ESPN bracketology analysis the team’s lede runs, “Bombs away!”, before describing the Wolf Pack (great mascot) as 3-point specialists. That’s electric. That’s my team to make an exciting push.
At the end of the day, I see No. 3 Oregon, No. 1 UNC, No. 1 Gonzaga (the Quinnipiac men’s ice hockey team of this tournament, see 2016 National Championship) and No. 6 SMU in the final four. Ultimately, the Oregon Ducks will win it all because of its beautiful Nike home court and I have a buddy that goes there. He and his team deserves the ‘W’, so why not Oregon?
Sean Treppedi, Contributing Writer:
Basketball is a sport I usually leave on the back burner throughout the year in terms of my sports priority list, but college basketball in March is something I can appreciate regardless because of the immense excitement and fast pace of the games, as well as the passion and grit of the players. Regardless of your knowledge or loyalty to following the sport, everyone seems to think they’re an expert on the matter when March rolls around, probably just because money and bragging rights are involved among one’s respective community. Most of the rationale behind my picks each year I can credit to analysts and vegas odds. I’ll sprinkle in a few small upsets here and there for good measure. I am no expert analyst to listen to on college hoops, but that formula has seemed to work okay for me in brackets of the past.
The Final Four I have penciled in are Duke, Arizona, UNC and Kansas. I am not on board with all of the hype on Villanova any year, even if the Wildcats are the defending champs. To be honest, I have them getting eliminated before the Final Four every year no matter how high they are seeded because they are usually one of the more vulnerable high-seeded teams in March Madness. I think Duke will overcome them just because I have a hunch.
I think Arizona is one of the strongest teams in the whole tournament and should take down Gonzaga. I see Arizona and Duke going head-to-head in the Final Four with the perennial Blue Devils moving on to the championship.
I see North Carolina having a harder path than most think in getting to the Final Four. I think they will have a couple tight wins to get there, but will fall to Kansas. I see Kansas defeating Duke for the Championship just because not many seem to be on the Kansas bandwagon, I like defying the majority and I think this is the team to do it with. Frank Mason III and Devonte’ Graham are incredibly fruitful players within college basketball and the team has proved to be consistently solid all season. I think the team’s track record and the path it has to the championship are worth rolling the dice on. Take my advice or don’t, but don’t be surprised when my last-minute studying and irrational gut feelings inevitably lead me to getting every pick correct.
Ellis Einhorn, Staff Writer:
Before I begin, let it be known that you have a 1 in 9,223,372,036,854,777,808 chance of filling out a bracket without any errors according to Forbes. Even just predicting the opening round perfectly is nearly impossible, so cut me some slack if I guess wrong.
I believe the East region will be primarily dominated by Duke, who became the first team in ACC tournament history to claim the title by winning four game in four days. Jayson Tatum, Luke Kennard and Grayson Allen are going to continue their success deep into March, but I predict top-seeded Villanova will stop them in their tracks. Baylor and Florida are two other teams I strongly believe could cause some trouble for both ‘Nova and Duke down the stretch.
UPSET ALERT: My next upset will occur in the West region as I predict No. 13 Bucknell will ultimately defeat No. 4 West Virginia. I saw Gonzaga play Quinnipiac early in the season and was convinced that if Quinnipiac can cause it trouble, so could anybody else. Therefore, I have No. 1 Gonzaga falling to Notre Dame in the Sweet 16. The Fighting Irish have the talent to defeat not only Gonzaga, but take down No. 2 Arizona and advance to the Final Four. From there, they matchup against the defending national champions in Villanova, who I predict will come out victorious.
While I believe Miami and Purdue are two perennial teams in the Midwest region, I have little doubt that Frank Mason III, Josh Jackson and this Kansas powerhouse will make it at least as far as the Elite 8. On the other side of the region, I have URI not only upsetting Creighton, who lost Maurice Watson Jr. back in January to a serious knee injury. Rhode Island hasn’t lost in almost a month and finished winning nine games in a row, so if anyone can upset Oregon, it’s URI. I predict the Kansas Jayhawks will own this semi-easy Midwest region.
The South region will undoubtedly be the most difficult to predict as it contains Kentucky, North Carolina and UCLA. Although it doesn’t seem like much of an upset, I have No. 12 Middle Tennessee (30-4) defeating No. 5 Minnesota (24-9). Say goodbye to Lonzo Ball and his ugly shot during the Sweet 16 as I have Kentucky defeating UCLA. North Carolina and Kentucky will be the most anticipated matchup in the Elite 8. I predict North Carolina will be so hungry after losing the championship last year that it will not only defeat Kentucky, but also Kansas, arguably two of the best teams in the country. That’s right- I’ve got a rematch of last year’s national championship: North Carolina vs. Villanova.
I have North Carolina defeating Villanova in the 2017 National Championship by the score of 71-65. Roy Williams and his crew are determined to avenge last year’s 77-74 loss to Villanova and will not be stopped.