2018 March Madness Bracket Picks

Filling out a bracket this year is near impossible. Due to the parity across college basketball, almost every single matchup – yes, even some of the most lopsided, 1-2-3 seed games – has legitimate upset potential. Making a bracket, part of you wants to think, Wow, a double digit seed? Making it that far? I just don’t know if it’s possible. Never say never. It’s March. Anything is possible – let’s get down to it. If you think I’m being too crazy, stop yourself right there; nothing is too crazy.

*Sorry for the delayed publication of this article – all predictions were made as of Wednesday night*


First Round:


(1)Virginia vs. (16)UMBC

A one seed has never lost to a 16. Let’s not waste our time here.

Winner: Virginia


(8)Creighton vs. (9)Kansas State

This game scares me. Both teams aren’t particularly hot coming into the tournament, and both have serious big game potential (and serious inconsistent play). Creighton hasn’t been the same since losing Martin Krampelj, but I think Marcus Foster and Khyri Thomas will find ways to score anyway against an exploitable Kansas State D. Creighton takes the W.

Winner: Creighton


(5)Kentucky vs. (12)Davidson

Kentucky has looked amazing recently, coming into their own when it matters. I’m cautious about writing off Davidson so easily – this is a very efficient offensive team – but the Wildcats are bigger, stronger, faster, and peaking.

Winner: Kentucky


(4)Arizona vs. (13)Buffalo

I don’t like this Arizona team. Looking back on their season, they haven’t beaten one legitimately good team (in my eyes), and I don’t believe that Deandre Ayton alone justifies their hype. That being said: Ayton is a physical specimen designed in a lab by Oxford’s smartest mad scientists. Buffalo won’t be able to match up.

Winner: Arizona


(6)Miami vs. (11)Loyola-Chicago

Loyola-Chicago is my (and seemingly, everybody’s) sleeper for the tournament. The Ramblers are extremely efficient shooters, have a defense ranked in the Top 25 on Ken Pomeroy’s Adjusted Defense, and move the ball at will. Meanwhile, Miami is 4-4 in their last 8 games and is missing their best player, Bruce Brown Jr.

Winner: Loyola-Chicago


(3)Tennessee vs. (14)Wright State

Tennessee has the 4th best defense in the country per Adjusted Defense. Wright State has the 247th best offense per Adjusted Offense. That alone is enough to scare me off of an upset.

Winner: Tennessee


(7)Nevada vs. (10)Texas

I want to root for Nevada, I really do. The Martin twins have an incredible story, and Jordan Caroline is one of the most well-rounded guards in the country. Problem is though, they’re going to have trouble attacking the basket against Mo Bamba and they haven’t been the same offensively since Lindsey Drew went down. Texas will find ways to score against the Wolf Pack’s subpar defense and take the win.

Winner: Texas


(2)Cincinnati vs. (15)Georgia State

I’m not Cincinnati’s biggest fan, as I believe that analytics have inflated their defensive efficiency because of their generally poor-to-mediocre competition. However, the one thing that the Bearcats have done non-stop this season is assert their dominance over lesser teams.

Winner: Cincinnati


(1)Villanova vs. (16)Radford/LIU Brooklyn


Winner: Villanova


(8)Virginia Tech vs. (9)Alabama

Alabama is one of the most inconsistent teams in the country, anchored by their spectacular starting point guard and not much else. They’re 2-6 in their last 8. The Hokies, meanwhile, are dangerous enough to beat anybody and don’t have a bad loss on their resume. I don’t believe Bama deserves to be in this tournament, and unless Collin Sexton decides to take the world of basketball for a wild ride, Tech takes the win.

Winner: Virginia Tech


(5)West Virginia vs. (12)Murray State

Yikes, West Virginia got a tough draw. Murray State hasn’t lost a game in an eternity, and the Mountaineers have been strong-but-not-spectacular in Big 12 play. I think here, though, Murray State struggles from a lack of experience against teams this quality. The Racers’ defense isn’t world-class, and being able to stop the Mountaineers from hitting is the best way to beat them. WVU takes it in a close one.

Winner: West Virginia


(4)Wichita State vs. (13)Marshall

Don’t get me wrong, Marshall is a very good team. Wichita, however, is on another level. They have too much experience, coaching, and offensive talent to lose here.

Winner: Wichita State


(6)Florida vs. (11)St. Bonaventure/UCLA

This is going to be a good one, and Florida is an extremely talented roster that can beat nearly anyone. But they haven’t been that remarkable or consistent for about two months now, and whoever wins between the Bonnies and Bruins will be hungry to prove themselves. Both Aaron Holiday and Jaylen Adams are studs – either one finds a way to move their teams on.

Winner: St. Bonaventure/UCLA


(3)Texas Tech vs. (14)Stephen F. Austin

Back when they featured Thomas Walkup and Jacob Parker, the Lumberjacks were one of my favorite teams to watch in college basketball. Sadly, that lovable cinderella is no more. These guys are not nearly the caliber of a Red Raiders team featuring a healthy Keenan Evans.

Winner: Texas Tech


(7)Arkansas vs. (10)Butler

Arkansas’ offense is lauded by some metrics, but I don’t believe their defense will be able to handle the firepower of Kelan Martin and co. Butler’s been cold as of late, but they typically step up come March.

Winner: Butler


(2)Purdue vs. (15)CS Fullerton

Purdue seemingly has been off people’s radars recently, despite looking like the best team in the country for a solid chunk of the season. Easy win here.

Winner: Purdue


(1)Xavier vs. (16)NC Central/Texas Southern


Winner: Xavier


(8)Missouri vs. (9)Florida State

No knock against Florida State, but this Mizzou team is extraordinarily dangerous right now. Jordan Barnett might be suspended for this game, but the fantastic Michael Porter Jr. is coming back in his place. Rusty as he was in his last game back, the extra time to prepare could only have helped him.

Winner: Missouri


(5)Ohio State vs. (12)South Dakota State

I love Mike Daum – and to anyone who believes SDSU can go on a legitimate run this year, I salute you and I agree. However, before you make that call, it’s important to remember who they’re up against. Keita Bates-Diop is a matchup nightmare at the college level, and the Buckeyes don’t have a single bad loss all season. I’m 50-50 on this one, but I give the slight edge to Ohio State.

Winner: Ohio State


(4)Gonzaga vs. (13)UNCG

UNCG is underrated – they’ve played hard against legit teams this year and held their own. They play a strong defense, and run a balanced, deep rotation. Gonzaga, though, excels against teams like this. Unheralded, mid-major, and not necessarily the most heralded recruits. They’re used to this situation, and they typically coast.

Winner: Gonzaga


(6)Houston vs. (11)San Diego State

Not a knock against Houston, who are efficient both offensively and defensively per Kenpom, but SDSU has been absolutely absurd recently. The Aztecs have won 9 straight, including a dominant recent stretch with victories over Boise State, Fresno State, and Nevada (twice). They’re athletic and balanced. I’m picking the upset here.

Winner: San Diego State


(3)Michigan vs. (14)Montana

All due respect to Montana, Michigan is the hottest team in the country right now.

Winner: Michigan


(7)Texas A&M vs. (10)Providence

Providence is dangerous. Very, very dangerous. In their last 9, they have wins over Villanova, St John’s, Creighton and Xavier. Meanwhile, the Aggies have barely been a .500 team since their hot start.

Winner: Providence


(2)UNC vs. (15)Lipscomb

You know, 15 seeds do beat 2 seeds every now and then… just not here.

Winner: UNC


(1)Kansas vs. (16)Penn

Penn actually is a pretty good team, but in the matchup that comes closest to resembling this level of play for them (against Villanova) they lost by 28. I say it’s not impossible for a Quaker win here – but very, very, very unlikely.

Winner: Kansas


(8)Seton Hall vs. (9)NC State

NC State is a typical all-offense, no-defense team. They’re high-powered, balanced, and can beat anybody. Seton Hall, meanwhile, has struggled as of late against teams like this, with recent losses to Creighton, Xavier, Villanova and Butler.

Winner: NC State


(5)Clemson vs. (12)New Mexico State

Since losing Donte Grantham to injury, Clemson hasn’t been the same. I pegged them as an upset pick regardless of who they were playing before the tournament began, as they haven’t defeated tough competition since a January 30th win against UNC. The Aggies, on the other hand, as are a legit a 12 seed as they come. They beat Miami earlier this year and have the 15th ranked Adjusted Defense in the country. I’m taking the Aggies.

Winner: New Mexico State


(4)Auburn vs. (13)Charleston

I’m having trouble picking Auburn here, as they’ve (similarly to Clemson) struggled mightily since losing defensive anchor Anfernee McLemore (second highest Defensive Rating on team). Charleston, though, I don’t believe has what it takes to hang with a team with this amount of talent.

Winner: Auburn


(6)TCU vs. (11)Arizona State/Syracuse

As a basketball fan, it made me extremely upset watching the selection show to see that both ASU and Cuse made the tournament over more deserving (and better) teams such as Middle Tennessee and St Mary’s. No matter who wins the play-in game, neither has the talent nor the consistency to beat even a mediocre TCU team.

