Let me go ahead and warn people up front about what you are about to read: some of these predictions won’t be as bold as others. I will understand if you read the headline and expected every super hot take your heart has desired since the bracket revealed. To be honest, however, this year is so weird that it’s really hard for there to be such a thing. Truth be told, I don’t remember the last time I was so incredibly non-committal about which teams would get to the Final Four. This year is a complete crapshoot, and so take my advice: don’t use anything you read here for gambling purposes. I will not be held accountable for lost bets.
With that out of the way, one of the best events in all of sports is upon us. The NCAA Tournament kicked off yesterday with the play-in games, and tomorrow we begin the “madness” that we love to endure every year. Analysts have done their best to predict what is going to happen, data has been processed, “eye tests” have been performed, and everyone is fully prepared to be proven....wrong? Let’s face it: nobody ever gets these things right. I myself usually get close until some random team screws up my entire bracket. Yes, I’m looking at you, Syracuse and South Carolina.
So to take part in sorting through all of this madness, I’d like to give a few bold predictions as to what we can expect the next few weeks. These takes are not based a great deal off of stats, I’m not going to dive into Kenpom numbers, and maybe most importantly, I’m going to be as unbiased as possible. So if you see, say, Michigan getting really deep into the tournament, please don’t light up my twitter with hostile tweets. This is based purely off of what I know about each team mentioned, and nothing more. Alright, let’s get started.
Virginia won’t get further than the Sweet Sixteen
I am sure that many have heard by now that ACC Sixth Man of the Year De’Andre Hunter will miss the rest of the season due to a broken hand. This is probably some of the worst news that the Cavs could’ve received, as Hunter has been an instrumental part to their success this year. Perhaps even more importantly, Virginia needed Hunter just for sheer depth — the Wahoos have only been playing three players off the bench, including Hunter himself. Without much depth, it’s extremely hard for any team to do much in the NCAA Tournament. Ask Duke how that usually goes.
To be quite honest, I didn’t have Virginia making it very far even before hearing about De’Andre Hunter. As Roy Williams pointed out on his radio show Monday night, the Cavs are beatable. It takes a team that can play very good defense, and can handle a LOT of screens, but they aren’t invincible. Roy also pointed out that Virginia just makes other teams play badly. UNC has found this out twice, with the Heels playing much better defense during the second meeting.
So what makes me convinced that Virginia won’t make it that far? Their bracket. Kentucky, Arizona, Tennessee, Cincinnati, and maybe even Miami pose as challenging threats to Virginia’s success. Despite Kentucky having a down year, getting either them or Arizona in the Sweet Sixteen is a cruel joke. The upside is that Virginia has seen similar amounts of talent this year in ACC play. The bad news? They aren’t familiar with these teams, and I am not convinced they went through the non-conference grinder enough to survive. Sorry Wahoo fans, maybe next year.
Michigan vs. Michigan State for the national championship
I know, I know. I feel your anger, Tar Heel fans, and I understand why you may not like what you just read. Hear me out though: Michigan is good. They are the team that if you sleep on them in the tournament, they will find a way to ruin your bracket, and your team’s hopes of winning it all. They are the Syracuse and South Carolina of this tournament in my eyes, and they have to be considered when thinking about what teams can pull off things you wouldn’t expect.
When filling out my bracket for the THB challenge (which you should do by going here), I initially had UNC making it to the national championship. When looking it over, I realized that Michigan has been on a roll as of late. In fact, the Wolverines are on a 9-game win streak that includes wins against Ohio State, Michigan State, and Purdue. There’s nothing about this team that makes me believe UNC will be able to blow right past them, and honestly, this might be the game that spoil’s UNC’s third trip to the Final Four. UNC absolutely can prove me wrong, but I also think this version of Michigan is much better than the version that we saw in Chapel Hill.
As for Michigan State, I believe Tom Izzo is long overdue for a return to the Final Four. This year is as decent of a chance as he’s going to get to make it happen, because I don’t particularly believe in any other team in that region. There’s many analysts picking Duke to make it to the Final Four, but I think anybody that knows how to play sound defense and can conquer the 2-3 zone is capable of sending the Blue Devils home quickly. Michigan State will win their revenge match, and facing a familiar foe in Purdue in the Final Four will be their key to getting to the national championship game. The state of Michigan will get to enjoy the intensity that we in the Triangle endure every season. Kick back and enjoy.
Clemson will beat Kansas
I honestly do not know how the Clemson Tigers keep finding ways to do what they’ve been doing since they lost Donte Grantham for the season. Things may have been great for the Tigers the past couple weeks, but they haven’t been bad either. Think about it: they only lost by six point to a red-hot Virginia team in the ACC Tournament, and were maybe only a few turnovers away from beating them. I don’t know that any team should want to play Clemson, and that certainly applies to the Jayhawks.
Kansas has become the team that we see every year in the tournament obtaining a high seed and finding some way to not make it to the Final Four. They are currently on a two-year streak of making it to the Elite Eight, only to come up short. This year, that streak is likely to come to an end, and not in a good way. This may be the least talented Kansas team that we’ve seen in a while, as the past couple teams had it’s fair share of great college players. They aren’t slouches this year, but they also have proven that they can be beaten on any given night. Oklahoma State managed to sweep the Jayhawks during the regular season, which is quite a huge accomplishment for anybody in the Big 12. I’ll believe Kansas is for real when I see it, but recent history dictates that they will slip up somehow. Clemson is a good enough team to get it done.
What are your bold predictions for the NCAA tournament? I would be very interested in seeing what you have to say. Do you agree with some of what I said? Disagree? Do you want to push me in front of a bus for saying Michigan will beat UNC? Let us know in the comments below.
P.S. I still love you, UNC. Prove me wrong. Please? Go Heels!