March is here, and for sports fans, that can only mean one thing. It’s time for the NCAA tournament. The first two rounds, well rounds two and three now, those first four days, are four of the best days in sports, every year. Let’s dive right in with T.J. Bryce, our “Bracket Builder.”
The top seed in the tournament this year is 31-2 Virginia, winners of the ACC. This looked like the year Virginia finally got it done in the NCAA tournament, however, some bad news came the other day. Forward De’Andre Hunter, the ACC 6th man of the year, will miss the entire tournament with an undisclosed injury. The other number one seed on that side of the bracket is Xavier, 28-5 overall, winners of the Big East. This is the first number one seed in school history for the Musketeers. Switch to the right side of the bracket, the number one seed in the East is Villanova, who have risen out of their longtime second-tier status to become one of the best programs in the country the last few years. The other number one seed on the right side of the bracket is 27-7 Kansas, a team that has gotten much better since the start of the season. The first two months of the season they looked like a five seed, but they have really turned it on as of late, as they have won 8 of their last nine. This bracket also features the strongest mid-major, 28-5 Loyola-Chicago, winners of the Missouri Valley. They could very well beat Miami in round one.
So besides the number one seeds, who else looks impressive? In the South, the biggest threat to Virginia is Tennessee. They spread the ball out well, shoot the three, and play high-pressure defense. Arizona or Kentucky could possibly take Virginia out on the top side of that region, setting up a showdown with Tennessee in the Elite 8. In the West, this is going to be a ruthless road for Xavier. Ohio State, Michigan, Gonzaga, North Carolina, they could all take Xavier out. In fact, with this year of parity, Gonzaga might be one of the true favorites in this entire tournament.
On the other side of the bracket, Villanova might have the easiest road of the four number one seeds. Purdue doesn’t overly excite me. Wichita State has been overrated all season. Texas Tech is the most talented team in America and yet they are a three seed. West Virginia could get upset in round one by Murray State and Florida really isn’t that impressive. In the Midwest though, if you like poster schools, this is the bracket for you. Kansas, Duke, and Michigan State, the top three seeds. If it is anyone but those three I will be stunned. The winner of Duke and Michigan State will meet Kansas in the Elite 8 in an epic showdown.
So in the Elite 8, I have Tennessee beating Virginia, Gonzaga beating North Carolina, Villanova beating Texas Tech, and Michigan State beating Kansas. In the Final Four, I have Tennessee beating Gonzaga, and Michigan State beating Villanova. In the National Championship, I have Michigan State beating Tennessee by a score of 71-63.