2017 NCAA Tournament Q&A
Now that the brackets have been released, BSL’s college basketball analysts (you know, the ones who completely botched the conference tournament predictions) answer some of the questions about this tournament and the bracket itself.
(You can discuss this on the BSL board here.)
Question 1: What is your biggest issue(s) with the bracket this year?
Shields: Seeding continues to be an issue for the committee. I felt Duke deserved a 1 seed considering the injuries they had and that they had arguably the best resume of any team in the country. That is defensible though. I don’t see how Wichita State can be a 10, especially with the committee relying on the metrics. WSU is a top 10 team in Kenpom. How MD gets a 6 seed but yet Wisconsin gets an 8 and Michigan gets a 7 is beyond me. They ended the season poorly, lost essentially at home in the conference tourney and yet they get that high of a seed? The committee doesn’t seem to have any consistency in how they seed the field and that continues to be the biggest “problem” with this tournament. The committee needs to include more basketball people. According to Jay Bilas, there are 3 people in the committee with a basketball background. It’s a 10 person committee.
Bondroff: No real “issues” per se, as I realize this is a tough job the committee has to do every year. I don’t really understand how Minnesota is a #5 (with all due respect to the season they had) while Wisconsin is an #8, but i really wouldn’t call that an issue.
Bacon: I really don’t have many issues with this year’s bracket. There are a few nitpicks here and there on seeding (i.e. Vanderbilt as a #9) but overall I am satisfied with the committee’s choices. The big debate will continue to be if Duke should have been rewarded with a #1 seed. I personally don’t think they deserved it, but I also don’t think they should have been placed in the overall #1 seed’s region (Villanova).
Question 2: Which region do you view as the toughest?
Shields: I would give the slight edge to the Midwest. As I look at every region, I do think its balanced pretty well. There doesn’t seem to be a “bracket of death” this year. I think the Midwest has the best collection of teams though.
Bondroff: I think the South is tough as far as the top seeds go. UNC, Kentucky, and UCLA are all legit threats to win the National Championship.
Bacon: I think the toughest region is the south. It is the only team to boast four top-ten KenPom teams (North Carolina, Kentucky, UCLA and Wichita State). I could really make a case for any of the first three winning the entire region. Further down, #4 Butler has already beaten Villanova twice this season, #6 Cincinnati went through the AAC with ease and even #12 Middle Tennessee State is under-seeded by one or two. The next toughest is the East, with Villanova and Duke, both of whom I would have likely had in my Final Four if they were not in the same region.
Question 3: Which region do you view as the weakest?
Shields: I will go with the West here. Gonzaga is a legit team but still, they are the least battle tested of all the 1 seeds. St Marys is completely overseeded, FSU is a weak 3 seed and WVU, while being very good for most of the year, has struggled recently and struggles to score.
Bondroff: I guess the Midwest, but I don’t think any are weak.
Bacon: I really had trouble picking the Midwest region and who I would take going to the Final Four so I will say that region is the weakest. Kansas is becoming more and more of a question mark, given their quick exit in the Big 12 Tournament as well as their off-the-field issues. Though, the Jayhawks still have elite talent. Louisville could be upset by the elite offenses of either Michigan or Oklahoma State. As the #3 and #4, Oregon becomes tough to read with the loss of Chris Boucher and I just don’t trust Purdue with mediocre guard play in this tournament. It would not shock me if there was a surprise team that emerges out of the Midwest region.
Question 4: There was a lot of discussion about whether the committee got the 1 seeds correct. Do you agree with their choices?
Shields: I think all 4 teams deserve a 1 seed. But I don’t think the right 4 teams got the 1 seed. Duke should be a 1 seed. I would argue that they are better off being a 2 in the East because of the New York/MSG factor but still, they should have the 1. Their resume is just too good. Whether you want to make it UNC vs Duke or Duke vs Gonzaga, I think they should be in over either. I think you can also argue that Arizona should be the 1. That being said, I like their draw as a 2 better than the Zags as a 1 out in the West.
Bondroff: I’d have put Arizona ahead of Gonzaga, as I think they’re better, but besides the color of their jerseys in the Elite Eight, it really doesn’t matter much.
Bacon: I agree with the committee’s choices on the #1 seeds. I know many people would have liked to seen Duke as a #1 seed, but I don’t think any team with eight losses should be seeded that high.
Question 5: Give me one team in each region that could potentially bust up people’s brackets?
