The No. 1 seeds never look more dominant than on Selection Sunday.
Every year except one, reality has hit.
Do you trust Virginia to keep making every play it needs to make to keep winning by 4?
Do you really believe March underperformers Xavier and Kansas will make it to San Antonio?
Do you really think anybody can hang with Villanova, which won this thing just two short years ago?
Who ya got? That’s something we’ve been debating since TBS torched the Selection Show.
Jon Cooper, director of operations: Michigan State is the team that is going to cut down the nets.
Not only are the Spartans a really good team, but the bracket is favorable to make it to the Final Four. Either Duke or Michigan State will make it out of the Midwest Region, and I can’t bring myself to pick the Blue Devils. Ironically, Duke beat MSU this season 88-81, and revenge will certainly be on the agenda for the Spartans. Besides, don’t pick against Tom Izzo in the NCAA Tournament. I learned that a long time ago.
Michigan State won a program-record 29 regular-season games and checks off everything anyone is looking for in a national championship team.
Connor O’Gara, senior national columnist: After being burned by Villanova, I’m going to double down.
I love veteran teams who have good guard play. There’s no better guard or player in America than Jalen Brunson (below). The Lincolnshire, Ill., native has been part of so many huge games for this team. Trusting him and Jay Wright in March seems like such a no-brainer.
And it isn’t just Brunson who makes the Wildcats the toughest out. Mikal Bridges is having a heckuva season. Stopping those two has been nearly an impossible task. There’s a reason the Wildcats have the top scoring offense in the country.
Right now, Villanova might be playing its best basketball. That’s a dangerous sign for a region that doesn’t have a lot of elite teams. You could argue that the No. 2-6 seeds in the East Region are weaker than the rest of the bunch. That should bode well for a Villanova squad that should be hungry after last year’s collapse against Wisconsin.
For the second time in three years, the Wildcats are the last ones standing.
Joe Cox, SEC columnist: My pick: Villanova.
A No. 1 seed ends up victorious in something like 2/3 of the NCAA Tournaments since the expansion to a 64, so you can focus in quickly on four teams. Virginia actually got a relatively tough path as the alleged No. 1 overall seed. The top team in the Tournament gets a Sweet 16 game against either Kentucky or Arizona? Ouch. Kansas, as Chris Wright noted, is Kansas, and is eternally likely to go up in flames. Xavier would have to survive several tough teams, which brings us to Villanova.
First, this is an easy draw. West Virginia could well flame out against Murray State, and Wichita is like Villanova-lite. All of which leads to an Elite Eight game against Purdue or Texas Tech. So the draw is in Nova’s favor.
So is experience. A fair chunk of these Villanova guys were on the team that won it all two years ago. Admittedly, Villanova isn’t an especially glamorous team. They don’t play elite defense, and they tend to rely on making shots. But they also shoot almost 60 percent on twos (2nd-best in the nation), and almost 40 percent on 3s (22nd in the country). Nova is a 77 percent foul shooting team. They don’t turn the ball over. They don’t take a lot of risks. They also have six guys who average double-figures in scoring. Sure, they have the occasional game where they shoot 8-for-33 on 3-pointers, but who in that East Region is going to guard them?
It’s a crazy season of hoops, and there’s a tendency to pick some team that has no business winning the title to win it. And undoubtedly a couple of those teams will make deep, deep runs, one probably all the way to San Antonio. But Villanova takes home the hardware.
Adam Spencer, SEC columnist: I know it’s not a fun pick when you select a No. 1 seed to go all the way, but I think Villanova will win it all.
The Wildcats have experience in the NCAA Tournament, having won the title two years ago and are once again a No. 1 seed. Their “rough stretch” was when they lost two of three games — one to St. John’s and one to Providence — while key F Eric Paschall and G Phil Booth were injured.
When things get tough during March Madness, being able to create easy baskets is important, and Jalen Brunson leads one of the best backcourts in the country. According to KenPom.com, the Wildcats have the No. 1 offense in terms of efficiency, and they’re no slouches on defense, either, checking in at No. 22 in KenPom’s ratings.
I live in Philadelphia, where I got to experience the madness that was the Eagles’ Super Bowl victory and ensuing parade. This April, Philly is going to have another party when the Wildcats earn their third national championship.
Chris Wright, executive editor: Let’s just get this out of the way: When it comes to March, the heart rules.
I could make a compelling case for eight teams not named Kansas, including Kentucky, which is becoming every bit as dangerous as it appeared it would be last year on Signing Day. The Cats have more talent than anybody. But …
That’s really what the NCAA Tournament is about. How big is that “but?” It’s one-and-done, survive-and-advance. Seniors matter. Good senior guards matter even more.
Every contender has a “but.”
Virginia certainly could win it all, but … the Cavs play to win every game 61-57. It’s like Tony Bennett graduated with honors from the Tony Dungy Conservative Coaching Academy. That’s great, but all it takes is for a couple of those contested 3s to fall and it’s over.
I trust Villanova more than Virginia, and if you removed the emotional attachment I have to this event — it’s impossible, by the way — I’d take the Wildcats to win it all.
I’m never not going to fill out an NCAA Tournament bracket that doesn’t end with North Carolina cutting down the nets. Oh, I’ve been wrong/disappointed plenty — but not last year … or 2009 … or 2005 … or 1993 … or 1982. I still wake up at night wondering why in the world Coach Smith went to the patented, trusted, almost always reliable “4 corners” so early in the 1977 championship game against Marquette.
You know what I want? I want Villanova. I want revenge. I want North Carolina-Villanova, Round 2, April 2 in San Antonio.
Only this time, Roy, please pressure the ball and don’t allow an open, step-in 3 at the buzzer, OK?