Winner: TCU


(3)Michigan State vs. (14)Bucknell

Bucknell is a talented team with a core of 3 high volume scorers in Zach Thomas, Nana Foulland and Stephen Brown. However, their 115th ranked Adjusted Defense won’t be able to handle the firepower of Miles Bridges, Jaren Jackson, Nick Ward and Cassius Winston.

Winner: Michigan State


(7)Rhode Island vs. (10)Oklahoma

Neither team has been pretty to watch over the last several months, but one has to win. I’m going with Rhode Island. Effectively, Oklahoma is a one-man team. While Rhode Island guards E.C. Matthews, Jared Terrell and Jeff Dowtin won’t be able to neutralize Trae Young, their combined efforts against Oklahoma’s poor D should be enough to push the Rams over the hump.

Winner: Rhode Island


(2)Duke vs. (15)Iona

Of any 2-15 game, this is the one that has me the most cautious. Iona always steps up this time of year, and they are a deep team with 5 guys averaging at least 10 points and 7 averaging at least 8. Duke, though, is just too talented. They might come out flat and unprepared (as they sometimes do historically against worse teams) but they should prevail.

Winner: Duke


Second Round


(1)Virginia vs. (8)Creighton

Creighton has a good offense. Virginia, though, has a much better defense. I don’t think the Bluejays even stand a chance here, unfortunately. As boring as it is to pick the one seed to win, UVA is ranked so highly for a reason.

Winner: Virginia


(5)Kentucky vs. (4)Arizona

I said earlier that I don’t like Arizona – here’s where they meet their end. No Kentucky big man is particularly spectacular defensively, so Deandre Ayton is going to do Deandre Ayton things, but their offense will run right through Arizona’s mediocre-at-best D. Look for Kevin Knox to run right by whoever is guarding him – no Arizona wing has a defensive rating below 100.

Winner: Kentucky


(11)Loyola-Chicago vs. (3)Tennessee

Alright, let’s get to the good stuff. As I’ve already discussed, the Ramblers’ offense is better than the analytics paint it as and should perform above expectations against a very strong Volunteers’ D. However, what most don’t know is that Loyola also has the 25th ranked Adjusted Defense in the country; D is actually their stronger end. Tennessee struggles a little on offense, without one special offensive player to carry the load when the going gets tough. The Ramblers pull off an upset here.

Winner: Loyola-Chicago


(10)Texas vs. (2)Cincinnati

With all due respect to Texas, the Bearcats are simply the better team. Cincy’s defense will suffocate the Longhorns’ poor offense and prove to be a fairly easy matchup (besides Mo Bamba) for the 2 seed.

Winner: Cincinnati


(1)Villanova vs. (8)Virginia Tech

Let’s get crazy here. Oh yeah, that’s right – I say Tech takes it. The simple fact is this: it makes no sense why Virginia Tech plays up to their best opponents. They don’t excel offensively or defensively – they shoot 2-pointers at the 8th highest percentage in the nation, but that’s about it. However, no matter how they do it, they do it. This year, they’ve beaten UNC, NC State, Virginia, Clemson, and Duke. All since January 22nd. Nova is obviously incredible, but they’re too prone to upset for me to pick them and feel good about it.

Winner: Virginia Tech


(5)West Virginia vs. (4)Wichita State

This, in my opinion (if it happens) will be the best game of the tournament. West Virginia’s incredible press defense against Wichita State’s wildly efficient offense? *shudder*. It’s going to be incredible to watch. I think Landry Shamet is one of the most underrated ball handlers and scorers in the country, and Conner Frankamp simply doesn’t turn the ball over. If the Shockers don’t get overwhelmed by the pressure (they have the experience not to), those two should be able to power the offense past half court and take the Mountaineers out of their element.

Winner: Wichita State


(11)St Bonaventure/UCLA vs. (3)Texas Tech

No matter who ends up playing in this game, Texas Tech’s defense should be able to soundly handle the pressure that Jaylen Adams or Aaron Holiday would put on. That, combined with Keenan Evans having inhuman efficiency, should push Texas Tech onward.


(10)Butler vs. (2)Purdue

Butler is very good, but Isaac Haas and Matt Haarms will limit Kelan Martin’s effectiveness inside while Vince Edwards will be tough for him to handle on the perimeter, and the offense will do its thing against an average Butler D.

Winner: Purdue


(1)Xavier vs. (8)Missouri

Missouri will be tough to handle at full strength, but figuring out chemistry with all of the new integrated parts against a team as dominant as Xavier will be near impossible.

Winner: Xavier


(5)Ohio State vs. (4)Gonzaga

The Zags killed Ohio State earlier this year (that being said, it was before Keita Bates-Diop’s explosion) and look poised to be in for another good matchup. Johnathan Williams matches up favorably with Bates-Diop, and by neutralizing him, the Bulldogs should be able to outplay this Buckeyes squad at most other spots in the lineup.

Winner: Gonzaga


(11)San Diego State vs. (3)Michigan

One of the hottest teams in the country matches up against the hottest team in the country. The Wolverines will simply be too talented and offensively strong for this Aztecs team to handle. I wouldn’t be surprised if SDSU has trouble scoring as well, as Charles Matthews’ presence on the perimeter coupled with Jon Teske’s down low will be tough for players like Malik Pope to deal with.

Winner: Michigan


(10)Providence vs. (2)UNC

Remember how I said Providence is dangerous? Well, they’re very much dangerous enough to knock off the Tar Heels here. UNC, good as they are, are overseeded. They’re a 10-loss team who is 3-3 in their last 6 and can struggle to defend athletic, offensively talented teams. Providence has the toughness to defend this high-powered offense, and they’ve shown serious offensive skill in recent wins, such as the close one over Xavier.

Winner: Providence


(1)Kansas vs. (9)NC State

I can see the Wolfpack making a run here, but Kansas matches up against their offense pound for pound. Devonte’ Graham is steady as they come, and Svi Mykhailiuk is a deadeye. Kansas wins this one in a shootout.

Winner: Kansas


(12)New Mexico State vs. (4)Auburn

Let me introduce you all to a man named Jemerrio Jones. Jemerrio over here is a measly 6’5”, 200 pound forward. He also averages 13 rebounds per game. Why, you ask? Because Jemerrio is a tank with more hustle than most players have in their little fingers. Such is the theme for the Aggies – they’re tough, scrappy, and one of the best rebounding teams in the country (7th in Rebound Rate). Auburn has struggled with their physicality since McLemore went down. Watch for New Mexico State to body them heavily on their way to victory.

Winner: New Mexico State


(6)TCU vs. (3)Michigan State

TCU is a decent Big 12 team who’s faded in the second half of the season. The Spartans are an underseeded perennial power who spent the majority of the season in the Top 5. They won’t lose here.

Winner: Michigan State


(7)Rhode Island vs. (2)Duke

Playing Oklahoma and playing Duke are two different battles altogether – and honestly, the Rams don’t stand a chance here. Duke is bigger, stronger, and more athletic. Rhode Island has had a rough month of basketball. Duke cruises.

Winner: Duke


Sweet 16


(1)Virginia vs. (5)Kentucky

It’s been a nice run for Kentucky – but, bye-bye. Virginia’s grit and hustle will outclass the edge in NBA talent that Kentucky theoretically has. As long as the Cavaliers can find a way to put a few points on the board, their defense should win them this one.

Winner: Virginia


(11)Loyola-Chicago vs. (2)Cincinnati

I want to pick Loyola-Chicago so badly. Coming off beating Tennessee, they will know what it takes to beat a great defense. Even more enticing is that if they can beat both Tennessee and Cincy, they’ll be in a great position to know what it takes to beat Virginia’s D as well. Buttttt, while my heart says yes, my brain says no. Cincinnati feeds off of broken mid-major dreams, and their defense really is suffocating (almost as much so as Virginia’s). If you put the Ramblers, though, I won’t fight you.

Winner: Cincinnati


(8)Virginia Tech vs. (4)Wichita State

The Hokies will be high off their victory over Nova and come crashing down to Earth against the unrelenting offense of Wichita State. To those of you who believe that Nova and the Shockers play in similar ways, so Tech should take this win as well – that’s fair, but I disagree. Virginia Tech plays to their opponents – Wichita is less talented than Villanova, and I expect the overall level of the Hokies to fall with that drop-off.

Winner: Wichita State


(3)Texas Tech vs. (2)Purdue

As good as Texas Tech is, Purdue takes this one. Purdue did well twice this year against Michigan’s top defense, turning each game into a shootout with spectacular performances by Carsen Edwards, Dakota Mathias and Isaac Haas. Look for Purdue to either dish inside or shoot a 3 every time down the floor, beating the Red Raiders down.

Winner: Purdue


(1)Xavier vs. (4)Gonzaga

Xavier chokes here. Good as they are, fact of the matter is that they are nowhere near the level of a typical 1 seed. Bluiett, Macura and co. will be smaller than a tough, skilled Gonzaga team that wants to prove last year was no fluke.