Shields: There are certainly seveksral teams in each region that are seeded below a 4 that are capable of winning multiple games. Breaking it down to 1 in each region is tough. In the East,I will say SMU. They are 11th in the Kenpom rankings yet they got underseeded at 6. They could face USC in their first game and USC already beat them but still, they have a lot of good pieces. They are a well balanced team led by Duke transfer Semi Ojeyle. In the Midwest, its Iowa St for me. This is a dangerous team. A 5 seed that is ranked 17th in Kenpom. Top 12 offense and top 50 defense. They have an elite point guard in Monte Morris. They are 14th in the country in 3pt% and are 10th in 3 pointers made. But this is the region where I think everyone could see their bracket blow up. I have Miami over Kansas and URI over Oregon. Louisville going out early wouldn’t be surprising either. In the West. I am going with Florida Gulf Coast. Dunk City is back and this is a team that has size and scoring inside. FSU has been very bad away from home this year and the MD/Xavier winner has struggled for the better part of a month. In the South, I am going Wake Forest. They have the John Collins, who should have won ACC POY and some excellent perimeter players. They are a top 10 offense that has been battle tested in the tough ACC.
West: West Virginia
Midwest: Rhode Island
South: Wichita State
East: Southern Methodist – Many people will be shocked to realize SMU is ranked #11 in KenPom. While they only go six-deep, the Mustangs are long, athletic, and defend/r and bound the heck out of the ball.
West: Notre Dame – As the 5 seed, this isn’t really any “bracket-buster” but I am picking the Irish to defeat Gonzaga in the Sweet 16. You could also make a case that a “surprise” team like Maryland or Xavier could defeat FSU in the round of 32.
Midwest: Rhode Island – The Rams are on fire lately, having won eight in a row including the A-10 Tournament. EC Matthews vs. Marcus Foster of Creighton will be a great matchup.
South: Middle Tennessee – The Blue Raiders are one of my upset picks in round 1 and they have a chance to make the Sweet 16.
Question 6: Last year, we saw Syracuse make the final 4 as an 11 seed. Do you see any team seeded 10 or worse that could make a similar run?
Shields: I don’t think any of them make the Final Four but Rhode Island or Wake Forest in the Elite 8 wouldn’t surprise me at all.
Bondroff: No, but i do think Middle Tennessee and Rhode Island could make the Sweet 16.
Bacon: I don’t really envision any double-digit seed making a Final Four-like run because I think the top nine or ten teams in the entire bracket (the 1’s, 2’s and a few 3’s) are really elite and will make it to the end. The only teams that I could envision some sort of Cinderella-like run would be Oklahoma State and Marquette due to their elite offenses (#1 and #7 in KenPom, respectively) and their 3-point shooting (#8 and #1 in 3 pt. % in the country, respectively). Again, I don’t expect either team to defeat the #2 in their region, but if they get hot during those games, they definitely have a chance.
Question 7: At least one 12 seed has won in the first round 28 out of the last 32 tournaments. Does that happen again and if so, which team(s) pull that upset?
Shields: All the 5/12 matchups could result in upsets this year. That being said, I don’t have any of them advancing. I think the best chance is Minnesota losing but they have been playing really well and they will be ready or Middle Tenn St after what they did to Mich St last year. I think ND is too disciplined and smart to lose to Princeton. I have already mentioned Iowa St but Nevada has 2 potential NBA players and they could be very dangerous. UVA is vulnerable because of their inability to score and UNCW is really good offensively. But, can they handle that UVA defense that held the Tarheels to just 43 points in a recent game. Still, UVA struggles to score and if UNCW can get into the 60s, UVA may not be able to score enough to win. But they will slow down UNCW and that could hurt them big time.
Bondroff: UNCW & Middle Tennessee are the ones most people will have.
Bacon: I actually think that there are there are a few possible upsets of 12’s over 5’s this year. The way Virginia likes to slow down the tempo allows for teams to stay in a game until the final minutes. Nevada will also be a trendy pick due to Iowa State’s horrible rebounding (222nd in the country) and free throw percentage (195th). In the end though, I expect both to win. I am going to stick with my upset pick from the Pre-Tournament Q&A and going with Middle Tennessee State over Minnesota. The Blue Raiders have won in March (upsetting #2 Michigan State in 2016) and have continued to win this season. This should be a low-scoring affair that I think MTSU takes advantage of to seal their second upset in as many years.
Question 8: Since 2012, 17 teams seeded 13 or worse have won at least 1 game in the tournament. Will we see that trend continue this year? If so, which team(s) are going to pull off the big upset?
Shields: I have a few of these picks. I have Florida Gulf Coast going to the Sweet 16. I have Vermont over Purdue. But, much like the 5/.12 matchups, I think all the 3 and 4 seeds are very vulnerable in the first round and I expect to see multiple upsets there. I don’t see any of the 2 seeds losing. Troy can shoot the 3 ball, so if they get hot vs Duke, that could make things interesting. However, Duke is one of the best 3 pt FG% defenses in the country, so that helps them. But Troy has a top 75 offense according to Kenpom. Northern Kentucky isn’t likely to be intimidated by their peers from Lexington. Its their first tournament experience and Kentucky is young, so you just never know how young teams will react when there is some adversity against them.
Bondroff: I’ll say no, but of course I’ll be wrong before Thursday evening I’m sure.
Bacon: I’m not putting any 13-16 seeds into the second round. I’m sure I’ll be wrong, but I don’t see it this year, given the matchups.
