I am a stubborn man. I make no attempt to hide it. My wife has been forced to put up with it, just like my parents and siblings before her. I’d say it’s a trait that I’m not proud of and that I’m working on, but that would be overly compliant.
Back in November, I made the unpopular choice to roll with Kansas as my 2017-18 national championship pick (you can ignore the other predictions on that list, I’m sure they were all fine).
3. Kansas will win the 2017-18 national championship
The Jayhawks seem to be the most overlooked member of college basketball’s preseason top five. That might be because of all the production they lost from last season, or it might be because of all the NCAA tournament disappointment the program has experienced since its 2012 run to the national title game.
Whatever the reasons, Bill Self has the pieces to make those overlooking KU feel foolish come March. Devonte’ Graham is ready to step into Frank Mason’s role as the team’s unquestioned leader and Player of the Year candidate. Malik Newman has drawn rave reviews ever since his arrival from Mississippi State. Svi Mykhailiuk is ready to take another giant step forward in his final college season, and Billy Preston is a remarkably gifted freshman forward everyone seems to have forgotten about.
Kansas might not shine as brightly as Duke or Michigan State at the beginning of the season, but it’ll be the last team standing at the end of it.
Preston obviously never wound up seeing the court for the Jayhawks, and for most of the season this prediction looked ridiculous. But now Kansas is rolling. Self’s team won all three of its Big 12 tournament games by double-digits, and that was without Udoka Azubuike, who is reportedly good to go for this week’s first- and second-round games.
Ignore the buzz about Kansas/Penn being one of the most competitive 16/1 games on paper that we’ve seen in recent years. The Jayhawks have uncharacteristically flown below the radar this year, and that’s exactly why this is the year they’re finally going to play to their seed.
Am I saying all of this just because I’m overly attached to a four-month old prediction that was little more than a shot in the dark at the time? Of course. Is that as good a reason as any to pick a national champion in a season like this? Probably not, but it’s close.
Here’s my full bracket:
I came into Selection Sunday fully expecting to pick Virginia to make at least the Final Four and shatter the “they can’t get it done in March” narrative that has surrounded the program for the last three or four years. Naturally, the Cavaliers received the toughest potential Sweet 16 draw of any of the top seeds, and this plan of attack had to be rethought.
Virginia and Arizona are the two teams in this tournament that are the most eager to rid themselves of negative stigma. For UVA, it’s that their style of play doesn’t translate to the NCAA tournament and they never play to their seed. For Arizona, it’s that they can make it to regional finals, but Sean Miller can’t get over the hump and into the Final Four.
Call it the “narrative region” if you want, but I’m saying these stigmas (which are grossly unfair, for what it’s worth) only grow in strength after the next two weeks. Arizona takes down Virginia in a Sweet 16 classic, but then slips up against Tennessee in the Elite Eight, sending Wildcat fans (Arizona, not Kentucky or Davidson — shoutout to the “Wildcat Pod”) into a tizzy.
Other notable picks here include Loyola-Chicago taking out Miami, and Texas making a surprise run to the Sweet 16. I don’t like that second prediction any more than you do, but at least one No. 2 seed has been knocked out during the tournament’s opening weekend in 20 of the last 21 years, so history says it’s gotta be somebody. Sorry, Cincinnati. Texas winning for Andrew Jones becomes the feel good story of the tourney’s first weekend.
Xavier is the No. 1 seed the American people have the least faith in to make it to the Final Four. This has resulted in a sort of bizarre role-reversal where Gonzaga — the team everyone used to love to pick against in the Sweet 16 — has become one of the trendiest Final 4/Elite 8 picks in the tournament.
The Musketeers will get it done against the Zags, but slip up one game later against Michigan, another Final Four pick that’s almost too trendy for comfort. I’m choosing to be wholly unoriginal in this region by rolling with the Wolverines AND picking everyone’s favorite 12/5 upset in South Dakota State over Ohio State.
One of my longest-held bracket picking standards is that if there’s a second-round matchup involving a top seed that everyone wants to see, that game is not going to happen. Everyone wants to see Colin Sexton and Alabama go up against Villanova, which leaves me no choice other than to have the Crimson Tide fall to Buzz Williams and Virginia Tech in the first round.
Murray State is a team I fully expected to pick to win at least one game heading into Selection Sunday, but I’m not sure the Racers are going to be able to handle West Virginia’s pressure and physicality. Marshall also puts the fear of God into Wichita State before the Shockers find a way to advance.
A team from the First Four has won at least one game in the main draw in every year the First Four has existed (since 2011), so I’ll go with the winner of UCLA-Saint Bonaventure (probably UCLA) to knock off Florida. The Gators are one of the most Jekyll and Hyde teams in the field, so it also wouldn’t shock me to see them rip off two or three wins.
Texas Tech is a team that I might have had in the Final Four had they been in another region. I’ll say they sneak past Purdue but can’t upset a Villanova team that looks to be the most complete in the country heading into this tournament.
Things get wild in the top half of the bracket, where Kansas gets scared to death by Seton Hall and Charleston and New Mexico State square off in a 12/13 second round matchup. The Jayhawks ultimately get to face a 13 seed in the second weekend and roll to the regional final.
The world gets the Trae Young vs. Duke showdown that it’s been craving, and the Blue Devils win it by about 35. Coach K’s team then gets a rematch with Michigan State, and just like last year in the 2 vs. 3 Sweet 16 game between Kentucky and UCLA, the team that lost the regular season meeting exacts some revenge. The Spartans fall to Kansas in the most competitive of the four regional finals.
Michigan takes care of Tennessee in the overshadowed national semifinal, and then Kansas gets some revenge on Villanova for the Wildcats’ Elite Eight win in 2016. The revenge continues two nights later when KU exorcises some Trey Burke demons by knocking off Michigan to win the national championship.