—Christian Clark, Josiah Huband, and Decker Flamm—
It’s the 2018 NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament aka March Madness. It is an exciting time for diehard or casual fans alike to watch 63 amazing matchups to see who will take home the National Title. Last year, the North Carolina Tar Heels took down the Gonzaga Bulldogs in Phoenix. As the Heels try to defend their crown, they have stiff competition. Unranked in the AP Preseason poll, the Virginia Cavaliers try to break through to the Final Four after years of tournament failure. Meanwhile, the usuals such as Villanova, Kansas, Michigan State, and Duke are heavy favorites as well. Who will make a deep run in the tournament? Who is ripe for a first round upset? Cosby Bolt presents our bracket analysis for 2018!
Final Four Predictions
In my predictions, I have a #1 seed, two #3 seeds, and a #2 seed. I believe that the SEC and Big 12 will watch the Final Four from home. I have 3 Big 10 teams and an ACC team making it to San Antonio. Three teams from a single conference have not made the Final Four in the same season in over 30 years. However, the drought will end this year, as three Big 10 teams will battle in San Antonio.
SOUTH- #1 Virginia Cavaliers- Defense wins championships. The Cavaliers have dominated that side of the ball for years, but this year, they have some weapons on offense to complement the strong defense with Kyle Guy, Ty Jerome, Deandre Hunter, and Devon Hall. The Cavaliers are the most complete team top to bottom in the entire field, and I believe they will be cutting down the nets in April in San Antonio
WEST- #3 Michigan Wolverines- The hottest team in the country is the Wolverines without a doubt. They have so many options on offense that will be a nightmare for opponents all tournament long. Mo Wagner will stretch the floor and open up driving lanes for other players such as Duncan Robinson, Xavier Simpson, and Isaiah Livers. However, I think that the UVA defense will be too much for the Wolverines, and their stay in San Antonio will be a short one.
EAST- #2 Purdue Boilermakers- The Boilermakers seem to have cooled off since reeling off 15 straight victories. It speaks volumes that a team that has “cooled off” is still good enough to finish second in the Big 10 and reach the conference championship. Carsen and Vincent Edwards will make shots and open up space down low for 7 footer Isaac Haas. If he can dominate the post, I think the Boilermakers will finally break through to the Final Four.
MIDWEST- #3 Michigan State- Similarly to their interstate rivals (Michigan), the Spartans have gotten red hot at just the right time. Despite losing to Michigan in the Big 10 semifinals, Michigan State had won 13 consecutive games. Coincidentally, that winning streak began and ended after losses to Michigan. Luckily for the Spartans, they won’t have to see the Wolverines until a possible National Championship game. Michigan State only has Duke and Kansas as true threats in their road to the final four, with both having a history of slipping up in big tournament moments. With Miles Bridges leading a front court loaded with talent and Cassius Winston leading a savvy backcourt, I think the Spartans will ride an easy schedule straight into San Antonio for their second Final Four appearance in four years.
There has only been one year where a #1 seed, #2 seed, and two #5 seeds have made the Final Four. That was in 2010 when Duke cut down the nets in Indianapolis. In my bracket prediction, we see the blue bloods (UNC, Villanova, and Kentucky) rise above the rest whereas another South Carolina team makes another stunning run into the record books.
SOUTH- #5 Kentucky Wildcats- UVA is the best team in the nation. UVA also has a history of choking in the big moments. Talent aside, the Arizona Wildcats have a scandal surrounding their squad. Cincinnati’s defense is top notch but their offense is questionable at times. Kentucky has been there and done that. As a one seed or eighth seed, it doesn’t matter to Calipari’s bunch. An abundance of youthful energy can get you bounced early or it can carry you to the Final Four. In this case, I’ll take the latter.
EAST- #1 Villanova Wildcats- It seems to be a consensus that the East region is the weakest so what could go wrong for Nova? Potentially, Alabama’s Collin Sexton would be a tough assignment in the second round and further down the line, a Wichita State or a Purdue matchup would be challenging as well. Still, I refuse to overthink things here as I will take the surest thing with the firepower of Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges. Nova will will take care of business en route to a championship rematch in San Antonio.