Question 9: Give me one player from each region that you think will be a difference maker in their bracket.
Shields: There are a lot of great players in the country this year. Its tough to just pick one per region but we all know that guys step up in this tournament and you need that. With that said, give me Jayson Tatum in the East. He has been playing out of his mind lately. He is a matchup nightmare regardless of who guards him. He can get his own shot whenever he wants and he has matured into a player who is making a lot of smart decisions with the ball in his hands, as opposed to a guy who played a little too selfish earlier in the season. In the West, I am going to go with Lauri Markkanen. A freshman who may be a top 5 pick in the draft for Arizona. He basically shot 50% from the field. 43% from 3 and shoots over 80% from the FT line. He is getting over 7 boards a game…oh and he is 7′ tall. In the Midwest, I am going with Monte Morris. He is arguably the best point guard in the game not named Lonzo Ball. Elite guard play is huge in the tournament. He shoots at high percentages, averages over 6 assists a game and doesn’t turn it over. He is used to go up against tough competition every night in a very good Big 12 conference as well. In the West, I am going with the aforementioned Lonzo Ball. An elite PG prospect that leads the nation in assists, as a freshmen. The only thing I worry about him is his dad and all the talk about how great he is, how he should be the 1st pick in the draft, etc…Does he start to buy into his own hype and let that get in his head?
East- Semi Ojeleye- SMU
West: Lauri Markkanen-Arizona
Midwest: Donovan Mitchell-Louisville
South-Joel Berry-North Carolina
East: Kris Jenkins, Villanova – Everyone knows that Jenkins came up huge last year, not only in the finals vs. North Carolina but also throughout the tournament. If Villanova wants another run like that, Josh Hart is going to need help and I think Jenkins rises up again and gets it done.
West: Allonzo Trier, Arizona – Trier has scored over 19 points in the last seven games for the Wildcats. His presence and performance make Arizona a legit national title contender.
Midwest: Marcus Foster, Creighton – For Creighton to make any sort of run, they are going to need Foster to bring elite scoring. The Kansas State transfer has thrived since Maurice Watson tore his ACL, averaging 16.9 PPG. His match-ups vs. EC Matthews (Rhode Island) and a potential one vs. Dillon Brooks (Oregon) should be must-see TV.
South: Mailk Monk, Kentucky – If the Wildcats want to make a run, they need Malik Monk (and DeAaron Fox) to absolutely take over games. They’ve done it in the past and they can certainly do it moving forwar
Question 10: What are your Final Four picks and cuts down the nets in Phoenix?
Shields: The way I see it, I think there are 6 or 7 teams capable of winning this tournament but there are probably 12-15 teams capable of making a run at the Final Four. In the East, I am taking Duke. I think Duke could lose early. They don’t play consistent defense and a team like Marquette, who is really good offensively, could shoot their way to a win. Same with Troy. However, Duke’s 3pt FG defense is so good this year, that I think they find a way to win those games. I think Baylor is a weak 3 seed but SMU is the real deal. Nova is a challenge of course. That team is so good that it will be tough to win but Duke is the most talented team in the country. They now get basically a week off, which is big for Allen and Jefferson as they continue to try and get healthy. They have 4 perimeter players that score 20+ on any night and Giles is starting to give them big minutes. With the way they came together to win the ACC, they seem to be the team everyone thought they would be. In the West, I am going Arizona. They are playing very good basketball right now and their draw to get to the elite 8 is very favorable. They will have to deal with the Zags IMO, who did beat Arizona this year. But Arizona was missing 2 starters, including Alonzo Trier, who is arguably their best player. They also have some extra motivation since the final 4 is in Phoenix. Of course, that could backfire on them too. In the South, I am going UCLA. They are a very talented roster led by a great PG and excellent big man in TJ Leaf. They will likely have to beat UNC and Kentucky to get there, which won’t be easy. UNC has a pretty easy draw in the top half of that bracket but I think UCLA will be a little too much for them in the E8. And in the Midwest, I reluctantly have Louisville. I have been down on Kansas all year and I have them going out the first weekend, I think Louisville has a tough draw in their second game but with the injury to Boucher, that makes Oregon vulnerable in the bottom of that bracket. Louisville being so battle tested in the ACC is a big help IMO.
Ultimately, I have Duke beating UCLA to win the title. Some of that is the homer in me, some of that is them having the best roster and some of that is them playing so well right now. They are the trendy pick, which means they probably won’t win but they have the best coach and the best players and are peaking at the right time.
Bondroff: Duke, Arizona, Louisville, North Carolina
Carolina over Arizona
Bacon: I have Villanova and Arizona facing off on the left side of the bracket, with Kansas and Kentucky on the right side. I think we see a rematch of the 1997 National Championship between Arizona and Kentucky. Not only does Sean Miller go to the Final Four for the first time with the Arizona Wildcats but he also leads them to their second overall national championship.