This was never going to be a normal college basketball season, a fact assured by the FBI in September when its probe into corruption throughout the sport immediately mitigated every on-court storyline. As assistant coaches were arrested, players were suspended, and recruits decommitted, most of the college hoops world was frozen by the anxiety of what might come out next.
Now that it’s March, none of that matters — at least for a month. This is the greatest postseason in American sports for the competition, the drama, the idea that any top seed can be upset on the right day if the ball bounces a certain way.
The NCAA tournament is finally here.
This tournament feels as wide-open as any in recent memory. The top of the rankings have been fluid for most of the season, with teams like Oklahoma and Arizona State rising into the top five and then falling back down to the bubble.
Virginia is the one major exception, torching the ACC on their way to the No. 1-overall seed in the field. But the ‘Hoos have never been to the Final Four under Tony Bennett and don’t feel like the overwhelming favorite heading into the tournament.
Now that Selection Sunday is here, it’s time to make our picks. Let’s break it down by region.
Virginia has a tough region as the No. 1-overall seed. We’ll take the ‘Hoos over Creighton in the round of 32, then beating Arizona in the Sweet 16.
Loyola-Chicago is an upset winner in the first round over Miami. Arizona advances to the second round to play Loyola. The bottom half of the region comes down to Tennessee vs. Cincinnati, and we’ll take the Vols.
Virginia to the Final Four over Tennessee.
We like Arkansas crashing the Sweet 16 with an upset win over No. 2 Purdue. The Razorbacks’ run comes to an end against Chris Beard’s Texas Tech Red Raiders.
Nova over Texas Tech to get to the Final Four.
We like Michigan State over Duke in a Sweet 16 game that will feel like the Final Four. Spartans over Kansas to make the real Final Four.
Xavier takes out Florida State to make the Sweet 16. South Dakota State and star Mike Daum will take out No. 5 Ohio State. Gonzaga advances the Sweet 16, where they knock out Xavier.
Houston and Michigan meet in the round of 32, and the Wolverines advance to the Sweet 16. Providence beats Texas A&M, then falls to UNC. North Carolina loses to Michigan in the Elite Eight.
Gonzaga over Michigan to reach the Final Four.
Villanova over Michigan State. Virginia over Gonzaga.
Virginia vs. Villanova would be a must-see title game. We’ll go with Villanova.
The Wildcats have almost everything you’re looking for in a national title pick.
It starts with an elite veteran point guard in Jalen Brunson, a player who already has a national championship to his name and might be college basketball’s player of the year this season. Brunson’s co-star is Mikal Bridges, a redshirt junior wing who has worked himself into an NBA lottery pick by playing lockdown defense and developing into a dead-eye three-point shooter.
Omari Spellman is the quality starting center Villanova lacked last season when he was ruled ineligible by the NCAA as a true freshman. Spellman is Villanova’s best three-point shooter by percentage (44 percent), a good rebounder and enough of a deterrent at the rim to challenge shots. Villanova also has a pair of guards in Donte DiVincenzo and Phil Booth who can provide supplemental scoring and pickup the offense if the stars are having an off night.
It all leads back to Jay Wright and the ability to execute his vision for what this program stands for. Villanova has six redshirt players on the roster, standing as the antithesis of the one-and-done powerhouses built by Duke and Kentucky.
Wright has already led Villanova to one national title just two years ago. This team is good enough to win another.