WEST- #2 North Carolina Tar Heels- UNC is playing like a National Champion again. Theo Pinson is picking up the slack from Joel Berry II and Luke Maye’s inconsistent play. The Heels can rebound the basketball better than anyone and that will be needed in a region with Xavier, Michigan, Gonzaga, and Houston. At their best, no one can stop this team from going back-to-back. However, droughts on offense have been concerning especially in the ACC Tournament. Michigan intrigues me as a Final Four pick but I’ll take the team that has been to two straight National Championships to win back-to-back titles.
MIDWEST- #5 Clemson Tigers- What are you thinking? Duke, Michigan State, and Kansas and you pick Clemson? Yes, yes I am. The three teams have had some epic tourney mishaps with the Blue Devils losing to Mercer and Lehigh, Michigan State losing to Middle Tennessee, and Kansas continuing to disappoint in the big moments. Many people have #12 New Mexico State as a trendy upset pick to knock off the Tigers. I have them in the Final Four. This is what you call a “heart pick.” I’m pretty confident Clemson isn’t making the Final Four but it’s called March Madness for a reason, right? We saw #10 Syracuse make it to the Final Four two years ago and Clemson’s rival, the South Carolina Gamecocks made their first Final Four just last year. If Kansas or Duke gets bounced early, Gabe DeVoe, Shelton Mitchell, and a tenacious defense can carry Tigertown to the promised land.
As if previous years weren’t already impossible to predict, it is almost as if the NCAA is just messing with us now. Even the top seeds such as UVA, Xavier, Villanova, and Kansas were constantly upset throughout the season by lesser teams. My bracket has plenty of upsets and lower seeds making a deep run in the tournament due to their being no outstanding team that is going to wipe the competition away. I expect to see at least 2 teams to shock us completely and make the final four. Coaching will play a huge factor in this tournament, as it always does. So I expect the teams with the most experience and best coaches to make longer runs than originally expected in this tournament.
South: #4 Arizona Wildcats
I understand that the Arizona Wildcats are surrounded by scandal amongst the players and coaching staff. However, they have put together a strong season with some quality wins. It is possible that the controversy will bring the team together and allow for them to make a deep run in march madness. The Wildcats aren´t the most talented team. But, having all the strong teams in the tournament that there are opens the door for big conference teams with slightly lower seeds to make the final four such as the Arizona Wildcats. Additionally, Arizona has a top NBA draft pick in Deandre Ayton to lead the team. Arizona´s only chance is a player-of-the-year performance from their star player in order to make it to the Final Four.
West: #2 North Carolina Tar Heels
UNC has competed in the national championship in back to back years making it hard to count them out of the final four this year as well. They have great leaders such as Joel Berry and Luke Maye that have experience during the NCAA tournament. Experience is key in a tournament full of so many ups and downs as a team. In order to make the final four, it is important to have people you can count on to remained composed and rally their team at any point of the game, an advantage UNC has over all other teams. Roy Williams is a fantastic coach, one of the most winningest coaches of all time. I don’t expect any team coached by Williams to lose early on. The North Carolina Tar Heels have been on a tear recently, beating Duke twice and making it to the ACC championship game in which is arguably the best conference in division 1 men’s basketball. Look for the Tarheels to make another deep tournament run this year.
East: #9 Alabama Crimson Tide
Alabama is my dark horse team. They have put together an impressive enough season to get an at-large bid into the tournament. However, with a leader like Collin Sexton, who is a project #9 overall NBA draft pick, the Crimson Tide have a shot at putting together a final four run this season. Recently, Alabama won 3 games in the conference tournament, including a crushing defeat of Auburn by a deficit of 18 points. This is yet another team With the stellar play from Collin Sexton and Alabama entering the tournament hot, it is fully within the realm of possible that Alabama makes a cinderella run to the final four.
Midwest: #1 Kansas Jayhawks
It has not been one of Kansas´s best years. However, they have ended their season with a Big-12 championship and look to keep their streak going as they enter the tournament. This is another team with a fantastic coach in Bill Self. A coach of Kansas for 15 years, he has led them to 2 final four appearances and the 2008 NCAA national championship. This is a team I expect to continue their red hot playing that brought them to a #1 seed this year. Coaching and leadership will play a big role in the NCAA tournament as it always does, maybe this year more than others due to the lack of a standout team expected to win. Bill Self has himself another team that could take him to the promised land.