Winner: Gonzaga


(3)Michigan vs. (10)Providence

As gritty as Providence is, Michigan is even grittier – shockingly holding a top 5 ranking in Adjusted Defense. The Friars will struggle against the Wolverines’ combo of punishing defense, slow play, and ability to get hot in an instant (it’s almost like the Cinderella-crushing formula).

Winner: Michigan


(1)Kansas vs. (12)New Mexico State

New Mexico State is big, tough, and gritty. But, Kansas has so much talent. Udoka Azubuike will gobble up boards and keep his team strong, while Devonte’ and Svi do the heavy lifting on offense.

Winner: Kansas


(3)Michigan State vs. (2)Duke

The second best game of the tournament (if it happens), this is going to be an all-out brawl. These are two massive, physical teams full of NBA prospects and pent-up aggression. I think Duke takes it, but this is a toss-up. Wendell Carter and Nick Ward should effectively cancel out, so I think this comes down to which duo can perform better: Jaren Jackson and Miles Bridges or Marvin Bagley and Grayson Allen. My money is on the latter, but I wouldn’t blame anyone for picking the Spartans. Hot take: the winner of this game wins the tournament.

Winner: Duke


Elite Eight


(1)Virginia vs. (2)Cincinnati

Pro-tip: if you like watching games where teams score, don’t watch this one. This is going to be a gritty, grind it out defensive effort between two of the best defensive teams of all time. Overall, Virginia should take it though – while their defense is marginally better than Cincy’s, their offense vastly outranks the Bearcats’ by most measures.

Winner: Virginia


(4)Wichita State vs. (2)Purdue

Fresh off of beating Texas Tech, Purdue is going to be exhausted. Look for Wichita State to capitalize on that – they’ll have more energy and be looking to attack on offense every possession. Additionally, Shaq Morris is a matchup nightmare for this Boilermakers squad; Haas and Haarms do a great job of holding their ground inside, but when it comes to the unrelenting toughness combined with the finesse and touch of his offensive game, it’s going to be very tough for Purdue to stick with him.

Winner: Wichita State


(4)Gonzaga vs. (3)Michigan

As strong as both teams will likely be playing at this point, Michigan should take this game. Gonzaga is long and full of outside shooters – however, Charles Matthews matches up perfectly with Johnathan Williams, Mo Wagner will take Killian Tillie, and Xavier Simpson can shut down Josh Perkins. A nightmare scenario for Michigan would be this game coming down to the wire and seeing them fall victim to poor free throw shooting and foul trouble; but besides that situation, I have trouble seeing the Wolverines those this one.

Winner: Michigan


(1)Kansas vs. (2)Duke

This is a rough game for Kansas. They play small, and Duke is very big – and, unfortunately for the Jayhawks, mobile and agile enough to stick with anyone. Assuming Carter and Azubuike play as about equals, this game is wide open for Marvin Bagley to go bonkers.

Winner: Duke


Final Four


(1)Virginia vs. (3)Michigan

It’s been quite the run for Michigan, but it ends here. The defense is simply just too strong – look for Mo Wagner to have trouble penetrating, which will lead to him having trouble getting any room off of the pick and pop. Once that play disintegrates, Michigan’s offense could take a nosedive. I give the Wolverines a chance if they tire out a now-shorter UVA rotation and both Wagner and Duncan Robinson hit the 3 at a very high percentage, but it’s unlikely.

Winner: Virginia


(4)Wichita State vs. (2)Duke

Similarly to what happened in the Duke-Kansas game, Duke will simply have too much size for the Shockers to handle. Grayson Allen and Landry Shamet, I’m predicting, will have roughly equal offensive outputs – but down low, Marvin Bagley is going to have himself a day against an undersized Wichita State starting frontcourt. Defense has not been the Shockers’ calling card this year – finally, it will come back to bite them.

Winner: Duke


National Championship


(1)Virginia vs. (2)Duke

Here, in my opinion, is where losing De’Andre Hunter hurts UVA the most. Duke will be the most efficient offense that the Cavaliers come up against, and missing such a big presence is a big deal. And as tough as the Cavaliers are, Duke can handle them defensively and has the size to beat them down on offense. Look for the big men to be key – as we saw in the first Duke-UVA matchup during the regular season, the Blue Devils’ guards were effectively neutralized. It was, however, a big day for Marvin Bagley and Wendell Carter. This matchup will be more of the same; unfortunately, UVA missing such an important piece will likely be what pushes Duke over the edge.

Winner: Duke


Data courtesy of Team Rankings, Kenpom, ESPN, and Sports-Reference. Thanks for reading!


Top 25 Teams In The Country

In the spirit of the NCAA tournament coming up next week, let’s take a look at the best 25 college teams, using both analytics and the eye test.


  1. Virginia Cavaliers

UVA is not the prototypical “#1 team” – they don’t have a superstar, no Herculean one-and-done players, and they score 68 points per game. How, then, have they made it through this season as the unquestioned best team? Defense. Themselves and Cincinnati (more on them later) are so far ahead of the field in Adjusted Defense (the number of points allowed per 100 possessions, adjusted for opponent), that the gap between the Cavaliers and the third overall team is the same as the gap between that team and the 63rd overall. That’s domination.


  1. Villanova Wildcats

While the team above them excels with their defense, Nova is incredible because of their offense – far and away the most efficient in the country this year by Adjusted Offense. They’ve played a strong schedule, including convincing wins over Gonzaga and Xavier (twice), and have come out with it with only 4 losses. Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges are studs, and the team as a whole is shooting almost 50/40 from the field. Watch out.


  1. Duke Blue Devils

You know that a team is good when every game that they lose is a surprise. “NC State? Really?”. “BC? Wow”. Yes, they have blemishes on their resume, but this is an extremely well-rounded team without a true weakness. Marvin Bagley is one of the top 5 players in NCAA basketball, and Grayson Allen is a former Wooden Award candidate. They’re fantastic on offense and defense; and even though they’re prone to the occasional game-long lapse in concentration (loss to BC, loss to St. John’s), there’s not a team in the field they can’t beat.


  1. Michigan Wolverines

Here we go again – a Wolverines team flies under the radar all season long until they explode into the national spotlight in March. When have we seen this before? (Oh, right, last year). For the first time ever under John Beilein, Michigan’s defense is their calling card (ranked top 5 in the nation). When combined with their slow pace and reliance on the 3, teams can get extremely frustrated by their ability to go on a run at any time. Watch sixth man Duncan Robinson’s production as well; when he’s scored 6 or more points in a game, Michigan has never lost.


  1. Purdue Boilermakers

Even though the numbers say that Villanova and Duke have more efficient offenses than Purdue, I don’t care. When these guys are hitting, they remind me of UCLA’s fabled offense last year. Two of the best I’ve ever seen. The Edwards’ and Haas are always going to get their points, but watch out for Dakota Mathias, a sniper who’s ability to fly around screens and hit could be a game changer late in some second halves.


  1. Michigan State Spartans

A strong, built team that’s going to beat you with their size and power. They’re the only team to rank in the top 10 in both Adjusted Offense and Defense, and they can hurt you from inside and outside (shooting 50/40 as a team). They’re not flashy, but they’re very dangerous.


  1. Xavier Musketeers

The analytics don’t agree with me here, as kenpom.com lists them even lower as the 13th overall team. Some pundits have found Xavier’s defense too weak or believe that they are just lucky, as they rank only 59th in Adjusted Defense and in the top 10 in Luck rating. However, at some point, the fact that they just get the job done has to be respected. They only have three losses all season outside of Villanova, and they’ve beaten the top of the Big 12 along with dropping 89 against Cincinnati’s defense earlier this year. This is a well-rounded team and an offensive powerhouse who could make moves in March (unless they run into Nova too early).


  1. Kansas Jayhawks

A deep offensive team that can hit from anywhere inside 35 feet. Devonte’ Graham is on the Wooden Watch and Svi Mykhailiuk might be the best college shooter in the country. Kansas is potent, they’re hungry – and they’re dangerous.


  1. North Carolina Tar Heels

They have a lot of losses, but they’ve played the hardest schedule in the country by the measure of the Adjusted Efficiency Margin of their opponents. They have wins over Michigan, Ohio State, Tennessee, Clemson, Duke (twice), and Miami. It’s unlikely to win two years in a row, but the Tar Heels can hang with anybody.


  1. Cincinnati Bearcats

The main knock against them is that their strength of schedule is too easy, making their record smoke and mirrors. However, they rank in the top 100 in the same SOS rating we just used to measure UNC. They’ve beaten Wichita State once and play one of the most efficient defenses of all time (second this year only to UVA). Any team who believes they have a strong offense would be afraid to play them in March.


  1. Wichita State Shockers

Can they shock the world once more? Defense, usually a constant on Gregg Marshall’s teams, has not been a strength of this Shockers squad. However, their offense is top 5 in the country and they can hurt opposing teams in so many ways: Landry Shamet is a machine and when Shaq Morris produces like he has been recently, this is a borderline unstoppable offensive powerhouse.


