Analyzing the 2017 NCAA Tournament Field of 68

By Mike Bachini, CBS Connecticut

Connecticut (CBS) – As much as the bracket reveal is a tradition unlike any other, what also is a tradition unlike any other is the quick judgements and over-analyzing that happens soon thereafter. I’ll try my hand at this practice and maybe you’ll learn something along the way here that will help you pick your brackets for your annual office pool.

Biggest Takeaways

The biggest takeaway once again, is the fact that the committee places more emphasis on your regular season. Yes, Conference Championship week is a lot of fun and it’s easy to get wrapped up in the drama, but when it comes to the committee’s seeding, it hardly comes in to play.

The teams who were most affected by this line of thinking in no particular order were the following.

– Michigan. Michigan won their conference tournament as an 8 seed in the Big Ten, but only managed a 7 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Probably because just 10 days ago they were a 9/10 seed.

– Duke. Many people were making the argument that Duke should be a #1 seed after their victory in the ACC tournament title game over Notre Dame in Brooklyn last night. The committee instead placed them as the third best #2 seed. At the beginning of the season, Duke was the favorite by most to win the whole tournament. Now they are healthy and gelling at the right time.

– Notre Dame. The Irish didn’t have the best out of conference strength of schedule this season, and that could be what cost them in the end. But they also had 8 top 50 RPI wins including wins over Florida State and Virginia in the ACC tournament. Couple that with earlier season wins over Louisville, Florida State, Virginia Tech, Miami and Wake Forest and I thought the Irish might get up to a 4 seed.

– Dayton. Dayton lost in their first game of the Atlantic 10 tournament to Davidson and lost their regular season finale to George Washington the game before that. Yet somehow they were able to manage a 7 seed. The same as Michigan.

– Purdue. Purdue won the Big Ten regular season championship but bowed out in the quarterfinals to Michigan in the tournament. But the Boilermakers still received a 4 seed.

I agree with the 68 teams that the committee selected. I have no arguments there. They did a good job in that regard. But I did have a few other takeaways.

– Villanova was awarded with the #1 overall seed in the tournament, but the committee did not do them any favors putting Duke as the #2 in the East region with the Wildcats. The committee has a new rule that the highest ranked #2 cannot be in the same region as the highest ranked #1. If Duke keeps playing at this high level, it will be extremely hard for the Wildcats to repeat as National Champions.

– Rhode Island was most likely headed to Dayton to play in the first four if they lost in the Atlantic 10 Championship game to VCU. The fact that they won the game, left no doubt and bumped another team down to take their spot. Providence seemed to be this team, which brings me to my next takeaway.

– If you’re looking for this year’s Middle Tennessee, or a #15 seed that can beat a #2, don’t count on finding one. I know Michigan State was a popular pick to win it all as a #2 seed last year, but this year’s crop of #2 seeds might be the strongest ever. If I had to choose, I’ll say North Dakota over Arizona. The Fighting Hawks average 81 points per game and have six players averaging 8 points per game or more, including two over 15.5.

Head Scratchers

– Providence swept Marquette this season in Big East play yet for some reason the committee sent Providence to Dayton to play in the first four, while Marquette grabbed the second to last #10 seed. I understand the committee needs to take into account a teams whole body of work, but they released the 1-68 rankings and had Marquette at 39 and Providence at 42. When resumes are that similar, head to head match ups should probably take priority. The Friars beat Marquette both at home and on the road this season. That has to factor in. Providence should have been awarded the #10 and Marquette should have to play the extra game in Dayton. Those in favor of Marquette’s seeding will point to their win over Villanova being better than anything Providence did, which is true. They could also point to the fact that Marquette has 7 top 50 RPI victories to Providence’s 6. Also true. I still think beating a team head to head twice in one season should overrule all that. The Friars got a raw deal.

– Minnesota is overseeded by about 2 seeds at 5 and their opponent, Middle Tennessee, is underseeded by 1 or 2 seeds at 12. That is why this is the trendy upset pick right now. Not to mention Middle Tennessee beat Michigan State as a #15 seed last year. It’s almost like the committee is begging you to pick Middle Tennessee in this game. Don’t be surprised if many of the entrants in your office pool are picking Middle Tennessee. They won’t have to look too far to find experts picking the Blue Raiders.

–  SMU feels like one of the biggest snubs in terms of seeding. A record of 30-4 and an AAC tournament title win over Cincinnati surely should have gotten them a better seed. They were one of my biggest misses as I had them as a 4 in my last bracket projection.

