Top seed outlook: Can No. 1 Virginia exorcise last year’s demons now that the team is currently at full strength? Our model believes so. The Cavaliers have a 49 percent likelihood of cracking the Final Four and a 31 percent probability of reaching what would be the program’s first national title match.
Together with De’Andre Hunter, that wasn’t on the court this past year during UVA’s historic loss to No. 16 Maryland Baltimore County, the Cavaliers have been dominant on both ends — the sole team ranking in the top five in Pomeroy’s adjusted offense and defense metrics. Once again, 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 even better on the offensive end and ought to breeze to the Elite Eight, where it might meet Tennessee. Due to Grant Williams along with the wonderfully named Admiral Schofield, the No. 2 Volunteers are enjoying their best basketball in history. We provide them a 22 percent likelihood of reaching the Final Four.
Sneaky Final Four select: No. 6 Villanova. Is it”sneaky” to select the team that has won two of the previous three national titles? Maybe not. But this hasn’t been the exact same group that coach Jay Wright guided to those championships. After losing a ton of its best players from last year’s title-winning team, the Wildcats had an up-and-down season and lost five of their final eight regular-season Big East games. However they also got hot over the past week, capping a year where they won the Big East regular-season and conference-tournament titles — and had one of the 20 greatest offenses in the nation according to KenPom (powered through 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% chance of earning it back into the Final Four for a third time in four seasons.
Don’t wager : No. 4 Kansas State. Coach Bruce Weber’s Wildcats nearly made the Final Four final season, but they may find it tougher this time around. K-State has an elite defense (it ranks fourth in the country according to Pomeroy’s ratings), but its crime is more prone to struggles — and could 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 brutal draw that gives the Wildcats tough No. 13 seed UC Irvine in the first round, then puts them contrary to the Wisconsin-Oregon winner in Round 2, could limit their potential to advance deep into another successive tournament.
Cinderella see: No. 12 Oregon. In accordance with our model, the Ducks have the very best Sweet 16 chances (24 percent) of any double-digit seed in the tournament, more than twice that of any other candidate. Oregon struggled to string together wins for the majority of the regular season, and its chances appeared sunk after 7-foot-2 phenom Bol Bol was missing for the year with a foot injury in January. But 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 fits a similar mold as K-State — excellent defense with a suspect crime — but that’s telling, since the Ducks are a 12-seed and the Wildcats are a No. 4. Should 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”a fat boy with some ability.” Williams, the de facto leader of Rick Barnes’s Volunteers, has bullied the SEC over the previous two seasons, collecting two successive conference player of the year honors.
The Vols might only feature the very best offense of Barnes’s coaching career — and we’re talking about a guy who coached Kevin Durant! A lot of the offensive potency could be tracked to Williams, the team’s top scorer and rebounder, that positions in the 97th percentile in scoring efficiency, according to data courtesy of Synergy Sports.
Williams owns an old-man match you may find in a regional YMCA, a back-to-the-basket, footwork-proficient offensive attack that manifests primarily in post-ups, where he positions in the 98th percentile in scoring efficacy and shoots a adjusted field-goal percentage of 56.1. He can find the Volunteers buckets from the waning minutes of games, too, as he positions from the 96th percentile in isolation scoring efficacy.
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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