We can’t tell you who is going to win the 2017 NCAA Tournament, but we can let you know which teams probably won’t be winning the Big Dance, and give you some solid tips for filling out your 2017 March Madness Bracket. The First Four tipped off Tuesday in Dayton and the field of 64 gets underway around the country Thursday. Are you ready for March Madness?
March Madness Bracket Picks
There’s a pretty simple formula to picking a national champion in your bracket or betting here at Sports Interaction: don’t pick a seed lower than a No. 3 to cut down the nets the first Monday of April at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz. Since the NCAA Tournament first expanded to 64 teams in 1985, just four schools seeded lower than a No. 3 won it all: No. 8 Villanova stunned heavily-favoured Georgetown in ’85, No. 6 Kansas and Danny Manning won it all in 1988, No. 4 Arizona won its only national title in 1997, and No. 7 UConn made a surprising championship run in 2014.
Everybody loves March Madness because of the upsets, but the cream invariably does rise to the top when it all comes down to it. So for our purposes here, we will not be recommending a seed lower than No. 3 to make the Final Four. Let’s break down the regions:
NCAA East Region Odds
Villanova is the first defending national champion to be the No. 1 overall seed the next year since the University of Florida in 2007. Those Gators are the last team to repeat. The Wildcats are +160 favourites to win the East. If chalk holds, it won’t be an easy run to the regional final with potential matchups vs. No. 8 Wisconsin in the Round of 32 and No. 4 Florida in the Sweet 16. Or perhaps No. 5 Virginia, which lost on buzzer-beater in Philadelphia to Villanova in late January.
Here’s something interesting: second-seeded Duke is the +250 second-favourite in the East but the overall tournament favourite at +600. The Blue Devils opened the year as the team to beat but had some injury problems, some Grayson Allen attitude problems and lost eight games overall. But Coach Mike Krzyzewski’s team is peaking after winning the ACC Tournament and taking out three ranked teams in doing so. Duke appears to have a fairly easy road to the Elite Eight.
NCAA West Region Odds
The East winner takes on the West champion in the Final Four. Gonzaga, with the best record in the country at 32-1, is the top seed out West as the school looks for its first-ever trip to the national semifinals. The Zags are +135 favourites out West. If you go by every statistical model (offensive & defensive efficiency, etc.), Gonzaga is the best team in the country. The Zags still have doubters because of their past NCAA Tournament failures and playing in the weak West Coast Conference.
Pac-12 Tournament champion Arizona is the +275 second-favourite. As good as that program has been under Coach Sean Miller, he has yet to lead a team to the Final Four in his otherwise brilliant coaching career. No team from the Pacific Time Zone has reached the national semifinals since 2008. The last team from out West to win it all was Arizona back in 1997. The Cats will have a tough second-round matchup against either No. 7 Saint Mary’s or No. 10 VCU.
NCAA Midwest Region Odds
On the surface, the Midwest might be the easiest region. Big 12 regular-season champion Kansas is the top seed. The Jayhawks lost their conference tournament opener to TCU, but they were without star freshman Josh Jackson due to a one-game suspension. He’s a lock Top-5 pick in this year’s NBA Draft so don’t overact to that loss. KU is the +220 favourite in the Midwest and would get to play its Sweet 16 and Elite Eight games in Kansas City – basically a second home for Kansas.
Louisville is the No. 2 seed and +350 second-favourite. The Cardinals may be looking at a matchup with surging Big Ten Tournament champion Michigan in the second round and then Pac-12 regular-season champion Oregon in the Sweet 16. The Ducks, however, lost one of their best players in Canadian big man Chris Boucher (from Montreal) to a season-ending injury in the Pac-12 Tournament.
NCAA South Region Odds
This is the toughest region with a ridiculous Top 3 of North Carolina, Kentucky and UCLA. Those schools lead the country in most all-time Final Four appearances. The Tar Heels are +135 favourites in the South and at least won’t have to face both Kentucky and UCLA because they are in the bottom half together. If chalk holds, UNC would face No. 4 Purdue in the Sweet 16, and the Big Ten has proven to be the worst Power 5 conference in the nation this season. Heels will skate to Elite Eight.
Kentucky (+275 to win South) could lose in the second round to Wichita State, which somehow is seeded 10th despite a 30-4 record and a 15-game winning streak. The Shockers have a tough opener vs. No. 7 Dayton, but they can beat Kentucky. UCLA (+450), meanwhile, is looking at a second-round matchup with a very good No. 6 Cincinnati team in the second round. With all due respect to the bottom of the South draw, most college basketball fans would like to see a Kentucky-UCLA game in the regional semifinals. The Bruins won in Lexington earlier this season to snap UK’s 42-game home winning streak.
NCAA Final Four & National Championship Picks
Take Duke to win the East, Gonzaga in the West, Kansas in the Midwest and North Carolina in the South. Three No. 1s and a No. 2. Gonzaga probably is the least likely to reach the Final Four.
Anyone for a fourth meeting this season between the Blue Devils and Tar Heels in the Big Dance? The ACC was the country’s best conference. UNC will cut down the nets after losing last year’s title game on Villanova’s buzzer-beater. The Heels are +800 to win it all.