Now on to the analysis of the actual field and their match ups.

EAST REGION

Best First Round Game: #5 Virginia vs. #12 UNC Wilmington.

This will be another trendy office upset pick, due to a lot of talk about UNC Wilmington returning a bunch of players that played Duke well in their first round match up last year. Virginia is a team that can make it to the elite 8, or lose in the first round. They will be my team to wreck a lot of brackets one way or the other. You’ll be kicking yourself if you pick UNC Wilmington to win and UVA makes it to the elite 8. On the other hand, it’s best not to sleep on UNCW.

Best Potential Game: #1 Villanova vs. #2 Duke

This one seems fairly obvious, but that doesn’t mean it’s incorrect. The best and most consistent team all year as well as the defending National Champions verses the team that almost everybody thought would be the best this season and is currently playing as the best team. This would be one heck of a game as the winner could also very well win the whole thing.

Upset Special: #13 East Tennessee State over #4 Florida

I honestly believe that this section of the bracket is the toughest to predict. Any of Florida, Virginia, UNC Wilmington and East Tennessee State could make it to the Sweet 16. Florida won 8 games in a row in absolutely dominant fashion in SEC play not too long ago. Their depth took a hit when 5th leading scorer, and leading rebounder John Egbunu went down for the season with an injury. In the 6 games that he has missed since, the Gators are 3-3.

Dark Horse: SMU

SMU won the American Conference tournament in convincing fashion and finished the season 30-4. They are on quite a streak right now and might be feeling a little underappreciated being given a 6 seed.

The Pick: #1 Villanova over #2 Duke

The Stars That Will Shine

G – Luke Kennard, Duke

G – Josh Hart, Villanova

F – Jayson Tatum, Duke

F – Johnathan Motley, Baylor

F – Semi Ojeleye, SMU

Get To Know These Players

G – T.J. Cromer, East Tennessee State

G – C.J. Bryce, UNC Wilmington

G – Sindarius Thonrwell, South Carolina

F – Eli Chuha, New Mexico State

F – Zach LeDay, Virginia Tech

 

WEST REGION

Best First Round Game: #8 Northwestern vs. #9 Vanderbilt

If you haven’t heard by now, Northwestern is making their first trip to the NCAA Tournament in school history. It’s been such an awesome story this season. They will be playing a Vanderbilt team that has 15 losses on the season and might be a little overseeded, but are playing their best basketball of late. The Commodores have won 7 of their last 9 with wins over Florida twice, South Carolina and a near win at Kentucky. This one should be really fun to watch.

Best Potential Game: #2 Arizona vs. #4 West Virginia

Aside from Duke and Villanova, Arizona is probably playing the best basketball in the country right now. West Virginia is often overlooked, but they are an extremely tough team to play. If this is the West Regional final, would anyone be surprised?

Upset Special: #14 Florida Gulf Coast over #3 Florida State

Florida Gulf Coast became a household name 5 years ago as they made it to the Sweet 16 as a #15 seed, knocking off Georgetown and San Diego State in convincing fashion with highlight reel dunks that will forever be replayed on YouTube. The popular narrative is that “Dunk City” knows what it takes to get it done because of that run. No they don’t. That’s lazy analysis and a disservice to the players on the roster now. All the players from that team are gone and their coach is now at USC and has been since that run. FGCU can win this game because they are battle tested. They lost to Michigan State by 1, and also played Baylor and Florida out of conference and beat a UT-Arlington team that won their conference regular season title. They are en extremely deep team which will help them against Florida State. Florida State has looked dominant at times this season. They’ve also looked completely lost at times losing to Temple, Georgia Tech by 22 and Pittsburgh by 14. They do not want to sleep on Eagles.

Dark Horse: Notre Dame

Notre Dame returned 3 of their top 5 scorers from a team that reached the Elite Eight last season and are rounding in to form at the right time. They’ve beaten some very good teams this season and have seemed to figure out what it takes to make deep runs into the tournament.

The Pick: #2 Arizona over #5 Notre Dame

The Stars That Will Shine

G – Nigel Williams-Goss, Gonzaga

G – Melo Trimble, Maryland

G – Alonzo Trier, Arizona

F – Lauri Markkanen, Arizona

F – Bonzi Colson, Notre Dame

Get To Know These Players

G – Scottie Lindsay, Northwestern

G – Brandon Goodwin, Florida Gulf Coast

G – JeQuan Lewis, VCU

F – Spencer Weisz, Princeton

F – Zach Thomas, Bucknell

 

MIDWEST REGION

Best First Round Game: #7 Michigan vs. #10 Oklahoma State

Michigan is on an absolute tear right now after breezing through the Big Ten tournament with relative ease. Oklahoma State can fill up the stat sheet led by Juwan Evans’ 19 points per game. Evans verses Michigan guard Derrick Walton Jr. will be what a lot of people talk about leading up to, and during this game. Get to know their names and their games.

