Happy March Madness, people. Welcome to our roundtable with Basketball Society writers:
Ralph Cortes: (@_Rloading)
Martin Soaries: (@Marsoaries)
Kyle Allan: (@Kallan441)
1. Which no. 1 seed has the toughest path to the Final Four?
Cortes: I would say the North Carolina Tar Heels have the toughest path to the Final Four. UNC, which is in the South Region, has no. 2 seed Kentucky, no. 3 seed UCLA, and tough teams like Wichita State and Seton Hall in their bracket. This part of the bracket might be the most brutal because of the amount of AP top 10 teams in the bracket. It may be a tough bracket, but UNC should have the confidence to make it out of their bracket.
Harris: I would say North Carolina without a doubt. Having to be in the same region as the red-hot Kentucky Wildcats and the uptempo gunners of UCLA is a very tough deal. Also, the Wichita State Shockers are always a poised group and the hard-nosed Arkansas Razorbacks are itching to be this year’s Cinderella team. Whoever gets out of the South region will be heavily battle tested, that experience could help tremendously once they get to the Final Four.
Soaries: It’s easily North Carolina. For them to even have the prospect of seeing a fearless team like Seton Hall, or even Arkansas in the second round is tough, let alone being in the most talented region along with Kentucky and UCLA.
Allan: I am going to say Gonzaga. With Gonzaga always being that team that every wants to write off, most would think that this is the year that they prove everyone wrong. Kind of like how Villanova did the same thing last year. Gonzaga would face the winner of Northwestern-Vanderbilt, after they most likely beat the 16th seed South Dakota State. Northwestern is not a team I’d want to face as they have a chip on their back in their first NCAA Tournament in school history. A team like Notre Dame could likely be opponents in the Sweet 16. West Virginia has three top 10 wins on the year, and Notre Dame’s Bonzie Colson wants to put on a show for the national spotlight. The bottom half of the bracket includes a Florida State team that might be the most underrated three seed and an Arizona team that wants revenge after their regular season loss to Gonzaga earlier this year. Gonzaga could have some tough opponents after their first round game.
2. Which no. 1 seed has the easiest path to the Final Four?
Cortes: Gonzaga has the easiest path to the Final Four. While their bracket has some tough teams, it doesn’t have teams that are serious contenders for the ‘Zags unlike the other #1 seeds in the other regions. Their first game against South Dakota State should be easy for them. They then face a 15-loss Vanderbilt and a Northwestern team that is 1-5 against top 25 teams in the nation. It gets a little tougher by potentially facing a tough WVU team, but not something the Gonzaga can handle.
Harris: I’m torn between Kansas in the Midwest and Gonzaga in the West. Gonzaga has a Princeton team in its bracket that’s won 19 straight, but how tough are Ivy League teams come tournament time? On the other hand, the best team in Kansas’ bracket is a very tough Oregon team led by Dillon Brooks and a good Louisville team. If I had to choose one I would have to say that Kansas has the easiest road to the Final Four.
Soaries: No one has it easy in the tournament, but I would say Gonzaga has the most appealing region. They definitely have worthy potential tests in Arizona or Florida State down the road, but out of all of the no. 1 seeds, I think Gonzaga has the least to worry about from their region.
Allan: I will say Kansas has the easiest path to the Final Four. Most basketball fans would say Kansas will find a way to underachieve once again in the NCAA Tournament, but Kansas could have the easiest road if some upsets occur. The scariest team in their bracket is Louisville who some debated their seeding at no. 2. After that, they could only have trouble with Oregon, but beyond that, they are pretty superior to the rest of the teams in their bracket.
3. Nine of 14 projected lottery picks (according to DraftExpress) will be participating in March Madness. For which of these players is the tournament most important for?
Cortes: Lonzo Ball has a lot to play for in this tournament. While he is projected to be a top-2 pick, the spotlight is shining on him more than ever due to his father’s confidence in his son. A solid run in the tournament could also have people considering if he should be taken above Markelle Fultz in the draft. It also solidifies Lonzo’s case as one of the best players in college basketball, given that some people have hopped off the wagon due to his father’s comments.
Harris: I believe that Miles Bridges has the most to prove out of all of those guys. His stock has gone down since the beginning of the season, as scouts had anticipated a much better year. He hasn’t wowed scouts much outside of some highlight reel putback dunks, but being the catalyst for a deep tournament run is exactly what he needs to shoot up the draft boards. Scouts have been known to overvalue a player they believe is a “winner”, which could really work in Bridges’ favor, especially if he plays big under the bright lights.
