Top seed outlook: Could No. 1 Virginia exorcise the past year’s demons now that the team is at full strength? Our version believes so. The Cavaliers have a 49 percent probability of cracking the Final Four and a 31 percent likelihood of reaching what would be the program’s first national title game.
Together with De’Andre Hunter, who was not on the court this past year during UVA’s historical loss to No. 16 Maryland Baltimore County, the Cavaliers have been dominant on both ends — the only team standing in the top five at Pomeroy’s adjusted offense and protection metrics. Yet again, Tony Bennett’s pack line defense is suffocating most offensive opportunity and successfully turning games into rock fights. But this year’s group is better on the offensive end and should breeze into the Elite Eight, in which 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 program history. We give them a 22 percent likelihood of reaching the Final Four.
Sneaky Final Four pick: No. 6 Villanova. Can it be”sneaky” to pick the team that’s won just two of the previous three national titles? Not. But this has not been the same group that coach Jay Wright guided to those championships. After losing a ton of its best players from last year’s title-winning group, the Wildcats had an up-and-down season and lost five of the final eight regular-season Big East games. However they also got hot over the past week, capping a season in which they won the Big East regular-season and conference-tournament titles — and still had among the 20 best offenses in the country based on KenPom (powered through an absurd number of 3-pointers). Our power ratings think that they’re the fourth-best team in the South despite being the No. 6 seed, and they have a 5 percent chance of making it back to the Final Four for a third time in four seasons.
Do not wager : No. 4 Kansas State. Coach Bruce Weber’s Wildcats nearly produced the Final Four final season, but they might find it tougher this time around. K-State has an elite defense (it ranks fourth in the nation according to Pomeroy’s ratings), but its crime is more prone to battles — and could be down its second-leading scorer, forward Dean Wade, who missed the team’s Big 12 tournament loss to Iowa State with a foot injury. A barbarous draw that gives the Wildcats tough No. 13 seed UC Irvine in the first round, then places them opposite the Wisconsin-Oregon winner in Round 2, could restrict their potential to advance deep into a second successive tournament.
Cinderella see: No. 12 Oregon. According to our model, the Ducks have the very best Sweet 16 odds (24 percent) of any double-digit seed in the tournament, over double that of any other offender. Oregon struggled to string together wins for most of the regular season, and its odds appeared sunk following 7-foot-2 phenom Bol Bol was lost for the year with a foot injury in January. However, the Ducks have rallied to win eight consecutive games going into the championship, including a convincing victory in Saturday’s Pac-12 championship. Oregon matches a similar mold as K-State — excellent defense with a suspect offense — but that is telling, since the Ducks are a 12-seed and the Wildcats are a No. 4. If they fulfill 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”just a fat boy with some skill.” Williams, the de facto leader of Rick Barnes’s Volunteers, has bullied the SEC within the past two seasons, amassing two consecutive conference player of the year honors.
The Vols might just feature the very best crime of Barnes’s training career — and we are talking about a guy who coached Kevin Durant! A lot of the offensive potency could be tracked to Williams, the team’s leading scorer and rebounder, that positions in the 97th percentile in scoring efficiency, based on information courtesy of Synergy Sports.
Williams owns an old-man game you might find in a regional YMCA, a back-to-the-basket, footwork-proficient offensive assault that manifests primarily in post-ups, where he positions in the 98th percentile in scoring efficacy and shoots a adjusted field-goal proportion of 56.1. He can find the Volunteers buckets in the waning moments of games, also, 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)