  1. Texas Tech Red Raiders

Save for a recent four-game stretch in which star Keenan Evans was either injured or hobbled, this is a 4 loss team in the toughest conference in the country. Adjusted Defense paints them as (underratedly) a top 5 defensive team in the country, and when Evans is on, they’re one of the best offensively as well.


  1. West Virginia Mountaineers

Their full-court press is feared around the country. However, an important key to it – they have to be making their shots in order to set it up and force turnovers, their bread and butter. If they’re hitting, they’re an incredibly tough team to beat and can hang with anyone (even beating Virginia earlier this year).


  1. Gonzaga Bulldogs

I’m much less high on the Zags than most other analysts, and that mostly comes down to strength of schedule. They’ve really only beaten two legitimate teams this year: Ohio State (before Keita Bates-Diop’s explosion) and Saint Mary’s. They’re a strong team who can make a run – but nowhere near as powerful as last season’s squad.


  1. Ohio State

Placed beneath Gonzaga mainly as a virtue of losing to them earlier this season – but this team was reborn after beating Wisconsin and Michigan back to back, with the aforementioned Bates-Diop taking off as a 20 PPG scorer. Watch out before penciling in the Buckeyes to the Final Four though, as they’re 2-3 in their last 5.


  1. Clemson Tigers

Losing Donte Grantham to injury hurt. After starting the season strong, Clemson has faded a little down the stretch, going 4-4 in their last 8. They’ve shown that by virtue of their defense (8th in Adjusted Defense), they can hang with some quality teams, but they’re unlikely to have the firepower to go too far.


  1. Arizona Wildcats

Part of me wants to rank them higher. Deandre Ayton is a Greek god brought down to Earth, and Allonzo Trier is a superstar masquerading as second fiddle. However, it’s hard to ignore their lack of quality wins – victories over Texas A&M and Arizona State don’t look nearly as good as they used to, and those were their only victories over ranked opponents.


  1. Auburn Tigers

I’m not nearly as high on the SEC as many others. They’re deep, yes, but they lack high-end talent. Auburn, their pride and joy, has failed to impress me – especially recently. After a great start to the season, they’ve gone 2-4 in their last six. And reading deeper into their wins, they haven’t beaten quality opponents besides Middle Tennessee and Tennessee. Nothing they do really sticks out in the numbers, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they get bounced early.


  1. Houston Cougars

Wins over Wichita, Providence and Cincinnati gives you validity in my book. Houston ranks in the top 30 in both Adjusted Offense and Defense, and they’re a balanced team that plays a deep lineup without one player averaging 32 MPG or more. That could help them in the tournament, especially if some of their top guys fail to impress.


  1. Tennessee Volunteers

Beating Purdue early in the season is a great win that shows their tough defense (3rd in Adjusted Defense) can put up a fight against anybody. However, they lack another signature win. Similar to Houston, though, they play a deep lineup – without anyone averaging even 29 MPG. Depth helps when it matters.


  1. Florida Gators

After beginning the season as one of the projected top teams, Florida has fallen in the eyes of many. Don’t be fooled by their record, though – Jalen Hudson and Chris Chiozza anchor a team that can hang with anybody. They’ve beaten Gonzaga, Cincy, Auburn, and hung with Duke. They could duck out early – but they could go on a run as well.


  1. Saint Mary’s Gaels*

Say it with me – Jock Landale is really, really good. The superstar upped his scoring, rebounding, and efficiency this year after already being one of the top players in the nation last year. He’s surrounded by shooters (the team shoots 50/40, with everyone besides Jock over 10 PPG on the team over 40% from 3) and the offense is efficient and fun to watch. Two problems though: they can’t play defense (120th in Adjusted Defense) and their only legitimate win this year is over Gonzaga.


  1. Virginia Tech Hokies

One of the most bipolar teams in basketball this year, the Hokies have wins over UVA (on the road), UNC, Duke and Clemson but several losses in winnable games at home and one “yikes” home loss against Saint Louis. They deserve to be ranked this highly, but they’re a team to watch next week – you never know what you’re going to get.


  1. Rhode Island Rams

The Rams can be hard to watch at times – they’re a team with two fantastic players in E.C. Matthews and Jared Terrell, but yet they’ve faded down the stretch and lost against teams they should be outmatching. They have the talent, but they need to put it all together (and fast).


  1. Loyola-Chicago Ramblers

Make no mistake, this team has not played against strong competition. Every criticism I’ve made about a team playing a weak schedule, they fit it. However – the degree to which they’ve dominated their league over the past 18 games deserves recognition. They play at a slow pace, they move the ball, and they shoot almost 50/40 from the field. That’s a hard combination for opposing college teams to handle. Watch out next week – any team playing against them, in my book, is on upset alert.


Just missed the cut:

Miami (FL)

Middle Tennessee



NC State

Kansas State


Data courtesy of ESPN and Basketball Reference

A Guide To March: Under-The-Radar Favorites and Upset Picks

As the name would suggest, March Madness is the most chaotic event in sports. Whether it be Kris Jenkins’ game-winning, buzzer-beating shot in the National Championship game or Middle Tennessee’s shocking win in the opening round over Michigan State, the month of March (for college basketball at least) is simply filled with madness. Nothing that happened during the regular season matters anymore, as the only thing that counts, is that you are in the tournament right now. Although March Madness seems like it is just a flurry of luck, momentum, and chance (which to a great extent it is), taking a structured, statistical based approach to evaluating match-ups will allow March to make much more sense. Additionally, filling out your brackets in this statistical-backed approach will dramatically increase your odds of winning your pool, so read these helpful tips to feel a little less “mad” this March when your brackets aren’t busted after Day 1.

Photo Credits: Sporting News

Under-The-Radar Favorites:

Look for these characteristics when picking teams to go far:

  • Good on both ends of the court
    • Both offensively and defensively efficient
  • Have one “unstoppable” aspect
    • Ex: West Virginia’s press or UCLA’s shooting
  • Make the most out of their possessions
    • High Floor % (% of possessions ended with points)
  • Don’t turn the ball over
    • Low turnover %

Unexpected Teams Poised To Make Big Runs: Southern Methodist (SMU), Notre Dame, Michigan, Iowa State

Photo Credits: Bleacher Report

Southern Methodist: Winners of 15 straight and 24 of their last 25, SMU comes into the tournament as possibly the hottest team in the field. Although they pack one of the least deep rosters in the country, SMU’s athletic starting 5 more than make up for that through their ability to score and rebound. SMU has great shooting ability, especially from deep, as they shoot 40.6% from beyond the arc, which is the 5th best mark in Division I. Their shooting ability from deep, paired with big men who grab an offensive rebound on 36.8% of their shots (6th in the country), makes a combo that will be awfully hard to stop. Additionally, SMU plays at the 4th slowest pace in the country, averaging only 65.2 possessions per game, which allows for great volatility in the outcomes of their games. Pair this with their efficient play on both sides of the ball (6th in offensive efficiency and 15th in defensive efficiency), and you have a team that could readily take down major contenders such as Baylor, Duke, and Villanova, Florida, or Virginia. On top of that, advanced metrics show that SMU is very underrated as a 6 seed, as they are ranked #11 by Kenpom, which is ahead of every team in their region besides Villanova, Florida, and Virginia.

Photo Credits: AP Photo

Michigan: Coming off upset wins over Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Purdue to win the Big 10 championship, Michigan is riding a huge wave of momentum that should carry over into the tournament. After a rough start to the season, Michigan has turned it around as of recently, and this version of the Michigan basketball team is a force to be reckoned with. With a defense that is just alright, even below average by advanced metrics such as defensive efficiency, Michigan’s offense is what has carried them so far. Michigan possesses a lethal combo of slow pace and efficiency, which allows them to capitalize on the few possessions that they have. Averaging just 65.5 possessions per game, Michigan has the 5th slowest pace in all of college basketball, which (just like SMU) gives greater volatility in the outcome of their games. As mentioned above, Michigan’s offense is quite effective and efficient as well, as they are 6th in offensive efficiency and 8th in effective field goal %. Michigan’s patient, efficient style of play, along with their great ability to hold onto the ball (6th lowest turnover %), is quite taxing on opposing defenses, which has led to diminished offensive production for opponents as well. If Michigan can defend the deep ball better than they have recently, don’t be surprised if you see them take down powerhouses such as Louisville, Oregon, and Kansas, Iowa State, or Purdue.