Soaries: Everyone is watching for Lonzo Ball and for good reason. He’s the kind of electric talent that will mess around and put on a show on this stage. The tournament is important for him, but I also want to see how John Calipari’s freshman perform. Malik Monk and De’Aaron Fox are talented enough to make something special happen for Kentucky with the right performances, which would really help legitimize their draft stock. I’m also high on Josh Jackson so I want to see him show out a little bit and Kansas needs him to in order to make the Final Four.
Allan: I have to go with Lonzo Ball. I think the timing for his father’s sudden media focused confidence is setting him up for some big opportunities in the tournament. He can really shine in the spotlight in this tournament as he and the Bruins have an outside shot at the Final Four. If he is able to show true leadership in tough games, it can show teams that may be weary of drafting him that he is the franchise player for your team moving forward.
4. This year’s Cinderella team will be ____?
Cortes: Michigan Wolverines are my pick for this tournament’s Cinderella team. Michigan has improved their play as of late, winning their conference tournament after a scary incident involving their team plane losing control. Michigan is led by Derrick Walton Jr. and Zak Irvin and if they can dictate tempo like they are capable of, a deep tournament run should be within reach for the Wolverines.
Harris: SMU. At 30-4 they may not seem like a Cinderella, but no one is giving them a chance to come out of an east bracket that holds Duke & Villanova. This is a gritty team led by 6’7 Jr. Semi Ojeleye. They switch a lot in the pick & roll and their defensive versatility could cause problems for a lot of teams. They could be a bracket buster team and a sleeper pick to be in the Elite Eight and possibly the Final Four. This team has a lot of heart and no shortage of confidence, they believe they can play with anybody and it shows on the court.
Soaries: Vermont or Nevada. Vermont has won 21 straight games and comes into the tournament on high confidence as a no. 13 seed. Nevada is a no. 12 seed and one of the four teams in the tournament to have three different players score 30 or more in a game this season. When you have players who can score like that you have a chance to do some damage.
Allan: My cinderella team is Rhode Island. This team started the year in the Top 25 with big expectations heading into the season. They had some big opportunities to get some good wins in the non-conference with games against Duke, Cincinnati, Providence, and Houston. They were only able to get the win against Cincinnati but were able to take care of conference play as they won the Atlantic 10 Conference Tournament. This team features three Top 100 recruits that no one is talking about in Jared Terrell, Hassan Martin, and E.C. Matthews. This team had big expectations going into the season, and they got to their first goal which is the NCAA Tournament, now it’s time to win some games.
5. ____ will win the NCAA Tournament over ____ and _____ will be the Most Outstanding Player.
Cortes: I’ve filled out 6 brackets ever since the release of the seeding, coming up with 5 different winners. UCLA came out victors in two of my brackets so I say that UCLA will be the winners of the NCAA Tournament over the Duke Blue Devils. UCLA boasts the best offense in the nation and if they can dictate the tempo of their games. A championship is definitely in consideration. While Lonzo Ball is the smart choice for MOP, I say that TJ Leaf receives this award should they win it all.
Harris: The Kentucky Wildcats will win the NCAA Tournament over the Duke Blue Devils and Malik Monk will be the Most Outstanding Player. I believe that UK has the most talented team in the nation, and surviving the strongest region in the tournament will help this young team mature. Malik Monk is a gunslinger that can shoot his team in or out of a game, he has proven that he is clutch and will be pivotal of coach Cal and company want to cut down the nets in Phoenix.
Soaries: I’ve yet to make my final picks, but I’ll throw out one of my few gut predictions — Duke over North Carolina with Jayson Tatum winning Most Outstanding Player. I think the Big 3 of Duke makes them extremely dangerous, especially with others in the short rotation starting to play well.
Allan: Villanova will win the NCAA title against Kansas and Josh Hart will be the Most Outstanding Player. Villanova is the number one overall seed for a reason. They should have the easiest bracket, and even though I do not believe it is, I believe they will take care of business against Duke in the Final Four. This team features senior leadership in Kris Jenkins and Josh Hart, guys who have been there before, and guys who know how to step up in big moments. Leadership showed up last year in the end with guys like Buddy Hield and Brice Johnson being in the Final Four. I feel that will be the deciding factor for a team like Villanova.