Villanova won the NCAA Tournament championship last season even though it’s blood isn’t considered blue as it’s not normally among college basketball’s royalty.
But when trying to determine this year’s national champion, look first to the blue bloods.
I really believe we won’t see a Villanova-type team win it all this year. In fact, I think you can almost count on one hand the number of teams that truly have a legitimate chance to go through the bracket 6-0.
You’ll probably see an unheralded team or two win a couple of games to make the Sweet 16, but then fall by the wayside. You won’t see a team like Syracuse in this year’s Final Four. And you won’t see Syracuse period. It didn’t make the field.
Here’s how I see the brackets playing out.
• EAST •
I find it amazing how little respect Villanova is garnering from the national pundits. The Wildcats were indeed the surprise champion last year and have a 31-3 record this season, with many of its stars back, led by Player of the Year candidate Josh Hart.
But it’s all about which team is the hottest. And right now that team is Duke, which has one of the easier paths to the Elite Eight. It’s almost as if the NCAA committee wanted to guarantee its spot. Baylor is the No. 3 seed and all it did was lose to Kansas State twice and the Wildcats barely got in.
Virginia is a team to watch, but it probably doesn’t score enough. The rest of this 16-team field is underwhelming.
• Pick — Duke over Villanova.
• SOUTH •
Who set up this bracket?
It’s brutal. I can’t remember a tougher first three seeds than North Carolina, Kentucky and UCLA.
North Carolina should coast into the regional final. Kentucky and UCLA will be a fascinating Sweet 16 game, one of the best in recent memory.
That Wichita State is a No. 10 seed is criminal. That means in the committee’s eyes it’s somewhere between the 37th- to the 40th-best team in the country.
This bracket won’t get exciting until the Sweet 16.
• Pick — Upset special. Kentucky over North Carolina.
• MIDWEST •
A couple of weeks ago I would have said Kansas would blow through this division to make the Final Four.
But too many close games and too many off-the-court distractions are going to derail the Jayhawks, not to mention a lack of size and depth.
I know Frank Mason wills this team to win. But Devonte’ Graham and Svi M. have not been shooting it well. Josh Jackson is coming off suspension. Landen Lucas can’t do everything inside by himself.
KU will either make a stunning early exit or make it to the Elite Eight. The bottom of the bracket is balanced, but the competition Louisville plays during the season has it battle-tested. Of all the No. 2 seeds, Louisville is the weakest, so maybe Kansas does get in. But...
• Pick — Louisville over Kansas.
• WEST •
We’re going to find out how legit Gonzaga is.
It certainly has the size, but its schedule is soft. Look out for an upset loss to West Virginia as it can ugly up a game like no other.
Arizona is on a roll. Unless Florida State puts together a super game, the Wildcats should cruise.
• Pick — Arizona over West Virginia.
• FINAL FOUR •
Duke over Arizona
Kentucky over Louisville
• NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP •
Duke over Kentucky