Best Potential Game: #7 Michigan vs. #2 Louisville

We were treated to a great National Championship 4 years ago when these two schools met and with the way both teams are playing now it would be another great game to watch. No one would be surprised if it was close the whole way through with Michigan pulling it off in the end.

Upset Special: #11 Rhode Island over #6 Creighton

Rhode Island is making its first trip to the tournament since 1999 when Lamar Odom was the star player for the Rams. Creighton has adjusted to life without their point guard Maurice Watson Jr after a tough stretch at the beginning. The Rams are finally healthy and playing like the preseason top 25 team everyone projected them to be.

Dark Horse: Michigan

For all the reasons above plus they seem to be taking on the personality of a team of destiny. Last week while trying to depart for Washington D.C. for the Big Ten tournament, their plane had trouble taking off and skidded off the runway leading to a change of travel plans. Michigan won their first Big Ten game against Illinois in practice jersey’s because their luggage hadn’t arrived in time to play in their actual uniforms. Well, the Wolverines didn’t care what they were wearing and they won 4 games in Washington to win the whole conference tournament. Like I said, team of destiny type stuff there.

The Pick: #1 Kansas over #7 Michigan

The Stars That Will Shine

G – Frank Mason III, Kansas

G – Donovan Mitchell, Louisville

F – Josh Jackson, Kansas

F – Dillon Brooks, Oregon

F – Caleb Swanigan, Purdue

Get To Know These Players

G – Marcus Marshall, Nevada

G – Donovan Reed, Miami

G – E.C. Matthews, Rhode Island

F – Anthony Lamb, Vermont

F – Jordan Washington, Iona

 

SOUTH REGION

Best First Round Game: #7 Dayton vs. #10 Wichita State

Dayton isn’t playing their best basketball right now and Wichita State definitely is. This is also a match up that if you switched the seeds for both teams, no one would have batted an eye (with the exception of Dayton head coach Archie Miller). That is how close both of these teams are. I would expect this game to be very close either way.

Best Potential Game: #1 North Carolina vs. #2 Kentucky

Like I said above, sometimes the easy answer is the right answer. We were treated to one of the best games of the season back in December when these two teams met and Kentucky Freshman Malik Monk went off for 47 points in a 103-100 victory. It would be a treat and great for college basketball if we were able to witness a rematch.

Upset Special: #13 Winthrop over #4 Butler

It’s already been noted how #12 Middle Tennessee over #5 Minnesota is going to be the most popular upset pick so I’ll go in a different direction. Winthrop is a very deep team that plays 10 guys almost every game. They are also led by a dynamic scorer in 5’7″ guard Keon Johnson who averages 22.5 points per game. Their leading rebounder is Xavier Cooks who averages just over 9 boards a game. Butler has been fantastic at times this season, beating Villanova twice. They also feel like they are in the same boat as Virginia though. They could make it to the Elite 8 and they could also lose in the first round.

Dark Horse: Wichita State

Three years ago, Wichita State went undefeated in the regular season at 34-0 and were awarded a #1 seed. Their reward? Playing an underseeded Kentucky team in the 2nd round. Kentucky won that game 78-76 on their way to the National Championship game. If Wichita can get past Dayton in the first round, they’ll be looking for a little bit of revenge against that very same school. This season it is Wichita that seems to be underseeded, and that would be a very unfavorable second round match up for the Wildcats.

The Pick: #2 Kentucky over #1 North Carolina

The Stars That Will Shine

G – De’Aaron Fox, Kentucky

G – Malik Monk, Kentucky

G – Lonzo Ball, UCLA

F – Justin Jackson, North Carolina

F – Kelan Martin, Butler

Get To Know These Players

G – Scoochie Smith, Dayton

G – Giddy Potts, Middle Tennessee

G – Keon Johnson, Winthrop

F – JaCorey Williams, Middle Tennessee

F – Markus McDuffie, Wichita State

The National Champion: Villanova over Kentucky

Follow Mike Bachini on Twitter throughout the Tournament @MikeBachini

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