March Madness never disappoints, and this year is sure to deliver again with plenty of upsets and traditional powers having early exits.
It’s the beauty of college basketball.
But this year may be more unpredictable than previous years. Every team — from Kansas and Michigan State to Indiana and West Virginia — has flaws that could make it susceptible to an early-round upset, just as its strengths could allow it to blaze a path to the Final Four.
Men’s tournament bracket
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Maybe this is the year a 16-seed finally knocks off a 1-seed. There are no dominant teams in the country, and the 1-seeds this year likely would have been 2- or 3-seeds in previous years.
Last year, for instance, only one of the 1-seeds had four losses (Duke). Kentucky (34-0), Wisconsin (31-3) and Villanova (32-2) were the others. This year, every 1-seed has at least four losses. The 23 combined losses between the 1-seeds are the most ever.
So forgive me for believing a school such as Florida Gulf Coast has the makings of making history this year. Yes, the same school that played Cinderella in the 2013 tournament by reaching the Sweet 16.
The Eagles could do it again. They have a different coach, Joe Dooley, who has plenty of tournament experience after serving a decade on Bill Self’s Kansas staff (2003-13). And they have a go-to scorer in junior Marc-Eddy Norelia and a veteran guard in senior Julian DeBose.
It’s bound to happen at some point, and this could be the year. Of course, Florida Gulf Coast could also lose its First Four game against Fairleigh Dickinson and not even have the chance to pull off an upset of top-seeded North Carolina in the East Region. Even if the matchup happens, UNC is just as likely to whip Florida Gulf Coast by 30. After all, Roy Williams has never lost a first-round tournament game in his storied career.
Yes, it’s a pipe dream, but that’s what makes March Madness great. Nobody, not even the so-called “experts,” knows how this tournament is going to unfold.
With that being said, it doesn’t hurt to try as we break down each region.
Top seed: Kansas. The Jayhawks are the top overall seed, a deep and experienced team that emerged as the best team in the country’s strongest conference.
Best first-round matchup: Colorado-UConn. The 8-9 matchup is an easy pick for the best, and this one has plenty of intrigue. Tad Boyle did an impressive job coaching the Buffaloes through a handful of injuries this season, while UConn is always a dangerous team come March.
Please give us: Kansas-Cal. Talk about contrasting styles. A veteran college team versus a one-and-done bunch. Kansas has plenty of talent, although nobody that seems destined for NBA greatness. Cal, on the other hand, has two NBA lottery picks in Jaylen Brown and Ivan Rabb. Not many teams overcome inexperience in March, but can the Bears buck that trend?
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Cinderella: Wichita State. OK, the Shockers shouldn’t be considered a “Cinderella” anymore. But WSU is a lower seed that can make a run in this region, and Arizona surely doesn’t want to see them get past Vanderbilt in the First Four. And First Four teams are known to make runs in March, as Dayton advanced to the round of 32 last year and Tennessee to the Sweet 16 two years ago.
Our pick: Kansas. The Jayhawks have been battle tested in the Big 12, and ultimately that experience pays off in the tournament. The Jayhawks have inside threats with Perry Ellis and Landen Lucas, outside scorers in Devonte’ Graham and Wayne Selden and a veteran ball handler in Frank Mason III. It won’t be an easy road, but the top seed reaches the Final Four for the third time under Bill Self.
Top seed: Oregon. Dana Altman is one of the best coaches in the country, and has done a great job in his sixth season with the Ducks. While Oregon may have flown under the radar by playing on the West Coast to most of the country, the committee certainly didn’t overlook them.
Best first-round matchup: Baylor-Yale. The Bears have always been a solid tournament team under Scott Drew, but will face a stiff test against Yale in a classic 5-12 matchup. Yale is in the Big Dance for the first time since 1962, and it got a favor by playing in nearby Providence.
Please give us … Oklahoma-Texas A&M: Yes, the Texas-Texas A&M possible round of 32 matchup will have much interest. But the better hoops matchup would be OU-A&M in the Sweet 16. Sooners guard Buddy Hield has arguably been the best player in the country, while A&M has the potential to reach the Final Four.
Cinderella: UNC Wilmington. Five of the seven losses by the Seahawks this season have come by five or fewer points. They have a veteran backcourt with juniors Chris Flemmings and Denzel Ingram, as well as senior Craig Ponder, which is key to winning in March. They have a tall task in taking down Duke, the reigning champs. But the Blue Devils were the victims of a first-round upset two years ago when 14-seeded Mercer did the improbable.
Our pick: Texas A&M. Winning a power conference such as the SEC takes a winning attitude, and the Aggies certainly have that under coach Billy Kennedy. They also have scoring threats in Jalen Jones and Danuel House, and it can’t be overstated the importance of a veteran backcourt in March, which A&M possesses with seniors Anthony Collins and Alex Caruso.