Photo Credits: Bleacher Report

Notre Dame: Unlike SMU or Michigan, Notre Dame does not come into the tournament red-hot, as they have only won 8 of their last 12 and are fresh off a devastating loss to Duke in the ACC Championship game. Notre Dame boasts a potent offense, the 15th most efficient in the country, that is extremely hard to stop when Bonzie Colson is at his best. Unfortunately for everyone else in the tournament, Colson has been doing exactly that as of recently; in his past 10 games, he has scored at least 20 points in all but 2 of them and has posted 5 double-doubles over that span as well. On top of that, Notre Dame shoots 38.6% from behind the arc (32nd in the country), but more importantly, their 4 main players (Colson, Vasturia, Beachum, Farrell) all are legitimate 3-point shooting threats, as they all shoot at least 36.1% from deep. One of Notre Dame’s most lethal qualities is that they are not going to beat themselves up; Notre Dame shoots 79.9% from the free-throw line and commit turnovers on only 13.6% of possessions, both of which are tops in the country. On top of that, Notre Dame’s match-ups after the first round (likely West Virginia then Gonzaga) are good fits for them. West Virginia’s full-court press was rendered useless against other teams that didn’t turn the ball over (Iowa State), and that should be no different against Notre Dame. Against Gonzaga, Beachum and Vasturia should be able to handle Karnowski, and Colson will give him plenty of trouble on the defensive end. In conclusion, Notre Dame has an experienced, disciplined roster that matches up well with potential opponents and should last well into March.

Photo Credits: SB Nation

Iowa State: Although they are not quite as hot as Michigan or SMU, Iowa State has also been on a tear recently, coming fresh off a win over ‘Press Virginia’ to win the Big 12 Championship. In most regards, Iowa State is a very similar team to Notre Dame; both are offensively oriented, live off of the deep ball, hardly turn the ball over, and sport experienced rosters. Iowa State thrives off of how they shoot from beyond the arc, as they shoot 24.8 of them per game, which is the 36th most in the country. Fortunately for Iowa State, they are pretty good at doing so, as they make 40.2% from beyond the arc, which is the 11th best mark in the country, and average 10 made 3-pointers per game, which comes out to 8th. Iowa State’s stay in the tournament will be completely dependent on how they shoot the 3 ball. With that being said, Iowa State does have a number of other attractive characteristics as well. Iowa State’s potent offense, which averages 80.9 points per game (24th in the country), is also among the most efficient, as they rank 25th in offensive efficiency. Iowa State can also handle the ball well, as they turn the ball over on only 13.8% of possessions, which is the 2nd lowest rate in the country. Good match-ups against Purdue (big roster is to slow to keep up with quick Iowa State guards) and Kansas (who Iowa State has beaten in Lawrence), as well as an experienced starting roster, made up of 4 seniors, give Iowa State the potential to make a huge run in the tourney this year.




Characteristics of teams that pull off upsets:

  • Forces lots of turnovers
    • High opponent turnover %
  • Strong offensive rebounding
    • High offensive rebounding %
  • Good all-around shooting
    • High effective shooting %
  • Slow pace
    • Low number of possessions per game
  • Very strong offensively or defensively
    • Either offensively of defensively efficient

Sleepers: St. Mary’s, UNC Wilmington, Princeton, Vermont

Photo Credits: Bleacher Report

St. Mary’s: After losing to Gonzaga for the 3rd time in the West Coast Conference championship, St. Mary’s dropped off of almost everyone’s radar, but advanced metrics show us that is not a wise move. St. Mary’s is ranked #14 on Kenpom and are actually 6 spots ahead of Arizona (#20), meaning that advanced metrics favor St. Mary’s over Arizona in a potential Round of 32 match-up. St. Mary’s only averages 62 possessions per game, which is the slowest pace in the country, and as we talked about earlier, this low number of possessions allows for greater volatility, thus dramatically increasing the chances of an upset. St. Mary’s also has one of the most potent, efficient offenses in the country, as they rank 3rd in offensive efficiency and rebound 31.8% of their own shots (51st in the country). St. Mary’s also is a very good shooting team, as they have an effective field goal percentage of 57.9%, which ranks 5th in the country, and shoot 39.9% from beyond the arc, which ranks 14th. On top of that, St. Mary’s has a very stingy defense that only gives up 56.5 points per game and ranks 10th in defensive efficiency, and commits the 3rd least fouls per game in the country. This lethal combo of an slow, efficient offense that has elite shooting paired with a stingy and efficient defense has upset spelled all over it.

Photo Credits: SB Nation

UNC Wilmington: The Seahawks return a number of their starters that gave Duke quite the scare last year where they took them down to the very end last year, nearly pulling off a highly improbable upset. This alone justifies UNC Wilmington as a very legitimate upset contender, they also have a number of other credentials that make them a quality upset pick for this year’s tournament. Although their defense can at best be described as average, their offense more than makes up for this lack of star power on the defensive end. UNC Wilmington has one of the most potent offenses in the country that exhibits lots of variety, which makes them particularly hard to stop. The Seahawks’ offense is quite efficient, as the rank 5th in offensive efficiency, just behind the likes of UCLA, Gonzaga, St. Mary’s, and Villanova, all of whom are considered quite legitimate threats in the tournament. UNC Wilmington’s ability to shoot from deep (they make 9.5 from beyond the arc per game, which is 20th in the country) makes them a serious threat to dethrone higher seeds. Their offense also has an effective field goal percentage of 55.2% (25th in the country), which showcases their elite shooting talent as well. UNC Wilmington’s high-powered, potent offense has the ability to potentially take them deep into March.

Photo Credits: Getty Images

Princeton: The Tigers, fresh off an Ivy League championship, come into the tournament as possibly the hottest team, as they have won their past 19 straight and haven’t lost in almost 3 full calendar months. Princeton is quite talented on both sides of the ball, and their unique credentials give them a legitimate chance of pulling off an upset in the Round of 64 (Bonzie Colson and the Irish might think otherwise). Princeton runs one of the slowest offenses in the country, as they only average 66.2 possessions per game, which is the 11th slowest pace in Division I. As we talked about earlier, this slower pace allows for greater volatility in the outcome of their games, which essentially increases their chances of pulling off an upset. Princeton’s offense also has a number of other dynamic elements, as they can shoot quite well (46th in effective shooting %), especially from beyond the arc, where they average 9.9 3-pointers made per game (15th in country). On top of that, Princeton’s offense hardly ever turns the ball over on 14.9% of their possessions, which is the 11th lowest rate in the country. Princeton also has quite a solid defense that has given their opponents trouble so far this season. The Tigers’ defense is quite efficient (29th in defensive efficiency), which is especially important given their slow pace (meaning that they need to capitalize on all possessions since there are so few). They also force a turnover on 20.2% of opponent possessions (50th in country) and don’t foul very much either (29th least fouls per game in country), which makes them a formidable opponent. Their combination of slow pace and efficient play will make them hard to stop this March.

Photo Credits: Burlington Press

Vermont: If the Tigers are hot, then the Vermont Catamounts are on fire, as they are fresh off of an American East Championship and hold the longest current win streak in the country at 21 games. While Vermont is nowhere near a household team, their name might be coming up a lot more in conversation over the next couple of days if they pull off some upsets that they are potentially capable of doing (over Purdue and Iowa State). Vermont thrives off of an efficient, yet slow offense, which is a lethal combo that we have already discussed earlier (with Princeton, St. Mary’s, and Michigan) that makes their opponents susceptible to upsets. Vermont plays at a very slow pace, averaging only 66.6 possessions per game (15th slowest pace in the country) and boasts the 24th most efficient offense in Division I. Vermont is also a very talented shooting team, as they have an effective field goal percentage of 55.4%, which is 16th in the country. Additionally, Vermont ranks very high in floor percentage (which measures the percentage of possessions that end in points) as Vermont scores on 52.8%, which is 14th in the country. On top of that, Vermont has a stellar defense that is very capable of shutting down higher octane offenses they might face in potential opponents. Vermont has the 38th most efficient defense in the country, which is quite lethal when paired with their slow pace. In addition, Vermont is not gonna do the opposing team any favors, as they commit only 16.1 fouls per game, which is the 21st lowest rate in the country. Vermont’s combination of slow pace and efficient play both on offense and defense make them a legitimate upset threat.



Why the Top 8 Seeds won’t win the tournament:

Villanova: On top of not even being the favorite in their own region (Duke), Nova faces stiff potential competition against SMU, Duke, Virginia, Florida, and Wisconsin, all of whom rank well by advanced metrics. Also, Nova plays at an extremely slow pace (23rd slowest in the country at 67.2 possessions per game), which makes them vulnerable to an upset.

Kansas: Advanced metrics show that Kansas is highly overrated, coming in at 10th on the Kenpom scale, despite being a 1 seed, which highlights potential weakness. Kansas has not performed well in the tournament in year’s past, and face stiff potential competition from red-hot opponents, such as Iowa State (who beat Kansas in Lawrence), Michigan, Purdue, and Louisville.

North Carolina: Lacking backcourt depth, North Carolina lives or dies off the success of Joel Berry II, which is awfully risky for a long tournament. North Carolina has been somewhat inconsistent at times and is easily the least hot team coming into the tournament as a top seed. The potent talent on the other side of the bracket (UCLA, Kentucky, Wichita State) might also prevent North Carolina from returning to the Final 4.

Gonzaga: Despite being the top dog on the Kenpom scale, the ‘Zags have yet to play enough serious competition for them to be considered legitimate. They have played underwhelmingly bad in the tournament in years past. Elite talent and unique playing styles from West Virginia (full court press) and Notre Dame (Bonzie Colson and ability to guard Karnowski) might force the ‘Zags to change up their style and be overmatched.

