Northwestern is dancing, Gonzaga is in a position to win it all with a no. 1 seed and the Davids who already took down Goliath once in the past are back for round two.
Now that the 2017 bracket has been unveiled, let the guessing begin. As we learn over and over again every year, It doesn’t matter how well you know the NCAA college basketball landscape, how many years each team has been to the tournament and who the head coach is, anything can happen and it seems as if we’ve been set up to see at least a few great upsets on Thursday and Friday.
Like in the tournament itself, it’s anybody’s game when it comes to predictions, but we’re going to give it a try. Here are our top predictions for the tournament:
Northwestern will win its first ever tournament game
Northwestern punched its first ticket ever to the dance, so 2017 will already be a memorable tourney for the Wildcats. But getting to the dance and winning their first game will be much, much sweeter. Northwestern’s first game is against Vanderbilt a 15-loss team, but one that has a lot of experience in the dance (it’s their 15th appearance). Northwestern may not have the experience but they have the excitement and the momentum on their side.
But if Northwestern does get past Vandy, they’re likely to face top-seeded Gonzaga in the next round.
Gonzaga will break the spell, but it won’t be enough
Gonzaga has gone dancing before, many times before. The Bulldogs have a 19-year streak, making every single tournament since 1999. But getting there is just half the battle, and Gonzaga has never been able to get past the Elite Eight. But this could be the year the team, as the no. 1 seed in the West, who has only lost once the entire season (a 79-71 conference loss to BYU), finally makes it to the Final Four.
It’s the best Gonzaga team in years, even better than the 2004 and 2006 teams. Nigel Williams-Goss is making a strong case for Player of the Year and he has Zach Collins and Przemek Karnowski by his side. But let’s face it, the Bulldogs have played mediocre teams for most of their season. Yes, they beat Florida and yes, they beat Arizona. But will that be enough to make it all the way to the championship game? The Bulldogs will finally break their curse and get past the Elite Eight, but their path to a championship will blocked in the Final Four.
Virginia can be a dark-horse in the East
The no. 5 seeded Virginia Cavaliers have a chance to create some chaos in the East bracket. The Cavaliers are known as a tough defensive team allowing only 87 points per 100 possession. Their first matchup is against a UNC Wilmington squad that earned a second consecutive trip to the tournament, and last year led against Duke at halftime, but let the lead slip away in the second half. While the Cavaliers have a great defense, the Seahawks have scored 85.2 PPG this season, good for 11th in Division I.
But will their offense be good enough to get past the best defense in the country? Not likely. Virginia will get past the Cavaliers and can make it to the Sweet 16, maybe even the Elite Eight.
Duke, UNC, Gonzaga and Kansas will be in the Final Four
As we already mentioned, this will be the year that Gonzaga finally makes it past the Elite Eight, but who else will make it? Our prediction: Duke, UNC and Kansas. It’s hard to bet against Roy Williams and Mike Krzyzewski who have made nine and 12 Final Four appearances respectively (Krzyzewski’s 12 is tied with John Wooden for the most Final Four appearances by a coach), and Duke is coming in on a hot streak, beating Louisville, UNC and Notre Dame en route to another ACC Tournament championship.
As for the Midwest, Kansas will get past UC Davis easily and will face Miami or Michigan State in the second round. If it’s the latter, it will be a challenge to get past Tom Izzo’s squad. An even more interesting matchup would be against Iowa State in the Sweet 16. The Cyclones beat the Jayhawks at the Phog Allen Fieldhouse, so who’s to say they can’t do it again? It won’t be an easy road for Kansas, but we can’t see this team letting another squad beat them twice in what is considered their home turf. The Jayhawks will round out the Final Four.
Our prediction to win it all: Duke
Cinderella alerts: Middle Tennessee, North Dakota, Florida Gulf Coast