Top seed: North Carolina. The Tar Heels are rolling fresh off an ACC tournament win, and are among the favorites to win it all. They are a deep, talented team, and Roy Williams is among the best college coaches in the game. Senior forward Brice Johnson is a first-round NBA talent, averaging 16.6 points a game and 10.6 rebounds a game.
Best first-round matchup: Wisconsin-Pittsburgh. Two perennial tournament teams that could get hot at the right time. The Badgers, despite losing several key players and coach Bo Ryan, remain a fundamentally sound team that will stay in every game. The Panthers, meanwhile, have lost three of their last four games, but have a strong inside game with Michael Young and Jamel Artis.
Please give us: Indiana-Kentucky. This second-round matchup between the 4- and 5-seeds would feature two legendary programs that have Final Four potential. The Hoosiers have veteran point guard Yogi Ferrell and an offense that is tough to stop. The Wildcats, on the other hand, go into the tournament feeling better and better about their team with young guys such as Tyler Ulis and Jamal Murray peaking. The winner of this game will become a sexy pick to emerge from the region.
Cinderella: All right, Florida Gulf Coast is the longest of long shots. But Providence is a dangerous 9 seed that realistically could knock out North Carolina. Kris Dunn is one of the best players in the country, and he could single-handedly carry the Friars on a deep run.
Our pick: West Virginia. Most feel the Big 12 could have two Final Four teams, and we like West Virginia to join Kansas in Houston. The Mountaineers are a tough matchup for any team with their press, and Bob Huggins has a proven track record in the tournament with two Final Four runs.
Top seed: Virginia. Most thought Michigan State deserved this No. 1 seed, but that doesn’t mean Virginia didn’t have a case for it. The Cavaliers have one of the best defenses, holding opponents to fewer than 60 points a game, and boast a veteran backcourt with junior London Perrantes and senior Malcolm Brogdon.
Best first-round matchup: Seton Hall-Gonzaga. Two mid-majors facing off against each other who have Sweet 16 potential. The Pirates have won eight of their past nine games, and sophomore guard Isaiah Whitehead could become one of the early stars of the tournament. But the Zags should never be counted out and won’t be intimidated at any point, considering their long tournament track record.
Please give us: Michigan State-Virginia. Did the Spartans get robbed of a 1 seed by the committee? Let’s find out in this matchup between two of the best teams in the country. This has the makings of a classic with stars on each team. As mentioned, Virginia has a deep backcourt, while Michigan State has NBA talents in senior wing Denzel Valentine — arguably the nation’s top college player — and freshman forward Deyonta Davis.
Cinderella: Arkansas Little Rock. Iona is the sexy Cinderella pick in this region, but Iowa State is a tough first-round matchup. Even though the Cyclones underachieved in the regular season, they still have a veteran team that should be hungry to make a March run. So we’ll go with Little Rock, a team that has impressive road wins at San Diego State and Tulsa, and enters the tournament by winning eight of their past nine.
Our pick: Michigan State. Never bet against Tom Izzo in March. The Spartans have been to seven Final Fours in Izzo’s 21 seasons, and have the talent and depth to do so again. Valentine has established himself as one of the best players in the country, and they’ll show that the committee made a mistake by not giving them a 1 seed.
In the spirit of presidential bid season, the schools that best fit the candidates.
Donald Trump would like … West Virginia. Bob Huggins isn’t going to change his style of play, regardless whom they are playing. That brash style makes the Mountaineers dangerous to make a deep run, although it could also lead to an earlier than expected exit.
Ted Cruz would like … Wisconsin. Talk about conservative. The Badgers have lost a lot of talent, but remain the classic, fundamentally sound Big Ten team under new coach Greg Gard. They’re a team that won’t be blown out and, if they make their shots, they can beat anyone in the country.
Marco Rubio would like … Florida Gulf Coast. They share the same state and the same odds. The Eagles, as stated, might actually have better odds to pull off a miracle win than Rubio does in winning a presidential bid.
John Kasich would like … Pittsburgh. Never a flashy team, but consistently makes the tournament under Jamie Dixon. They won’t embarrass themselves, but should also know deep down they’re not going to win it all.
Bernie Sanders would like … Gonzaga. Mark Few has taken the Zags to 16 consecutive tournaments, a long stretch in the college hoops world that rivals how long Sanders has been in Congress. And let’s be honest — both attract the hippie crowd.
Hillary Clinton would like … Indiana. The Hoosiers are a team that can put up points in a hurry and are more concerned about offense than defense. The same can be said for Clinton, who is always on the offensive whenever “Benghazi” or “email” is mentioned.