Photo Credits: Getty Images

Arizona: While stats don’t mean everything, advanced metrics such as Kenpom are not too high on Arizona, who sits at #20 in their rankings, even though they are a #2 seed. Additionally, they face legitimate competition from pretty early on, facing St. Mary’s (who is wildly underrated according to Kenpom), Florida State (who’s big men might be too much to handle), and Gonzaga, West Virginia, or Notre Dame.

Kentucky: The Wildcats are one of, if not the most inexperienced team in the country, which is something that will largely work to their detriment in the tourney. Additionally, Kentucky got by far the worst draw of any 2 seed, as they are lined up to play the #10 seed Wichita State (who is ranked #8 on Kenpom!) and UCLA, who easily has the most potent offense in the country.

Louisville: The Cards received one of the toughest draws in the tournament, facing either Michigan or Oklahoma State in the second round, both of whom are red-hot. Their fantastic reward for beating Michigan or Oklahoma State: playing Oregon next and then either Kansas, Iowa State, or Purdue. Also, although it hasn’t been an issue yet, Louisville is atrocious at shooting free throws (236th in the country), which might catch up to them.

Duke: Although Duke has a number of skilled big men, they lack an interior presence on the defensive end, which could come back to haunt them later in the tournament, where they might play bigger teams such as Baylor. Duke is either going to play South Carolina (stingy defense) or Marquette (best 3-point % in the country) in the second round, which is much harder than the average 7 or 10 seed they could have drawn.


Data courtesy of ESPN, CBS Sports, TeamRankings, Kenpom, and Basketball Reference. Thanks for reading!

Written by Jason Platkin

Cover Photo Credits: AP Photo

March Madness Picks

It’s that time of year again – March Madness is beginning. For three weeks, we get the opportunity to forget about our “real world” problems and just focus on a different kind of pain: getting our brackets busted. Even though I’ll be lucky if this article makes it even a day into the tournament without being blown up into 10,000 shards of sadness, I’ll share my predictions anyway. Get ready for upset city, everyone. This is going to be a fun 63 games.


Second Round:

(1)Villanova vs. (16)Mt St. Mary’s/New Orleans

Sorry guys, but it’s a 1 seed against a 16 seed. Nova cruises against whoever wins the play-in.


(8)Wisconsin vs. (9)Virginia Tech

The selection committee owes a written apology to this Wisconsin team, as nobody was as grossly underseeded as they were. Virginia Tech has had a good year, but the Badgers simply overmatch them on both ends of the court. Wisconsin has a 91.3 Adjusted Defensive Efficiency (AdjD) rating – good for eighth in the country – which should be able to slow down the Hokies’ potent offense (79.3 ppg), along with a plethora of offensive weapons such as Bronson Koenig, Ethan Happ, and Nigel Hayes. These guys are really, really good. Badgers take the win.


(5)Virginia vs. (12)UNC Wilmington

UNC Wilmington is a very strong offensive team, as evidenced by their 117.8 Adjusted Offensive Efficiency (AdjO) – yet unfortunately for them, they’ve been matched off against the top defensive team the country per AdjD in Virginia, who have only allowed a miniscule 55.6 ppg. Despite the 5-vs.-12 curse that seems to haunt five seeds every year, I’m a strong believer that strong defense in the tournament is a consistent winner. This could go either way, but my guess is that Virginia gets it in a close one.


(4)Florida vs. (13)East Tennessee St.

Call it a hunch. There’s no hard data to back me up here, as Florida outranks East Tennessee St. in nearly every statistical category. But a deeper look shows that even though Florida is a four seed, they lack any true quality wins except for the one against Kentucky at home (they later lost to them on the road), with their next best being home wins against Seton Hall and South Carolina. I think neutral court, with the fans able to get behind an underdog, East Tennessee St. pulls it out against an overrated Gators squad.


(6)SMU vs. (11)Providence/USC

SMU all day. I’m buying in. These guys haven’t lost since a two-point game on the road in Cincinnati (16 games ago), and before that, you have to go all the way back to November 30th for their last defeat. They are hot, to put it lightly. I know that the AAC isn’t the most competitive conference, but these guys are riding a wave of confidence at the right time.


(3)Baylor vs. (14)New Mexico St.

Sorry Baylor, but I’m taking the Aggies here. I know how good Johnathan Motley and the Bears are, but I just don’t trust them. They’re 5-6 in their last 11, and I have trouble believing in a team peaking at the wrong time. Meanwhile, this is NM State’s fifth appearance in the big dance in the last six years. Still seeking their first win in that time frame, the Aggies are hungry. Plus, there’s no way that ETSU over Florida is the only upset in this quarter. Sometimes you gotta guess and hope for the best. They don’t call it Madness for nothing.


(7)South Carolina vs. (10)Marquette

South Carolina has a really good defense (3rd in the country in AdjD) while Marquette has a really good offense (7th in AdjO). I feel like I might regret this because the Gamecocks have been cold, but I think they win. Again, my good-defense-trumps-good-offense-in-the-tourney bias is coming into play, but even more than that, as a diehard Michigan fan (I promise to only keep a little bit of bias), I witnessed South Carolina suck the life out of the Wolverines – a team fresh off beating Marquette and SMU. South Carolina is the better team here.


(2)Duke vs. (15)Troy

My only worry here is that Duke looks past the Trojans and struggles in their opening game, making it closer than it has to be. But, I mean, the Blue Devils are really, really good (shocker). I don’t foresee a massive upset.


(1)Gonzaga vs. (16)South Dakota St.

1 vs. 16. Next please.


(8)Northwestern vs. (9)Vanderbilt

I would have Northwestern winning this round regardless of the opponent. The entire school is absolutely psyched after making their first NCAA tournament appearance ever, and often the outcome of these March Madness games is decided by things beyond what numbers can see. I like the Wildcats to maintain their endless positive energy.


(5)Notre Dame vs. (12)Princeton

On one hand, I want to pick Notre Dame so badly. They have so many weapons. They can hurt you from anywhere. They have experience. But on the other hand, this is a 5 vs. 12 game and Princeton is as hot as hot gets after not losing a single game in league play. Yes, they were playing against inferior competition to what Notre Dame is, but wins are wins and confidence is confidence. Princeton is another balanced, strong sleeper pick that could bust some brackets come Thursday.


(4)West Virginia vs. (13)Bucknell

Sorry to Bucknell, but I have trouble seeing it. WVU lost last year in a heartbreaking upset at the hands of SF Austin, and I think that they’re motivated to do better this year. Plus, they’re a numbers darling per Adjusted Efficiency Margin (AdjEM). No crazy pick from me here.


(6)Maryland vs. (11)Xavier

I really, really don’t like this Maryland team for reasons I can’t explain. I think they were overseeded and I think that Melo Trimble is overrated after an outstanding freshman season. But I hate Xavier even more. No Edmund Sumner on a cold team. Yikes. Have to give Maryland the W.


(3)Florida St. vs. (14)Florida Gulf Coast

Hey, why not. I like Jonathan Isaac and Dwayne Bacon, but their late season losses are hard to ignore (4-4 in their last 8). Confidence is key in these games, and FGCU is on a hot streak with nothing to lose. No, it’s not the same team as in 2013, but these guys are legit, with four players averaging over 10 ppg. Can they recapture their magic? I think so.


(7)Saint Mary’s vs. (10)VCU

Three of Saint Mary’s four losses on the season are to Gonzaga. Take the star-studded Bulldogs out of the equation, and this is a team with one loss and a true star in Jock Landale. They take the win here against a VCU team still trying to live up to its past.


(2)Arizona vs. (15)North Dakota

I don’t think Arizona is as terrific as they are seeded (their AdjEM is only good for 20th in the country), but I also don’t think that North Dakota is a match for them. Arizona rolls in their first round game.


(1)Kansas vs. (16)NC Central/UC Davis

Kansas is not losing this game.


(8)Miami (FL) vs. (9)Michigan St.

I could easily be wrong here, as many advanced metrics, a higher seeding, and a better record would all point to the Hurricanes winning here. But you can’t put the impact of Tom Izzo into numbers. I can’t see them losing in the first round.


(5)Iowa St. vs. (12)Nevada

Iowa State has earned this win after years of tournament futility. Nevada has been a trendy upset pick for some, but the Cyclones will be able to get at least one victory off of the back of the always-trustworthy Monte Morris. Such a stabilizing force (he never turns the ball over as the primary ball-handler) is extremely valuable when trying to fend off an upset-hungry team.


(4)Purdue vs. (13)Vermont

I feel guilty picking an entire eighth of the bracket without any first round upsets, but I don’t think that Vermont has what it takes to get past twin beasts Caleb Swanigan and Isaac Haas. Similarly to the Monte Morris situation, put the ball in the hands of either one and watch them go to work – they can act as stabilizing forces against a Cinderella.


