The excitement of March Madness is only days away, but before we can kick off the Big Dance, there are, of course, those brackets to fill out. But making the perfect bracket is almost impossible to do, so here are some thoughts about predicting the Final Four teams.
The East regional bracket doesn’t seem to have any surprises as to who are the favorites for a spot in the Final Four. Villanova and Duke have been rolling, with both teams winning their respective conference tournaments this past week. The Wildcats have guard Josh Hart, a candidate for the Naismith Player of the Year award, and are, of course, the defending national champions. Meanwhile, the Blue Devils have playmaker guards Grayson Allen and Luke Kennard as well as forward Jayson Tatum to carry them all the way. In the end, I have Duke squeezing by Nova for a spot in the Final Four because of the tough road it had to endure, which has strengthened the team to make a deep run.
Kansas is the one seed on this side of the bracket, and even though the Jayhawks were eliminated in the opening round of their Big 12 conference tournament, their early departure can actually work to their benefit. Kansas was quickly reminded of how easy it can be to get eliminated after losing to TCU. Although it is the favorite to come out of the Midwest, look out for seventh-seeded Michigan, which is the dark horse of the tournament. March Madness is all about getting on a roll, and the Wolverines have ignited their spark by winning the Big 10 tournament as an eighth seed. They are the team to fear, but I see Kansas moving forward to Glendale, Arizona, with the latest lesson it has learned.
One-seeded Gonzaga may have one loss on its résumé, but it is not the best team in this region. The Bulldogs had not been tested all season, despite wins against Florida, Iowa State and Arizona. Those were impressive wins, but they were done early in the season before the team found its identity in conference play. And Northwestern could very well be the team that knocks the Bulldogs out in the second round. The inspiration that the Wildcats carry after making the tournament for the very first time could lead them to have a Cinderella run. On the other hand, Arizona has been the better team, having beaten UCLA on multiple occasions and defeated Oregon to win its conference tournament. This feels like the year that Arizona will finally make the Final Four.
We could end up seeing the most interesting region of them all in the South. North Carolina is a solid No. 1 seed. In the bottom half of that bracket, you have UCLA and Kentucky, a potential Sweet 16 meeting that could be the biggest treat before the Final Four. The winner of that game could face North Carolina in the Elite Eight. But the slight edge should be given to the Bruins because of the fact that they are led by Lonzo Ball. UCLA has every piece in its arsenal to win the South, as it won 10 of its past 11 games. The Bruins have beaten teams during that streak by placing the ball on the inside with T. J. Leaf and relying on Bryce Alford to decimate opponents with perimeter shots. The Bruins are back and will be looking to cut down nets toward the end of March and the first Monday of April.
Contact Oscar Oxlaj at [email protected]