As I mentioned last week, it seems a new breath of optimism returns to March Madness lovers every year. I myself am one of those individuals who, despite all the bound-to-happen upsets, is confident in the fact my bracket will turn out at least close to the way I want it to. I failed on many picks, but some parts of my bracket are still intact. Now that the Sweet 16 is upon us, I looked at where I went wrong and where I picked correctly and have determined which teams have the best chance to hoist the National Championship Trophy on April 8. (Hint: they haven’t changed.)
Duke: Yes, Duke came as close as a team can probably get to being eliminated, and realistically should have probably lost to UCF in the waning seconds in their second round game in Columbia, South Carolina. However, UCF is an extremely talented, well-coached team that, had they run into any team besides Duke, would likely be playing in the Sweet 16 and possibly beyond. A ton of people would have been upset had Duke not escaped UCF, as 37.7% of ESPN brackets have Duke winning the entire thing. Despite their narrow victory over a nine seed, Duke still has the most talent of any team in the country and arguably the best coach ever on their side. UCF exposed Duke’s lack of perimeter shooting but I think the Blue Devils’ athleticism will remain superior to every team they face through the rest of the tournament. They’ll first get a familiar Virginia Tech opponent who I believe they’ll handle without a lot of stress.
North Carolina: The Tar Heels in my opinion have performed at the highest level of any team to this point. Cameron Johnson and Luke Maye have been uber impressive, both notching double-digit performances in each of the team’s two games thus far. Nassir Little erupted for 20 off the bench against Washington, exhibiting the impressive depth UNC presents. Unfortunately for Roy Williams and the Heels, UNC has a date with the Auburn Tigers in the Sweet 16. Auburn narrowly escaped their first round game against New Mexico State, but the Tigers looked like a team capable of beating anybody in their 89-75 thrashing of Kansas. The Tar Heels have a potential matchup against Kentucky for a right to play in the Final Four, and the Wildcats would present a likely even more difficult challenge than Auburn will.
You might be thinking: why are the two favorites I listed teams who have extremely difficult paths in reaching the Final Four? That answer is because they are both battle-tested, and both play their best basketball when they’re pushed to the edge. Also, playing in the ACC and having matched up against each other three times prior to the NCAA Tournament does nothing but help each coach determine exactly what they need to do to punch their tickets to Minneapolis. I’ll admit, there is a slight bias because these are the two schools I picked to play for the national championship and I wouldn’t mind watching the greatest rivalry in college basketball one more time this season. However, I believe talent will remain superior the rest of the way and these two teams have more of it than anybody in the country.
There has been an abundance of excitement through the tournament’s first two rounds, including UC Irvine’s upset of Kansas State and Murray State’s victory over Marquette. The Round of 32 saw Tennessee blow a 25-point lead against Iowa, only to prevail in overtime. There was also the aforementioned Duke-UCF game along with Kentucky’s thrilling victory over Wofford. My entire Final Four of Duke, UNC, Virginia and Gonzaga is still intact, and as optimistic as I am that each will win their region, it would not completely shock me if Tennessee pulled through in the South or if Gonzaga beat Michigan to advance out of the West. I’m no expert, and that’s why I don’t mind if i am completely wrong about my predictions. As a basketball fan, I’m simply hoping for a drama-filled 15 games through the remainder of the tournament. Regardless of the victors, quality basketball is certain to be displayed in every remaining game.