(6)Creighton vs. (11)Rhode Island

Alright let’s get to the upsets. E.C. Matthews is a stud who can lead this team past almost anybody, as the Rams currently boast wins over Cincinnati, VCU, and a close loss to Duke. They’ve won their last 8 games and can take on any challenge. Creighton, on the other hand… eh. They only boast two quality wins on the season (both against Butler), and after starting the season very strong, they are only 5-6 in their last 11. Hot vs. not; I’ll always take hot. Rhode Island gets the upset.


(3)Oregon vs. (14)Iona

The analytics don’t love Iona (118th in AdjEM), and I can’t say I have much of a reason to disagree. That being said, it’s really hard for me to pick Oregon to win this game. They haven’t beaten a top team away from home this year, and they just lost Chris Boucher to a torn ACL. That’s not a recipe for success. But, I don’t think they lose… yet. They deke out a win here, but barely.


(7)Michigan vs. (10)Oklahoma St.

This seems like a trap game for Michigan, a very trendy pick to make a run at this tournament (a trend I will be likely to follow. Beware of bias), as Oklahoma State ranks first in the country in AdjO. They’re a sneaky good team who have been prone to cold streaks (six game losing streak in the middle of the year, three games to end their season) but has some good wins, such as beating WVU on the road. Regardless, I think Michigan is simply too hot right now. Fresh off of a Big Ten championship in which Derrick Walton Jr. looked like one of the best players in the country, Michigan takes the win and continues their momentum.


(2)Louisville vs. (15)Jacksonville St.

Fun Fact: Jacksonville State is located in Jacksonville, Alabama, not Jacksonville, Florida. Another Fun Fact: Louisville is almost certainly going to beat them on Friday/


(1)North Carolina vs. (16)Texas Southern

It’s another 1 vs. 16. Are you sensing a pattern yet?


(8)Arkansas vs. (9)Seton Hall

The analytics slightly lean toward Arkansas, as they rank better in AdjEM and far better in AdjO. But, on the other hand, Seton Hall ranks better in that all-important defense (38th in the country as opposed to 96th) and are on a hot streak, capping off five straight wins with only a two-point loss to number one overall Villanova. My guy tells me to go with the Pirates.


(5)Minnesota vs. (12)Middle Tennessee

Another trendy 5-12 upset pick has one of last year’s Cinderellas, the Blue Raiders, defeating the much-improved Golden Gophers. As much as I enjoy rooting for a turnaround from Rich Pitino’s squad, an upset here seems like a decent possibility. Middle Tennessee doesn’t rank far behind Minnesota in terms of AdjEM, suggesting that the supposed gap between the teams really isn’t that big. Beyond that, it’s a confidence game. Middle Tennessee has lost once in their last 21 games and are riding high right now, while Minnesota is coming off of a rough loss to Michigan on a neutral court. Middle Tennessee has got the looks of a Cinderella to me – they have my pick here.


(4)Butler vs. (13)Winthrop

Butler might be the most bipolar team in the country this year, with quality wins over Arizona, Cincinnati, and Villanova (twice), yet also losses to Indiana State, Saint John’s, and Georgetown. Could this be one of those games? I don’t think so. The Bulldogs will be too prepared to lose this one, and they have a nice history of success in March. However, next round could offer an intriguing matchup….


(6)Cincinnati vs. (11)Kansas St./Wake Forest

This one is a little complicated because of the play-in game, but in the end, I don’t think will really matter. Wake Forest is too inconsistent in my book to defeat Kansas State, so my best guess of what will happen is that Kansas St. will advance and then defeat Cincinnati, as the Wildcats have proven that they can beat top opponents and don’t rank far behind the Bearcats in the analytics department. On the other hand, if Wake Forest beats Kansas State, I think they fall to Cincy in the next round. But, no matter what, my real prediction is that it all ends up being for naught because (spoiler alert) UCLA beats whoever survives in the round of 32.


(3)UCLA vs. (14)Kent St.

Every time I see a three seed that “know” can’t lose, I whisper to myself, “Mercer, Duke. Mercer, Duke. Mercer, Duke”. But, I mean, Lonzo Ball and UCLA can’t lose this game. Right? Right?


(7)Dayton vs. (10)Wichita St.

Boy, do the analytics love Wichita State (8th in the country in AdjEM), and boy do I agree. These guys are one of the most balanced teams in the country, with not even a single player averaging 12 PPG along with a stifling defense. They can hurt you in so many different ways and with so many different players that Archie Miller will have a lot of trouble game-planning this one. I think Wichita, on a 15 game winning streak, overwhelms the Flyers and becomes a very rough matchup for Kentucky.


(2)Kentucky vs. (15)Northern Kentucky

Sorry guys, but no 15 seeds over 2 seeds or 16 seeds over 1 seeds this year. I’ve called all those games with so much confidence that you just know they’re all going to be wrong.

Photo Credits: Getty Images

Round of 32:

(1)Villanova vs. (8)Wisconsin

Yikes, tough matchup for the defending champs. All the pressure is on the Wildcats, but I think they pull through here. Josh Hart, Kris Jenkins, Jalen Brunson and company are really, really good, and while I’m sure Bronson Koenig and Nigel Hayes make this very interesting in one final go-around along with sophomore Ethan Happ, Nova overwhelms the Badgers with their all-around ridiculous-ness.


(5)Virginia vs. (13)East Tennessee St.

Sorry East Tennessee, but the Cavaliers put an end to the magic with their top-ranked stifling defense. Have fun with that one Nova.


(6)SMU vs. (14)New Mexico St.

Like the last game, the supreme underdog had their fun, but it’s time for the ultra-versatile-grossly-underseeded Mustangs to make a run. SMU is ranked 11th in AdjEM and they don’t have any glaring weaknesses. They’re dangerous.


(7)South Carolina vs. (2)Duke

I really am inclined to call upset here, I really am. South Carolina looked spectacular at the start of the season, but they’ve gone cold, going 3-6 in their last 9. Duke gets the win, and if I have to guess, it probably won’t be close either.


(1)Gonzaga vs. (8)Northwestern

I want the magic to continue but the dream dies here. Gonzaga is a great basketball team with a little bit of extra motivation to prove that they’re not chokers. Northwestern obviously also has an extra push of school spirit going for them, but Gonzaga is simply fantastic all-around, ranking tops in AdjEM due to a tenth overall ranking in AdjO and a second overall ranking in AdjD. It’s going to be really tough to stop them.


(12)Princeton vs. (4)West Virginia

I feel guilty putting a 1 vs. 4 in the Sweet 16 because that literally never, ever happens but I don’t feel I have a choice. WVU is spectacular by the numbers, with their 5th-ranked AdjEM resulting in part from their 5th-ranked AdjD (and you know how I love my defense). I don’t think Princeton, despite their recent success, has the firepower to overcome such stinginess.


(6)Maryland vs. (14)Florida Gulf Coast

I hate Maryland. So I’m picking Florida Gulf Coast. Dunk City has returned. Don’t like it? Maryland is 4-6 in their last 10. FGCU is 9-1. Yes, those are crude statistics. But Maryland is too cold and not talented enough to make a run here. And more importantly, how could you root against Dunk City?


(7)Saint Mary’s vs. (2)Arizona

Time for the biggest upset pick so far. Yup, that’s right – Jock and the Gaels over the Wildcats. Arizona has lost games so far this season to Butler, Gonzaga, Oregon, and UCLA. To me, that’s evidence that they are a very strong team, but when faced with a challenge they can fold. Saint Mary’s, on the other hand, has lost games to UT Arlington and Gonzaga (three times). To me, that looks like a dominant team with a slip-up and an Achilles’ heel. I could be very far from right here, but hey, in March you have to make some tough calls (based on educated guesses) that seem to make little sense. This, to me, is as good a bet for an early upset of a top seed as we can get this year.


(1)Kansas vs. (9)Michigan St.

Although I believe in Izzo as a great coach who can will his team to places few others can, at some point, the reality that must be accepted is that this Spartans team simply is not that good. Sure, Miles Bridges is a star, but they have little else as a consistent supporting cast. Kansas takes this one, although I’m sure Izzo gives Bill Self a scare.


(5)Iowa St. vs. (4)Purdue

While Purdue’s twin towers have wreaked havoc all season, one of the weaknesses of the team has been defending strong guard play (see: losses to Nova, Louisville, Minnesota, Iowa, and Michigan twice – that’s almost every loss for Purdue on the season coming against a top guard), and Monte Morris and Naz Long are as good as guards come. Purdue bows out early this year.


(11)Rhode Island vs. (3)Oregon

And another one bites the dust. While Oregon will still be good without Boucher, his loss is going to hurt big time. Meanwhile, URI has got a star that can light it up. Rhode Island establishes itself as a Cinderella by beating a (possibly overrated?) three seed and reaching the Sweet 16.


(7)Michigan vs. (2)Louisville

While, yes, I have a lot of Michigan bias, I honestly feel that even if I was not a Michigan fan I would still pick them to win this game. Derrick Walton has been stellar not only on offense as of late but also in terms of shutting down opposing guards, and Donovan Mitchell fits the bill. If Walton continues his hot streak, Michigan simply has too many weapons playing at too high a level for Louisville, and they take the win in a rematch of the 2013 National Championship game.