#6 Houston Cougars: This is a team that no one is talking about. H-Town just gives me that “cinderella” feel. Don’t really know why. I believe they can stay competitive with just about anyone. Knocking off Wichita State and giving Cincinnati everything they could handle in their conference tournament is no small feat. They have a tough first round matchup against San Diego State and presumably Michigan so it won’t be easy. Look for the Cougars to make some serious noise.
#11 St. Bonaventure Bonnies: Despite losing in the A-10 Tournament semifinal game, the Bonnies had won 13 straight games. In a tough First Four matchup against UCLA, there is always a team from Dayton that takes it to the Sweet Sixteen or even Final Four, like VCU did in 2011. In my opinion, the Bonnies are put in an amazing spot to go far in this tourney. Florida, Texas Tech, and Purdue and beatable and maybe just maybe, the A-10 will have a team cutting down the nets to advance to the Final Four.
#5 Kentucky Wildcats: BBN is hot right now. This blue blood program is very young and doesn’t have the sure-fire NBA stars like they usually do but after winning the SEC, who’s to say Calipari’s crew doesn’t have another run in them. With a UVA team that hasn’t been able to crack the Final Four in ages and a Cincinnati team that hasn’t made the Sweet Sixteen since 2012, look for the Cats to shake up your bracket.
#5 Clemson Tigers: Could they lose to New Mexico State? Easily. However, the best chance to upset Kansas before the Final Four not named Duke could be the Tigers. I’m not sold on Auburn but Clemson has shown they can play down to the wire even against the best teams in the country. After losing Donte Grantham, the Tigers have kept playing team ball. With a solid D and a great playmaker in Gabe DeVoe, maybe another South Carolina team can make a shocking Final Four run.
First Round Upset
Christian’s Pick: #12 South Dakota State over #5 Ohio State
The Jackrabbits have the sixth-best offense in D-1 so expect this game to be a shootout as long as SDSU’s Mike Daum is producing in the spotlight.
Josiah’s Pick: #11 Syracuse/Arizona State over #6 TCU
This is an upset I can definitely see happening. The Horned Frogs have not won a game since the end of February. This will not bode well in a potential matchup with the 2-3 zone of Syracuse or the offensive abilities of the Sun Devils. Expect to see TCU bounced early.
Decker´s Pick: #12 Davidson vs #5 Kentucky
Davidson has been on fire lately, beating two tournament teams in the A-10 tournament to punch their ticket to the big dance. This year for the Kentucky wildcats has been subpar for them. Even though they come from a bigger conference, it is just too hard to tell if they have the star power they are used to that allows them to make a run in the tournament. Meanwhile, Davidson has a senior leader in Peyton Aldridge (21.5 ppg and Co-Atlantic 10 player of the year) that is looking to lead Davidson towards their first deep tournament run since Steph Curry. Who will win the battle of the wildcats?
Christian’s Pick: #14 Stephen F. Austin vs #3 Texas Tech
SFA is a huge bracket killer every year and this should be a close game. That being said, Texas Tech will do enough to edge out Stephen F. Austin in OT.
Josiah’s Pick: #11 Loyola Chicago vs #6 Miami
The Ramblers are one of the most slept on teams in the tournament with a number 28 RPI. Due to their conference, many teams do not know much about Loyola Chicago, and with Miami’s inconsistent play, they could find out how good the Ramblers are the hard way.
Decker’s Pick: #14 Bucknell vs #3 Michigan State
Michigan State, though ranked high in the tournament, has barely been tested with a tough schedule this season. However, conferences barely matter now that march madness has begun. Can the Bison repeat their 2005 performance in the tournament and defeat a #3 seed once again 13 years later?
The Top 10 Contenders
UVA- Can the Hoos’ break through?
Michigan State- Sparty on?
Villanova- Two championships in three years?
Duke- Will the Brotherhood break through in Grayson Allen’s last ride?
Kansas- Can the Jayhawks finally break through?
UNC- Back-to-back National Champions?
Xavier- Will consistency beat talent?
Purdue- Will the Edwards duo be enough for the Boilermakers?
Gonzaga- #RedemptionSZN for the Bulldogs?
Wichita State- Title for a mid major?
Enjoy the games everyone and remember, “Don’t bet on it!”