Top seed outlook: Could No. 1 Virginia exorcise last year’s demons now that the group is at full strength? Our version believes. The Cavaliers have a 49 percent probability of cracking the Final Four and a 31 percent likelihood of accomplishing what would be the program’s first national title match.
Together with De’Andre Hunter, who wasn’t on the court last year during UVA’s historic loss to No. 16 Maryland Baltimore County, the Cavaliers were dominant on both ends — the sole team ranking in the top five at Pomeroy’s adjusted offense and defense metrics. Once more, Tony Bennett’s package line shield is suffocating most every offensive opportunity and successfully turning games into stone fights. However, this year’s group is better on the offensive end and should breeze to the Elite Eight, where it might meet Tennessee. Due to Grant Williams along with the superbly appointed Admiral Schofield, the No. 2 Volunteers are playing their best basketball in history. We give them a 22 percent likelihood of reaching the Final Four.
Sneaky Final Four pick: No. 6 Villanova. Can it be”sneaky” to pick the team that’s won just two of the past three national titles? Maybe not. But this has not been the exact same team that coach Jay Wright guided to these championships. After dropping a ton of its best players from last year’s title-winning group, the Wildcats had an up-and-down year and dropped five of the final eight regular-season Big East games. But they also got hot over the last week, capping off a year where they won the Big East regular-season and conference-tournament titles — and still had one of the 20 best offenses in the country based on KenPom (powered by an absurd amount of 3-pointers). Our power ratings think they’re the fourth-best team in the South despite being the No. 6 seed, and they have a 5 percent chance of making it back to the Final Four for a third time in four seasons.
Do not wager : No. 4 Kansas State. Coach Bruce Weber’s Wildcats almost produced the Final Four last season, however they may find it tougher this time around. K-State has an elite defense (it ranks fourth in the nation based on Pomeroy’s ratings), but its crime is more prone to struggles — and may be down its second-leading scorer, forward Dean Wade, who missed the team’s Big 12 championship loss to Iowa State with a foot injury. A barbarous draw that provides the Wildcats tough No. 13 seed UC Irvine in the first round, then puts them opposite the Wisconsin-Oregon winner in Round two, could restrict their capability to advance deep into a second consecutive tournament.
Cinderella watch: No. 12 Oregon. According to our model, the Ducks have the very best Sweet 16 odds (24 percent) of any double-digit seed in the championship, over double that of some other candidate. Oregon struggled to string together wins for most of the regular season, and its own odds appeared sunk following 7-foot-2 phenom Bol Bol was missing for the year with a foot injury in January. However, the Ducks have rallied to win eight straight games heading into the tournament, such as a convincing victory in Saturday’s Pac-12 championship. Oregon matches a similar mold as K-State — great defense using a suspect crime — but that is telling, given that the Ducks are a 12-seed and the Wildcats are a No. 4. If they meet in the Round of 32, we give Oregon a 47 percent chance at the upset.
Player to watch: Grant Williams, Tennessee
The junior has come a very long way from being”just a fat boy with some skill.” Williams, the de facto leader of Rick Barnes’s Volunteers, has bullied the SEC within the past two seasons, collecting two successive conference player of the year honors.
The Vols might just feature the best crime of Barnes’s coaching career — and we’re talking about a guy who coached Kevin Durant! Much of that offensive potency can be tracked to Williams, the team’s leading scorer and rebounder, who ranks in the 97th percentile in scoring efficacy, according to data courtesy of Synergy Sports.
Williams possesses an old-man match you may find in a regional YMCA, a back-to-the-basket, footwork-proficient offensive assault that manifests mostly in post-ups, where he positions in the 98th percentile in scoring efficiency and shoots a adjusted field-goal percentage of 56.1. He can find the Volunteers buckets from the waning moments of games, also, as he positions in the 96th percentile in isolation scoring efficiency.
Likeliest first-round upsets: No. 9 Oklahoma over No. 8 Ole Miss (53 percent); No. 12 Oregon over No. 5 Wisconsin (45 percent); No. 10 Iowa over No. 7 Cincinnati (34 percent)
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