(1)UNC vs. (9)Seton Hall

Yikes… this is bad… all of my 1 seeds are going to be in for the Sweet 16… this will never happen…. As reluctant as I am to move my fourth 1 seed forward, I don’t think Seton Hall can win this game. UNC is spectacular by the numbers (3rd in AdjEM) and can hurt teams with nearly any of their players. I don’t like it but the Pirates don’t have the firepower in my eyes to take these guys down.


(12)Middle Tennessee vs. (4)Butler

I actually believe that if Butler were to win this game, they could take down UNC. But hey, remember that whole bipolar basketball issue? It works both ways. While Butler may be able to take down the Tar Heels, I think that the Blue Raiders, hot as they are, pull off the upset to become the only 12 seed to make the Sweet 16 this year. Butler has been shown to be very beatable by non-elite teams, and I think that Middle Tennessee is going to be better than the typical mid-major winner.


(3)UCLA vs. (6)Cincinnati/(11)Kansas St.

Remember that whole confusion with the Cincy/Kansas St./Wake Forest mess? Yeah, it won’t matter now. UCLA is too much of an offensive powerhouse (their 3rd overall ranking in AdjO doesn’t even do them justice) to lose to any of them.


(10)Wichita St. vs. (2)Kentucky

Welcome to the best game of the round of 32: a rematch between the tightly contested, instant classic 2014 round of 32 matchup with so many storylines that it was hard to count. Sound familiar? Well, this year, Wichita State sans Baker/Van Vleet, has reinvented itself as the underdog in this edition, yet one who plays a tough, balanced brand of basketball that has been tough for any team to beat in the last several months. Meanwhile, this year Kentucky is playing up to expectations with its most recent crop of superstar freshman. In this exciting role reversal from not-too-long-ago, I’m going with the underdog once again: Wichita State. The Shockers haven’t forgotten how their perfect season was destroyed in memorable fashion, and they want revenge. Gregg Marshall’s teams can never be counted out, and his defensive attack will give the shockers a Sweet 16 berth.

Photo Credits: Bleacher Report

Sweet 16

(1)Villanova vs. (5)Virginia

Get ready for a shock to your system. I’m calling it here. I don’t believe in repeat champions – not in a tournament like this – and if there’s anyone that has a chance to stop the onslaught that the Nova stars put on, it’s Tony Bennett’s Cavs and their incredible defense. If you have Nova winning this game along with the next three, I wouldn’t argue – but I just don’t have that feeling that they’re special enough to finish on top again.


(6)SMU vs. (2)Duke

This is going to be a close one, but I got to go with the reliable Coach K to bring his guys to another Elite 8. SMU is actually slightly better by advanced analytics, ranking one spot ahead of Duke in AdjEM. But I just don’t feel the magic. This Duke team has so many ways to hurt you: Luke Kennard, Jayson Tatum, Grayson Allen – the list goes on and on. Their talent will win out over the Mustangs.


(1)Gonzaga vs. (4)West Virginia

I’ve been talking up WVU for a while now, but Gonzaga gets the win here. The Bulldogs are just a solid, complete basketball team with no weaknesses. I can’t see a way for WVU to pull off an upset here.


(14)Florida Gulf Coast vs. (7)Saint Mary’s

As all good things do, the best Cinderellas must die off. I hope Dunk City gets another crack at the Elite 8, but similarly to the WVU/Gonzaga game, I don’t see a way for them to beat a prepared Saint Mary’s team who has lost to only two teams this year – one of them a one seed and the other a blip on the radar. FGCU definitely stands a chance, but Landale and the Gaels (they should trademark that) come through in a close one.


(1)Kansas vs. (5)Iowa St.

I feel like I’m going to regret this because of Iowa State’s past suffering in the tournament, but… Cyclone on. When Kansas and Iowa State faced off this year, both games were decided by under four points and the season series was split. These teams are about as even when they face off as even gets, and something tells me the Monte Morris will be just as great as ever once the lights get brighter. The crowd should get behind the underdog, and that could be the difference maker here. Iowa State gets it in what could be one of the best games in the tournament.


(11)Rhode Island vs. (7)Michigan

Derrick Walton keeps doing Derrick Walton things and Michigan takes this one on the back of their defense of E.C. Matthews and their multitude of ways to attack on offense. Michigan will be building even more momentum at this point, and if their shots are falling, they will be nearly impossible to stop.


(1)UNC vs. (12)Middle Tennessee

It was fun while it lasted. Sorry to the Blue Raiders, but UNC is balanced and looking to make a statement with this game while trying to build confidence with a tough matchup coming up (regardless of who makes the Elite 8 of that bottom eighth of the draw, the last team standing there will be a very good one – that section is stacked). These guys are pros who have been here before. They won’t fall into a trap game.


(3)UCLA vs. (10)Wichita St.

It pains me to pick offense over defense here, but UCLA takes this one. Wichita State had a great run against two very tough teams, but playing such good games take their toll, and UCLA will be better rested and ready to play their up-tempo, shoot-at-will style of offense that few this year have been able to stop. While, once again, this should be one of the best games of the tournament, Lonzo, TJ, and Bryce are simply too much for the Shockers to handle. They’ll be back though. Don’t you worry.

Photo Credits: Getty Images

Elite 8

(5)Virginia vs. (2)Duke

And this is where UVA’s run comes to an end. While I’m being forced to pick against defense for the second game, Duke has proven that they can beat the Cavs before, defeating them by 10 on the road. While yes, that’s not necessarily indicative of how things will go this time around, Duke simply has so many weapons that it will be difficult for a defensive-minded team to contain all of them. The Blue Devils and Coach K make another Final Four.


(1)Gonzaga vs. (7)Saint Mary’s

It’s the Achilles’ heel! Saint Mary’s couldn’t beat these guys three times during the regular season, and they won’t be able to do it here either. Gonzaga advances.


(5)Iowa St. vs. (7)Michigan

Hail to the victors! One thing that Derrick Walton has been able to do over the last month is to consistently outplay his matchup, and in this game, the same thing happens. Monte vs. Derrick will be outstanding, pure basketball to watch, but it’s hard to bet against Walton after the several weeks he’s had. Walton also has an impressive supporting cast surrounding him, with every type of weapon imaginable at his disposal. Once again, Michigan hits their shots and moves on.


(1)UNC vs. (3)UCLA

This will be a fun one, but Lonzo and the Bruins head to the Final Four. They just have it – it’s not describable, but it’s fun to watch. UCLA is high-flying, fast-shooting, deep, and a joy to witness on every level. UNC will put up quite the fight, but they won’t be able to keep pace with the reckless abandonment that the Bruins play with. Lonzo carries the team to the Final Four while LaVar looks on proudly talking trash (in a friendly way).


Final Four

(2)Duke vs. (1)Gonzaga

This is the year. I can feel it. After being criticized for as a mid-major power who can’t beat top programs, Nigel Williams-Goss and Przemek Karnowski get their squad over the hump and carry their team to a National Championship appearance. This game will certainly be a close one, but at this point in the tournament, there’s games within the game. There’s the fatigue game – Gonzaga will have had the easier road to get to the Final Four, so they will have an edge there. There’s the numbers game – but at this point, the slight edge in advanced analytics that Gonzaga holds isn’t important; both of these teams can play, big time. But most importantly, there’s the media and fans game – Gonzaga will have the public support because, despite being a 1 seed, they’re a perennial underdog who have never gotten proper respect; while Duke, well, to put it kindly, the general public typically doesn’t like them. This will be as even as even gets, but Gonzaga pulls through and gets the W.


(7)Michigan vs. (3)UCLA

I’ll be sorry to see my Wolverines go, but UCLA will get this one. Both teams play a very similar style, and this game should be a joy to watch – fast-paced, lots of threes, lots of fast-breaks, lots of smart offense. But Michigan simply can’t hang with the Bruins for a full 40 minutes. When the two teams played earlier this season, the first half was one of the best displays of college basketball I’ve ever seen. But, after halftime, Michigan couldn’t maintain the same pace and shooting that the Bruins have kept up all season. It should be impossible for the Bruins to have played as well offensively as they have – college kids shouldn’t be this skilled already. But after months of consistent production, they’ve earned the benefit of the doubt, and as a result, common logic would suggest that they defeat Michigan in a terrific game.

Photo Credits: LA Times

National Championship

(1)Gonzaga vs. (3)UCLA

After months of grueling workouts, spectacular finishes, and relative parity (resulting in some great games) across college basketball, I’ve selected this year’s national champions to be… the UCLA Bruins. While this should be another closely contested game, all of what I have already stated about UCLA holds true here. They are an offensive juggernaut with just too many weapons to contain – and while Gonzaga will certainly put up a great fight, the Bruins are simply too good to fail.


Of course, come Thursday everything I have predicted will be proven wrong with a dazzling array of upsets no logical person would ever have seen coming. Oh well. Hey, at least that’s the fun of it, right?


Data courtesy of ESPN and Kenpom